Sunday, 27 June 2010

A Confession...

I must be truthful, it wouldn't be right to hold something back, but this is a big confession for a true foodie to make. Are you ready? Ok, here we go... I am rubbish at cakes and desserts. I cannot go on blaming ovens and whisks, it's an inbuilt failure. And I try, oh how I try - last weeks Crème Brulees were slaved over for an age, I lovingly followed the recipe to the letter but still my other half claimed it to be the most horrible thing he has ever eaten. For a man, that a few days ago, ate scampi, black pudding, potato croquettes, fish fingers and beans all on one plate, it was quite an insult. But a truthful one, I managed one mouthful of the crunchy scrambled eggs before completely agreeing with him. Savory I can do, more than can do. I understand which flavours go together, how they should be treated and the rest is instinct. Pastry only reaches that level once the cook has completely absorbed the science and its the science that seems to allude me.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, I now have a job that forces me to delve into the world of sweet. Sometimes our wonderful pastry chef Vicky has a day off so I must pick up her mantle, apparently customers need desserts. The last few weeks have been Sex and The City crazy at macrobert and we were offering a 2 course meal + cinema ticket deal. The menu was New York themed so along with New York style Burgers, home-made Calzone and Caesar Salad we had the most delicious Vanilla Baked Cheesecake and Chocolate Brownie Sundae. Having never made a cheesecake in my life I was obviously apprehensive about making 6. But once again I was saved by Jamie. And drumroll... I did it! They may have been a little cracked on the top (I was later enlightened by Vicky, they must be cooled down slowly) but they were almost perfect. I may have danced around the kitchen a little.

New York Style Baked Vanilla Cheesecake

Based on the Jamie Oliver recipe.

This recipe is as easy as a baked cheesecake can be, but so delicious that some customers (definitely not influenced by the cocktail menu) even asked to buy some to take home. We served it with a crushed fruit coulis (blueberries, strawberries and raspberries) and fresh raspberries but this cheesecake is a great canvas for other flavours. Try it and see.

200g unsalted butter (melted, plus extra for greasing)
350g digestive biscuits, crushed
115g caster sugar
3 tablespoons of cornflour
900g full fat cream cheese, at room temperature
2 large free range eggs
115ml double cream
1 vanilla pod, scored lengthways and seeds removed or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange

Preheat the oven to 180c/350F/gas 4, then grease the bottom and sides of a 24cm springform tin. First make your biscuit base - mix the crushed digestive biscuits with the melted butter in a bowl. Press the mixture evenly into the bottom of the tin and bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool.

Turn the oven up to 200c/400F/gas 6. Combine the caster sugar and cornflour in a large bowl, add all the cream cheese to this mixture. Beat until creamy. Add the eggs, one by one to the cream cheese mixture then slowly add the cream. Beat the whole mixture until it is the consistency of whipped cream. Lastly drop in the vanilla, orange zest and lemon zest, fold in.

Scrape the mixture on top of the cooled biscuit base, level the surface and place in the middle of the oven. Cook for 35-40 mins, the top should be set around the sides and it should be golden in colour. Slowly (SLOWLY!) cool the cheesecake by turning the oven off and opening the oven door slightly. Cool it in stages, finally leaving in a cool, dry place or fridge. Leave to set for a couple of hours, decorate how you wish!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Vivre La France!

I went to the South of France almost a month ago and I have been meaning to post about it for ages. Mother Hen had some work to do and she invited my sister and I to go with her, obviously we had to think about it. I like to include a recipe with most posts but I seem to be failing to cook 'French' lately (see next post regarding the Brulee disaster 2010). We had the most magical holiday, ate like queens and looking through my photos this evening (90% are food related) I just had to share them with you.

Pre-dinner snacks and vino, the wine was from the next door 'cave'.
Not only delicious but £1 a bottle.

A simple courgette salad.
Mandoline sliced courgettes with lemon zest and mint fresh from the garden. Drizzled with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.

My favorite - nothing beats French artichokes.
Dipping the leaves in a simple vinaigrette and licking my fingers.

Seafood from the local market in Eymet.

I know it's Italian but Spaghetti Vongole with clams as fresh as these cannot be passed up. The recipe is very similar to my Prawn Fettucini.

Barbecued sardines - not my favorite by Mother Hen would sell her soul for them.

Come on! It's France!

And to finish...

The elderflowers outside my room, the smell was heavenly and they begged to be made into Champagne. If only we were there for longer.

Brioche from Bergerac.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

A tribute to Valvona's

There is no bigger slice of heaven on earth than Valvona and Crolla's on Leith Walk. This Edinburgh legend is, to many, the best restaurant and deli this side of Roma. My grandmother used to send for a Valvona hamper and sit with the feast between herself and my grandfather on their thrones. All I can hope for is that I inherit more than just her name.

I remember getting a Valvona carrier bag with bits and pieces from her (you never went home empty handed) and I think I had it for almost 5 years. I thought I was the bees knees carrying my gym kit in a Valvona bag, actually I was the bees knees but it definitely ended my PE career.

When I finally got to the deli/restaurant it already felt like home. Yes its expensive but man its worth it. When I was at the Taste Festival I ended up engrossed at the pop-up book shop with my head in the official Valvona and Crolla cookbook - A Year At An Italian Table. If anyone of my loved ones are reading, birthday present done!