February 11, 2013
Just as I get all enthused about writing my blog again, I come down with a bout of flu on a par with the bubonic plague (without the dodgy armpit sores, thanks be…) (is it okay to talk about armpit sores on a food blog?).
After six days in bed, and more time off work than is good for my bank balance, I’m downright desperate to be back to fiddle-like fitness.
The worst thing about all this is the complete lack of interest I’ve had in food. I’m sure a lot of it is thanks to my tastebuds dying a death – when food becomes nothing but texture and consistency, well, Michel Roux could be standing over me with the finest coq au vin and it might as well be a Findus frozen lasagne.
So, while I await the return of my taste and energy levels, here’s one I made earlier…
My friend Marian is one of my biggest fans. She’s always going on at me to enter The Great British Bake Off, or make her a cake, or set up my own cafe, or make her another cake.
Now, as much as I (normally) like eating, I think baking a cake for someone else is right up there at the top of my list of pleasurable activities. So when Marian asked me to make a birthday cake for her boyfriend a couple of weeks ago, I… actually, that’s a lie. She didn’t ask at all. I told her I was making it, and that was that.
The boyfriend, I was informed, was a fan of carrot cake and chocolate cake. And, as I am most definitely not a fan of carrot cake (and what’s the point of making cake you can’t enjoy yourself), chocolate it was.
A few years ago, I made a chocolate and orange marble cake for Little Sis’s birthday that had both looked and tasted great. Cutting open the cake to see swirls of chocolatey and orangey sponge gives it quite a professional look – even though it’s actually really simple to make. The recipe is from Leith’s Baking Bible, which is a must-have book for anyone who makes cakes regularly.
All you do is make a traditional sponge batter, split the mixture in two, then add orange zest to one half and cocoa powder to the other.
Then place alternate spoonfuls of the mixtures into your tin until it’s all in. Roughly smooth the top, then get a clean knife and slowly draw a spiral from the centre of the batter outwards. Just the once. This will combine the two batters just enough to create a great marble effect once cooked.
Cooking this cake, I came to the realisation once and for all that my oven is pretty damn efficient. Maybe a little too efficient. Hence the great crater in the top. Next time, I’ll remember to turn the temperature down a wee bit. But luckily for this cake, it was being iced, so I could disguise the slight amateurishness of its appearance.
The Leith recipe also suggests sprinkling grated chocolate on top, which is okay, but I think random little chippy bits of chocolate doesn’t always look that great. I thought I’d attempt some proper curls for this one, and while researching the best way to do it, came across a fantastic tip. Instead of all that faff with melting the chocolate, pouring it onto a sheet, cooling, scraping etc etc etc – you do it with a vegetable peeler!
As long as the chocolate is properly room temperature (if it’s too cold, the curls just shatter), and you hold it over the cake so you don’t need to try and pick them up, it really does the trick to great effect. As you can see here…
The cake went down very well, although I’m not sure the boyfriend was too keen on half a Peckham pub singing him happy birthday in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. But hey, you want cake? You have to sing – or at least be sung to – for it.
January 18, 2013
Unbelievably, it has been nearly three years since I packed away my London flat, stacked up all my boxes in a storage unit in Brighton and strode off into the Turkish sunset. The sunset scenario didn’t exactly work out, and it’s taken me a while to find my feet again, but finally, I’m back on solid ground, in a lovely flat, with a lovely flatmate, and most excitingly, have all my wonderful kitchen things out of storage and back in their rightful place – in the kitchen.
I’ve been thinking about my blog and how to restart it for a long time now, and have made a few attempts at getting it going again. I’m not sure why, when I have such a great kitchen to cook in now, I’ve been feeling so blocked when it came to writing about my food again. But I’ve decided that, rather than making a big song and dance about it, I’m just going to slide gently back into the blogosphere and hope that a few people join me along the way.
Now, take that look off your face. They’re not just what your granny eats to keep herself regular, okay? I admit that in my childhood they had all the allure of a dose of Benylin. But, due to the current popularity of Middle Eastern and north African food (thanks, Moro and Ottolenghi), prunes are fast becoming a store-cupboard staple in my home.
In fact, the reason I had a rather large tub of them in my fridge was because I’d used them in an Ottolenghi recipe for osso bucco with prunes and leeks. And the only prunes I had been able to find locally were in mahoosive quantities.
Last week, I was having lunch with a friend and, as my conversations often do, the topic turned to food, and what I could do with my leftover prunes. “I have just the thing!” exclaimed Zoe. “Stuff them with almonds, soak them in booze and make them into a clafoutis.”
Ooh, I’m not sure about that, I thought.
No, of course I didn’t. I thought, bloody hell, that sounds fantastic! And even better, the recipe Zoe suggested was gluten-free, which meant it would also perfectly suit my sensitively stomached flatmate.
Zoe had said she generally used Armagnac or Marsala for the soaking, but I chose Madeira (mainly because it was the only one I could find in relatively small and cheap bottles). And I think you could probably use any sort of strong-ish alcohol that takes your fancy.
So, put a whole blanched almond inside about 12 pitted prunes, stick them in a bowl and soak them in your booze of choice overnight.
Butter a baking dish. (The one I used here was, in fact, a little too wide and shallow. For these quantities, I’d suggest something about 20cm wide.) Then place the boozy prunes in the dish.
Whizz together 250g mascarpone, 30g ground almonds, 30g soft brown sugar and 2 eggs, until smooth and light. Then pour the mixture over the prunes. Cover the dish with tin foil and bake at 160°C for about 25 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking for another 15-20 minutes. While waiting, pour the excess Madeira into a wine glass and glug. (Yum.)
Serve immediately out of the oven. In fact, just pick up a spoon and dive in. I’d say this should be enough for four – four very restrained people. In reality, Flatmate and I managed to scoff pretty much the lot in one sitting.
As it should be done.
April 17, 2011
Being a predominantly Muslim country, Turkey doesn’t have a great deal of pork available. And I do love my pork. So when I’m back in France or England, I tend to eat a lot of it. After all, there really is nothing like a deliciously spiced saucisson in France, or a plate of crispy bacon in Britain.
My stay in London has been quite long this time, and I realised today that it’s only two weeks until I head back to Istanbul. Which, of course, I’m really excited about – but, what was the first thing I thought when I realised my UK trip was close to an end? Pork!
So, today, when I said I’d cook Sunday lunch for Lene, my London host (landlady?), and her family, I knew exactly what was going to be on the menu.
Lene is as much into her cooking as I am, and has a fine collection of cookery books. Including a lovely set of Elizabeth David classics. Among which I found a recipe for roast pork with fennel – in her book called Italian Food. But, of course, being a bit of a food fiddler, I couldn’t just leave it at that, and decided to add garlic, rosemary and paprika to the rolled shoulder stuffing.
On the side, I kept to the fennel theme, and made a fennel and potato bake.
And for some extra veggie-ness, some simple steamed chantenay carrots and English peas – with plenty of mint and butter, of course.
And for pud? One of my faves – Dan Lepard’s saffron peach cake, with loads of thick whipped cream.
And now the sofa beckons…
November 17, 2010
My joy at having the use of an oven continues unabated, with the production of a cake I first made in my very early baking days. It’s a gateau aux carottes, courtesy of the king of the food bloggers, David Lebovitz.
Never having been much of a fan of the carrot cake, this recipe caught my eye precisely because it has hardly any carrot in it. It actually has more in the way of nuts, and being a huge fan of nutty cakes, I thought I’d give it a go.
David’s recipe lists almonds as the nut of choice, but I had a bag of lovely homegrown walnuts, given to us by my mum’s friends Sue and Barry, so I decided they’d make a perfectly respectable replacement.
These particular walnuts were quite small, and had the hardest shells I’ve come across. It took me quite some time to get them all out – a task that was done under the watchful eye of Lottie, the miniature Schnauzer, who is partial to a nut or two. (Actually, what am I saying, she’s partial to pretty much anything that’s edible…)
The final weight of the nuts wasn’t quite enough, so I topped it up with some oatmeal. I remembered that this cake came out quite flat and biscuity, so I though the addition of some oatmeal would add a flapjack-like texture (and flapjacks are my mum’s favourite sweet treat, so I knew she’d approve).
One other adjustment I made from David’s original recipe was to do something I often do with cakes, and that is replace some of the required amount of caster sugar with brown sugar. I find it gives a lovely caramely flavour, which is just delicious – especially when, in this case, it’s combined with nuts.
It turned out to be a big ol’ cake in the end, but thanks to the brown sugar, nuts and oatmeal, it’s one that just gets better and better with time. Which is lucky, because, as partial as Mum and I are to a cup of tea and a slice of cake, I think even we’d struggle to polish off this in a single sitting. And one thing’s for sure, it’s too good to waste.
September 25, 2010
As wonderful as the fresh produce is here in Istanbul, because the markets very much rely on local, seasonal vegetables and fruit, there is often not much choice in the actual variety of what’s on offer.
Yes, I love the full-flavoured tomatoes, sweet red peppers and deep purple aubergines, but I have been craving a bit of a change in my diet. So, when I spotted a large pile of gorgeously bright green broccoli piled on a market stall a couple of days ago – something I hadn’t seen for sale here before – I grabbed as much as I could carry.
It’s always been one of my favourite vegetables, and I could have easily have just munched my way through the stuff raw. But today, for lunch, I made the next best thing.
Lightly steamed, I combined the broccoli florets with shredded raw red cabbage and carrot, then piled the lot onto a mixture of lettuce and rocket, and dressed it with a vinaigrette made with some Turkish “grape vinegar” – essentially Balsamic vinegar, but as it doesn’t come from the Balsamic region, I guess, technically, you can’t call it that.
On the side, is a simit – a ubiquitous Turkish snack, usually described as bagel-like. There are men with little carts on virtually every street corner selling these bread rings, and they are really tasty. Before baking, the rings are dipped in molasses, then coated in sesame seeds to give them their unique flavour and texture.
Afterwards, still on my fresh and raw tip, I decided to cut into another new find for me – a teeny , tiny melon. I’m not sure what kind of melon it grows up to be, but they are sold as small as 3-4in long, and when I showed it to Süleyman, he said, “Mmm, yummy.”
Unfortunately, he wasn’t around when I decided to eat it. I say unfortunately, because I actually really didn’t like it. It kind of tasted like a cross between a cantaloupe melon and a courgette, but not very strongly of either.
In fact, I just couldn’t eat it at all, so put the untouched half into the fridge for Süleyman to finish off later, and decided to have something I know I like – fresh figs.
Now, this is when the seasonal thing comes into its own in Istanbul. It’s the perfect time of year for fresh figs, and I’m stuffing myself silly with them at the moment. My favourite way to eat them is with a great dollop of yoghurt on top. Which is exactly how I finished my lunch today.
So fresh and so healthy, it made me feel rather virtuous!
June 7, 2010
So, I have just finished my third week of sofa surfing, and it’s not going too badly. I’m getting used to living out of a suitcase and sleeping on unfamiliar beds. I’m even getting used to not having all my many, many pairs of shoes immediately to hand (or, maybe I should say, foot!).
But, most surprisingly, I’m actually getting used to not having my own kitchen to cook in. To be honest, it’s quite nice to have a rest from cooking every night, and the great thing about staying with friends who are also good cooks is having dinner made for me.
There is one foodie thing that I have not been able to give up on, though, and that’s my sourdough starter. I made a few loaves with it when I was in my old London flat, and took it to my sister’s in Brighton when I moved most of my things there last month. And a rather strange thing has happened – the starter has gone completely bonkers.
It was always a fairly frothy, smelly mess, but since it has had a blast of sea air, it’s just exploding all over the place. I know that it is the yeastiness in the atmosphere that makes a sourdough starter what it is, but I wasn’t expecting this. And when I made my first loaf with it a couple of weeks ago, the flavour was amazing.
I’ve made a point of making some sourdough every weekend since moving in with little sis and her husband (a small thank-you for putting up with me), and I’m happy to say, it’s just getting better and better. Holey, strong-flavoured, moist of crumb and crunchy of crust, it’s become something of a Sunday-breakfast ritual for us.
Even Archie the greyhound is enjoying a few morsels – although I’m not sure I’m too happy about him getting his chops round my hard work. But I suspect I don’t have much say in the matter…
May 6, 2010
I have a feeling that today’s general election is going to leave something of a bitter taste in my mouth – I don’t think I’ve ever entered a polling booth feeling quite so pessimistic.
So, last night I thought I’d attempt to relieve that bitterness with a little sweet treat – something that not only used some of my cupboard stocks, but also has a vaguely political edge to it.
Parlies – or Scottish parliament cakes – are, in fact, biscuits originating from Edinburgh about 300 years ago. Made with black treacle and ginger, they curiously became extremely popular with members of the then Scottish parliament – hence the name Parlies. I have no idea why these particular biscuits should gain such an odd following, but such is life…
The recipe I have is from one of those dinky little regional cookbooks that you can buy in souvenir shops in chocolate-box villages everywhere from the West Highlands to Cornwall.
The list of the ingredients suggested using black treacle or golden syrup, but, as I have an amount of both that needed to be finished (plus, if I’m honest, black treacle is not one of my favourite things), I put a spoonful of both in.
All the ingredients are combined into a fairly firm biscuit dough, then spooned into roughly shaped blobs on a baking tray. Into the oven for about 20 minutes, and out come some toffee-coloured, fairly soft biscuits.
Me being me, I couldn’t resist trying one straight from the oven, and although it was nice enough, I wasn’t entirely sure what James VI and his comrades were so enthusiastic about.
However, once I’d left the Parlies to cool, they turned into the most delicious crunchy, spiced, treacly biscuits.
Well, I’ve cast my vote, and now we just have to wait for the results. So, in the meantime, I shall settle down with a cup of coffee and a couple of Parlies…
April 25, 2010
Last night was the turn of my friends Nick and Kerry to help me clear my cupboards. In the spirit of my self-imposed challenge to use up as much food as possible before I move out of my flat next month, I set out to make a meal that involved only dry goods and store-cupboard essentials that I already had – buying only fresh stuff. And I pretty much succeeded.
So, clockwise from the top, the menu consisted of chicken poached with saffron and cinnamon, baked saffron cauliflower (both of which I’ve written about in previous posts), spicy Iranian potato croquettes (from good old Claudia Roden’s New Book Of Middle Eastern Food) and, lastly, a recipe of my own, spicy tomato and spinach couscous, which is flavoured with my Turkish pul piber/tomato paste and some fresh oregano.
We also ate our way through a fair amount of the rosemary and nigella seed sourdough I wrote about in my last post, accompanied by a piece of lovely strong Spanish cheese (another recommendation from my friend over at The Aubergine Files, the name of which I can’t actually remember – but hopefully he’ll let me know what it was…).
Pudding was a concoction of crème fraîche, Greek yoghurt and raspberries, topped off with some of my lemongrass and ginger biscuits (I had some of the dough in the freezer, left over from the last time I made them).
So, as well as getting through good amount of spices, dry goods and bits and bobs from my freezer, I also served up a pretty cosmopolitan selection of dishes – with elements from Iran, Turkey and France, Greece, Thailand and Spain, it was a veritable world tour in one kitchen.
April 24, 2010
Above is the result of my second baking session with my sourdough starter.
I made a couple of changes since the first one I made – on the advice of Mr Aubergine File, I used Canadian bread flour, which apparently has a much higher gluten content. I’m not too sure what that’s supposed to do to bread, but he said it’s great for sourdough. And this loaf certainly rose much better than my first one.
Also on his suggestion, I added some other flavours, namely rosemary and nigella seeds. Gail’s, the London artisan bakery, does a rosemary and nigella seed sourdough, and as I had all those components, I thought I’d try it.
Personally, I wasn’t too sure the sourdough needed anything extra in the taste department, but my friends, Nick and Kerry, who ate some of it with me this evening really liked it.
One more thing I did differently this time, and that was use a proper proving basket, which is how I got those lovely coiled ridges on the loaf – unfortunately spoilt by it splitting in the oven. My own fault, really. I couldn’t bring myself to ruin those beautiful rings by slashing it, but clearly that’s what I should have done.
Anyway, that’s the nice thing about having a starter on the go – there are plenty of opportunities to experiment, without feeling like you’ve wasted anything. And, next week, I’ll certainly be trying something else…
April 18, 2010
I baked my first sourdough loaf yesterday, using the starter I’d been working on for a couple of weeks. And it was delicious!
I did the first rise on Friday night, then knocked it back and let it prove for most of Saturday. Then into the oven it went, and the result was a fantastically yeasty-flavoured, good’n'holey sourdough loaf.
My only disappointment was that the loaf was slightly flat, but I think that was because I proved it in a bowl that was too wide. I’m going to try and get a proper proving bread basket for the next one.
Despite the process taking a long time, it’s actually really easy to make sourdough bread, and I’d recommend anyone who has an interest in baking to give it a go.
My starter is now sleeping in my fridge, having a rest before I wake it up in time for another loaf next weekend.