Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Raspberry Pancakes

After my pick-your-own raspberry bounty, I wanted to find a good way of using my well-gotten gains. I was happy to eat myself sick on the kilo of fruit, but that wouldn't have much impressed Mr. A&N. I had visions of elaborate raspberry-based desserts in mind, but the fruit didn't survive the bike ride back from the train, packed as it was in plastic containers. When I got home, most of the raspberries had been compressed under their own weight with the result being a kilo of raspberry mush.

This seemed an undignified end to the fruit picking affair, as well as an impediment to making little tarts with pert rings of raspberries to greet the eater. Luckily, my picking partner (and fellow-American) Amanda gave me the obvious answer of how the use the raspberries: make pancakes with them.

I like my pancakes to contain wholewheat, so they can be a bit healthier. I also resist putting too much sugar in the batter since I know I'll douse them in maple syrup when done - I believe it's a law in several US states that pancakes must be swimming in syrup before you're allowed to eat them. I know that's the law where I come from.
Wholewheat Pancakes with Fruit
Yields around 8 medium pancakes

  • 2/3 C Wholewheat flour
  • 2/3 C White flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbs, heaped, light brown sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/4 C milk
  • 1 Tbs oil
  • 1/2 C fruit such as raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, etc.
  1. Heat a skillet (preferably a cast iron one) over medium heat. Getting the heat of the pan right is very important - too hot and they burn, too cool and it takes achingly long. I also like to turn on the grill at a low temperature in order to keep the finished pancakes warm until ready to eat.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients
  3. Add the egg, milk, and oil to the dry ingredients and mix until there are no lumps.
  4. The batter should be fairly runny at this point - thicker than just milk, but runny enough to pour off a spoon fairly quickly.
  5. Add the fruit to the pancake batter.
  6. Using a soup spoon or ladle, pour a spoonful of batter into the pan. Using a cast iron pan means you won't need to add much - if any - butter before adding the pancakes, but you may chose to add butter anyway.
  7. Pancake is ready to turn when small bubbles ring the outside of the pancake. This should take 2-4 minutes.
  8. Pancake is ready when the center is firm to the touch.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Gourmet Oils and Vinegars

The excellent blog, The Foodie List, today featured a gourmet food site called Oil and More. Based in Wrexham, Oil and More sells - wait for it - olive oils, nut oils, vinegars, and other such goodies. I have my eye on some peppery Tuscan olive oil and a sherry vinegar (which I often find hard to find). There is a 40 year old balsamic vinegar for £82 that I would love to sample but I fear my palette isn't nearly refined enough to warrant that kind of expense. For my more basic oils and vinegars, though, I shall be placing an order very, very soon. In the meantime, if anyone has had any specialty oils or such, let me know your recommendations.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Pick Your Own

On Friday, I went to pick my own fruit (and veg) with my good friend Amanda. We were both very excited for the experience - we live in London and couldn't believe there was somewhere within easy train distance where we could pick (and eat) our fill of fresh goods. We were even happier to be able to go with each other, since we both knew neither of our partners would have been ratcheted up to the same levels of excitement as each other was.

We went to Parkside Farms in Enfield which is easy reach from a couple of train stations, especially if you have bikes with you as we did.
It was a lovely, bright summery day and riding our bikes through the (semi-) country lanes made us feel like we were kids on our summer holidays. Our main goal was to get raspberries, and I was happy to gather any other vegetables available. The farm was impressively large, and though there were a fair number of families out we never felt like we were knocking into people and competing for food.

That said, I'm an inherently competitive person and when I was placed in front of the object of my desire (i.e, raspberries) something within me clicked on and I began picking for all I was worth. I felt it was like the soft-fruit equivalent of a fantastic sale at your favorite store: I began grasping everything within my site and felt it very important that I get to the fruit before anyone else could. And yet that sensation brought me great joy, as did the picking itself. The raspberries were so ripe that the slightest caress made them come off in your hand, and I felt proud and protective of them as I gently gathered handfuls before depositing them in my basket.

We spent about an hour picking raspberries (around 1 1/4 kilos each) before moving on to the vegetables. The vegetable picking was less popular than the fruit, but since I was there to gain food for my table (and freezer) popularity didn't matter to me. I was able to fill a large bag of string beans as well as a half dozen courgettes, a bag full of spinach, and a bag full of onions. Scattered around the vegetable fields were raspberry casualties where eager pickers had a slip and lost their hard-picked bounty under their feet.
Both of us had a wonderful day out, being in the country and gathering our own food and cycling down hilly lanes in the breeze. It would be great if Mr. A&N ever decided to join me in a picking session, but I've at least found an enthusiastic picking partner in Amanda.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Food Blog Round-Up

Friday finds me feeling fantastic. I have the day off work, for once the sun is shining, and I'm shortly heading out with a friend to go fruit and veg picking. I've never been to pick my own foods (other than the ones I grow myself) so I'm excited about gathering and gorging myself. I'll be targeting strawberries, raspberries, and any vegetables on offer. Hopefully, jams, pies, and chutnies will come of it later today.

This week there have been a few blog posts around about picking your own foods, both the sort you get from a farm and the kind you find in the wild.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Lunch at the Pesant

I am lucky enough to work in the middle of a brilliant London food triangle. With Islington just to the north of me, Exmouth Market around the corner, and Farringdon just to the south, I'm spoiled for choice. I'm slowly working my way through the options. Lucky for me, then, that for a recent work lunch we all went to The Peasant on St John St, one of the respected restaurants/gastro-pubs in the area.

The downstairs is a more informal pub and eating space, while the upstairs is the restaurant, with big windows and linens and waiter server. We ate upstairs and for our lunch we had the same menu as would be served for dinner. Prices reflected this; I went for the venison with girolles mushrooms, mache and taratur at £16.50. The mache and taratur weren't familiar words to be, but I was lured by the venison. Nearly every dish, in fact, had ingredients that were unknown to most people.

The venison was incredibly tender and cooked perfectly, and it turns out the mache was just lamb's lettuce while the taratur was humus minus the chickpeas. It was all nicely presented as well, but overall the experience was a bit fussier than I like to enjoy. Most dishes had one or two (or more) ingredients that could have been left out without doing injury to the taste, and the service was a bit more formal than the space warranted, especially considering we were the only ones eating there. For example, a member of the group wanted chips with the meal (they have the best french fries this side of France) but he was told it wasn't possible since that was only served downstairs. Perhaps the answer for next time, then, will be to eat downstairs in an atmosphere I enjoy more.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

101 Meals in 10 Minutes or Less

101 Meals in 10 Minutes or Less - what an eye catching title. For good reason, this has been in the New York Time's list of most read articles. My family reports that New York is having a typically hot summer (while in the UK, the weather is really best not mentioned), which merits having quick, easy dinners that don't overheat the house.

But since we're missing out on every other aspect of summer in the UK, I don't see why I should dismiss these heat-adapted recipes as being inappropriate. In fact, I'm embracing them. Since Mr. A&N and I are both full time workers while also being full-time food enjoyers, a quick and tasty meal is often just the ticket. Like the food (and all-around) nerd I am, I have copied and pasted the 101 meals into my own Word doc, deleted the ones I didn't think I'd like, and highlighted the ingredients of the best sounding ones. I am a born list maker.

It did get me thinking about my own favorite quick recipes, and the first that sprung to mind was for Nasu no Dengaku, or aubergines with miso paste. They are halfway toward being a pudding, but no less wonderful for being so; the way the aubergine softens and takes on the miso flavor is something of which dreams are made. In fact, it was this foodstuff which convinced Mr. A&N there was a lot more to Japanese cuisine than sushi, and led us on the path to going on honeymoon in Japan just so we could eat ourselves into poverty.

This recipe is from Hiroko Shimbo's The Japanese Kitchen, a great cookbook.

Nasu no Dengaku


  • 3 Tbs miso paste (mamemiso is suggested)
  • 2 Tbs mirin
  • 1/4 C sake
  • 1 1/2 Tbs sugar
  • 1 Tbs scallions, minced
  • 1 Tbs sesame oil
  • 2 japanese eggplants or 1 medium eggplant, sliced either into 2-inch thick disks or down the length of the eggplant, again so it's 2 inches thick.
  • for garnish, 1 Tbs white sesame seed, toasted
  • Optional: vegetable oil for deep-frying (or you can grill it to be healthier)
  1. If you're going to deep-fry, heat 2 inches of vegetable oil over medium heat to 340 F/170 C. OR, if you're going to be healthy and grill it, turn your grill to 375 F/190 C.
  2. Combine the miso, miri, and sake in a small saucepan, and stir with a spatula until smooth.
  3. Add the sugar and place over a medium-low heat.
  4. Cook for about 5 minutes or until no longer watery, stirring all the time.
  5. Add the scallions and sesame oil and mix, then remove from the heat.
  6. Score one side of each eggplant piece to form a checkerboard pattern, and prick the other side all-over with a toothpick
  7. If frying: Fry each piece for about 3-5 minutes or until golden, and then drain on a paper towel. If grilling: Rub each slice with a bit of vegetable oil, and grill until soft and golden, about 10 minutes.
  8. While still hot, top with the miso sauce mixture and garnish with sesame seeds.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Summer Pudding

I had Sunday lunch at The Marquess Tavern again, with some friends I had previously converted to their beefy wonderment. I was very happy to see they still had their summer pudding on the menu. After all that beef, this seemed the obvious dessert to have, the closest approaching-healthy counter-balance there was.I love the way the bread in the summer pudding is chewy without being sodden full of the berry juices. The berries themselves were mostly currants and fruits of the forest, reflecting what is seasonal. It was wonderfully tangy, and the whipped cream on the side helped to balance it nicely. I hope to go berry picking at the end of this week, and aside from jam-making, summer pudding-making is top of my list for what to do with the bounty.

Monday, 23 July 2007

An Ode to an Apple Tree

It is with sadness that we cut down our second and last apple tree this weekend. I say 'we' - Mr. A&N did the chopping while I was the one who felt sad and took pictures. In our average-sized London garden, we inherited two apple trees - one cooking and one eating. We moved into our house in a June, and I was very excited for the autumn crop. It became clear fairly quickly that the trees wouldn't be things of un-utterable joy, though. The cooking apple tree was massively overgrown and started dropping (rotten) fruits from July. We did manage to get some crumbles and pies and apple sauces out of it, but we had to throw out at least twice as many apples as we used. The eating apple tree, on the other hand, produced crunchy, juicy, sweet perfect apples. But it only managed to produce three of them that first season.

Over the winter, we pruned the trees and read books and tried out best to buck up the health of both the trees. The following summer was more of the same as the previous summer, possibly even worse since it was very hot and dry throughout. The cooking apple tree was going to have to go, especially since we were planning a kitchen extension and it lay right in the path of the planned work. The luscious eating apple tree only yielded two apples that season, both still delicious (although I did have to battle a squirrel for one of them
, throwing things at him to get him to drop the apple he had just plucked from the branch. Cheeky bastard; he knew I was heading out there to get it myself). The bigger cooking tree came down this past winter, but the eating tree was clinging on.With the plans for the house extension taking greater shape, we wanted to move the good apple tree to another part of the garden to save it since that tree was now impeding the extension as well. Several people took a look at it and came up with the same assessment: it was too well established to move. It was clearly suffering from some affliction as well, with fluffy fungus on the branches and the leaves becoming shriveled and black only a couple of months into its growing. It really pained me to think of it going, though. I hate the idea of cutting down trees, and of losing something from the garden that had been there for decades and was a supplier of food.

The fact was, it had to go, and yesterday was when it happened. Despite it not having many flowers this past spring, when it came down there were a good dozen and a half apples growing. Most of them were already looking diseased and would not have made it to the end. But I would have loved to have given them the chance to reach maturity this one last season.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

24 Hour Loaf Of Bread

I was completely enthralled by the recipe in Greedy Goose about a kneadless loaf of bread which took up to 24 hours for the yeast to rise. The loaf looked crusty on the outside, and springy and full of airpockets on the inside - if this were online dating, that type of loaf would be gettin' all my emails.

And so it had to happen. There was a curious lack of white bread flour at the local shops, demanding me to trek farther than intended to pick up the key bread ingredient, but it helped to make the anticipation for the loaf more dramatic. I poured in the ingredients - flour, water, salt, yeast - I gave it a bit of a stir...and then I waited for 20 hours.

I'll just skip to the end (20 hours is a long time to narrate) and say the result was wonderful; the dough was very light, moist and springy with the faintest edge of sourdough flavor to it. Really a perfect loaf with not a huge amount of effort. The kitchen is doused in flour still, since the mixture is very wet and gloopy, but I will certainly make it again.

Again, this is the Greedy Goose's recipe, adapted from Jeffrey Steingarten.

24 Hour Bread

  • 3 cups white bread flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 packet of instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups water, at room temperature
  • For dusting and turning out the bread
    • more white flour
    • 1/2 cup coarse wheat bran (to prevent sticking; I used cornmeal for the same purpose)
    • cast iron casserole dish
  1. Combine the first 4 ingredients, stirring until all the flour is wet. Cover with cling film and set aside at room temperature for up to 24 hours (the recommendation is minimum of 8 hours, maximum of 24. The bread takes on better texture with longer rising, but too long and it will collapse on itself).
  2. Wait
  3. After waiting, turning the dough out onto a well floured surface. This will indeed be gloopy and without form. Dust it with flour and try to fold it three times onto itself to form a rough rectangle (I wasn't able to do this, it was so wet and sticky, so I just threw it around a bit and tried to get the dough off my hands)
  4. Let sit for about 15 minutes, covering with plastic wrap (though again, if it's quite wet, it will stick to the plastic so you might want to skip this)
  5. After 15 minutes, again try folding it over on itself three times. Ideally at this point you should have a rough cube, though I still just had a blob.
  6. Well-flour the bottom of a dish towel so that the dough can be transferred there without sticking. Use some of the bran or cornmeal on top of the flour to prevent sticking.
  7. Transfer the dough to the towel. Dust the top with more flour and bran/cornmeal (if it's still quite wet you may need a fair amount) so that you can place the other half of the tea towel on top.
  8. Let sit for 2 hours
  9. About 20 minutes before the 2 hours is up, pre-heat your oven to 240 degrees C, and place your casserole dish with lid on inside of it.
  10. Once the dough is ready, remove the casserole and turn the dough into it. Shake the casserole around a bit if the dough needs some help forming. If there isn't any flour left on top of the dough, dust with a bit.
  11. Cook for 30 minutes, covered.
  12. After 30 minutes, remove the cover, and cook for another 20-30 minutes until golden and hollow-sounding when tapped.
  13. Turn out to cool on a rack.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Food Blog Round-Up

This weekend I will mostly be...baking. Well, that's not even remotely true. This weekend I will be reading Harry Potter, and attending various birthday celebrations, which leaves little time for baking. The Show Us Your Apron event at Lucullian delights, and blogging about my own beloved apron, put me in the mood to be domestic so even if I can't act on it I'll let that ideal stay in my mind.

I have managed to at least get a loaf of bread going, thanks to a post from Greedy Goose in which she makes a kneadless loaf as adapted from Jeffrey Steingarten. The best part of the recipe is that after you combine the flour, salt, yeast and water, you walk away and leave it for a day before you bake it. Perfect. If it turns out well, there will be pictures.

Both Dessert First and Cupcake Bakeshop have some tantalizing, domestic-goddess style desserts featured. In Dessert First, there's an array of berry-based desserts especially for the summer, and my imagination is kicking in knowing that I'll be berry picking next week. At Cupcake Bakeshop, there's a beautiful fig and almond cupcake bombe to drool over. The commitment to making these beauties is humbling at any time, but knowing that the baker also has a 1-month old to look after is even more impressive. Meanwhile, my excuse for not baking is that I want to read a kid's book.

Enjoy your weekends!

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Pea and Mint Soup

Somewhat outrageously, this has been the second day in a row of bright, warm weather. I don't know what this British weather thinks it's playing at, but I'm re-assured to hear that tomorrow is a return to heavy rains, hail, and lower temperatures and that it will stay that way through the weekend. Phew - this can hardly be the most miserable summer ever if it didn't turn horrible again.

In the mean time, a summery version of the classic pea soup seemed the appropriate companion to what nature was offering up. It's not only a tasty, filling soup but it takes wonderfully little effort - perfect for summer evenings when you don't want to be standing in a hot kitchen for long. There are many similar versions of this soup out there, but I like to make mine with fresh mint for that lovely minty pea taste. I tried putting cucumber in this version, which neither added to nor detracted from the result and which I'll probably leave out in the future. The other thing to note is that I used soya milk in my recipe simply because I don't drink milk; most other recipes would call for cream which I'm sure would round out the natural sweetness of the peas and add a touch of richness as well.

Pea and Mint Soup
Serves 4 as a main course or 6-8 for a starter

  • 2 red onion or 6 shallots, chopped
  • 4 spring onions, chopped
  • 1/2 head romaine lettuce, roughly chopped
  • 1 generous handful of mint, roughly chopped
  • 1 litre of stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • 2 lbs of peas (frozen is fine)
  • 1 C of cream/milk/soya milk
  • 6 pieces of bacon (optional garnish)
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Over a medium heat, melt the butter and sautee together the onions/shallots and spring onions, until softened.
  2. Add the lettuce and mint, cooking until each has wilted a bit.
  3. Pour in the stock, cooking until the stock just comes to a boil.
  4. When the stock is warm enough, add the peas and cook those for a few minutes.
  5. When the peas have just cooked through, turn off the heat and add the soup into a blender in batches. Blend until the soup is smooth.
  6. Transfer the blended soup back to the pot, and heat over a low heat. Add the cream/soya milk, as well as salt and pepper to taste. Also depending on whether you're using cream, milk, or soya milk, add more of any of the above or add more butter in order to thicken and enrich the soup to the level you like.
  7. Meanwhile, grill the bacon until very crispy. Once cooked, roughly chop the pieces.
  8. Serve the soup in bowls with a sprinkle of bacon to garnish. Another optional garnish is to top it off with some roughly chopped mint.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

A Summer Salad With Fruit

It was just about warm enough for me today to be reminded it was summer (for those of you not living in Britain, it's been a fairly miserable excuse for the sunniest season of the year). I didn't need to carry a jacket, I felt compelled to buy a pair of sandals, and got very warm on the tube. I was in the mood, therefore, for one of my summer salads.
I like having a big bowl of salads on warm evenings. My salads don't so much follow a recipe as take on the ingredients of whatever is in the house and needs eating. Tonight's featured chicory, curly leaf lettuce, and romaine lettuce for the greens, but even with the varying greens there are a few staples I like my salads to have. One is the fruit: I consider peaches or nectarines ideal, but am also happy to use strawberries or mangoes if those are on hand. Another is beans: I like to use a tin of borlotti beans, only partly drained - the rest of the tinned juices help make a thickened salad dressing. And that leads me on to the dressing - what makes the salad come into its own is a splash of sesame seed oil (the remainder extra virgin olive oil) and half a lemon for the acidic bit. That's more or less it. Roll on the summer weather.

Monday, 16 July 2007

A Proper Italian Coffee Maker

I love coffee (I realize I say I love a lot of things culinary, but it's all true. If I didn't love these things I write about, it would hardly make for an interesting post: "I feel ambivalent about dill. The end."). I have recently kicked the caffeine habit, but I still can't walk away from having a (decaf) coffee a day. This is because I have a new coffee maker, and it's changed my coffee-drink life.

I've long considered buying a proper Bialetti Moka coffee maker, the 1930's style silver thing you put on your hob and can get espresso from. I've had a French press for a while, though, and felt a bit silly buying another coffee machine when the first one is working fine. Besides, the type that you plug into the wall and are all glimmer and gleam and hot froth are much more enticing, and I figured that if I were to get another coffee machine it would be that.

I was talking to my Italian friend recently about coffee machines. She has a beautiful barista-style machine in her house as well as a Moka machine, and she said she shuns the fancy one for the simple, hob-based one because the simpler one makes better coffee. Realizing that what an Italian doesn't know about coffee isn't worth knowing, I promptly went out and bought the coffee maker you see above, and have been enjoying gorgeous cups of coffee because of it. After several years of almost buying a Moka but holding back because it might be redundant, I've now saved myself much more money by getting the Moka and seeing that I don't need an expensive, counter-top machine. I'm a complete convert, and like anyone who has seen the light, I've already been trying to convert others to my new-found culinary passion.

My Apron

Thanks to Su-Lin at Tamarind and Thyme, I was reminded of the Show Us Your Apron event at Lucullian delights. I'm testing the deadline by blogging about it today, but I do love my apron so; it deserved a blog post at some point or other.

This is my first adult apron, bought on a whim last time I was home in New York. The pattern is an entirely bizarre animal print which was the first thing that made me think it was fab. Beyond that, the cut is an homage to the 1950's house wife, with the ruffled halter neck and cinched waist turning it more into a dress than a mere apron. As a friend observed, if she owned it it would be one of the sexiest dresses in her wardrobe. It makes me want to bake, and often, and to dab vanilla essence behind my ears when I'm in a frisky mood.

The effect isn't quite the same when Mr A&N wears it.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

The Pig Roast

The time finally came this weekend, to decamp to the brother-in-law's house with a suckling pig on the back seat and expectations of him cooking it for us. There were 8 of us gathered for the occasion, planning on a full day of eating and drinking while we whiled away the 7-something hours until the main event.

The pig-roast was given as a Christmas gift, to be held whenever Rob (the brother-in-law) decided enough planning had gone into it. 7 months of thought, therefore, went into fine-tuning the barbecuing method and the ingredients for flavoring the pig. Of the flavor options, Rob determined that of the 3 main schools-of-pig-roast thought (American style, Chinese/Asian style, Spanish style), the Spanish style would not only taste very nice but also allow a nice tapas theme to run throughout the day and keep the hunger at bay until the pig was done.

Cooking 12.5kg of pig was never going to be easy, and since professional cooking equipment would have been more expensive than the pig itself, it was a DIY roasting affair. A new, extra-large BBQ was purchased, a spit and rotating device procured, bricks were located to prop up the spit (and the arms of the spit drilled on to the bricks), and a second BBQ wheeled out to heat and ready extra charcoal to be placed in the main BBQ.
The prepping of the pig wasn't entirely easy, with the spit not going in perfectly (the spit, sadly, would let us down later). The pig was rubbed inside with sweet paprika and salt, and filled with leeks and carrots before it was sewn up. A large batch of basting liquid was prepared, with goose fat, lard, calvados and bay leaves. With all fingers tightly crossed for the contraption to hold together, the pig went onto the BBQ an hour behind schedule. The roast had officially begun.The spit and turning device were only intended for a few kilos of chicken to be placed on it, so the 7 hours of waiting for the pig to cook were slightly nervous ones. Highly smoky ones as well, since we were doused by the two BBQs puffing out their contents the whole time. The basting and the rotating went well despite the groaning turning device that made us all take bets on when it would give out, with the pig starting to look tantalizing only a couple of hours into the cooking.The tapas that Rob prepared were excellent, most featuring calvados or sherry or sherry vinegar, and sometimes of the three. The salad was my favorite: with serano ham, grilled scallops, chorizo chicory, grated beetroot and rocket, with a sherry-based dressing, it was certainly a special occasion salad and one I'll try out on guest in the future.All was going beautifully and the wine and beer were flowing (and being drunk) when pig-based disaster struck. Around 5 hours in, the weight of the pig became too much for the spit, and it collapsed inside the pig. There was no putting it back together, and the pig stilled needed a couple of hours of cooking. The whole affair became much more primitive at this point, with a large shovel coming out to lift and move the pig, and acres of tin foil getting wrapped around it to prevent burning. There was nothing we could do but place it right onto the BBQ sat atop a couple of bricks. Quickly, the skin went from looking golden and succulent to charred, black, and like a burns victim. I felt sorry for the pig that it had sacrificed it's life to end up a piece of coal, and just hoped the meat inside would be good.Finally, 7 1/2 hours into the cooking, the pig was done. The skin was an entire write off, but the meat inside was, luckily, beautiful. I'm terrible at waiting for a fresh roast to come to the table, and I used the excuse of taking pictures to also take snatches of fresh hot meat. The flavor of the basting juices and paprika were just noticeable, and it was wonderful tasting it just off the bone. Some parts did come out slightly dry, but we all acknowledged that a many-hour long roast is a very difficult things to pull off well. Kudos go to every involved, and though at times I felt sad to be cooking a baby pig, I think that we did manage to put it's sacrifice to very good, and tasty, use.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Piggie Cookies

The main event at any pig roast will, naturally, be the roast pig. As sponsor of the event it was my role to ensure the presence of the pig. Being who I am, though, I thought it prudent to provide not just a main-event pig but a pig-themed dessert as well. It seemed obvious to me what must be done: piggie cookies.
As good as other cookies are, I find sugar cookie is king of the cookie kingdom. I can eat dozens without pause and without them becoming cloyingly sweet or heavy. Importantly, they are also ideal for rolling out and using with cookie cutters. For this occasion, I used both my pig-shaped cookie cutter and, conscious that people might be tired of pig by the time dessert arrived, an elephant cookie cutter. I topped them with icing in order to color them in a bit; I thought the icing took away from the delicate cookie flavor a bit but it did help to liven up the look of the little piggies.
Sugar Cookies with Lemon Icing
Bake at 180 C for 8-10 mins if making thin-ish cut out cookies; makes apprx 4 dozen.


  • 1 1/4 C sugar
  • 1 C/200 g butter, softened
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 C flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  1. Pre-heat oven to 180 decgrees.
  2. Cream together the butter and sugar until well mixed and slightly fluffy (using a mixer might be best).
  3. Add the yolks, one by one, and then the vanilla, combining well.
  4. Combine the dry ingredients, and sift in batches into the dry ingredients. Mix well.
  5. Refrigerate the dough for 1 hour.
  6. If not using cookie cutters, shape into rough balls using two teaspoons. Slightly flatten each ball with the back of the teaspoon when placing on the tray. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden.
  7. If using cookies cutters, roll out batches of dough onto a well floured, clean surface, keeping the non-used dough in the fridge until needed. Roll out the dough until it is fairly thin (about 1/4 mm). Return the strip of non-used dough around the cutter shapes back into the fridge.
  8. Repeat the process of rolling out, cutting, and returning dough to the fridge until all dough is used. Cook each batch for around 8 minutes or until turning golden.
  9. Remove from oven and tray on to a cooling rack once done.
Lemon Icing
  • 2 C Icing sugar (confectioner's sugar)
  • 1 Tbs milk
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • food coloring of choice
  1. Combine all the ingrdients, mixing well until there are no more lumps from the sugar. Consistency should be very viscose/thick. If it seems too watery, add more sugar.
  2. Add food coloring as desired. If using multiple colors, first separate into different batches before adding colors.
  3. Paint onto cookies (once cooled) with a paint brush.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Food Blog Round-Up

This week has been a build-up to an event that has been 7 months in the making. For Christmas, Mr A&N and I gave his brother the gift of a suckling pig to roast. It hasn't been sitting and festering in a back room for 7 months, rest assured; it was delivered this morning, and the only condition of the gift was that we be invited to the cooking. I shall be making special piggie cookies for the event (not tasting like pork, simply shaped like said animal) and Mr. A&N might finally be taking the axe to our long-ago-felled apple tree so that we might have smokey (wet) applewood with which to cook the pig. Might, I say.

This is the state of my mind as I go into the weekend, and Food Musings reflects my meaty thoughts, sandwiched as they are between the upcoming pig and the just-gone side of beef. Her trip to a Brazilian meat palace sounds amazing (if meat is your thing).

To balance all that meatiness, a recipe on Chocolate and Zucchini for quinoa salad has caught my attention. I've never cooked with quinoa although I know I ought to, it being a super-food and all. It even involves tofu, so it could be a good karmic balance to all the meat.

And thinking of the karmic balance of eating meat vs. not, local vs. organic vs. none of the above, the Accidental Hedonist has several quick stories musing over such topics this week.

Finally, Brownie Points carriers a story about a miracle fruit from Africa as reported about on NPR. The fruit manages to make sour, bitter things taste sweet, with the obvious bonus that the bitter item doesn't have to be loaded full of sugars to taste good. I'd love to try it, and if I manage to work my way through as much pig and piggie cookies as I expect to this weekend, this fruit might be needed to bring my weight back down.

Enjoy your weekends!

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

BBC Food: Get Cooking

In searching for some recipes today, I reminded myself of the fantastic cooking resources on the BBC site. Earlier this year they introduced video into their Food site in a special section called Get Cooking, and I love the possibilities that stem from it. You can watch videos of specific recipes being prepared, learn more about certain ingredients or tasks (such as buying fresh fish), and view mini ‘master-classes’ in particular techniques. I am a big fan of Flash video anyway, and I think that the BBC is using it to good effect. Have a look around, you can get sucked in for quite some time.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

London’s Best…Beefy Sunday Lunch

If you’re going to be a carnivore, I reckon you best do it right. Don’t shy away from the offal, don’t feel guilty for eating something just because it was cute when it was still going about on its legs, and make sure it’s tasty meat that’s been well treated (both before and after the slaughter). I’m a real meat-lover and consider a piece of well-aged beef a glorious thing, the culinary equivalent of sunsets in the Tuscan hills or staring out across placid blue fjords. Which is why I find having the Sunday lunch at the Marquess Tavern such a treat. All their meat is UK-reared and free range, and though you won’t find this the cheapest gastro-meal you’ve had, you are paying for quality. The star in my eyes is the forerib of beef, served hanging off the bone and begging to be lifted up and eaten as if you were Henry VII.

You select your forerib based on the weight; as weights get ordered they go out of stock so you’re advised to a) book a table (essential) and b) book early. The staff is helpful in guiding what weight would be good for your group size and hunger volumes. The last time I went, 5 of us dined on the beef and we had the biggest rib available, costing about £85. Not cheap, but when you pile on the Yorkshire pudding, vegetable, potatoes and gravy – all included in the price – things start to level off again. The bigger your piece the longer your wait for it to be cooked, but there’s proper beer on hand to give you something with which to occupy yourself. At the end of your dining, there is a bone to take home or feed to the neighbourhood dog (I take it home wrapped in acres of foil in order to make soup, much to Mr. A&N’s embarrassment and the neighbourhood dog’s ire) and a sense of well-rounded beefiness like no other.

A caveat worth mentioning is that the kitchen can get a bit harried during Sunday lunch, resulting in beef that goes beyond rare and Yorkshire puddings that go beyond golden. The tenderness and rich taste of the long-hung beef balanced this out and rescued it from being a disaster, but our group was disappointed that every slice of meat wasn’t bleeding onto the plate. A look around showed that a couple of other tables suffered the same problem, but that another 20 minutes later the kitchen was back on even footing. If you value your meat rare, you might want to be insistent on this point. For me, this isn’t a factor that would make me abandon the place (I’m due to eat there again in 2 weeks time) since even when the food’s imperfect it’s really very good. Plus, the experience of tucking into a proper Sunday lunch with a table full of friends, all indulging their carnivorous desires, is an ideal way to spend an afternoon.

Monday, 9 July 2007

The Eagle Gastro-pub

Owing to a minor gas leak from our new boiler (ah, what a sweet phrase to hear), rather than risk blowing ourselves up just to casually boil some gnocchi we decided to eat out this weekend. After looking at several possible contenders, we decided to eat at The Eagle, the restaurant for which the term ‘gastro-pub’ was coined. Mr A&N and I are big gastro-pub fans, so it’s a wonder we hadn’t been there before.

The Eagle is so true to it’s old-school, 1990’s roots that it doesn’t even have a web site. I think that qualifies as cutting-edge-retro these days. The interior is as you would expect from a gastro-pub, though this was the place that established the mould: old Victorian boozer, with a painted ceiling, exposed floorboards, and mis-matched chairs. The menu was a bit of surprise, though, with very reasonably priced mains (£9-£11 for the bulk of dishes, one or two at £14) and ingredient combinations that tended toward the Spanish.

The food was also a surprise, being not just good but very good indeed. One main we had was onglet of beef (or hanger beef), which was cooked properly so that it was flash friend but still rare. Surprisingly, it was served with tarragon but it was a pleasant surprise rather than a curious taste sensation – the tarragon tasted very aniseed-y but the beef more than held its own, letting each mouthful be strong in flavour. The haddock main, served with an anchovy paste, sultanas, and almonds, served over garlicky spinach, was really outstanding. I’d never had haddock that managed to be that meaty before, and the spinach was a fresh, nutty variety that helped to bring something more to the almond slivers floating about. The only complaint was that the dish was awash in olive oil; very good oil it was, but I do think they could have held back a bit – olive fields all over Spain must be feeling the pinch.

I still can’t believe we’ve taken so long to eat there, but it’s heartening to see that the restaurant that set the gastro-pub standard still has high cooking standards of its own. We forgot to bring any camera with us so rather than a picture of the food, you’ll have to settled for a picture of an Eagle of a different sort.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Garden Peas

I only started dabbling in growing my own vegetables last summer; previously, I had neither the inclination nor back garden to do so. I'm very much an urban gardener and always have been - meaning, I don't really know what I'm doing but I authoritatively make it up as I go along. I often mistake weeds for just-sprouting buds or fast-growing beanstalks, but I do just about manage to bring in things to eat for a few months of the year.The real super-star crop of last year and this has been a variety of mange tout that I don't know the name of, the seeds handed to me by my mother-in-law (in exchange for a cow no less. Just kidding.). They are an amazingly sweet, crisp, juicy, tasty, more-ish pea, and even more pleasingly, very resistant to slugs and snails, catepillars, and spells of mild neglect. This year's crop was a little less spectacular than last year's, due either to my over-ambitious planting of too many peas or to me planting them in the same spot as last year. I won't be churlish and complain too much since we still had several dinners worth of peas, but there won't be a second cropping since many of the stalks have died after just one batch. I've again saved peas for re-planting next year, and will try to find another spot for the crop since these peas deserve to have the best gotten out of them.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Baked Fish with Potatoes and Tomatoes

Mr. Ambrosia and Nectar and I first made this dish about a year ago, when family was coming to stay. We chose it because it promised good flavors but was easy enough to prepare and cook when chatting with guest. I really enjoyed it though Mr. A&N wasn't that impressed. The recipe stayed with me, and when I found some nice fresh mackerel this week, I thought it was time to convert Mr. A&N.

The original recipe, using bream, is from Casa Moro, and is typically served in Spain at Christmas. Since it's a winter dish, I adapted some of the ingredients for the summer (such as swapping bream with fresh mackerel, and leaving out the fresh fennel but bringing in rosemary). The taste remained lovely, though; the fish subtly takes on the flavor of the other things around it, and the combination of garlic, lemon, fennel seed, bay leaves and rosemary infuses the potatoes and tomatoes with delicate mouthfuls of flavor. Making the dish this time around, I made sure to seed all the tomatoes which I think improved the result and concentrated the flavors. The proof was in the eating when Mr. Ambrosia and Nectar declared he didn't know why he didn't like it the first time around, and we should definitely have it more often.

Baked Fish with Potatoes and Tomatoes (adapted from Casa Moro)
Serves 2

  • 2 small to medium fresh mackerel
  • 3 medium potatoes (about 400g/1 lb)
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 4 medium tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 bay leaves, crushed
  • 3 sprigs of rosemary, leaves removed from stalk
  • 1 lemon, sliced into about 8 slices
  • 1/2 Tbs fennel seeds
  • 3 Tbs olive oil
  1. Clean and pat dry the fish, and salt and pepper it inside and out.
  2. Peel and slice the potatoes into medium-thin slices (about 3mm). Place in a large bowl.
  3. Slice the tomatoes into medium-sized slices (about 5mm), taking care to seed them. Place in the bowl with the potatoes.
  4. Slice the onions into thin, circular slices and put in the bowl with the other ingredients.
  5. Also place in the bowl the garlic, bay leaves, rosemary, 4 of the lemon slices, and the fennel seeds.
  6. Pour on the olive oil and enough salt and pepper, and gently mix well.
  7. Layer evenly on a roasting tray, and roast for about 20 minutes.
  8. Remove from the oven and place the mackerel (with the remaining slices of lemon) on top. Cover the fish with vegetables, taking care to leave enough underneath. Drizzle with extra olive oil if looking a bit dry.
  9. Cook for a further 15 minutes or until fish is done.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Caramel Burn and Peachy Ending

I have suffered my worst kitchen injury since taking the bread knife to some slippery zucchini in a kitchen-full of flatmates vying for counter-top space. The result was a sliced zucchini as well as a lost bit of the tip of my pinky. This time, my pointer finger was the victim. Last night, in making caramel to top a spontaneous dessert, I burnt a patch of my skin while testing whether or not the caramel was cool enough to eat (which, note, it wasn’t. Nor was it cool enough to touch). I have of course shared the picture of the aftermath as a warning to the rest of you not to touch caramel when it’s still liquid - that white patch is the skin from the burnt part of the finger, all bunched up in a pile. How curious.The sautéed ameretto peaches with hardened caramel fared much better than my finger, the fine caramel filigree proving a nice crunching counterpoint to the warm, soft peaches beneath. It was a very quick and tasty dish, perfect for the peaches which were getting a little too soft, and a nice treat for us who rarely splash out in the dessert direction. Because I feel a bit bad about sharing a mildly-icky picture of a gimpy finger, I've balanced that with a picture of two nice fuzzy peaches, pre setting them alight.

Sautéed Ameretto Peaches with Hardened Caramel
Serves 2

  • 2 ripe peaches
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • ¼ C amaretto liqueur
  • ¼ cup demerara sugar
  • Vanilla ice cream (optional)
  1. Slice the peach in half, going from top to bottom, and carefully remove the pit
  2. Cut the peach into thick rings, getting about 3 rings per half-peach
  3. Heat a pan to medium heat, and add the butter
  4. Once the foam from the bubbling butter has subsided, add the peach rings.
  5. Push the rings around gently so as to coat but not break them up
  6. Sautee for around 3-4 minutes, until the peach juice has combined with the butter to create a thickened looking sauce
  7. Add half the quantity of ameretto. Remove pan from heat and swirl ameretto around so it combines thoroughly with the peachy buttery juices.
  8. Return pan to heat for a few seconds, then add the rest of the ameretto. Again remove from heat, and swirl until thoroughly combined with the peachy juices.
  9. Return to heat for half a minute, then turn off heat and set aside.
  10. To make the caramel, heat a separate pan until hot.
  11. Add in the sugar, spreading it out so it forms an even layer.
  12. Let the sugar melt naturally under the heat. Monitor the melting of the sugar, taking care that it doesn’t burn.
  13. Remove from heat when all sugar is melted – should take around 3-5 minutes.
  14. Divide the peaches and their juices into two serving bowls.
  15. Using a spoon, drizzle the caramel on top (taking care NOT TO TOUCH IT with your fingers). Make quick back-and-forth flicking motions with your wrist if you want to create a spun sugar/filigree effect with the caramel.
  16. Top with ice cream if you’re feeling even more indulgent

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

A Taste of Something Cheesy

I have been relieved to learn, by talking through my fixation with others and hearing back the same from them, that being a Cheese Addict is not an uncommon thing. Research is still out as to whether or not cheese is chemically addictive, but I can testify to the hold it has over me. Given the choice between cheese and chocolate? Cheese. Cheese and coffee? Cheese. Cheese and peanut butter? Difficult, but probably cheese. The only reason I don’t eat more than I do is because it makes me a bit ill (sometimes more than a bit) but that hasn’t stopped me, merely slowed me down. And whenever Mr. Ambrosia and Nectar finds me in the kitchen, hiding behind the fridge door eating cheese, he’ll become both upset (“It makes you ill!”) and disappointed (“You told me that last block of cheese was the last block of cheese”), but if he’s not already one of us, he’ll never truly understand the power it has over you.

Based on some recommendations, I tried Reblochon for the first time yesterday (bought it in stealth, cut big chunk, hid behind fridge door, cue Mr. Ambrosia and Nectar walking in on me). It is a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese, semi-mild and often described as ‘nutty’ and ‘autumnal’. The taste was indeed both things, while also being creamy and with a bit of leftover tang. The rind was a surprising addition to the experience – the cheese was not-quite-gooey soft and the rind was slightly-squidgy hard, and the two together gave very nice complementary textures. The smell of the Reblochon was something I really savored, smelling like an Italian market full of cured meats and cheese and dried mushrooms, all rolled together. I melted a bit in the microwave just to experience it warm, and it was a tantalizing view into the melted Reblochon world – the flavour came out slightly more, with the melted texture turning beautifully buttery.

As you would expect from the internet, there are some great cheese resources.

  • There’s a dedicated Reblochon site which loses a bit of impact since I can’t read French, but I do like the videos of happy people eating cheese.
  • A British site, dedicated to French cheese, tells you where in the UK you can get the particular cheese and what to expect from it’s flavour. There’s also a cheese quiz – I got 7 out of 7!
  • Artisinal Premium Cheese in New York has a great cheese glossary and a large variety of cheese (broken into helpful categories such as stinky, soft, hard-rind, etc) that are often difficult to find in the US.
  • CheddarVision web cam lets you watch a wheel of cheddar mature in real time. It’s been at it for 194 days (as of today) and you can start at the beginning and fastforward your way to the mouldy-rinded present. You can even become the cheese’s friend on Facebook (how haven’t I done that yet?)

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

London's Best...Burritos

Today kicks off the first in a series that I’m calling London’s Best. In my highly opinionated opinion, I have found several food-stuffs while eating around London that I think qualify as the best of that particular food-stuff I’ve found. Today’s London’s Best is a burrito.

London suffers from a confusing lack of Mexican food generally, and particularly a lack of good Mexican food. It’s easy enough to attribute it to the smaller numbers of native Mexicans creating their cuisine in the UK than, say, in the US. However, Mexican food can be outstandingly good without a heap of complexity going into it. I’ve long thought that if I could start my own burrito business, I’d have a hit on my hands.

Well, sadly, someone’s beaten me to it. But I can’t be too sad – these burritos are wonderful things, and any jealousy I have over someone acting on my burrito idea vanishes with eating the thing, because I’m just too joyous that someone has served me such a thing of tasty excellence. Freebird Burritos operates out of Exmouth Market on Monday – Thursdays, serving behemoths of burritos that keep you going for hours.

The burritos aren’t just large and packed full of bits, but the bits inside have great attention to detail. Each burrito comes with rice, your choice of refried or black bean, your choice of meat, your choice of salsa spiciness, cheese and sour cream, and optional guacamole. The rice alone is stunning, lightly flavoured with lime and coriander and tying the whole thing together. My favourite meat is the Carnitas (pork), which is cooked in juniper berries and bay leaves and some other magic to make it taste as good as it does. All servings are very generous, and the only complaint is that the burrito is so stuffed full of good things that it can get quite messy, but you do learn how to create a foil shield with the wrapper to avoid disasters. They have begun to do deliveries of 4 or more orders to the same office, which can be a dangerous thing since it guarantees more burritos in my future. Which will make me fight that jealous/happy balance all the more often.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Food Blog Roundup

On my blog radar this week...

Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl

I have just finished reading Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl, after appealing to various people for recommendations of books themed around food that weren't straight cookbooks (next on the list might be Brideshead Revisited). Ruth Reichl (for those who don't know her) was the editor of Gourmet magazine and the New York Times restaurant critic. The book is her memoir, until her late 20's, focusing on how food was always a love and a passion, and the guiding force to different paths she took even when she didn't realize it was food that was helping her along the journey.

I really enjoyed how she wrote - a gently comic vision of the people around her, and an often self-deprecating view of her own behavior. Plus, for anyone interested in food, you can't help but cast admiring glances at her food journey and how devoted she is to the sense of taste. It would seem almost cruel in a book about food to not include recipes, and Ruth slips a recipe in per chapter (relating to some key event of that chapter). The recipe that jumped out at me were for brownies (which are always on my radar), complemented by a critic at the time to be the best brownies the critic ever tasted.

Ruth Reichl's Artpark Brownies
(all measurements/temperatures given in American units)

  • 2/3 C butter
  • 5 oz unsweetend, best-quality chocolate
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 C sugar
  • 1 C sifted flour
  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F
  2. Butter and flour a baking tray (9 inch square is ideal)
  3. Melt butter and chocolate in double boiler
  4. When melted, add vanilla
  5. Beat eggs and salt in mixer. Add sugar and beat on high for around 10 minutes (or until mixture is quite white)
  6. Add chocolate mixture to egg mixture, beating on low until just mixed.
  7. Add flour and combine quickly until no white streaks remain.
  8. Place batter in pan.
  9. Put pan in over and immediately turn temperature down to 350 degrees.
  10. Bake for about 40 minutes - the brownies will be quite fudgy so even a toothpick test when the brownies are done should come out not-quite-clean.