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210 posts categorized "Food glorious food"

08 April 2012

Happy Easter!

Simnel-cake

I made a traditional English Easter Simnel cake to eat this weekend but I’m not going to have time to get the recipe up for you until early next week. Still here’s a pretty picture for you, and whatever and however you’re celebrating this weekend (our Easter is rather heathen and chocolate-fuelled it must be admitted) have fun!

   

03 April 2012

Pinterest Take 5: Multicoloured Polka Dots

 

This week on Pinterest we’ve got spots before the eyes.

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DIY tags with transparent polka dot stickers from Tokketok via Cinzia Ruggieri.

 

color mix dots

 

Iphone wallpaper from Gallery Hanahou via Ricki Mountain

 

confetti-tablecloth

 

DIY tablecloth from Oh Happy Day via Cinzia Ruggieri

 

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Funfetti Layer Cake from Sweetapolita via Grace Kang.

 

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This idea for pre-sorting your laundry is INSPIRED.  I just wish I had an empty closet where I could do this in our house.

From Brick City Love via Shauna Christensen.

   

02 April 2012

Baking In Translation: How to Cook British Without Freaking Out

 

victoria sponge (1 of 1)

   

 

I just wanted to let readers in the Seattle area know that I’ll be teaching a baking class at Book Larder on April 30th entitled Baking in Translation. I’m nervous already, so it would be wonderful to see as many friendly faces as possible in the audience.  And of course, if you’re a Seattle blog reader, do come and laugh at my funny accent, I’d love to meet you.

 

victoria sponge (4 of 5)

 

The class has arisen from the occasional blog posts I write lamenting all the difficulties I’ve had over the past five years translating British recipes into American and vice versa.

We will cover weighing ingredients in metric versus measuring with cup measures; differences in terminology and vocabulary, such as flour and cream equivalents; where to source strange ingredients in the Seattle area and what to substitute if you can’t get hold of them, and discussing things like pan sizes and oven temperatures. Please come armed with any questions that have been bugging you and we’ll try to cover them all.

While we’re chatting, I will be showing you how to bake a classic English Victoria sponge (measured out in metric) and, if we have time, English flapjacks, using weird British ingredients like porridge oats, golden syrup and sultanas. There will also be treats available to taste.

I will be putting together a detailed hand-out containing all my hard-won knowledge which will be yours to take home, and by the end of it, the world of British cooking will be your oyster and you’ll be buried knee-deep in the Guardian’s food website and ordering obscure English cookbooks from Amazon UK.

   

victoria sponge (2 of 5)

 

Tickets cost a bargainaceous $25 and can be ordered here.  Spaces are limited to 24. Oh and if you haven’t been before, you will adore Book Larder so come armed with lots of money too.

The pictures are from last autumn when I made five Victoria sponges for Seattle’s annual Will Bake for Food event (click through and you’ll see one of my sponges out in the wild).

   

31 March 2012

A Shopping Trip to Portland: Part 1

 

Planning a trip to Portland any time soon?  A couple of Fridays ago I headed off down the I-5 at the crack of dawn in search of hipsters, birds, excellent food, perfect coffee, imaginative shops, and no sales tax, and was not disappointed.  The Friday was spent shopping with girlfriends, then the Minx and the Husband drove down to meet me and we stayed on for a great weekend.

If you’re thinking of going to Portland, here’s what you should do.

Firstly make sure that Myra of Seattle Bon Vivant and Lilian of Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs are with you. These ladies sure know how to eat and shop and they’re fabulously fun company too.

 

barista-portland

 

When you arrive head first to Barista in the Pearl District for one of the finest cups of coffee you’ll have anywhere (and I live in Seattle), together with an extremely acceptable almond croissant.

You’ll need fortification before browsing through the crazy that is Cargo.  Just round the corner from Barista, Cargo calls itself a ‘showroom, flea market, and international bazaar’ and features bizarre and beautiful finds from Indonesia, China, Japan, Thailand and Mexico.  I guarantee you’ll find nothing in here that you need, but plenty that you’ll want. I bought some antique scissors and a small lucky waving cat charm for the Minx’s backpack. See what I mean?

 

cargo-portland

 

Next cross the river and go to The Meadow in North Portland’s Mississippi district.  This tiny shop sells salt, flowers, chocolate, wine and bitters, all personal passions of owner Mark Bitterman, author of the wonderful cookbook Salted: A Manifesto on the World's Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes.

I met Mark when he came to Seattle and, together with Myra, hosted a creative and delectable salt-based dinner.

This shop shouldn’t work, but it does, beautifully, because so much knowledge and passion has gone into the carefully curated selections. Just look at those walls of salt and chocolate.  I was tempted to buy a block of pink Hawaiian baking salt, but our kitchen has enough clutter. One day. 

I contented myself with a big bag of sel gris instead.

 

themeadow-portland

 

Then head off for lunch at Pok Pok, which serves carefully authentic regional Thai and Vietnamese streetfood under a heated awning.

 

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Photo by Lilian Speirs

For some reason I didn’t manage to take any photos here.  However, here is Lilian’s detailed review, with a ton of photos. Like her I would have been happy to eat the phat si ew, a classic dish of stir-fried rice noodles, succulent Carlton Farms pork, Chinese broccoli and egg, all day.  Pok Pok is a fun, enjoyable place for a Portland pit stop, with great food and a buzzy atmosphere, deservedly a renowned Portland hangout.

After a hearty lunch it’s time to start shopping in earnest.

First go to Flora which sells a girly selection of scented candles, jewellery, stationery, art, apothecary items and general nicknackery.  I came away with a gorgeous fig-scented Tatine candle.  I wasn’t familiar with this range before, but loved the simple glass containers and the beautiful perfumes. The Minx also liked Flora very much when we went back the next day.

 

flora-portland

 

Then head over to Canoe, by way of glorious yarn shop Knit Purl.  I forgot to take pics again, but did come away with two skeins of gorgeous naturally-dyed laceweight linen yarn. One has to have priorities.

Anyway, back to Canoe.  This shop has a wonderful selection of modern tchotchkes and home accessories, chosen with taste and flair.  The Husband particularly liked this shop when we returned the following day and it’s a particularly great place to browse for gifts for men.  I ended up with a new litter bin, a pink piggy bank for the Minx and some little glass bowls.

 

canoe-portland

 

After visiting more shops that I’ll get to in part 2 of this guide, we finished up at modern furniture shop Hive before settling down for a very well-earned and again excellent coffee at Cafe Allora, a little bit of Milan in downtown Portland.

 

portland5

 

Finally we braved the immensely long line at Ken’s Artisan Pizza. We had to wait for over two hours, fortunately seated at a back table where we could drink plenty of wine, but the pizza was worth it when we got it, which means it’s VERY good pizza indeed.  Particularly the bacon pizza. Man, that was yummy.

The Minx and the Husband made it down the freeway in time to join us for an extra bacon pizza and dessert and we then waved goodbye as Myra and Lilian headed off into the night. I was left wondering why I don’t do day trips to Portland more often.

Find out what the Minx, the Husband and I got up to in Part 2.

   

29 March 2012

Eat It, Don’t Tweet It

 

Or a day in the life of my Instagram feed.

 

 

Maybe this is why only 41% of you follow me on social media.

Seriously chaps, thank you for the amazing feedback I’m getting through the Urtak. I really appreciate you taking the time and trouble to respond.  Some expected answers and some surprises so far.

   

25 March 2012

That Was The Week That Was: Weekend In Portland Edition

 

I forgot to do a TWTWTW last week, which was silly as I had some cool shots from our weekend shopping trip to Portland.

It turned out to be a sunshine and showers, great food and great coffee, groovy shops and pink petals sort of a weekend.

 

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We had a wonderful time There’s a blog post on shopping in Portland in your near future.

21 March 2012

Adventures in Baking : Chocolate Bundt Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Glaze

 

chocolate-bundt-cake

 

Having a bad morning? Chocolate cake always makes things better I find, and this one is a complete doozy – dense, moist and fudgey with smoky almost indiscernible undertones of coffee.  See, you’re feeling better already.  And hardly any carbs I’m sure.

Anyway, I don’t think I’ve told you yet about Book Larder.   It’s a fabulous new Seattle shop modelled on my darling Books for Cooks in London, which I used to live round the corner from and still sorely miss. Book Larder not only offers an amazing range of both popular and hard-to-come-by cookbooks, it also hosts a number of events and demonstrations from famous cookbook authors and chefs.

 

chocolate-bundt-cake (3 of 6)

 

Last week, they were hosting a book signing for food blogger Joy the Baker and I was asked if I wanted to bake something for the event from the Joy the Baker Cookbook: 100 Simple and Comforting Recipes

It’s a wonderful book, chock full of original and droolworthy comfort food recipes written in Joy’s chatty style with an accompanying photo for every dish and lots of excellent baking tips.   It’s also very American, featuring lots of maple syrup, bacon and peanut butter, cookies, marshmallows and waffles, to the extent that I was a little intimidated.  What is a ‘toasted coconut Dutch baby with banana and pineapple’ when it’s at home? What the heck is a ‘buttermilk skillet cake with walnut praline topping’ supposed to taste like?

 

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chocolate-bundt-cake (1 of 6)

 

I decided to test the book out properly by making a bundt cake.  Bundt cakes are ubiquitous in the US but I’ve never come across them in the UK and certainly never made one.  Could Joy the Baker teach this English girl how to bake a bundt?  (This was of course mostly a good excuse to buy myself a fancy bundt pan)

As far as I understand it, a bundt cake is just a cake baked in a bundt tin, which was traditionally a ring-shaped ridged affair.  In the US you can nowadays buy bundt pans in the shape of forts or football stadiums, roses or pumpkins – the challenge with all of them is making sure that the giant slab of cake with no filling is moist and decadent rather than dry and dull.  I needn’t have worried. Joy’s recipe features sour cream, vegetable oil and freshly-brewed coffee, which makes for a very wet batter and a delectably moist cake.  In fact, having had some cake in the fridge for a few days now, I can confirm that it just gets moister and fudgier and more delicious with keeping.

 

chocolate-bundt-cake (2 of 6)

 

I was also nervous about getting the thing out of the pan. After taking lots of advice on Twitter (thanks particularly to Jeanne Sauvage aka @fourchickens) I brushed the pan with melted butter, sprayed it with Bake Easy for good measure and floured it to within an inch of its life.  I then took Joy’s advice (she has a whole section on getting bundts out of tins) to wait for 20 minutes while the cake cooled in the pan before taking it out.  As a result of all this advice, both cakes I made just slid out of the pans with no fuss. Aren’t they pretty? I nearly burst with pride and couldn’t stop patting them. It seemed almost a shame to glaze them at all.

 

chocolate-bundt-cake (4 of 6)

 

Joy’s bundt is finished with a chocolate coffee ganache. This almost caused a bit of a commotion by refusing to set, meaning that I turned up for the event with only five minutes to spare. If you’re making this for an event I suggest you make it the day before. The cake honestly improves with fridging and then you won’t have a last-minute ganache-fuelled panic.

The glaze is also maybe the one thing I’d change about the cake.  The cake and ganache are surprisingly unsweet and sophisticated, perfect for adult tastes, but the Minx has declared that she doesn’t much like the mocha frosting.  If making this again with kids in mind I would replace the sour cream and coffee with normal cream for a sweeter frosting.  If you’re catering for adults though this is perfect as is.

Sorry non-American peeps, I didn’t have time to make the conversions from cups to weight.  Time to get out those cup measures again!

 

Chocolate Bundt Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Glaze

makes one 10-inch bundt cake

For the Cake:

1 1/4 cups freshly brewed hot coffee

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Pernigotti which is just insanely good)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

2 1/2 teaspoons baking (bicarbonate of) soda

2 cups sugar

3 large eggs

1 1/4 cups sour cream

1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons canola oil

 

For the Glaze:

6 ounces semisweet chocolate

3/4 cup (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter

1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature

4 tablespoons freshly-brewed hot coffee

 

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan (see above) and set aside.

 

chocolate-bundt-cake (6 of 6)

 

To make the cake:

 

In a small bowl, whisk together the coffee and cocoa powder until smooth and no lumps remain. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside

In the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a whisk attachment, whisk together the sugar and eggs until thick and pale. . Add the sour cream and oil and whisk until well incorporated.

Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and whisk until the flour is well incorporated. Add the cooled coffee mixture and gently mix to incorporate.  The batter should be loose and smooth.

Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake for around 50 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool completely in the pan and then invert onto a cooling rack. Cake should be completely cooled before frosting.

 

To make the glaze:

Bring 2 inches of water to simmer in a medium pan. Place the chopped chocolate (I used chips) and butter into a heatproof bowl. Place over the simmering water, making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the boiling water. Remove the bowl from the heat when all of the chocolate bits have melted.

Remove from the heat and leave to cool for around 20 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the hot coffee, followed by the sour cream. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of coffee and stir until glossy.

This ganache will be very liquid and will need to spend half an hour or so in the fridge before it’s ready to be spread on the cakes, and will probably need an hour or so in the fridge subsequently if you’re planning on transporting the cake anywhere.

This is where I admit that I actually wasn’t a reader of Joy’s blog (I’ve started now though – I love her ‘voice’). It seems there are a ton of people who are though. It was standing room only to meet her.

joy-the-baker

Please don’t look at the picture of me.  My hair was suffering from being raked-through too often by my fingers during my ganache-fuelled panic.

   

14 March 2012

It’s Back! Mad Men Season 5

 

MadMenSeason5-(2)

I  can’t tell you how excited I was to see these pics go up on the AMC website.

Finally, after what seems like an eternity, Don Draper and co are finally going to be back on our screens.  It really has been far, far too long.

 

MadMenSeason5

 

We’ve been invited to a premiere party and I’m thinking of baking a Black Forest Gateau.  I know that was considered to be the height of elegance in 60s Britain, but I’m not sure about the US. Should I be throwing Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup into a hotpot instead?  I believe some sort of cocktail might be in order too.

 

Mad_Men Season 5

Mad_Men_season5

 

I had a pet theory last season that whichever woman on the show is closest to Don’s heart ends up wearing green (watch season 4, it works!), and on that basis I’m glad to see that Don is still very fond of Joanie and Peggy and has major issues with the ex-Mrs Draper.  Speaking of which, where is the soon-to-be-new Mrs Draper?  My other theory is that she’s going to turn out to be a bunny boiler extraordinaire.

 

Mad Men Season5 Promo 6

Mad Men Season5 Promo 13

 

So questions for you. Will you be watching? Are you excited?  Are you having a party?   What retro 60s American food should I make? Am I the only woman in the world who doesn’t want to jump into bed with Don Draper? Which Mad Men woman are you?  I’m Peggy, though my life is currently more season one Betty (without the double-life living husband).

 

   

13 March 2012

Blogging Your Way: NYC Road Trip Part 2

 

leslieshewring

 

Day two of the Blogging Your Way workshop (other pics here and here), found Leslie Shewring from A Creative Mint taking her day in the sun (quite literally as the sun came out in New York after two days of Seattle-like torrential rain).

After hearing Leslie’s inspiring story of clicking with Holly online and subsequently striking up a great blogging and teaching partnership, we settled down for a day of more practical creativity.

 

tulips props

 

The biggest thing I took away from the workshop is that styling is ALL about telling stories in an image.

Whenever I’m styling something I know I always look at the colours and shapes first, forget about the mood or story I’m trying to convey, and then wonder why the image seems flat and dead. I can be very dense sometimes. Of course, it’s all about the storytelling. Well, duh.

 

props (2)

 

Leslie showed us how she pulls together inspiration boards to figure out moods and colour schemes.  She’s just one of those people who can instinctively pull together a bunch of random stuff and magically turn it into a coherent and pleasing whole.

It does help that she has some great props – she gave us lots of sources for what she called ‘curated hoarding’.  This was the second most useful thing I learned at the workshop.  Now I can explain to the Husband what I’m doing when he complains about the crap on my desk.

 

moodboard (2)

 

We then talked about composition, lighting and the basics of photography and Holly gave us a ton of tips about styling and photographing interiors.  Then for the rest of the day we had time to play ourselves and make the most of the lovely light at Divine Studio and Leslie’s pretty props.

Here’s a little ‘inspiration board’ I pulled together, with things I’d pulled off my desk at home.

 

 

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And here are a few shots I styled and photographed of the beautiful food.  Can you see what stories I’m trying to tell?

 

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Leslie encouraged us to explore our subjects from lots of different angles to find the best composition.
   

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At the end of the day we all had fun taking pictures of all our new-found friends. Of course a huge part of the value and pleasure of doing these sorts of events is meeting a ton of inspirational and creative women.  New friends include Tina, Audrey, Michele, Natalie and Gretchen, Jessica, Ashley, Amanda and Fiona (seen below, who’d flown in all the way from England).  Also special thanks to Marianne, for being the most charming and easy-to-live-with roommate one could wish for.  I highly recommend taking a stroll through the links above, you’ll find some super charming and talented women and some new and fabulously inspirational blogs.

And once more a HUGE thank you to Holly and Leslie. You ladies rock SO hard.

 

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The simple crepe paper hangings Leslie had put up made a great back drop for photos.

 

One day I’ll have a picture taken with Holly where I’m not looking either blurred or deranged (See also San Francisco pics). 

 

paolathomas

   

15 February 2012

Knock Knock, I Love You

knockknockchocolate

As if to prove how very much in sync old married couples like me and the Husband are (it’s going to be fifteen years in November for goodness sakes), we both got each other bars of chocolate yesterday from the Knock Knock range of graphic stationery.  Love the boxes, and the chocolate isn’t bad at all.

It’s telling that they’re being sold by the only decent stationery shop round these parts. Surely we didn’t both rush out at the last minute to buy our gifts? 

I won’t tell you which boxes I checked on which covers though. 

knockknockchocolate2

Buy them here

14 February 2012

Last Minute Valentines Ideas

 

So it’s the afternoon before Valentines Day and the fancy restaurants are all booked, you forgot to buy a love token for your sweetheart and tomorrow is shaping up to be a very bad day indeed.

But fear not, as long as you’ve got some heart-shaped cutters or moulds lying around all sorts of quick homemade Valentines ideas are at your disposal.

valentinescookies

These Valentines sugar cookies were originally on sale through Etsy shop Sugar Sanctuary but really wouldn’t be too difficult to make.  Here’s a great sugar cookie recipe.

Suze has a great tutorial for how to make natural sugar hearts in candy moulds for your beloved’s coffee.

 

decorative-sugar-hearts-party-favors-packaging

 

The Novice Chef shows us how to make Marbled Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies (not sure I love anyone enough to share these).

 

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Sit down with your kids and make Valentines Rice Krispie Treats, courtesy of Lisa.

 

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For a romantic dinner Annie suggests making four cheese ravioli

 

heartshapedravioli

 

Or if you don’t have heart-shaped cutters, why not do twirly things with cinnamon rolls?

 

heartshapedcinnamonrolls

 

Or if you have cutters but no cooking skills, how about some heart-shaped roast potatoes?

 

heartshapedroastpotatoes

 

Or a heart-shaped packed lunch?

 

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Finally, if you have neither heart-shaped cutters nor cooking skills, why not just put your toddler to work instead, while you relax with a lovely cup of tea.

 

heartstamps

 

Happy Valentines’ Day my little chickadees!

01 February 2012

Adventures in Cooking – Shepherd’s Pie

 

Just after Christmas we held a little party and I decided to take a leaf out of Jeffery Archer – British author, politician, crook and all-round slimebag’s - book and make shepherd’s pie; which he apparently used to serve at his high society parties washed down with vast quantities of Krug. 

 

shepherds pie (3 of 3)


I don’t agree with Jeffrey Archer on very much, but have to say that shepherd’s pie makes fabulous party food. This quintessentially traditional British comfort dish is tasty, rich and satisfying; easy to fork up while standing; can be made beforehand and baked just before the party; sits around happily; freezes beautifully afterwards and delights adults and kids alike.  However, it’s also quick and easy to prepare and makes a fabulous midweek meal.

But before we get on to the recipe I must interrupt this broadcast for a quick semantics lesson.

<pedantry> Firstly it is spelled Shepherd’s Pie not Shepard’s Pie, because it is named after people who used to er, herd sheps and not after a has-been Hollywood actor. Secondly it is called Shepherd’s Pie because it contains lamb ie. sheep meat. You can make it with all beef, but in that case it is more properly known as Cottage Pie since shepherds had nothing to do with it. </pedantry>

The meat you choose is important.  Traditionally it is made with the ground up leftovers from the Sunday roast, either lamb or beef, but i) you’re unlikely to have enough leftover nowadays and ii) it can be a little dry.  I find it better to use at least half raw ground (minced) lamb or beef, though if you do have some leftover meat, it is fabulous added to the meat mixture towards the end of the initial cooking period.

As I mentioned, you can use either lamb or beef, though all raw ground lamb can sometimes be a little greasy. For my Christmas pie I used half raw ground lamb and half raw ground beef and this worked out great. For my base recipes I used one entitled ‘Sarah’s Amazing Cottage Pie’ that I copied down from a friend ages ago, combined with the recipe from the Ivy Cookbook, which gives dishes served at London’s eponymous celeb hangout (it’s a great and accessible cookbook if you can get hold of it).

 

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The beauty of shepherd’s pie, though, is that is it a fabulous vehicle for experimentation. Leftover roasted vegetables in the fridge? Throw them into the meat sauce or mash them into the potato topping.  Want to stretch out the meat with fresh vegetables, beans, or feta cheese? I won’t stop you. Want to try different herbs, or flavourings? Give it a whirl.  Here are the basics, with lots of suggestions for options and additions, the rest is up to you.

The following quantities makes a reasonably sized shepherd’s pie for a family of four. Scale up or down as you wish and remember that you don’t have to be precise here.  All that’s important is that the meat sauce does not have too much gravy and you need to have about 2 inches of potato topping over the meat to prevent oozing.

 

INGREDIENTS

For the Filling

1 1/2 lbs minced/ground meat (see above)

salt and pepper

A couple of tablespoons vegetable oil

1  large onion, finely chopped

2 carrots (optional) either finely chopped or sliced

Several cloves crushed garlic (optional and definitely not traditional)

1 tablespoon flour

1/2 pint (1 1/2 cups) of good quality beef stock

A couple glasses red wine (optional)

1 tablespoon tomato puree (optional)

a glug of Worcestershire sauce (optional)

a couple of teaspoons of mixed dried herbs (thyme, oregano, rosemary, herbes de Provence are all nice)

1tsp cinnamon (absolutely not traditional but I like to add it for a slightly Middle Eastern flavour)

a tablespoon of chopped parsley and other fresh herbs

1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans (absolutely not traditional but they bulk out the meat and again works well if you’re going for a Middle Eastern dimension)

Season the meat. Heat the vegetable oil (I use olive oil) in a large saute pan and brown off the meat.  Drain the meat with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add a little more oil and gently fry the onion, garlic, carrots and dried herbs until very soft.  You could also add chopped chilis or other finely chopped root vegetables at this stage.

Return the meat to the pan, dust with the flour and stir in the tomato puree if using (purists don’t like it, but I do) and any spices such as cinnamon or paprika. Cook, stirring constantly, for a few minutes. Slowly add the beef stock and any other liquid flavourings such as wine, Worcestershire sauce or mushroom ketchup.  Bring it to a simmer and cook for thirty to forty minutes until you have a thick, unctuous meat sauce.  About 10 minutes before you finish cooking the sauce add any cooked meat, cooked vegetables, and the can of chickpeas/garbanzo beans if using to warm through,

When the sauce is ready leave it to cool.

   

For the Topping

1 1/2 llbs mashing potatoes

salt, cream, butter, olive oil,  eggyolks etc. as desired

In the meantime boil, mash and season the potatoes and add butter, milk, cream, sour cream, egg yolks or olive oil to taste.  You could also add flavourings such as mashed roasted garlic, or horseradish, Just make sure the mash ends up being quite stiff and not too soft and creamy.

 

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Pour the meat sauce into a deep oven-proof dish and top with the potato, being careful to cover all the meat sauce with at least 2 inches of topping.  It’s traditional to fork ridges into the potato to get a crunchy topping. Dot with a little butter. Some people top with grated cheese, but that seems like gilding the lily to me. Don’t let me stop you though.

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C/ 375 degrees F and bake in the oven for 25-35 minutes until golden brown on top. This dish is very forgiving of being left in the oven before a party, just make sure the topping doesn’t burn.

Serve with some sort of green vegetable or salad and enjoy experimenting!

24 January 2012

Adventures In Baking – Panettone

 

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Panettone – the rich fruited Italian Christmas bread - always reminds me of my mother. 

When I was little and Italian foodstuffs were not so easily available in the UK, a family friend who worked near Soho, then the heart of the Italian community in London, would always take a trip to one of the small Italian delis at Christmas and bring us a panettone for my mother’s Christmas treat.

Whenever I’ve spent Christmas with my Italian relatives, the table is always groaning with several different kinds of boxed panettone (and its richer, unfruited, cousin, pandoro).  Every Italian I’ve ever met has very definite opinions as to which brands are best and which are to be avoided.  My aunt sources hers from a small local bakery close to their home in Piemonte. 

I’ve never met anyone in Italy or elsewhere who has actually made one themselves though and it was only when I saw some paper panettone moulds in our local kitchen shop that I decided to give it a go.  I was a little worried that I might never be able to eat storebought again (as with mincemeat and Christmas pudding) but one just has to be courageous in these matters.

I used the recipe in the Macrina Bakery Cookbook as my starting point, which was enough to make two big loaves in standard paper panettone moulds. (The cookbook suggests making four loaves in small earthenware flowerpots, which is a nice, but seemingly unnecessary, conceit).

It’s a two-step process which takes some time, but it’s super fun baking.  I was doing this just before Christmas so didn’t have time to convert volume measures to weights for my UK readers. Just dig out the cup measures that have been sitting in the back of your utensil drawer.

The other major change I made was to replace some of the mixed candied peel with dried cranberries. If I say so myself this was a revelation and worked incredibly well. As for flavourings, I used the combination of citrus zest and vanilla given below. I used my homemade vanilla extract – of which more in another blog post – which is essentially vanilla steeped in white rum so you may want to add a tablespoon or two of rum if you’re using commercial vanilla.  You may also want to experiment with using lemon oil, orange flower water or fiori di sicilia, all of which can be used in Italian panettone recipes.  Whatever you use, the distinctive authentic taste comes from a combination of citrus and vanilla in some form.

INGREDIENTS FOR THE STARTER DOUGH

12 tbsps (1.5 sticks or 6oz) unsalted butter at room temperature

3/4 cup warm water

2 tbsps dried yeast (I used one sachet)

1/3 cup granulated sugar

3 eggs

2 tbsps freshly grated orange zest

1.5 tbsps freshly grated lemon zest

3 tbsps honey

1 tbsp pure vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose (plain) flour

 

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PREPARING THE STARTER DOUGH

Cut the butter into small pieces and set aside.

Combine the warm water, yeast and sugar in a large bowl (I used my stand mixer) and whisk to dissolve yeast.  Let sit for five minutes so the yeast can bloom.

Add the butter, eggs, orange and lemon zest, honey, vanilla and flour. Mix on low speed to bring the ingredients together using the dough hook attachment.  Increase speed to medium and mix for around 6 minutes.  Transfer the dough to an oiled medium bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Let it sit in a warm room until almost doubled in size.

 

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INGREDIENTS FOR THE FINAL DOUGH

1 1/2 cups golden raisins (sultanas)

3 sticks (12 oz) unsalted butter at room temperature

3 eggs

3 egg yolks

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

2 tsps salt

4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose (plain flour)

1 1/2 cups total dried fruits.  I used a mixture of dried cranberries and and candied orange and lemon peel. I would imagine that dried sour cherries would also be good.  But it would be fun to experiment here.

 

PREPARING THE FINAL DOUGH

While the starter dough is proving, place the raisins/sultanas in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave them for around 20 minutes to plump them up and then drain thoroughly.

Cut butter in small pieces and set aside.

Punch down the starter dough with floured hands

Whisk together eggs, yolks and sugar in a bowl (I used my stand mixer) until thick. Add the starter dough, salt and flour. Using the dough hook attachment, knead on a low speed for 2-3 minutes.  Increase the speed to medium and keep adding the butter piece by piece.  This should take another 3-4 minutes. Mix on medium speed for another 10-12 minutes until the dough has a satiny finish and stretches easily. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 5 minutes to relax the gluten.

Add the soaked raisins and mixed dried fruit to the bowl and mix into the dough at low speed. Transfer the finished dough to an oiled medium bowl and cover again with a damp tea towel.  Let sit in a warm room until doubled size – 3-4 hours.

Oil two paper moulds and divide the dough between them.  Leave to rise one final time until the dough rises above the top of the papers.

 

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Position an oven rack so that is it close to the bottom of the oven. Preheat oven to 335 degrees Fahrenheit/ 170 degrees Celsius.

Brush the panettone with eggwash then place on a baking sheet in the oven. Bake for around 90 minutes or until deep golden brown on top.

Here is my baby baking in the oven  - it’s amazing what you can do with an iPhone nowadays. 

 

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I was doing all this while rushing around packing to go to Whistler at Christmas and decided to experiment by leaving the second panettone to do its final rise in the fridge while we were away.  These lovelies had the most delicious flavour and a soft though robust texture, somewhat like a chewy brioche; and, though not as light and airy as the store bought ones, were in fact very similar to the ones made by the artisanal baker my aunt buys from in Italy.

 

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The real revelation though, came with the loaf we left in the fridge for five days.  The long slow rising gave the loaf an indescribably complexity of both texture and flavour, noticeably more interesting than the one which had been baked immediated (and that was pretty darn good).

I’m going to be experimenting more with slow rising in future.  And yes, unfortunately panettone is something else I will never be able to buy from the store again.

09 January 2012

Christmas Pudding

 

When we got back from Whistler we tucked into the Christmas puddings which had been gently maturing since November.

It was my first time making Christmas puddings, so I was somewhat nervous as to what they would taste like, but I shouldn’t have worried. They were delectable – moist and boozy with dark marmalade-y depths - and, like mincemeat, I will never go back to buying them again. Thank you America for your ridiculous ban on importing beef suet products, which has made me stretch my cooking horizons.

We shared the first one at a small family dinner. Here she is in all her moist and sticky splendour. I had to send the Husband out in the rain to get the traditional sprig of holly, so couldn’t be too particular when he came back with a sprig without berries.

 

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And here it is anointed with warmed and flaming brandy in the traditional way.

 

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The Minx was mesmerised.

 

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We shared pudding number two at a drinks party for friends on the second day of the new year. It was fun to see the kids and Americans all equally excited by the idea of setting dessert on fire. The actual taste of Christmas pudding is more of an acquired one though it seems.

15 December 2011

Stir Up Sunday

 

A couple or three weekends back, while I was also in the throes of Thanksgiving baking, it was Stir Up Sunday and I also had to get going with my Christmas baking. 

 

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The name apparently comes from the collect from the Book of Common Prayer which begins ‘Stir up, we beseech you O Lord’. This was said in Anglican churches on the last Sunday before Advent and reminded cooks and bakers throughout the land that they should be making a start on their mincemeat and Christmas puddings, so that they would have time to mature before the Christmas festivities.

It’s a good job the Puritans objected to Christmas puddings and so never really brought them to America as I have to say the combination of Stir Up Sunday and Thanksgiving is enough to drive anyone to drink.

After the success of my mincemeat last year, and since the wonderful RainShadow Meats in Seattle is now rendering beef suet, I decided to make Christmas puddings for the first time as well as the mincemeat.  After reading through several recipes I decided to stick with dear old Delia and make some minor tweaks.

Her detailed recipe is here. Tweaks I made included adding substituting some glace’ cherries for half of the mixed peel and replacing the orange juice and zest with a spoonful of the Husband’s fabulous homemade Three Fruit Marmalade as suggested by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

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As is traditional we also added some foil-wrapped coins to the mixture, to be found when we cut into the puddings – and yes, I really ought to get myself a more photogenic mixing bowl.

Since this is mostly a mix of dried fruits, beef suet, breadcrumbs, spices, beer and brandy, the puddings look surprisingly pale and anaemic before being steamed.

 

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The Husband, being an engineer, was then commandeered into covering the puddings with a double layer of greaseproof paper, covering them with tinfoil and manufacturing string handles for them, so they could be lifted in and out of the steam bath.

 

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The Internet then informed me that Christmas pudding can be steamed in the slow cooker, a Christmas miracle indeed.  No more having to keep an eye on the pudding and making sure they don’t steam dry.

The larger one was steamed in the slow cooker for around 10 hours on HIGH and the smaller steamed overnight or for around 8 hours.

I don’t know what the alchemical process is that makes them come out all dark and moist and sticky at the end, but they sure looked good and smelled unbelievable.

 

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The Husband then re-wrapped them so they could be steamed again at Christmas and now they sit ‘maturing’ in my cool closet, and delighting my heart every time I walk in there and glance at them.

I shall report back.

Here’s this year’s batch of mincemeat.  I’ve already used a jar to make mince pies and can report that it is very delicious indeed.

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01 December 2011

Adventures in Baking – Maple Pecan Pumpkin Pie

 

Apparently it takes a village to make a pumpkin pie.  Not a literal village you understand - who’s got one of those nowadays? – but an online village. 

 

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Having never made a pumpkin pie before; indeed having spent the vast majority of my life thinking that putting pumpkin in a PIE, instead of say, soup or ravioli, was a vaguely barbaric act;  I put out pleas on here, on Facebook and on Twitter for pie-making advice.

 

TOP TIP #1 USE CANNED PUMPKIN

This was not entirely helpful.  As I mentioned, I mostly wanted to make a pumpkin pie because the Minx and I had managed to grow two little pumpkins in our vegetable garden this summer.  However, convinced by the many, many comments I received, I did buy an emergency can of pumpkin just in case.

Which was fortunate, as when we halved, deseeded and roasted the homegrown pumpkins, we found them to be extremely anaemic and tasteless. One up for the online village.

     

 

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TOP TIP #2- USE THE MACRINA COOKBOOK’S MAPLE PECAN PUMPKIN PIE RECIPE

I received a lot of recipe suggestions but one that struck home was to use the one from the Macrina bakery cookbook. This sounded good because a) I actually have the book b) the recipes I’ve cooked from it before have been excellent and c) it included maple syrup in the pumpkin custard and a topping of pecans and maple syrup.  Since I don’t actually much like pumpkin pie, these sounded like good additions to me.  Here’s a link to a pdf of the recipe.

 

TOP TIP #3- BLEND THE PUMPKIN VICIOUSLY

The Macrina recipe uses canned pumpkin and roasted fresh butternut squash (which we always have in the freezer to make risotto) which are both comparatively smooth.  Nevertheless a few minutes attacking them with the immersion blender made them even smoother and creamier. Definitely a good thing to do whatever type of pumpkin or squash you’re using.

 

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TOP TIP #4- USE COCONUT MILK IN THE CUSTARD

Another person to send me her recipe was Seattle pie queen Kate McDermott.  Her recipe is for a more traditional pumpkin pie, though it had one intriguing ingredient – lite coconut milk instead of cream or condensed milk.  I used it instead of the buttermilk in the Macrina recipe and Kate is right, the texture and flavour are exceptional,   I did of course also use Kate’s superlative pie crust recipe.

TOP TIP #5 – USE GINGER SYRUP INSTEAD OF FRESH OR GROUND GINGER

This top tip was invented by me! And I think it’s a good one.  Stem ginger, or preserved ginger in syrup, is a very traditional British preserve, which I managed to get on Amazon. The ginger pieces are preserved in a tangy ginger syrup and instead of freshly, grated ginger I added a little ginger syrup to the pumpkin custard and the maple pecan topping.  I’ve since seen that in the US you can also buy a delicious-looking ginger syrup here (with great packaging) which might also work.

This pie turned out incredibly well, and was wolfed down by pumpkin pie traditionalists AND pumpkin pie disparagers alike.  Thanks to everyone in my lovely online community who contributed the tips that made it possible.

I see that November has been and gone, and I’ve got nowhere close to posting every day. Oh well.  Might try for December, though posting over Christmas could be a little light (and possibly drunken)..

08 November 2011

Adventures in Baking – Torta alla Gianduia with Pears

 

Keep reading, I’m hosting a giveaway at the end of this blog post

 

Following on from my astonishing third place triumph in the Queen Anne Farmers' Market Pie Competition almost exactly a year ago, I thought it was about time I entered another baking competition, this time Edible Seattle’s Cake v Pie Competition. Since I am an equal opportunity baker and like baking and eating both pies and cakes, I decided this time that I would play on Team Cake.

 

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My cake and its competition (Photo by Myra Kohn)

The only catch was the theme - ‘Trouble in Pearadise’ or pies and cakes featuring pears. Making a pear pie or tart is easy peasy lemon squeezy but there aren’t so many pear-y cakes out there.  I started to think about what flavours go with pears – chocolate, of course, and all kinds of nuts, and hit upon the idea of incorporating pears into a torta alla gianduia, the traditional chocolate and hazelnut cake of Piemonte, my mother’s home region in Italy.

Gianduia has a long and illustrious history in Piemonte, where expensive chocolate was stretched with the addition of hazelnut paste, from the hazelnut trees which grown in abundance in the region.  It’s one of the most famous flavours in the world today, as Nutella, from Ferrero, a great Piemontese company, is just a commercial form of gianduia paste.

The climates of Piemonte and the Pacific North West are not dissimilar and I was delighted to discover that hazelnuts grow well in the PNW too, most famously in Oregon. So this cake would be both delightfully seasonal and local.

This cake is a little complicated, but you’ll end up with a dense, fudgey, chocolatey, delight, which perfectly complements the sweetness and delicacy of juicy pears. But don’t just take my word for it. 

 

Step 1 – Poaching the Pears

I found David Liebovitz’s guidelines on poaching pears here to be super useful.

Ingredients

4-5 firm ripe pears (I used some lovely Bartlett pears from my organic box)
1 litre/1 quart water
1 1/3 cups (250g) sugar
1 miniature bottle Frangelico (Italian hazelnut liqueur or another liqueur to taste)

Peel, core and quarter the pears. Heat the water and sugar together until the sugar has dissolved. Add the pears and cover them with a circle of parchment or greaseproof paper with a small hole cut in the middle.  This ensures that the pears don’t float up from the liquid and turn brown. Simmer gently for 10-15 minutes making sure the pears don’t turn mushy. Remove the pears and boil the peary liquid down fiercely until you have a thick syrup. Turn off the heat, pour in the bottle of Frangelico, add back the pears and set aside to cool.

   
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Step 2 – Making the Cake

This recipe is based on this one here by Annamaria Volpi, with a few tweaks.

Ingredients

1½ cups (180 gr) ground hazelnuts (you could substitute other nuts such as almonds or pistachios)
7 oz (200 gr) semi or bittersweet chocolate, finely diced (I used Guittard 72% cacao)
4 + 4 oz (115 + 115 gr) sugar
7 oz (200 gr) butter, at room temperature
8 eggs, separated
¾ cup (110 gr) plain or cake flour

Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C).  Oil a 9 inch (23cm) Springform cake tin and line it with parchment paper.  Sprinkle the paper with cocoa powder. I wanted to make a three-layer cake. You could bake yours in a 10 inch (25cm) pan and just cut it in half for two layers instead.

Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie or glass bowl set on a saucepan of simmering water.

Cream the ground hazelnuts, 4oz (115g) of sugar and the butter together until soft and fluffy. Add the melted chocolate and mix together until smooth. Combine the egg yolks one at a time with the hazelnut-chocolate mixture, reserving the egg whites.  Sift the flour and stir it in thoroughly.

Beat the egg whites. When they are half beaten add the remaining 4 oz (115 gr) of sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed.

Fold the egg whites carefully into the hazelnut-chocolate mixture. Pour the mixture into the cake tin, level with a spatula and bake it for approximately 30–40 minutes (for a 10 inch cake) or 50 minutes for a 9 inch cake. The cake is ready when a stick of spaghetti poked into the centre comes out clean and dry.

Remove from the oven and let the cake cool at room temperature. Then remove from the cake pan.  When it is fully cooled, slice into two or three layers.

 

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Step 3 – Making the Chocolate Ganache Filling and Topping and Assembling the Cake

Ingredients

1 cup (250 cc) double (heavy) cream
12 oz (340 gr) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, diced
2 oz (60 gr) butter, at room temperature

Pour the cream into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat over a medium heat until just starting to bubble. Add the diced chocolate and beat together until the chocolate has fully melted into the hot cream. Beat in the butter. Leave to cool at room temperature for 2 hours. I hurried mine along in the fridge which is fine, but make sure it doesn’t get too cold and stiff.

Take your cake layers and spoon a few tablespoons of the peary poaching syrup over the cakes. Wait for it to soak in.  Spread the bottom two layers with chocolate ganache and then top with sliced poached pears. Assemble the cake and spread the remaining ganache all over the top and sides.  Put the cake in the fridge so that the ganache sets firmly.

   

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Step 4 – Glazing and Decorating the Cake

You only need to do this step if you’re feeling fancy, though I’m glad I did.  The first ganache layer (step 3) will produce a perfectly delicious cake. This is what you need to do if you want to create a smooth, shiny finish, say for example if you’re entering a cake competition.

Ingredients

¾ cup (180 cc) double (heavy) cream
6 oz (180 gr ) dark, bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, diced

Pour the cream into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat over a medium heat until just starting to bubble. Add the diced chocolate and beat together until the chocolate has fully melted into the hot cream and the ganache is very light and soft.  Immediately spread the glaze over the refrigerated cake with an offset spatula.

In Italy it is traditional for some reason to write the word ‘Gianduia’ on the cake in script.  So I melted a little white chocolate and piped it on.

Here is my cake basking in the sunshine.

   

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Here’s a glimpse of its fudgey insides.

 

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And here I am after my cake won second prize! Told you it was a good recipe.

 

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Photo courtesy of Myra Kohn

My prize was a year’s subscription to Edible Seattle a monthly magazine focusing on the fabulous food bounty of Seattle and its surrounding area, and the farmers and chefs who bring it to us. The only problem is that I’m already a subscriber. So I have a subscription here to give away.  It would obviously be most relevant to a blog reader from the Seattle area, but it’s so full of great recipes and fascinating articles that I’d encourage anyone interested in food to enter.

If you’d like to enter the giveaway, please leave a comment below telling us what is your favourite autumn ingredient. I’ll draw the winner at random on Friday 11th November. Good luck!

07 November 2011

Adventures in Cooking – Rosehip Syrup

 

Do you have a favourite foodstuff you remember from childhood that is no longer available but that you’d love to magically taste again?

 

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For me that foodstuff was something you may not even have heard of – rosehip syrup.  During the war citrus fruits were extremely scarce in the UK and a cottage industry grew up picking homegrown rosehips and preserving them as syrup, as they are apparently astonishingly high in vitamin C and packed with antioxidants.

Even into the 70s rosehip syrup was available at the ‘chemists’ and we always had a bottle in the house, either drinking it diluted as a cordial or eating it spooned neat over tinned rice pudding or stirred into ice cream.  Because, you see, even though it was born out of austerity, rosehip syrup is extremely very delicious indeed.  Imagine a complex but delicate sugar syrup redolent with tastes of tangerine and apple and perhaps the odd echo of something tropical, mango perhaps, in the background, and you’ll see where I’m coming from.  Unfortunately for me, the manufacturers Delrosa stopped selling rosehip syrup in the UK some time in the 70s, though it is apparently still available in some developing countries.

So it happened that I was out blackberrying in Seattle one day in September and came across a row of rosa rugosa bushes, complete with fat, juicy sunset-coloured hips. Would it be possible to recreate my childhood memories? I decided to pick some and find out.

 

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It seems I’m not the only person trying to recreate their British childhood and if you search there are a number of recipes online. I decided to follow the instructions given in this blog as they seemed very thorough.

The process is, however, surprisingly easy.

I had around 1/2 lb of rosehips which I ground to a pulp in the food processor.  Did you know that rosehips are full to bursting with hundreds of tiny seeds?

 

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The next step is to add the rosehip pulp to 3/4 pint of boiling water, turn off the heat and leave it to stand and infuse for 15 minutes. Filter the pulp through muslin or cheesecloth set in a sieve, until fully strained, about 10 minutes.   Take the pulp left in the muslin, place it back into the saucepan and this time add 1/2 pint of boiling water and repeat the whole process.  It’s important to make sure that the little itchy hairs which are apparently inside some rosehips (I didn’t see any in mine) don’t get into your final infusion.

 

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When the infused liquid has fully filtered through, tip it back into the saucepan and reduce it down to half a pint.  Add 5 oz of sugar, boil it all up together until a syrup forms, about 5 minutes, and then pour your finished syrup into sterilised jars or bottles.

I served it to the Minx poured over Greek yogurt and fresh berries, or you could add it to sparkling wine to make an elegant cocktail, soak it into a rich, dense almondy cake, use it in place of maple syrup on pancakes or waffles or swirl it into ice cream or whipped cream.

 

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Or you could do as I did.  Take a dessertspoonful, add some chilled sparkling water and travel thirty odd years back in time.

If you could, which foodstuff would you make magically reappear?  Have you ever tried to recreate it from scratch? Am I weird that I like eating roses?  Talk to me!

04 November 2011

How the Dukan Diet Worked for Me

 

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       November 2009 
            (at around 175lbs)

           November 2011 
                (at around 144lbs)

 

Remember how I’ve tried to lose weight before on this blog? With very little success?

I’d been trucking along at around 175lbs for the previous couple of years and the arthritis pain in my knee was getting worse and worse.  So on June 1st this year I started yet another diet. This time a friend in the UK recommended a regime called the Dukan Diet, a French diet which had recently become very popular in the UK, as it was reportedly used by Carole Middleton (mother of Kate). 

The Dukan diet is sort of Atkins on steroids and has four phases.

First you ‘Attack’ which lasts for 3-7days (depending on how overweight you are) and where you eat NOTHING but lean protein (0% dairy, chicken, fish, eggs, seafood, lean beef etc.) and two tablespoons of oatbran to keep things moving.  This is HARD, does horrible things to your blood sugar and bowels and has I’m sure contributed to the diet’s reputation for unhealthiness.  However it was effective, I lost 6lbs in 5 days.

Then you ‘Cruise’, alternating 1 day of lean protein +oatbran with 1 day of lean protein + all the low carb vegetables you can eat +oatbran. And you’re supposed to do this until you reach your target weight. I’ve been cruising since June and have lost a total of 31lbs, with a 11lbs to go until I reach my target weight and a normal BMI. 

If and when you hit your target there are two more phases, ‘Consolidation’ and ‘Stabilization’ but I’ll talk about those when I get there.

I’m finding the diet comparatively easy as it doesn’t involved any weighing and measuring and counting, you’re allowed as much as you want of the permitted foods. Also, and interestingly, it seems that my tastes are changing, my carb cravings have gone right down, I feel nauseous if I eat too much fat and things like cakes and biscuits seem much too sweet (you’re allowed Splenda on the diet but that’s it).

I also feel really well in myself – my skin is good, I have loads of energy and the arthritis pain in my knee has GONE, which is incredible, as I was almost crippled with it back in April on our trip to San Diego.  I’ve also been upping the exercise, either doing a Jillian Michaels DVD every day or walking as the diet suggests, and doing lots of swimming over the summer. Nothing too crazy though.

Unfortunately recent weeks have been a struggle and it’s only going to get harder as we get closer to December, but I am DETERMINED to knock this on the head once and for all and get rid of those last 11lbs if it kills me.

Let me know if you’re interested in finding out more, and I’ll blog about some of my menus and stuff in the upcoming weeks.

In the meantime on the left is a picture I had taken in May 2010 wearing a sweater I’d just knitted and on the right, as I am today, wearing the same sweater.

 

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I thought I might try NaBloPoMo, where I commit to posting every single day for a month,, as a way of getting back into blogging again.  Of course, I’m two days late even starting, so we’ll go to December 3rd. ‘K?

19 October 2011

Things I Am Loving - Stripey Kenwood Stand Mixers

 

After the the Husband, the Minx and the wedding album, I do believe my Kitchen Aid stand mixer would be the next thing I’d rescue in a fire.

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However, that’s not to say that I can’t still admire these Kenwood Stand Mixers from afar and be grateful that someone is having a little fun with kitchen design.

 

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Would you have one in your kitchen?  Or am I just succumbing to my inner five year old again?

 

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 The Firecracker colourway is also available from John Lewis. Unfortunately I don’t think Kenwood has arrived in the US. 

30 September 2011

Adventures in Baking – The Best Chocolate Brownies in the World

 

I seem to have been making rather a lot of chocolate brownies this summer, which is strange as I’m not supposed to be eating them on this diet (though one or two might have accidentally fallen into my mouth on occasion).

 

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They were my contribution  for the Food Bloggers Bake Sale and the Husband also requested some for his birthday, where I copied Nigella’s idea of piling the brownies up in lieu of a cake.

 

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After extensive taste testing, I have found no better recipe than that for Chocolate and Sour Cherry Brownies from Unwrapped – Green & Black’s Chocolate Recipes which is a fabulous and much underrated cookbook. (I can’t get Nigella’s brownies to be anything other than dry and cake-y)

These brownies have just the right gooey interior and firm, crusty, satisfying edges, while the cherries impart an extra chewy dimension. And the sultry dark chocolate and sweet, tangy cherries are of course a match made in heaven.

It’s not surprising they’re so good, since the ingredients are insane. If you’re on any sort of diet, I suggest you walk away from the computer now  and go get yourself a nice cup of cottage cheese.

 

Ingredients

300g (11oz) unsalted butter

300g (11oz) top quality dark chocolate

5 large eggs

450g (1lb) granulated sugar

1 tbsp vanilla extract/essence

200g (7oz) plain (all purpose) flour

1 tsp salt

250g (9oz) dried cherries*

Extra chocolate chips for topping if you’re greedy like me

 *dried sour cherries are easily obtainable in the US but maybe not so easily in the UK, though I’ve definitely found them at Waitrose. However, I’ve successfully substituted dried cranberries and you could also use any other dried berries, nuts or just leave them out altogether. 

 

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Method

Preheat the oven to 180 C/ 350 F. Line a 34x25cm / 13x10in rectangular baking tin with baking parchment.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a bain-marie or heatproof bowl suspended over barely simmering water.

Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla until thick and creamy. Then beat the egg mixture into the melted chocolate.

Sift the flour and salt  together and stir into the mixture until smooth. Stir in the cherries.

Pour the liquid mixture into the baking tin and then bake for 25-35 minutes until the whole thing looks like a giant brownie with a slightly cracked surface.  When you start to smell them, it means they’re almost done. 

Try not to overcook the brownies.  If they seem too squidgy after you’ve taken them out, it’s not a problem to put them back in the oven for a few more minutes.  But if overcooked they get cake-y.

Just after you’ve brought the huge brownie out of the oven, sprinkle the whole thing with chocolate chips.  They will partially melt in the heat and slightly embed themselves into the mixture but then cool back down into chocolate chips again, imparting an extra chocolatey crunch to the surface of the already perfectly textured brownie. I got the idea from the brownies served at Pret a Manger, and it’s well worth the extra calories.

Leave the giant brownie to cool for about 20 minutes before cutting into large squares in the pan.

13 September 2011

Blueberry Boy Bait

 

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Speaking as we were about baking with kids, the Minx and I had very fun day for the last day of ‘mummy’ camp before starting school.

We went with friends for some pick your own blueberries (thanks Mercer Slough Blueberry Farm!) and then decided to do a spot of lunchbox baking afterwards.

The recipe for Blueberry Boy Bait from Smitten Kitchen seemed ideal lunchbox fare – easy to bake, easy to pack, not too sweet and packing enough blueberries that it could almost be counted as a healthy option. At least that’s what this mother tries to tell herself.  Oh and did I mention that they’re rather delicious?

First pick your blueberries.  I love how pretty they are.

 

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Then mix up a plain-ish yellow cake batter (the full recipe is here) made with butter, a little soft brown sugar and half a cup of blueberries. The cake is then topped with more cinnamon-flavoured sugar and another half cup of blueberries so that the fruit is  evenly dispersed throughout the cake. This is an ideal job for small fingers.

 

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You should end up with a golden rectangle of purple-flecked yumminess with a slightly crisp crust.  Cut it into small lunchbox-sized portions. Ours is now in a big ziploc bag in the freezer. Add a frozen slice to the lunchbox the night before and it will be fresh and ready to eat in time for lunch.

 

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Incidentally the fabulous name was apparently bestowed by the fourteen year old girl who devised the recipe and came second in a baking competition back in the Fifties.  She was obviously a marketing as well as a baking genius. Mr T, the only boy in our family aside from Flora the cat, confirms that the name is appropriate even though it doesn’t contain either beer or bacon.

01 September 2011

Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer

 

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I set myself a low bar when it comes to mothering.  If the Minx grows up to have good manners, to love books and to be able to cook then I figure she’ll probably always have friends, be passably well-educated and never go hungry. And that way it seems to me happiness lies.

Certainly I can think of few greater pleasures in life than devouring a good book or some good food. So you can imagine how much I enjoyed reading Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer by Yarnstorm’s Jane Brocket, which discusses all the delectable foods found in classic children’s literature, accompanied by scrummy-looking recipes and pen and ink illustrations from the works in question.

The Minx and I are currently on a bit of an Enid Blyton jag at present and revelling in descriptions of fabulous picnics with boiled eggs and sticky buns, Aunt Fanny’s cakes and of course lashings of ginger beer (which according to Brocket, Enid Blyton never actually says in her books).

 

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I am amused to note that, while the plot intricacies of many of these books have completely receded into the mists of time, I can remember almost verbatim many of the food descriptions, such as this one from What Katy Did.

“.. and there – oh, delightful surprise – were seven little pies – molasses pies, baked in saucers – each with a a brown top and crisp, candified edge, which tasted like toffee and lemon-peel, and all sorts of good things mixed up together. There was a a general shout… a tumult of joy… in an incredibly short time every vestige of pie had disappeared, and a blissful stickiness pervaded the party.”

Oh how I wanted to taste one of these pies – ‘molasses’ sounded so delicious and exotic to this little British girl – and now I can, because I have a recipe.

Unfortunately the book is already out of print and quite difficult to get hold of – I suspect the market for it was rather too esoteric. American readers might be particularly frustrated as it focuses primarily on British children’s classics and old-fashioned British baking, though Little Women, Little House on the Prairie and What Katy Did all make an appearance.

But buy this book if you, as I did, grew up with the likes of The Famous Five, My Naughty Little Sister, Pippi Longstocking, Milly Molly Mandy, Paddington Bear, Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, and Malory Towers. Get it doubly fast if you are re-reading these books with your kids and enjoy baking with them.

What do enjoy cooking and reading with your kids?  The Minx and I are sorely in need of recommendations in both categories.

Oh and speaking of the Minx, she went back to school yesterday, oh frabjous day! So now I’m back blogging properly.

20 August 2011

Postcard from Orcas Island

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Postcard from Orcas Island

18 August 2011

Fancy Hotel of the Week – Melenos Lindos

 

Ha! You thought you’d got away with no more Greek holiday snaps. Unfortunately it remains my intention to bore you all into submission. After all, what else is a blog good for?

I mentioned that we liked to stay in little unassuming hotels while in Greece, but we decided to break that rule for the first few days by booking into the Melenos Lindos, high in the acropolis of the ancient town of Lindos in Rhodes. This hotel gets so many fabulous mentions, that it seemed churlish not to try it out.

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Images from hotel website

Unfortunately they contacted us a few days before we left and said that there had been a double booking and they had no space for us.  They pulled out all the stops to secure alternative accommodation (which, thanks to its enormous swimming pool and spacious grounds was actually much more suitable for the Minx) and offered us a free dinner on their beautiful outdoor dining terrace.

Architect Anastasia Papaioanou and Australian artist-designer Donald Green worked together to recreate a traditional  multi-levelled, multi-terraced Lindian mansion, decorated in a timeless way using traditional local crafts and antiques.

Here are some of my photos from our dinner, supplemented by the couple above from the hotel’s website, as I didn’t have my wide-angled lens with me.

Enjoy the spectacularly pretty.

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17 August 2011

Beautiful British Food

 

Funnily enough, given that I was brought up by, and learned to cook from, an Italian woman and cook in a very Italian way myself, I have found myself being a bit of an unofficial ambassador for British food here in Seattle, where it’s as much maligned as it is everywhere else on the planet.

I tend to make classic British dishes for potlucks and gatherings (people are so surprised that British food can actually taste good) and really want the Minx to grow up understanding her culinary heritage in the land of mac 'n’ cheese and pumpkin pie.

New Zealander Joel Penkman moved to the UK and started painting beautifully detailed portraits of classic British foodstuffs which make me want to weep with nostalgia.

Every British kid grew up on these biscuits.

 

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No trip to the seaside was complete without a stick of rock to take home.

 

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My favourite ice lolly.  At least until they invented Magnums.

 

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No kid’s birthday party was complete without Fondant Fancies, though my mum had enough of a fear of food colouring that we never had them at home.

 

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Custard tarts.  Always hated those.

 

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And pork pie. One of the top five things I miss most about the UK here in Seattle. I think I would cry if I had this picture on my kitchen wall.

 

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Joel’s website is here. Buy her prints here.

16 August 2011

The Story of the Cake - Part II

 

The day before the party the Husband and I set to work assembling all the various cakes I’d been making and freezing over the previous week.

 

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The top tier was a classic Victoria sponge filled with chocolate buttercream. The rainbow cake filled with vanilla buttercream formed the middle tier and the bottom tier was yet another Macrina Bakery ‘Mom’s Chocolate Cake’, which I’ve been using for birthday cakes ever since the Minx was two, as it is very moist and forgiving, and much beloved by the grown up kids in attendance.

Stupidly I’d made my cakes in 9”, 8” and 7” sizes which didn’t really make for enough of a tiered effect and also left  nowhere for my fairy cake toppers to sit. Fortunately I’d made a big batch of cupcakes ready for a cupcake decorating activity at the party so we used a few to create plinths for the fairies to sit on.

Here is the whole edifice covered in its crumb coat. (Please ignore hideous green kitchen countertops).

 

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And here is the finished article, covered with easy moulded flowers and chocolate bunnies, made using candy melts; vines and leaves iced on in green buttercream and a set of five Disney Fairy cake toppers. The Husband has asked me to point out that he is the person who actually wields the icing bag (under my direction) and he certainly did a fabulous job.

 

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I was however nervous for the final piece de resistance.  Would the central rainbow cake be sufficiently lurid and rainbow-like?

It seems I needn’t have worried.

 

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And the kids ADORED it.

 

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I am indebted to my father-in-law for the last two photos. Note the careful styling in this bottom pic, it took me ages to get the mustard bottle just so.

   

10 August 2011

The Story of the Cake - Part I

 

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Yes, it’s that time of year again, where I get to make my daughter a crazy cake for her birthday

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Actually it’s a different time of year this time round, as we couldn’t actually get our backsides in gear to organise a winter birthday party for her, so this year we’re celebrating her half birthday. And she gets a summer party and her grandad gets to spend it with her, so it’s all good.

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But I digress. This year a Tinkerbell cake has been requested and I thought I’d go along the lines of the Nemo cake I made a couple of years back – three tiers, green icing and then an assortment of fairies and flowers rather than fish and shells.

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I wanted to add an additional surprise though and make the middle tier a ‘rainbow’ cake, as has been demonstrated all over the internet.  Yes, it’s going to be ridiculously tasteless and OTT, but if you can’t get outrageous for a six year old’s birthday cake then when can you.

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So I set to work.  A friend of mine in the UK, who has made a beautiful version, had success using a classic Victoria sponge recipe so that’s what I used.  I doubled it (8oz butter/sugar/flour + 4 eggs), weighed the mixture, divided it equally by six (the indigo layer seems to get missed out of these cakes) and worked out I had about 150g per cake to play with.

And then I set to work with my paste food colourings, as you can see above.  I ended up with some thin but still springy sponge cakes as a I wanted, so that I’ll end up with a not too steep middle tier. Here’s hoping that the more subdued colours of the outside of the cakes end up looking suitably garish when we cut into it.

More cake madness to follow.

04 May 2011

Fancy Hotel of the Week - L’Auberge Del Mar

 

We wanted to go to Southern California this year to a) escape the miserable Seattle ‘spring’ (I use this term loosely) b) visit my elderly aunt in Dana Point, an hour or so’s drive south of LA and c) take the Minx to Disneyland.

I was told by friends on Twitter and Facebook that Del Mar was fun and it was suggested that we try the newly-refurbished L’Auberge Del Mar. When we discovered that my very favourite discounted fancy hotels travel site www.luxurylink.com was offering a deal, our fate was sealed.

And we had the most wonderful time.

L’Auberge Del Mar is a historic hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean and right on Del Mar’s attractive main street.

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The hotel was completely refurbished in 2008 by interior designer Barclay Butera who has done a great job bringing a historic building bang up to date.

We were lucky enough to have a room overlooking the main courtyard of the hotel, which was been designed as a series of little ‘rooms’, cabanas, terraces and courtyards centered around the small but luxurious pool and jacuzzi area. There’s the kicking Bleu Bar, a scenic terrace for breakfast and informal suppers, cosy hidden cabanas and even space for weddings, all with an ocean view.

 

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The themes of the décor are soft and muted sage-y greens, brown and white stripes and the most breathtakingly lush white planting – white roses everywhere you turn, undulating seas of fragrant jasmine, and hedges of rosemary and box.  

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To be perfectly honest we hardly left the hotel all week.  The place comes into its own at night, when the surfers come in from the beach and le tout Del Mar comes out to party. We dined one evening in the hotel’s top notch restaurant Kitchen 1540, where the cured meats, golden beet salad and frozen key lime pie will live on in my memory. We drank superlative cocktails at the Bleu Bar every night. The hotel is beautifully lit with fires and burners everywhere to take the chill off the evening air as the sun sets over the ocean.

The internal décor is luxurious too – all sage greens, soft browns, seashells and comfy seating.  I loved the ridiculously rococo shell-encrusted side tables, the beautiful mother-of-pearl smothered lamps, the green toile cushions and the enormous shell planters full of orchids.

There were little touches of wit and humour everywhere – the wait staff had foodie quotations printed on their tee-shirts and Sofie, Kristy the Marketing Coordinator’s pretty little dog, had a sign at the front desk telling us when she was ‘working’ and available for cuddles. 

 

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Finally, and most importantly for us, L’Auberge trod that extremely fine line between being super relaxed and kid-friendly (with unbelievably kind staff and a great kids’ menu) and sophisticated and happening enough for grown-ups – thanks to a fabulous bar, gorgeous spa and secluded lap pool. The Minx adored it and the Husband and I are longing to return.

Truly I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

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02 May 2011

Prince William’s Chocolate Biscuit Cake

 

When planning our Royal Wedding-watching midnight feast, I decided to try my hand at  the Chocolate Biscuit Cake which Prince William had requested be served at the wedding.  I vaguely remembered having ‘Chocolate Fridge Cake’ myself as a child and thought that the Minx might like it.

 

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I can now see where Prince William is coming from. This ‘cake’ is obscenely decadent and utterly scrumptious and also very quick and easy to make (though I imagine that the enormous version served at the wedding itself took a bit more time).

I based my version loosely on the recipe given by the Tea & Sympathy tearoom in New York and several British versions.  The great thing about this cake is that, since it’s a ‘no bake’ cake – it just sets hard in the fridge – you can be very approximate with quantities and it will still turn out successfully.

The trickiest part for peeps not in the UK will be sourcing the correct biscuits (yes, biscuits in this case means ‘cookies’ and not the soft billowy scone-like things you eat for breakfast).  The traditional English biscuit of choice would be McVities Digestives or Rich Teas – hard, plain, crumbly biscuits which are not too sweet and and a tad salty. They provide a nice contrast to the rest of the cake which is so sweet and rich.  I can find McVities biscuits in the British food section at Metropolitan Market in Seattle and all the online British food stores also carry them, so they are available in the US if you look. The nearest American equivalent is the Graham cracker but they’re not quite the same.  You could also experiment with some of the plain French cookies which are quite easily available (LU do good ones) or use a plain packet shortbread. Remember, nothing too rich, too sweet, or too fancy.

Golden syrup may also be a challenge for people outside the US. I discuss it at length here. Honey, maple syrup or corn syrup could be substituted at a pinch though your cake will taste different. Or else replace the cream and golden syrup with 14 fl oz (400 ml) of sweetened condensed milk.

Finally dried sour cherries are an inspired addition by moi, if I say so myself. The sour, chewy sweetness adds a whole new dimension to the soft cream unctuousness of the chocolate and the crunchiness of the biscuits. I would imagine that dried cranberries would have a similar effect, and raisins would do at a pinch.

 

 

Ingredients

Cake

1 sleeve (about 8-10 oz) McVities Rich Tea or Digestive biscuits, Graham crackers, or similar.  I used Digestives.

10oz (300g) good chocolate. I used Green & Blacks, two bars of dark and two bars of milk since I had the Minx in mind. More sophisticated chocolate lovers may prefer to use all dark chocolate.

1/2 cup/200g/4oz butter

10 fl oz/300 ml heavy/double cream

4 fl oz / 100 ml/ 4 tbsp golden syrup (see above)

A couple of large handfuls of dried sour cherries/cranberries/raisins (optional)

Topping

4 oz (100g) good chocolate (see above)

1 tbsp heavy/double cream

 

Method

Line a loaf tin with butter and parchment paper

Crumble the cookies into small roughly almond-sized bits.

Set up a bain marie or a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, break up the chocolate into bits and melt it in the bowl, together with the butter, cream and syrup.

When everything is fully melted together, stir in the crumbled biscuits and dried fruit if using until everything is fully coated with chocolate.  Pour it into the loaf tin and smooth the top with a wooden spoon. Chill in the fridge for around 4 hours.

When the cake is fully chilled, melt the remaining chocolate and 1tbsp of cream or milk together to make a ganache. Turn out the cake and spread the ganache over the top and sides, filling in an gaps, lumps an bumps.

Serve in small pieces. A little truly does go a long way, though the Minx (who ADORED this cake) might not fully agree.

 

Here’s a picture of the cake served at the Royal Wedding at Prince William’s request and made by McVities. They apparently used 35lbs of chocolate and approximately 1,700 Rich Tea biscuits. 

   

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13 April 2011

Royal Wedding Souvenirs – Food

 

So I’ve been collecting links like crazy and am going to be boring you silly this week with a veritable parade of Royal Wedding memorabilia.  First up is food to get you in the mood for the big day.

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UK biscuit (cookie) bakers the Biscuiteers, have come up with a delightful Special Edition tin of biscuits, featuring crowns, glass coaches, tiered wedding cakes, flags, shoes, engagement rings, dresses and cathedrals. I would SO be buying this if I lived in the UK.

 

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Brighton-based cake designers Choccywoccydoodah produced this incredible take on their signature wedding cake to celebrate the event.

 

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Nottingham-based Castle Rock Brewery has created a special beer aptly called Kiss Me Kate for the occasion.

 

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German-based Donkey Products has created a lovely pair of KaTEA and William teabags, showing Kate in her wedding dress wearing an enormous sapphire and wallowing in oodles of cash.

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Poor girl has however got some very formidable inlaws to contend with though.

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Finally, for those of Stateside who also want wedding cookies then Eleni’s has also created a wedding cookie assortment featuring British icons, tiaras, engagement rings, horses and the bride and groom themselves.

 

 

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Or instead of commemorative china, you can buy cookies in the shape of commemorative plates, which seems to me to be much the best option. Also available from Eleni’s.

 

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More Royal Wedding stuff later this week.

07 April 2011

Recipe of the Week – Scones and Clotted Cream

 

I think we’ve talked about his before, but American dairy products are different.  Butter is less rich, and the creams have less fat content and, to my great chagrin, thick spoonable, dollop-able creams (I adore the word ‘dollop’) just don’t exist. And nor does clotted cream.

 

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This thick spreadable 55% fat cream is even quite difficult to find in London – it’s a speciality of England’s West Country, and should ideally be consumed in a little teashop somewhere in either Devon or Cornwall at a table heaving with flimsy bits of chintzy china and mismatching embroidered napkins.

I haven’t been able to track it down at all in the US, but last month on our trip to Vancouver, I was thrilled to see it offered as part of the afternoon tea at the Shangri-La, and even more thrilled to be given some as a gift by Stéphane, the world’s loveliest concierge. This month, the wonderful Viv made a return trip to the Shangri-La and came back bearing more clotted cream from Stéphane. Truly I am lucky in my friends.

 

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Clotted cream should be eaten with freshly made, billowy soft, barely sweet scones. It’s taken me a long time to track down a decent scone recipe but this one from the BBC website is really good. It uses buttermilk, which is slightly unusual,  but gives the scones a delightful airiness and slight bite.

Ingredients

225g (1 2/3 cups) self-raising flour (if you can’t get self raising make your own by adding 1tsp of baking powder to 1 cup of flour).

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda/baking soda

1 pinch of salt

50g (3.5 tbsp) chilled butter

25g (1tbsp) caster or baker’s sugar

2 handfuls sultanas (golden raisins) optional

125ml (1/2 cup) buttermilk

4 tbsps milk

A little extra flour for rolling and dusting

Preheat the oven to 220C/450F/Gas Mark 7. Butter a baking sheet.

Take a big mixing bowl and add the flour, baking soda, salt and butter. Chop at the butter roughly with kitchen scissors or a knife, and then rub it into the flour. Aim for a reasonably fine crumb but don’t rub it in too much or the scones will be dry.  Remember to lift your hands high in the air while you’re doing this to aerate the mixture.

Stir in the sugar.  I added two handfuls of golden raisins (sultanas) at this stage. They’re entirely optional or else you could also use normal raisins or currants.  Don’t use too many or you’ll weigh the mixture down.

Make a well in the centre of the flour mix and pour in nearly all of the buttermilk and milk. Stir the mix with a spatula until the milk is absorbed and then bring it all together with your hands. The dough should be very soft, almost sticky. Use the last remaining buttermilk and milk to bring together all the flaky bits at the bottom of the bowl if necessary.  Use a light touch at this stage.

Dump the dough on a lightly floured work service. Knead just enough to get rid of any cracks and then pat it down gently until it’s a least an inch (2.5cm) thick.  Take a round cutter – the size is up to you, I tend to make mini ones, and cut out your scones. The cutter makes a delightful sighing sound as it pushes through the dough. Gather up the trimmings,  pat together again and cut again until all your dough is used up. You should have enough for around 5-6 large scones or 10 mini ones.

Here are my little honey bunches excitedly waiting to go into the oven.

 

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Dust with flour and bake in the oven for around 10-12 minutes until risen and golden.  Cool on a wire rack.

Serve as soon after baking as possible with jam and a generous dollop of clotted cream.  Strawberry jam is traditional but I used the very last of last year’s cherry jam from our tree and they were incredibly delicious

I always serve mine the Cornish way with the cream on top. Apparently Devonians put the cream first and then the jam. This is supposedly the subject of much fierce debate in the West Country.

My awesome red spotty teapot is from Rosanna Inc (which I didn’t know was a Seattle-based company) via discount site RueLala. If you still haven’t signed up for lots of lovely bargains, here’s an invitation.

02 April 2011

They Draw And Cook

 

As you know, I aspire – with varying degrees of success – to do a little food photography. To my mind recipes just aren’t complete without pictures.

On They Draw And Cook  Nate Padavick and Salli Swindell. a brother and sister team, together with sundry other wonderfully talented artists, have put together the web’s biggest collection of illustrated recipes. Aren’t these exquisite? Looks like there are some great recipes too.

Photography suddenly seems very passé.

 

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{via Helen at Countryside Wedding}

14 March 2011

Recipe of the Week – Pear and Almond Tart

 

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The clocks may have gone forward this weekend but if my organic veggie box is anything to go by, we’re still in the depths of winter here in the Pacific Northwest.  Fortunately, in among the kale and spinach and chard and collard greens, there are usually a few delicious pears to be found, so I’ve been making a lot of my very favourite Pear & Almond Tart from the River Café Cook Book.

The River Café is one of London’s most celebrated (and much missed by me) Italian restaurants and the eponymous cookbooks I have by chefs Ruth Rogers and the late much lamented Rose Gray are among the most dog-eared and stained in my vast collection.

The emphasis on fresh seasonal ingredients rather than fancy cooking techniques means that most of the recipes are highly accessible to the home cook, especially if you’re prepared to fiddle with the quantities, as most recipes are restaurant-sized.

 

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Pear & Almond Tart

     

Ingredients*

 

FOR THE SWEET PASTRY

175g/6oz/1.5 cups plain (all-purpose) flour

A pinch of salt

90g/4oz/ 1 stick unsalted butter, cold from the fridge and cubed

50g/2oz/0.5 cups icing (powdered) sugar

1 whole egg

*I have halved the quantities given in the book to make a smaller tart, plenty big enough for 6-8 servings.  If you wish, double the quantities and use a 30cm (12 inch) loose-bottomed flan tin to make enough for at least 12 greedy people.

 

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Whizz up the flour, salt, butter and sugar in a food processor until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the egg and whizz again. The mixture will immediately combine and leave the sides of the bowl. Remove the dough, pat it into a ball, wrap with cling film (Saran wrap) and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

When it’s firm and chilled, grate the pastry into a 9in (23cm) fluted loose-bottomed fluted flan tin and then press it evenly round the sides and bottom. (I have no idea why you need to grate it rather than just press it in in lumps, but I always follow blindly follow instructions).  It’s fine to handle this pastry as much as you want.

Line the pastry case with greaseproof or parchment paper and fill with baking beans. Bake blind at 180 degrees C/ 350 degrees F/ Gas Mark 4 until light golden brown, about 25 minutes. I forgot to line with paper for this session which accounts for the curious pitted nature of the pastry case above.

 

FOR THE FRANGIPANE FILLING

3 beautifully ripe pears

175g/6oz/1.5 sticks butter

175g/6oz/0.75 cups caster (baker’s) sugar

175g/6oz/1 cup ground almonds (almond meal)

1 egg + 1 egg yolk

 

Cut your pears into large chunks and lay on the pastry shell. You could also halve or quarter the pears lengthwise and fan them out in wheel.  Some people poach the pears in syrup, but if you have fragrant, juicy ripe pears then you don’t need to bother. And if you don’t, go make something else.

Cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is pale and light. Add the almonds and eggs. Spoon the frangipane over the pears and spread so that the pears are covered and the case is filled to the edges.

Bake at 150 degrees C/300 degrees F/ Gas Mark 3 until golden brown and firm to the touch. The recipe says this should take 40 minutes, but it always takes over an hour in my oven.

 

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Serve on its own or with a little crème fraiche and refuse resolutely to consider how much butter you’re consuming. Pears and almonds are health foods, right?

   

08 March 2011

Beefcakes & Doilies

 

Uncle Beefy, as well as being one of the best bloggers on the Interwebulator, also makes the most incredible  cupcakes I’ve ever tasted anywhere. 

 

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His cakes are perfection in a mouthful – not remotely dry and with a satisfying crumb that is neither too stodgy nor disappointingly ethereal.  Each is topped with the precisely the right amount of not-too-sweet frosting, exploding with fresh authentic flavours.  I truly have never had a better cupcake, my own sadly included.

 

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And they are oh so pretty. On Sunday he gave me one box of lemon cupcakes with fresh strawberry frosting and another box of chocolate chip cakes with a creamy caramel frosting, which was brushed with golden lustre dust, and the same champagne colour as extremely expensive satin underwear.

 

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Unless we can persuade Monsieur LeBoeuf  to open a worldwide mail order business, you may never get to taste these beauties, but I though you might at least want to look and drool.

The beautiful linen tablemat is from Soraam on Etsy.  I met its creator Soojin Yum at a recent Seattle foodie event. Her gorgeous linens are all handprinted using water-based inks on natural materials and come in lots of beautiful designs. Well worth checking out.

   

23 February 2011

Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival

 

So the week before last I headed up to Vancouver BC with three friends – Viv from Seattle Bon Vivant, Tracy from AlDente and Mari  -  to attend the first ever Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival.

 

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This was, of course, just an excuse, for four greedy women to spend 36 hours eating their way round Vancouver, ably abetted by Stephane Mouttet, the charming and hugely knowledgeable concierge at the Shangri La hotel.

Having had such an enjoyable time when we stayed there last, I recommended the Shangri La to the others and it was such a relief when our stay was even better than I had remembered.  If there are friendlier, more helpful, more informative hotel staff anywhere in the world, I’d love to meet them.

Our first stop on the Hot Chocolate Tour was Thomas Haas in Kitsilano. Haas has world-level patissier credentials, most recently as Executive Pastry Chef at the Four Seasons in Vancouver and the sumptuous chocolates and exquisite pastries in his shop were metaphorically, and probably literally, to die for.

Their hot chocolate was the best we tasted on the tour and the almond croissant was the best I’ve ever had anywhere in the world – the perfect combination of crisp savoury outer shell, perfectly toasted almonds and dense squidgy, not too sweet almond filling.  The macarons I brought back for the Minx (who has expensive tastes) were as good as Laduree.

 

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Later that afternoon we visited Mink Chocolates and indulged in yet more hot chocolate and a decadent individual chocolate fondue. The speciality here is individual bars of premium quality iPhone-sized ganache-filled chocolate with super cool names, such as Ruby & Tawny Are Friends, Open In Case Of Emergency, Pas De Deux or Mermaid’s Choice and funky colourful packaging.  Their striking beauty, and the individual bold statement chocolates in the shapes of hearts and lips, reflect owner Marc Lieberman’s fine arts background – he does all the graphic design himself, as well as develop the chocolates.  I bought a stack of chocolate bars for the Husband’s Valentines’ present and can confirm that they are  pretty darn wonderful.

For supper Stephane at the hotel recommended ReFuel, again in Kitsilano, which specialises in fresh local ingredients and did fabulous things with charcuterie, marrow bones, BC spot prawns, chalkboard art and funky light fittings at a very reasonable price.

 

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Another highlight of the trip – though my photos unfortunately didn’t turn out too well -  was our trip to Bella Gelateria. We had every intention of trying the hot chocolate but after James the owner talked to us at length about the wonders of his pistachio gelato, made from specially-ground paste, using pistachios from the slopes of Mount Etna, we changed our minds. I consider myself to be something of a pistachio gelato connoisseur – it’s been my flavour of choice since I was a kid and I’ve eaten it all over Italy - and this really was incredible.

Finally here are a few more photos of the splendours of the ShangriLa, featuring their signature chandeliers, their smiley staff, an immense afternoon tea (with OMG! REAL clotted cream) and a doozy of a breakfast, including my first ever taste of congee, which I adored.

 

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And a couple of pics of the incomparable Stephane at work, who did so much to make our trip one of the most fun and memorable I’ve taken in ages.  Merci beaucoup!

 

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We had a lot of fun posting pictures and tweeting and checking in from all Vancouver on Facebook and Twitter and will definitely be back again next year to check out all the chocolate stops we didn’t make it to this time round.

If you’re on Twitter you may want to follow @thaaschocolates @ShangriLaBC @bellagelateria @CityFood_mag @refuel_bar @minkchocolates or my lovely friends and travel companions Viv @bonnevivante, Tracy @choicemorsel and M @bitterbiscuit.

And of course I can be found at @mirrormirrorxx or on www.facebook.com/mirrormirroronline

14 February 2011

I Heart You Lots

 

No time for blogging today, but I couldn’t let the opportunity go past without telling you how much I love you all and appreciate your comments and emails.  Big slurpy smooches to you all.

Make sure you tell someone you love them today. Even if it’s only your mother.

 

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I’m leaving you with a picture of the sugar cookies I made and iced a few years ago. Nothing so ambitious is happening today.

   

26 January 2011

101 Things – Art of the Pie

 

Since living here I’ve learned how fanatical Americans are about their pies. 

In Britain a pie is a homely thing, most often made with apples, with a soft filling and a thin, light, crumbly crust. 

As in so many other things, an American pie is an altogether less delicate and more robust affair. The piecrust is generally thicker, crunchier, and baked to a deeper golden hue with a chunkier filling. Aside from apples, a whole cornucopia of different fruits is used, particularly here in the Pacific Northwest, with its fabulous stone fruits and soft fruits.  I remember watching Twin Peaks (which, incidentally, was set in the mountains close to Seattle) back in the day and being bemused that such a thing as cherry pie even existed.  It seemed so much more exotic and truly American than apple pie, which to me was just my British father’s favourite dessert and had no American connotations at all.

 

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After finding out that I had a hitherto undiscovered talent for pie-making, I was determined to broaden my horizons further and take a pie-making class so as to learn how to make a classic American pie. Fortunately Seattle is home to one of America’s top pie gurus, Kate McDermott of Art of the Pie, so I added her class to my 101 Things List and two Saturdays ago, off I went.

The classes are held in the kitchen of her West Seattle home, where Kate first demonstrates her techniques and then you get to make your own pie to take home.

Kate first made her pastry. Her recipe is here and in all honesty, it’s not that different from the recipe I used for my Bramley Apple Pie.

Kate too is a fan of using pure leaf lard and European butter.  She gets her lard sent mail order from Pennsylvania - when I told her that you could get 100% pure lard in the chiller cabinet in any British supermarket, she nearly wept.  She specifies using King Arthur Flour, which she keeps in the freezer. Apparently this has a higher protein content than most flours, similar to Italian doppio-zero flour in Europe.

Kate’s not a great believer in strict measuring.  She doesn’t use scales, but instead pretty thrifted teacups and roughly-measured tablespoons. For her it’s all about the texture.

 

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The big revelation for me was her method of rubbing in.  I’ve been making pastry on and off since I was tiny and used to help my mother and have always assiduously rubbed all the fat in until the mixture resembled tiny breadcrumbs. Instead Kate prefers to rub the fat in a little less so that you have mixture of crumb sizes – some like sand or cornmeal, others like chopped nuts, some the size of peas.

It seemed strange to see the finished pastry streaked with fat, but it’s the fat which gives her crust its mouthwatering flakiness and crispness.

While Kate’s pastry was resting in the fridge, we set to making our pie fillings. In January Kate uses high quality frozen fruits instead of fresh. I decided to unleash my inner Kyle Maclachlan and make a traditional American cherry pie.

To make Kate’s cherry filling you just add plenty of sugar and the merest hint of nutmeg and lemon juice to frozen pie cherries and then stir in a third of a cup of flour and a little quick cooking tapioca to absorb the juices. I am thinking of experimenting with adding ground almonds instead, but that will be for my next pie.

I also generally have a lot of trouble rolling out my pastry. Kate showed us how to give it a couple of hard thwacks with her sturdy ‘French pin’ to show it who was boss

 

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and then roll it out using a pendulum-type motion.  I loved using her old-fashioned rolling pin, which is hand crafted from solid maple by Vic Firth Gourmet in Maine. Apparently he used to be timpanist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra before moving first into drumstick manufacture and then into rolling pins. Stories like this please me greatly and I have since bought one of my own. They’re available on Amazon.

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Kate then filled her pie – a blackberry one – dotted the top butter and then showed us how to craft a lattice top

 

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And here is my cherry pie.  I’m assuming you can imagine how proud I was of this.  Also I really want the little thrifted pot Kate uses for her eggwhite and water wash.

 

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Then all our pies went into the oven and we spent the rest of the afternoon drinking champagne and eating Kate’s utterly delicious rhubarb pie, talking about pie, and reading about pie.

 

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I think this almost qualifies me to be an honorary American.

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More photos here.

17 January 2011

101 Things - Food Photography with Clare Barboza

 

Over the last week or two, I’ve been dealing with a severe case of ‘I’ve got so much to do in every direction that I must go and hide and gibber quietly to myself in a darkened room’ which I’m finding is not the optimum solution to my ever-lengthening to do list.

So it’s mostly going to be pretty pictures until I emerge from under the layers of work, admin and clutter which are currently overwhelming me.

 

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On Saturday I took some time off from the insanity, to do yet another photography class to keep me going on my 101 Things list. (By the way, I have apparently inspired Lara at Food. Soil. Thread and Helen at CountrysideWeddings to similar madness, so please go and encourage them too).

Clare Barboza, whose Child Photography class I recently took, is also a mega-talented food photographer and works out of the same awesome studio as Lara Ferroni.

The class was extremely useful. We talked about lighting and basic technique; critiqued photos Clare had taken; took shots of beautifully prepared and plated food cooked by Chef Becky Selengut and Marc Schermerhorn; tried plating and styling our own shots, critiqued our shots as a group and then got some tips on post production.

Here are some of the shots I took. My hit ratio of good shots to crap is still frustratingly low (and these had to be significantly worked on in Lightroom) but I feel like I’m starting to grope my way towards a style. The lighting and the studio props make everything so easy though.

I know I always say this (hey, what can I say, Seattle is STUFFED with prodigiously talented photogaphers) but again I can’t recommend this class highly enough if you’re into food photography. I believe Clare has got another couple of classes coming up, check on her blog if you’re interested.

 

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14 January 2011

Lady Marmalade – Blue Chair Fruit

 

A few weeks before Christmas I was lucky enough to get a place at a marmalade-making class hosted by Seattle Bon Vivant, and taught by Rachael Saunders of Blue Chair Fruit, who is also the author of the Blue Chair Jam cookbook.

Actually I really wanted to get to the jam-making class, as I’ve not historically been a great fan of marmalade, but that coincided with my trip to Pender Island, so marmalade it had to be.

In fact the class was fascinating and hugely informative, and since the Husband is a huge marmalade fan, my learnings were not entirely in vain.

We tasted various preserves;

 

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learned the best way to prepare and chop the pre-blanched fruit;

 

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watched the fruit bubble through various stages of cooking;

 

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tested for done-ness, and then poured the amber nectar into dozens of tiny jars.

 

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I learned to taste the mixture just before the final boiling and add a little fresh lemon juice for an extra layer of sparkle, and we were shown the best and easiest way to jar the preserves – heating the jars in the oven, rather than sterilising them in boiling water, and using a wide mouth funnel to fill them easily. Why haven’t I had one of these handy tools in my kitchen before?

 

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Here’s Rachael admiring her handiwork, wearing her super cool retro apron.

 

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We were given four jars of differently flavoured and textured marmalades to take home, and my goodness they were a revelation, particularly to me who’s always disliked the thick. chewy, unpleasantly bitter traditional British shop-bought stuff.

Rachael’s marmalades melt in the mouth, and are bursting with zingy citrus flavours which overlay the subtly bitter chewiness of the peel and the rich sweetness of the (amazing quantities) of sugar.

I was so inspired that I bought the Husband (who is the chief jam maker chez nous) a copy of Rachael’s wonderful book and one of the beautiful Mauviel preserving pans she uses for his Christmas present. 

This was not of course in any way, shape or form a present for me. Oh no.

04 January 2011

A Bit of Baking

 

And a Happy New Year to you too!

I might not be posting much this week. I’ve been knocked for six by a huge cold; am working on another blog which I will be launching this week, hopefully tomorrow; am working on a very inspirational online photography workshop led by Darrah Parker; and preparing for the first day of my Advanced Interactive Marketing Course at the University of Washington on Friday.

In the meantime here are a few images from my New Year’s baking – mini cupcakes for a New Year’s Party and some mini mince pies made with my unbelievably good homemade mincemeat (gosh, I’m so proud of that stuff), just because really.  There has been much discussion of cake v pie around the Internet recently but I truly don’t understand why you can’t just have both.

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Where do you stand on cake versus pie? Are cupcakes really passe’? What’s with the American obsession with pie? Anyone fancy a mince pie?

20 December 2010

Christmas Baking with Kids

 

Last Saturday the Minx and I attended a Christmas baking class for kids at our local PCC supermarket

 

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The class, run by Birgitte Antonson of Nature’s Way Food, was huge fun and perfectly judged for kids aged 4-6.

We were given the recipes for four Christmas treats – Pumpkin Seed Date Snowballs, Holiday Maple Spice Cookies, Yummy Yam Frosting and Jewel Cookies.  Sneakily the recipes were comparatively healthy; minimising sugar, by cutting down the quantities and replacing it with maple syrup, honey, yams or fruit spreads; and incorporating more healthy ingreadients such as dried fruit, pumpkin seeds and whole wheat flour into the recipes.  I have to say, for comparatively healthy stuff, it was utterly delicious and the Minx thought everything tasted suitably decadent and Christmassy.

Two of the cookies recipes had been pre-prepared by Birgitte, so we were handed our cookie dough and got to work rolling and cutting and generally making a mess.

 

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Birgitte demonstrated how to make the Yam Frosting and the Pumpkin Seed Snowballs, and the kids were rapt, able to watch exactly what she was doing on the big screen.

 

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Our favourites were the Jewel Cookies (recipe below), where the Minx got to roll them into balls, make a big thumbprint indentation and fill them with fruit spread.

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When the Maple Spice cookies were baked we had lots of messy fun decorating them with yam frosting, shredded coconut for snow and naturally coloured sugar sprinkles (coloured with fruit juices etc). I had no idea these latter existed and will definitely be buying them again as the colours are very beautiful, notwithstanding the health benefits.

 

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I was going to post up the recipe for Jewel Cookies but we’re currently in Whistler and I don’t have it to hand, so you’ll get it after Christmas.

14 December 2010

Homemade Mincemeat

 

Or, the one in which I totally gross out my American readers.

The taste of a British Christmas were established hundreds of years ago when the Crusaders first brought spices and exotic fruits back to Britain and it was discovered that they were delicious preservatives of meat.  While the cooking of the rest of Western Europe is based on the use of herbs, British food relies much more on spices for flavour, and the British Empire grew up in part because of the spice trade. All manner of dried fruits, citrus fruits, strange spices, brandy and rum would be brought back to Blighty and our traditional Christmas foods all feature these erstwhile exotic ingredients.   Christmas cake, Christmas puddings and mincemeat are essentially all variations on the dried fruit, citrus, spices and alcohol theme, just different in texture.

 

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Mincemeat got its name, because, yes, in Tudor times, it used to contain meat – preserved by the fruit sugars, alcohol and spices. I love this quote I found here and taken from a 1545 cookbook.

‘To make Pyes - Pyes of mutton or beif must be fyne mynced and ceasoned wyth pepper and salte, and a lyttle saffron to coloure it, suet or marrow a good quantite, a lyttle vyneger, prumes, greate raysins and dates, take the fattest of the broathe of powdred beyfe, and yf you wyll have paest royall, take butter and yolkes of egges and so tempre the flowre to make the paeste’

As the years went past, the quantity of meat diminished and then disappeared, but the beef suet lived on, helping to preserve the mixture and giving an unctuous silky mouth feel to the finished preserve when warmed.  In my opinion, it’s not worth making mincemeat with anything else.

Who would have thought that one of the main things I’d miss upon moving to the US would be suet?  Suet is the dry fat around around beef kidneys, and, like lard, is very difficult to track down in the US. 

For some reason Americans will quite cheerfully chow down on all sorts of dangerous hydrogenated fats but are very circumspect when it comes to pure animals fats, such as suet or lard, even though they have no more saturated fat  than butter.

In the UK ‘shredded’ suet is available in boxes, chopped and floured into tiny pellets and looking like it never saw an animal in its life. This is good, as so many classics of traditional British cuisine, including many dessert dishes – steak and kidney pudding, jam roly poly, spotted dick (yep, I saw you laughing at the back), traditional Christmas puddings and mince pies – depend for their flavour and texture on copious amounts of chopped up beef fat.  Nobody could ever accuse traditional British food of being sophisticated.

Not only is shredded suet impossible to track down here, but, since the outbreak of mad cow disease in the late 80s in the UK, it, and products containing it, can’t even be imported into the US. Which means that I’ve missed traditional mincemeat and mince pies more than words can express. (Vegetarian suet and vegetarian mincemeat IS available, but it’s full of hydrogenated fats and tastes horrible, so to be avoided at all costs in my book).

However, even a dyed-in-the wool carnivore such as myself was slightly perplexed when I unwrapped my packet of suet from the butcher. Was I seriously going to put this in my dessert?

 

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I also had absolutely no clue how to prepare it  - all British recipes are resolutely silent on the issue, just assuming you’re going to use the packet stuff. So I improvised by painstakingly picking the globules of dry white fat from the papery membrane it was stuck too, and discarded both the membrane and the stuff that was more obviously meat rather than fat).  I began to realise why a certain Mr Hugon had made a fortune back in 1893 out of creating Atora shredded suet for the harried British housewife.

A quick pulse in the food processor later with a tablespoon of flour and this is what I ended up with. The suet is very dry and so crumbs up nicely. How much more innocuous and palatable this looked! 

 

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From then on we were on a roll. I used Delia Smith’s recipe from the venerable-but-still-much-thumbed-in-this-house-anyway Delia Smith’s Christmas.

 

Ingredients (Makes 6lbs)

 

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1lb/450g Bramley apples, cored and chopped small without peeling (I used the last of my precious Bramleys, but you can use any sharp, crisp apples)

8oz/225g shredded beef suet

12oz/350g raisins

8oz/225g sultanas (golden raisins)

8oz/225g currants

4oz (110g) mixed candied peel, finely chopped  (I could only find orange peel and forgot to chop mine)

4oz (110g) glace cherries (Delia’s recipe omits the cherries, which are not traditional, and uses 8oz of mixed peel, but I love cherries in mine)

12oz/350g soft dark brown sugar (you may want to use a little less if your apples are much sweeter than Bramleys)

Grated zest and juice of two oranges

Grated zest and juice of two lemons

2oz slivered almonds

4 tsps ground mixed spice*

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Grated nutmeg

6 tablespoons brandy

*‘Mixed spice’  is a ready made up spice mixture from the UK similar to pumpkin pie spice but omitting the ginger and often including ground cloves. In the US I replaced all the spices listed here with 2tsps cinnamon, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp allspice and 1 scant tsp ground cloves.

   

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Method

Spend the best part of an hour weighing and  measuring fruits and chopping apples. This is fun as your kitchen will smell like you’ve died and gone to heaven and if your kids are anything like my kid they’ll be keen to help.

Stir all the ingredients, except the brandy, together in a large ceramic bowl. I added the brandy by mistake.

Cover with a cloth and leave overnight in a cool place so that flavours get a chance to mingle.

 

 

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Then place everything in a very cool (225 degrees F/120 degrees C) oven for three hours. This melts the lard and coats the apples, thereby preventing fermentation.

Look how yummy and moist and succulent and juicy it looks when it’s warmed!

 

 

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And look how faintly disgusting it looks covered in coagulated fat after being left to cool completely in the fridge.

 

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But no matter, all it needed was another thorough stir to break up the fat and it became unnoticeable in the mixture. The brandy is normally added at this stage to preserve everything. I was a little worried that my mixture would not preserve so well because I’d added the brandy before the warning process, so I added another 6 tbsps of brandy to be sure. That’s my excuse anyway.

Words cannot describe how delectable this tasted. Eons better than any brand of jarred mincemeat I’ve ever tasted.  I seriously could have eaten the whole bowlful that very morning.  Instead I packed it in clean, dry jars which I heated in the oven to sterilise.

If properly made, mincemeat will keep for at least a year or three. The flavours are supposed to develop and intensify in the jar so it’s customary to make your mincemeat in November for December eating. I honestly don’t see though how the flavour of this could be in the slightest bit improved.  Mince pies will be made at the end of the week.

   

19 November 2010

Recipe of the Week – Red Onion Marmalade

 

I’m in a preserving state of mind at the moment and this weekend decided to make a little treat for the Husband.  Since coming to the US we’ve found it quite difficult to get hold of good onion marmalade. We can occasionally buy it in Canada or in the speciality food aisle here in the US, but we’ve yet to find a brand that could replace Tracklements Onion Marmalade in his affections.

 (The following recipe is one I first tried at a friend’s house years ago. I photographed the relevant page from her cookbook but unfortunately the pboto doesn’t tell me which cookbook it came from. I’d love to be able to credit it properly, so please let me know if you recognise it.)

 

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Silky, sticky onion marmalade is one of those very British sweet/sour condiments that the French find quite barbaric, but is quite sensationally good. The sweetness of the caramelised onions is enhanced and deepened by the balsamic vinegar and sugar, while the garlic, thyme and wine add unexpected layers of flavour. 

It’s best served with foods that are rich, creamy and intensely savoury – the subtle crunch of the onions adds a layer of texture, the vinegar cuts through the richness and the sweetness adds its own counterpoint.

Dollop it onto strong creamy Cheddar as part of a ploughman’s lunch, or serve with a smooth chicken liver mousse, other meats or even foie gras.  It is also quite amazing with sausages and mash and fabulous in a hamburger.

The Husband just scoffs his with a spoon, straight from the fridge.

 

Red Onion Marmalade

Ingredients

(Makes enough for 1 small jar. Multiply the quantities depending on how many jars you want to make)

2 large red onions

3 tbsps olive oil

2 cloves garlic

Sea salt

4 tbsps red wine

4 tbsps balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp soft brown sugar

Few springs of thyme

Black pepper

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Method

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Thinly slice the onions.

Heat the oil in a heavy-based deep-sided frying pan or saucepan. C rush the garlic and saute’ the onions , garlic and a little salt very gently for around 20 minutes until soft and translucent. The recipe suggests covering the onions with a circle of greaseproof paper so that moisture is trapped and they don’t brown – this worked very well for me.

Then add the wine, vinegar and sugar and simmer everything gently for around 15-20 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated.  You could also experiment with different vinegars and liquids. Port would be a good substitute for the wine and sherry vinegar would be an interesting replacement for the balsamic. The Husband’s favourite Tracklements brand uses redcurrant juice.

Strip the leaves from thyme and add them to the marmalade, season with pepper and more salt to taste and cook gently for another 5 minutes.

Pack into a sterilised jar and close the lid while it’s still warm. The recipe says this lasts for about a month in the fridge.  I pass this on to you as an interesting theory, no more - the Husband inhales this stuff and in our house it lasts a week or two at the very most.

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02 November 2010

Voting Works!

 

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Well my lovely cute little chickadees.  Thanks to everyone who voted for me in the Food Ninja competition, I apparently won the ‘Best Blog Post’ category and soon a cute and extremely funky looking Zojirushi rice cooker will be mine. 

Thank you so much to all who voted.  I’m completely amazed and tickled pink, especially as I can now tick off ‘Win something, anything’ from my 101 Things list, for a total of 3 things completed.

So you see voting thing works. There’s another teensy vote going on in the US today. Regular readers will probably know which side of the fence I’m on (I’ll give you a clue, two weeks ago I went to see Obama at a rally in Seattle) but I just wanted to urge everyone to get out and vote, whatever and whomever you’re voting for.

I can’t vote in US elections, but know full well how much impact they have, not just for Americans but for the rest of the world. And the whole world benefits from a vigorous, informed and engaged American electorate. So if you have a vote, count yourself lucky and go out and use it!

A propos, has anyone actually used a rice cooker? Are they useful? What sort of stuff do you cook in them? Are they good for brown rice and pilafs as well as Asian white rices? Where the heck am I going to find space for it in my kitchen?

01 November 2010

101 Things – Learning Thai Cooking

 

One thing I’ve added to my 101 List is to learn Thai cookery.  It’s so thoroughly and deliciously complex, looks so very beautiful and is a wonderful vehicle for consuming tons of healthy vegetables and lots of yummy seafood.

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It’s also a cuisine about which I am almost completely ignorant.  I love it, but rarely stray from Pad Thai, Tom Yum Soup and Red Curries on the menus; never cook authentic Thai at home (though here’s a stab at inauthentic Thai) and have never been to Thailand.

For the purposes of the list I defined my goal as completing six workshops or classes on the subject over the next three years.  I know that Thai cooking is as complex, if not more so, than French cuisine, but I figured that six workshops would be enough to give me a somewhat reasonable grounding.

The class in Thai Comfort Cooking I took at PCC in Greenlake was perfect for a beginner like me.  The amazing teacher Pranee Halvorsen, is a lovely Thai lady from Phuket, despite the Norwegian married name. She took us through four courses of a Thai comfort food feast, with detailed recipes and wonderful stories, chopping and stir frying all the while and patiently answering all our questions.

 

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She showed us her favourite products, talked about specific Thai techniques and  ingredients, offered substitutions for difficult to get items and demonstrated how to make garnishes and ingredients such as sauteed shallots, crushed chilli peppers, vinegar and jalapeno condiment and dark soy sauce, and then served out each dish to eighteen people, so we got a fabulous lunch along the way.

By a huge coincidence Pranee had been a student with me at Jackie Baisa’s photography workshop, so she very kindly let me take photographs throughout the class. Again the overhead lighting was flat and unforgiving, but the dishes were too exquisite (and exquisitely delicious) not to look amazing whatever the photography.

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I’ll be attempting to cook all of these dishes over the next few weeks so there will be recipes and more pics coming.  In the meantime feast your eyes on these pics.

 

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28 October 2010

101 Things – Jackie Baisa Food Photography

 

Another weekend, another photography workshop, another tick on my 101 Things list. This time with Seattle food and wedding photographer and fellow oxtail stew lover Jackie Baisa.

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A bunch of us came together at gourmet cooking store 'Dish It Up’ in Seattle’s Magnolia district.  For the first part of the class we discussed Jackie’s extremely informative hand out and also critiqued a bunch of Jackie’s photos that hadn’t quite made the cut – this was an extremely useful exercise, and I need to get into the habit of doing it both with my own photos and those in magazines.

 

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Then after a sneaky lunch at Nikos Gyros (at last, I have found decent Greek food in Seattle!), the real fun began when ace private chef Becky Selengut arrived to cook a bunch of beautiful dishes for us to photograph.

To be honest, the photography conditions could have been better -  we were in Dish It Up’s demonstration kitchen which is wonderful for chefs but not so wonderful for photographers, with flat overhead lighting, no natural light, no dedicated photography lights and a very shiny reflective granite surface. No different from photographing in most restaurants though, I wouldn’t have thought.

 

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And that, my dears, was the very great thing about this course -  the opportunity to take plenty of pictures of a chef in action. And the dishes Chef Becky produced were literally pretty as a picture – photography skills hardly required.  If Jackie does another course, make sure you’re on it. (Also the opportunity to sample the dishes later is, shall we say, an added attraction).

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Here are Chef Becky and Photographer Jackie doing their thang. 

 

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 Just back from San Francisco y’all (<--- how American am I?).  Love that place.

21 October 2010

Food Ninja – Peperoncini e Melanzane Sott’olio

 

Or peppers and aubergines (I’m sorry but I really cannot bring myself to say ‘eggplants’) preserved in oil the Italian way.

 

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I’ve been following ace Seattle foodie Salty Seattle, whom I first met at the Ice Cream Social, on Twitter where she’s recently been having a lot of fun with the #foodninja hashtag. So much so that she, Salty Ninja, and her foodie friends Fujimama (Fuji Ninja) and Bell’Alimento (Bella Ninja) have recently set up a Food Ninja competition with some quite fabulous prizes.

Unfortunately it is not entirely clear to me what a ‘food ninja’ actually is, although it appears to involve badass cooking skills (or indeed ‘skillz’), doing death-defying things with knives, high kicks and possibly flying through the air, all while wearing stiletto heels.

So what’s a girl to do when her knife skills are pedestrian, she can’t wear stilettos due to acute plantar fasciitis and she looks ridiculous in a bandanna? After much thought, I decided to do death-defying things with red hot peppers instead.  The good news is that this recipe doesn’t even require badass cooking skills or even skillz, just a bit of care and patience (though don’t mention this to the ninja ladies).

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I’ve been wanting to write this post for quite literally years.  When I was living in Europe and after my parents died, I would often spend Christmas with my Italian relatives in Piemonte. And let me tell you, Italy is a very good place to be at Christmas.  The cuisine of Piemonte is rightly famous for its antipasti or appetisers. On the night of Christmas Eve my aunt (a true food ninja if ever I met one) would serve a twenty course feast – a parade of seventeen varied and delicious antipasti which would leave you groaning on the floor before the pasta, meat and dessert courses even made an appearance.

Of these, my very favourites were the piquant ‘sott’olio’ vegetable preserves she would bring up from her cellar – zucchini, artichokes, aubergines and teensy hot peppers stuffed with tuna, all silky smooth and dripping with flavoured oil, just begging to be mopped up with some good crusty bread.

She gave me her recipe but I’ve never made them before – I even added ‘Make Italian Sott’Olio Preserves’ to my list of 101 Things - so it seemed like a sign when I was casting around for something ninja-like to make and I saw precisely the right tiny round bottomed peppers I needed at the farmers’ market (does anyone happen to know what variety these are by the way?)

 

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Ingredients

Peperoncini Ripieni Sott’Olio
(Stuffed Peppers in Oil)

Makes 2 jars
20-30 little round bottomed hot peppers
1 cup (8fl oz) water
1 cup (8fl oz) white wine vinegar
1 can good quality tuna packed in oil
3-4 anchovies packed in oil, rinsed and patted dry
1 tbsp capers packed in vinegar or salt, rinsed and patted dry
2-3 cloves garlic (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil
Melanzane Sott’Olio
(Aubergines in Oil)

Makes 2 jars
Some beautiful firm aubergines (I used three)
Salt
1 cup (8fl oz) water
1 cup (8fl oz) white wine vinegar
6-7 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
dried oregano
dried chili flakes/crushed dried chili
Extra virgin olive oil

 

Method

First up prepare your vegetables.

Peppers: Cut out the tops of the peppers and scoop out all the seeds with a knife and small spoon. This is pretty time-consuming which is why I only ended up making 28 peppers.  I shall regret this later.

 

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Could this get any more ninja?  Red hot chilis AND knives.

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Aubergines: Thinly slice your aubergines lengthwise. If you were a true ninja you’d probably use a ninja star for this, but I used a knife.

 

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Layer the aubergines in a colander with plenty of salt. Put a plate on top and add a heavy weight such as a big bag of flour to squish out all the bitter brown juices.  Leave the aubergines for at least one hour and preferably several.

When the aubergines are ready, rinse off the salt and brown juices and pat off as much excess moisture as you can.  Cut the aubergine slices into strips about an inch or so wide with kitchen scissors.

Aubergines and Peppers: Heat the water and vinegar together until boiling. This recipe is easily scalable so just use as much water and vinegar as you need, remembering to keep a ratio of 1/2 water and 1/2 vinegar. Two cups of liquid is fine for the quantities of vegetables I have here.

Scald the vegetables in the boiling vinegar solution for 2-3 minutes. I did my peppers and aubergines in separate batches so as not to mix the flavours.

When the vegetables are blanched, scoop them out with a slotted spoon and leave them to dry – the aubergines pressed between clean dry teatowels or kitchen towel, and the peppers placed upside down with their bottoms in the air on kitchen towel.

 

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It is very important at this stage to dry the vegetables as much a possible as wet vegetables will go mouldy.  Leave them for several hours – my aunt suggests putting them outside in the sunshine, but then she lives in Italy.

Aubergines:  Sterilise your jars in boiling water.  When the aubergines are very dry, add a layer of oil to the jar, then a layer of aubergine and then a few slices of garlic, a pinch of chili flakes and some sprinkles of oregano. Continue layering the jar in this way until you’ve reached the top, making sure that the aubergine is completely covered with oil. This is again important for the preserving process.

 

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Peppers: Sterilise your jars in boiling water. Prepare your stuffing by breaking up the anchovies with your fingers and stirring them and the capers into the tuna. If possible, gently pulse the mix in food processor until thoroughly amalgamated but stop before it becomes a sloppy puree. Filled the dry, hollow peppers with the mix.

 

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Layer the stuffed peppers, slices of garlic and oil in your prepared jars as before, again covering the peppers completely with oil.

Store everything for several months in a dark, cool, dry place. It’s important to leave them for a little time if you can so that flavours meld and the oil becomes especially delicious.  This is easier said than done.

Serve with good bread, some prosciutto, some delicious tomatoes and a glass of chilled white wine for a taste of the Italian summer all year round.

And so, it was not what I was planning, but the first thing I can fully cross off my 101 Things list is ‘Prepare Italian Sott’Olio Preserves’. Only another 100 things to go.  I’ll do an update post when we finally get to open them, probably around Christmas time.

And if you want to me help me cross ‘Win Something, Anything’ off my list too, then I’ll be posting details of how to vote for this post in the next few days.

Oh and apologies for light posting recently. I managed to lose a bunch of posts I’d prepared, so I’m now having a ton of fun recreating posts I’ve already written up once. So much my favourite thing to do as I’m sure you can imagine.

09 October 2010

Brunch at the Corson Building

 

A few weeks ago the Husband had a rather big birthday, so in the course of what felt like weeks of celebrating we went for brunch at the Corson Building here in Seattle.

The Corson Building does its best to feel more like an underground dining experience than a standard restaurant. There is a changing calendar of events and no fixed menu, just whatever the kitchen feels like cooking that day from fresh seasonal and local ingredients, many picked from the kitchen garden.

The building itself is old, quirky and beautiful, the likes of which you see only rarely in not-very-historic Seattle. The food is by and large delicious, though be warned that you don’t get traditional egg and maple syrup-laden brunch fare (much to the Minx’s chagrin).  Instead are salads and cake, yogurt, cheese and fruit, with a small menu of main dish options – I had a roasted tomato tart which was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long while.

But for me it was all about the space and the decor – the prettiest restaurant in Seattle and the sort of place where you could point your camera in any direction and feel like you’d painted a watercolour.

Sit down and enjoy the pretty.

 

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06 October 2010

Recipe of the Week – Buckwheat Blinis

 

It’s that time of year again. A new school year, a new round of ‘getting to know each other’ potlucks to bake for.

The Minx goes to Seattle’s French American school, which means that the potlucks are of a deliciously high standard as everyone tries to keep up with the French parents, but which also means that it is not at all the done thing just to bring a pot of bought hummus and some lunchbox carrot sticks.

 

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I’ve had a lot of success at potlucks recently bringing buckwheat blinis, smoked salmon and creme fraiche, courtesy of a recipe from dear old Delia. They take a little bit of time to prepare as they’re yeast-based, but they’re fun to make, really easy, and are very happy to sit about waiting for festivities to kick off, though they never last very long when the cling-film is finally removed.

 

Ingredients

3/4 cup/175g strong white flour

1/4 cup/50g buckwheat or wholemeal flour

1 tsp salt

1 sachet easy blend dried yeast
1 cup/220 ml creme fraiche
1 cup/225 ml whole milk
2 large eggs
Melted butter for cooking

 

Method

Making the batter

Sift the flours and salt together into a large bowl and then sprinkle in the yeast. Heat the creme fraiche and milk together in a small saucepan until slightly warm, (too hot and you’ll kill the yeast).

Separate the eggs, reserve the whites and add the yolks to the milk mixture. Break it all up with a fork and pour the eggy milk into the flour and yeast. Stir to make a thick batter, then cover with a damp cloth and leave into a warm place for about an hour until spongy and bubbly.

Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks and fold them into the batter. Cover with the damp cloth again and leave them for another hour.

 

Cooking the blinis

Heat a flat griddle pan or heavy-bottomed frying pan (I have a cast iron crepe pan which is AMAZING) and then keep it on a medium heat.

Melt a large knob of butter in a small saucepan and brush a little butter on the pan.

Then add spoonfuls of batter – I use a teaspoon of batter to make mini-blinis ideal for gatherings, but you could use a tablespoon to make bigger starter or snack-sized offering.

The batter will start to set the minute it hits the pan and will look light and puffy.

 

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After about 40 seconds, when the edges are starting to dry out, flip the blinis over (I have a little cookie spatula which is perfect  for this) and then cook for about 30 seconds on the other side.

 

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When they’re ready, cool on a wire rack  and repeat the process, brushing the pan with butter each time.  This mixture should give you about 50 mini-blinis.

 

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Serve the blinis with a little smoked salmon, a blob of creme fraiche and a spring of dill (I usually put blinis, salmon, creme fraiche and dill on a plate and let people get on with it).

Blinis also freeze beautifully, and leftovers are delicious and dangerously moreish with prosciutto or butter and honey or jam. Don’t ask me how I know.