Monday, 28 November 2011


I could write all about this years Thanksgiving, but I think I'll show you instead...

The most American shopping basket a Scottish supermarket has ever seen. I am not responsible for the squirty cream.

Staci getting her bake on.

With a little help from Ms Crocker.

American splendor

My Pumpkin Pie. Too delicious and recipe here.

The feast. Basically a celebration of bacon, cream and cheese with some cranberries and a little turkey thrown in for good measure.

My cornbread that apparently was very close to Southern cornbread but I would have preferred something with more punch. Try this.

Well done Grahame!

Grahame's signature cheesecake with Staci's signature brownies.
The dish of the night.
Post stuffing feet up.

Staci's wheels and wee Harry's new love. Check out more of her work.

I gave in to the lure of cream in a can.

Jo's Sweet Potato and Marshmallow casserole. Looking forward to this much fabled American classic and was actually pleasantly surprised, but in no way does it go with turkey - sorry y'all.

Ran out of bricks but the sentiment was there...

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Your Saturday night starts right here!

Or, how to pimp up your bought in curry.

For regular readers you will know about my inability to leave things alone. When I say I am going to have a bowl of pasta for supper, I mean I am going to have a bowl of papperdelle with courgette ribbons, garlic, crushed chilli, homegrown mint with rocket flowers and drizzled with local rape seed oil. I can revel in simple flavours but I have a tendency to get slightly carried away with the creativity of it all. Case in point from last Friday when Alison popped in for a cuppa and some baking banter. Hungry after spending the morning gossiping with the macrobert girls, a quick snack was in demand. Soft goats cheese toasted on wholemeal bread with baby plum tomatoes, homemade onion jam and a sprinkle of lemon thyme. 'You can't just make cheese on toast, can you?' remarked Alison, 'No, not really' was the only reply I could muster. Though having declared it to be the best non cheese on toast she'd ever had I feel this is one bad habit akin to being too tidy. Slightly irritating, but ultimately makes the world a better place. *Smug alert*

It's Saturday and now that we are officially too old to be frequenting Stirling's nightclubs (either of them) we have replaced dancing with eating. Coupled with a glass or two of vino, plus Saturday night telly and good banter = pure bliss. We are also as a nation able to enjoy the spoils of a war that dominates our television advertising. I am talking of course about the War of the Supermarket Titans and whether you revel in their convenience or despair in their crushing monopoly (I am of the latter opinion) it would be almost churlish not to take full advantage of the deals around. Two curries, two side dishes and a bottle of wine for £10 from Marks and Spencer trumps any takeaway for value and still means you can have a lazy Saturday night curry without any fuss. All that was needed now was friends, wine glasses and Dermot's dancing. But you know me right and, once again, I just couldn't keep out of the kitchen...

After a flick through my Indian cookbooks and discussions with significant others I came up with small but tasty starter menu - surely the king of courses?

Mint Yogurt

Easy, peasy. Include grated (and squeezed) cucumber to make Tzatziki, a perfect match for Lamb Koftas

250g natural yogurt
fresh mint, large handful
fresh coriander, small handful
1/2 small clove of garlic, finely minced
1/4 lemon, juice
salt and pepper

Finely chop the mint and coriander, place in a small bowl and add the garlic, lemon juice. Stir in the yogurt and season to taste.

Mango Chutney

I made this chutney earlier this year and it has kept perfectly. Most mango chutneys seem to be overly sweet and thin, this has good big chunks of fruit and has great spicing. Great for Christmas presents too, and goes particularly well with cold meat leftovers. The recipe uses 4-6 mangoes depending on their size and ripeness, slightly firmer mangoes are best because they won't collapse completely. It will need about 6 weeks to mature properly so if your Saturday night curry can't wait I recommend Geeta's which has the pleasing addition of nigella seeds.

Makes 2-4 jars, depending on their size

You will need a 20cm square piece of muslin.

4 cloves
10 black peppercorns
1 dried red chilli
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
5 cardamon pods
350g finely chopped red onion
400ml white malt vinegar
2 bay leaves
1 tsp of cumin seeds
1 tsp of coriander seeds
1 tsp nigella seeds
900g mangoes, peeled, stoned and sliced into wedges
350g Bramley apples, peeled and sliced
450g golden caster sugar
1/2 cayenne pepper

Bash the ginger until it's slightly broken up. Place it along with the cloves, black peppercorns, dried chilli, and cardamon pods in the center of the muslin square and tie up to make a pouch.

Toast the coriander seeds in a dry pan until fragrant and then crush with a pestle and mortar.  In a large saucepan sweat the onions on a medium heat for a couple of minutes and stir in the cumin seeds, crushed coriander and nigella seeds. After 30 seconds pour in the vinegar and add the bay leaves and spice pouch.  Simmer for 10 minutes before mixing in the mango and apples. Cook for around 15 minutes until the fruit is soft but not completely collapsed. Before adding the sugar make sure you are happy with the consistency of the fruit because it will stop breaking down once sugar is incorporated. Add the sugar and the cayenne pepper and simmer until the mixture is like a thick jam which should take about an hour. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking but be aware that this mixture is lava hot so be careful.

While the chutney is cooking, sterilise the jars and lids in boiling hot water. Spoon into the jars while the chutney is still hot and seal. Label when cool and leave in a dark, cool place to mature.

Spiced Cashews Nuts

Very quick to make and uses mostly store cupboard ingredients. They were the hit of the night and great snack to have with drinks.  Feel free to swap about the spices, the recipe is very adaptable and can be made spicier if, like me, you love fiery chilli.

200g cashew nuts
20g butter
1/2 tsp dried chilli
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
6 curry leaves, slightly broken up
salt and pepper

In a large frying pan melt the butter over a medium heat. Toast the cashew nuts until golden brown and then tip in the spices and stir together. Cook for another 30 seconds until the spices are fragrant, season and serve.

Sweet Potato Samosas

The inspiration for these delicious triangles of fun comes from an amazing night spent at the Earthy Foods Pop-Up Coconut Curry Club (read more about this event at my monkfish). Crispy pastry with a creamy, sweet, spicy filling satisfies all my nibbly needs. Again this is a recipe that can be experimented with, the filling could be the traditional potato and pea or you could combine the sweet potato with pumpkin or squash. This filling is inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi's Sweet Potato Cakes featured in Plenty which I made andevoured earlier last week. The decision to use filo pastry and bake them made the whole process easier, and slightly healthier if you completely ignore the melted butter.

Makes 10-15 samosas

For the filling:
500g peeled sweet potato, cut into large chunks
50g plain flour
6 spring onions, finely sliced
1 red chilli, finely chopped
100g baby spinach
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp of ground cumin
1 tsp of coriander
2 tsp of garam masala
salt and pepper

1 packet of filo pastry
100g melted butter
nigella seeds for sprinkling

Steam the sweet potatoes until completely soft, it should take about 20 minutes. If you don't have a steamer (I don't) place the sweet potato in a colander on top of a large saucepan with 5cm of water. Cover the top of the colander and put on a medium heat, periodically checking that the pan hasn't ran dry. Once cooked cool in a colander and leave to drain for about an hour.

Wilt the washed baby spinach in a dry pan and once cooled squeeze all the water out, roughly chop. Once the sweet potatoes have lost most of their moisture place them in a large mixing bowl with the spinach and all the rest of the ingredients, apart from the spices. Toast the spices in a dry pan until the mustard seeds start to pop and then tip into the bowl. Mix together by hand, mushing the sweet potato, until the mix is a smooth, sticky paste. If it's too soft add a little more flour but do not over mix. This mixture will keep for a couple of days, well covered, in the fridge so can be made in advance.

Preheat the oven to 180c/gas 4. Now for the pastry - filo has a tendency to dry quickly so work fast and have the melted butter ready. Unroll the pastry and peel off one piece, keep the rest under a damp tea towel. Lay the sheet on a flat surface and brush the whole thing with melted butter. Fold into thirds lengthwise, brushing butter in-between each layer until you have a long strip. Brush again with butter and place one large teaspoon of the filling at the base of the strip.  Fold the bottom right hand corner over diagonally, enclosing the filling and forming a triangle. Keep folding this way up the strip until you reach the end. Trim any excess and brush the whole thing with butter. Place on a baking sheet and cover while the rest of the samosas are made. Sprinkle with nigella seeds before baking for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

The meal was perfectly rounded off by cuddles on the sofa and Alison's amazing raspberry, pear and Toblerone pavlova. Unable to share the recipe because she 'makes it up as she goes along'.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Melancholy Pie

Life is a strange beast and when times are hard there's only one thing to do. Make a pie.

Today marks one week since I left the macrobert arts centre, a company I have worked in for eight years. Initially meant to supplement my already dwindled student loan, at the age of 20 I applied to be an usher so I could hang out with my best friend Kirsty and ultimately get paid to go to the cinema. A brilliant plan, I'm sure you'll agree. Unfortunately my CV bulging with catering experience across the globe meant that I was plucked from a future snoozing in the back row to a life filled with lattes, kids parties and, the horrors, curly fries. Welcome to the macrobert cafe bar. 

Situated on campus and with a pretty decent program of films, live shows and youth workshops it is the perfect place to work post lectures and pre pub. Disastrously my first shift was crippled with a hacking, full bodied cough that was so horrific I couldn't even keep dry toast down. Coupled with the experience of being locked in the backstage toilets for half an hour and none of the boys behind the bar mumbling a word to me, it was not the most glittering of beginnings. But from humble beginnings come great things, and being part of the macrobert family for the last eight years is one of the greatest.

I managed to evolve from coffee monkey over the years and with every promotion I grew more and more passionate about making the cafe bar the best it could be. It wouldn't be far from the truth to say that breathed, slept and ate everything macrobert from noon to night, Monday to Sunday. I've laughed til I cried, cried til I laughed, had my heart broken, shouted a fair amount, collapsed with pure exhaustion and got very very drunk. Never before I have I been lucky enough to work with such brilliant people, so many people that are now friends for life and without which I couldn't have never got through the days. You know who you are.

But my days of Catering Manager for the macrobert cafe bar are now at an end. Like most places the purse strings are pinching and no matter how hard we've fought, that job is officially redundant, and with it so am I. It's ok, I'm ok - mostly. I hope that a restructure will breath new life and allow the whole company to flourish.  I also hope know that this change is a good thing. I'm getting really excited about new challenges, new ideas and a new life centered around what I am really passionate about - good food.

This week though, I'm allowing myself to be sad. Not morose or inconsolable, just a little glum.  So I ask myself - WWJB? Those unfamiliar with this acronym will have to look towards one of the most underrated films of all time, I'm talking of course about Waitress.  Written and directed by Adrienne Shelly our hero is Jenna, a pregnant and very unhappily married diner waitress who dreams of escape.  Jenna is a phenomenal baker of the most magical pies inspired by her dismal life.  Who really can resist an opening scene like this...

So What Would Jenna Bake? As mentioned she bakes pies that reflect her situation in life, Bad Baby Pie (after finding out she was pregnant with her horrible husbands baby), I Hate My Husband Pie (self explanatory) and Naughty Pumpkin Pie (after starting an affair with her very handsome doctor). The contents of these pies often reflect their titles, I Hate My Husband Pie is made with bittersweet chocolate, and each is put on special in Joe's Diner. So this week I baked a pie, I'm Glum About Leaving My Job Pie.  Made with plums because it rhymes with glum (slightly tenuous link) and spices for medicinal purposes

You don't have to be especially glum to make this pie because as would luck would have it, it also perfectly celebrates the last of Autumns bounty too. Plums were made for pudding and have been used in British cooking since the dawn of time. The second most cultivated fruit in the world (after apples) they have a place in almost every cuisine, from Chinese Crispy Duck with Plum Sauce to Italian Plum Cake. I tend to find golden and red plums sweeter than their purple counterparts but their dusty blue skins are almost too beautiful to resist, in photographs at least. For this recipe I used Victoria plums, probably the most well known but I refuse to knock them for being ubiquitous. I mixed them with apples for the pie to give another Autumnal dimension and cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg for warming spice. Please count the cloves before you put them in and make sure that you find them all before filling the pie. I could only find 3 out of 4 and pie eating in this household turned into clove Russian roulette.

Please don't judge but I used pre-made shortcrust pastry.  It shrunk so lesson learned and I promise never to be so lazy ever again. Probably. If you are diligent and want to make your own I recommend this recipe but triple the amounts for this pie. The pastry isn't blind baked, which might have added to the shrinkage, so make sure that the pie lid isn't too tightly fitted.

Melancholy Pie 

Serves 8

500g dessert apples - British please
400g plums
140g golden caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1/2 tsp of cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
4 cloves
1 heaped tsp of cornflour
plain flour, for dusting
500g shortcrust pastry
1 egg, beaten to glaze

Heat the oven to 200c/180c fan/gas 6 and put a large baking sheet on the middle shelf to heat up. Butter a 24cm pie dish and place in the fridge.

Place the plums, apples, sugar and spices in large saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved and the plums are juicy. Mix the cornflour with a small splash of water and add to the plum mixture, heat for a few minutes until the juices thicken. Leave to cool.

Dust the work surface with flour and divide the pastry into 2 parts. One for the pie base, which needs to be the largest piece, one for the lid which should be slightly smaller. Dust a rolling pin with flour and roll out the pie base until it is 1/2 cm thick. Line the pie dish by moving the rolled pasty carefully with the rolling pin, press into the side but leave the extra over hang.

Fill the pie with the cooled plum and apple mixture. Roll out the lid to the same thickness as the base and place on top of the fruit. Pinch around the pie with your fingers and then crimp together with the prongs of a fork. Using a knife cut the extra pastry away.

Use this extra pastry to make decorations for the pie top, I went for leaves but you could make plums, unicorns - what ever takes your fancy. Use the beaten egg to stick them to the pie lid and brush the rest over the top.  Sprinkle with golden caster sugar. Place on the hot baking sheet and bake for 30 - 40 minutes or until the pie is golden brown.

Serve with vanilla spiked custard or cold ice cream to contrast with the bubbling hot fruit.

P.S I thought I would show off my new pinny, courtesy of my lovely flatmate Stevie, bought on his recent trip to New York.  I now strut around the kitchen pretending I'm Rachel Green.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

My new crappy portrait

A few months ago, while wasting precious time on Twitter, I came across a tweet from the lovely A Thrifty Mrs (who also has an ace blog).  She was waxing lyrical about the wonders of a 'free crappy portrait' that she'd just been sent.  Now I'm never one to turn down a free experience so I immediately took a peek at their lovely website.  There is literally nothing better than people that accept photos and stories of strangers and then spend their spare time drawing rubbishy/hilarious pictures of them.  It makes me proud to be a human being. I submitted a photo of myself taken at the River Cottage Canteen and rambled on for a few hours about all my favorite things - dip and crisps, cider, my lovely ginger boyfriend, roast chicken, pumpkins, prawns, meringues and my fat goldfish Clementine.  

They do ask you to wait between one and one million days and I thought it would never arrive; but this morning instead of inbox stuffed only by Groupon - it was here!!

From this....

To this...

Oh, how I love it!  Much much better than I was expecting, plus the feast (minus the goldfish) looks really delicious.    I might also record the song, it will probably get to number one.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

What I did this summer

When we last spoke the summer was just getting in to full swing, and what a glorious two weeks it was.  

Most of the vitamin D that I soaked up was courtesy of a weeks holiday to Devon to see Bo.  A holiday where I ate a pasty every day until my loving boyfriend pointed out that I might not fit my behind on the plane seat home.  So up'd it to 2 a day in defiance.  

Devon has to be the world capital of gluttony.  Where else in the world do main food groups consist of carvery, clotted cream and scrumpy?   The air is heavy with the smell of buttery pastry and sweet caramelised sausages. Clotted cream ice-cream, jam and fudge are touted on every street corner until you can do nothing but scream YES!! Give me something delicious that will clog up all my arteries, right NOW! If there was no such thing as calories or regret then Devon is the place to happily fill your chops for all eternity.  Not that you would remember anything about this contented existence because the scrumpy is officially the fuel for most space missions. I (A SCOT!) could, on average, manage half a pint before falling off my summer wedges.

But here's why this place is special, here's why its not just some run-of-the-mill British seaside holiday that ticks all the tacky boxes but bores you to tears. It has some of the best produce and producers in the whole of the country and they seriously know how to show it off.  The seafood, the cheese, the butchery, the apple juice - everything about it screams the Land of Plenty.  Newton Abbot, where Bo was based, was a large-ish town a little smaller than Stirling.  Not big enough for a Topshop - which is the measurement I use for towns.  The farmers market was twice weekly and so vast that it spilled into a large indoor market too.  It took me three hours before I felt that I had explored enough and I would have happily gone back every single day.

That post farmers market lunch will go down in history.  It might even make the grade for one of the courses in the (ever expanding) menu for the 'last meal before I die'.  Creamy Ticklemore goats cheese and local onion chutney sandwiched in the freshest sour dough, washed down with Cox apple juice and followed by blackberries, picked on the way home, sprinkled over clotted cream ice-cream.  The King of lunches.

I also was treated to a mystery tour that ended in dinner at The River Cottage Canteen in Axminster, as all good mystery tours should.  Situated amongst the deli where you can oggle at all the best produce that Devon has to offer, and then wait, expectantly, for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's team to serve it up to you.  We started with a few glasses of local cider and huge bowl of mussels cooked in more cider, bacon and wholegrain mustard.  So sweet, so juicy, so fresh and with decent loaf to mop up every last drop.  For the main course I finally plucked up the courage to tick one of my New Years resolutions off the list. Mackerel.  I have to be totally honest, I'm not a fishy person.  White fish I can handle but oily fish have never been on the shopping list.  The thing is, I know I should like it.  It's good for me, it's sustainable and it can handle some serious flavour.  Plus it's Nigel Slater's favorite fish and he's my favorite cook.  So therefore on the 1st of January I wrote number 7 on the list - 'Learn to love mackerel'.  I have been slightly putting it off for 8 months, but I wanted my first mackerel to be the best mackerel ever plucked from the ocean and cooked to complete perfection.  Who could do this better than the River Cottage team?

So there they are, served whole with braised rainbow chard and roast peppers.  And (drum roll....) I cleaned my plate.  The freshness of the mackerel perfectly complemented the sweetness of the roast peppers and the earthy kale*.  I don't think you'll catch me cracking open a tin of sardines in the near future but for a first taste it was near perfection.

It was a sad, sad day leaving the delicious delights of Devon and if someone wants to give me a job there I'd be down like a shot.  Although I will have to learn how to take out my waist bands.

Devon was, unfortunately, a lone food highlight in a summer of just eating for energy's sake.  I've survived a long distance relationship, moved house, completed an NVQ, packed in three trips to the Edinburgh festival, put in a ridiculous amount of hours at work and waved goodbye to my little brother who moved to Australia. Thank goodness Autumn is here.

So dear readers get ready for an autumnal bounty.  I'm already planning great culinary adventures, tell me about yours...

*Kale is my new favorite vegetable.  Last week while on a 'thinking walk' I stumbled upon Stirling Council's new initiative to replace boring flower beds with mini allotments filled with kale, sweetcorn, tomatoes, peas and artichokes.  In celebration I took a quick snap of the kale leaves in the late summer sunlight, this photo now sits proud as the title of this blog.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

And then there was one

This is not a sad story because at the centre is a new, brilliant, life changing adventure.  The only sad part is that it cannot be done together and that basically sucks. 

At the beginning of the summer Bo got the news that he had been accepted onto the course of his dreams, one that will totally kick start his dream career in horse racing.  He loves horse racing as much as I love food, which is a fair amount.  Some nights when reading in bed I'll ask him 'What are you reading about?' and he'll say 'Horses', and then he'll ask me 'What are you reading about?' and I'll say 'Food'.  That is our life.  It's lovely.  He has blagged work on anything connected to the industry for the last year; showing round VIP's on race days, manning the Scottish Racing trailer in the pissing rain, chatting up old dears on the train about course loyalty cards; and he has loved every single second.  So the fact that he was accepted as part of the British Horseracing Authority graduate scheme came as absolutely no surprise - to me anyway but I'm biased and think he's ace.  The course began at Newmarket for two weeks and then on to his placement in Newton Abbot, Devon to learn all about small racecourse management.  If you are interested in any of this (and you don't have to be, I do because I'm sleeping with him) he is writing his own blog on his experiences for Scottish Racing.  It's good too, he learnt from the best! 

Bo looking serious at the races.

So on Saturday 26th June he moved so very far away.  I stayed, had 'crying' face for about a week and got very drunk with my brother.  Our wee home suddenly echoed and I soon realised that goldfish don't talk back.  There was a pathetic lack of potatoes in the potato drawer, no milk was bought (it gives me the hibbies) and suddenly realised I had nobody to please apart from myself.  Which can be a bad thing.

It's been a month now, a month of throwing myself into work and making pillow people to sleep beside, and it's getting a little better.  Apart from the phone bills, they're getting worse.  Those of you that read this blog regularly (hi mum!) will know all about Bo's famous vegetable phobia so I decided to turn my hearts loss into my stomachs gain and eat LOTS OF VEGETABLES!  I honestly think that I can count on one hand how much meat I've had in the last month. 

Anyway, where were we, ah yes - vegetables.  I don't mean having a plate of carrot and radish followed by a parsnip chaser for lunch, I just mean meals that are not centred around carbohydrates and animal protein.  Interesting, semi healthy, quick and most importantly with my new status, easily adaptable for one.  My first purchase was Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi and finally found out what all the fuss was about.  The most beautiful book that truly celebrates the world of vegetables in the most innovative and exciting way.  I know from the core of my being that this will be a cookbook that I treasure for the rest of my days.  Get it.

I realise I've divulged too much, this is a food blog and you are here for a recipe not a potted history of my mental state over the last month.  For that I apologise and hope that this simple fish supper for one makes up for any boredom or offense caused.  This meal is my new TV dinner, to be enjoyed when watching crap detective dramas and followed by 2 squares of Green and Black's Maya Gold.

Sea bass and Fennel Parcels with Tomato Salad

serves 2 - ironically

2 large seabass fillets (or 1 whole but the cooking time will be longer)
1 lemon
1 bulb of fennel
1 clove of garlic
a few sprigs of thyme
small glass of white wine
salt and pepper

For the tomato salad:
4 ripe tomatoes - from the windowsill, not the fridge
large bunch fresh parsley
1/2 a red onion
dressing of your choice, mine was made with white wine vinegar, rape seed oil, lemon juice and a little French mustard

Preheat the oven to 180c/350F/Gas Mark 4.  Or fire up the barbecue because this would work just as well either on the grill or nestled into cooling coals.

For the tomato salad, finely slice the tomato and red onion, season, add the parsley leaves and dress.  Place on the side while you cook the fish. 

Cut the fennel as finely as possible, for this you will need a pretty sharp knife or mandolin.  Be careful but the nearer you get to transparency the better.  Slice the garlic to a similar thickness.  Slice the lemon and pile this up with the fennel, garlic and thyme on a large sheet of tin foil.  Season generously and drizzle with olive or rape seed oil.  With a sharp knife, score each fillet about 1 cm apart.  Not all the way through but just enough to let the flavours penetrate the fish.  Lay the fish on the bed of fennel.  Bring up the sides of the tin foil to create a large, cornish pasty shaped, parcel.  Before closing completely add the wine, it will steam the fish from within.  Scrunch the foil together tightly, making sure that nothing can escape but leave room within the parcel for the steam to generate.  Cook for 20 - 25 minutes until the fish is opaque.

Serve with a green salad, crusty bread to mop up the juices and a chilled glass of sauvignon blanc.

Last night I braved the Flybe website (why so many questions!) and booked myself a wee holiday to the land of cider, crabs and handsome ginger men.  Photos, recipes and adventure stories coming soon!

Friday, 20 May 2011

F is for Friday

Growing up we were lucky enough to have our mum work from home.  Hen was always there to pick us up from the school bus and supply us with unending amounts of bread and strawberry jam while we watched Round The Twist.  But running a busy business from home with three children, constantly falling out of trees or wanting to use the the photocopier to photocopy their faces, is not the easiest of tasks.  Fridays were work days, and to control the peace Kimmy came to look after us. 

Fridays soon became the most looked forward day of the week as we were soon bewitched by Kimmy's wicked sense of humour and adventure.  She not only let me wear her frosted pink lipstick but also taught me the words to every Bananarama song.  One Friday, probably grasping at straws to keep us amused, Kim put her Sesame Street hat on and announced that we would only do things beginning with the letter F.  Cue three children with their feet covered in poster paint walking across a giant sheet of paper in the back kitchen and then, as a reward for our artistic efforts, French toast.

French Toast

I'm aware that this barely needs a recipe but it is one of my favorite things to eat.  I'm also aware that most people place French toast in the sweet category (a fact that I didn't find out until my early twenties) and the thought of having French toast with sugar or strawberries is just plain wrong.  I could push to bacon and maple syrup but that's the limit. 

During the years that Kimmy was looking after us my passions were firmly centred around Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan, so much so that I had a gigantic Kylie poster on the ceiling above my bed which is a little bit gay.  It was a platonic girl crush, honest.  Anyway, to cut a flashback short, Kim used to make us "Kylie and Jason French toast" with the French toast cut up and lovingly arranged around the plate in the shape of an 80's perm (for Kylie) or a mullet (for Jason).  Nose, eyes and mouth were courtesy of Heinz tomato ketchup. Delicious and still the only thing I want went I'm ill.

I've now grown up a bit (a smidgen) and like my French toast pimped up a little.  Chilli for heat, oregano to bring some Italiano to the mix and served with tomato salad or charcuterie.  Or baked beans if I'm being a bad foodie.  The bread must be white but make sure it's decent.

Serves 2

4 slices of white bread
4 eggs
milk, a splash
chilli flakes
oregano - fresh if possible, dried if not
salt and pepper

Beat the eggs, milk, oregano, chilli flakes and salt and pepper together.  Soak the bread in the mixture until all is absorbed.  Heat a good glug of olive oil in a thick bottomed frying pan.  When the oil is hot, fry each piece until golden and crisp on each side.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

You're having a falaf

In other news I have been getting better at remembering about lunch. This is a big step towards being a normal person, or so I have been told.
At work, lunch is usually an irritating pang of hunger that is often ignored or quenched by downing a quick bowl of soup. Quite often, in fact, breakfast and lunch are usually combined - unfortunately not in a relaxing brunch kind of way, more like toast and marmalade at half eleven. The thing is, for me lunch is never a meal to get excited about unless I'm on holiday and it includes some chilled rosé and charcuterie in the sunshine.

The last 2 weeks have been different because I actually took time off work (shock!) and the days seem to be longer when you don't have a million things to do.  My plans for the time off consisted of sewing, watching crappy films and generally eating what I wanted as the other half was sadly at work (ha ha!).  This meant crappy films with subtitles and lots of yummy vegetables, hurrah!  For lunchtime I really want to have something that requires very little prepping and cooking, for me that means a variation of a mezze platter.  Tasty salad, yogurt dressing, soft pillowy flat bread, babagonush or hummus, grilled chicken or...

Butternut Squash and Goats Cheese Falafel

Falafel is the perfect snack, starter or flat bread filling and is getting so popular that McDonald's is now serving the "McFalafel" in some countries, a wonderful wikipedia fact that I couldn't wait to share with you.  This variation on the classic falafel includes two of my favorite ingredients, sweet butternut squash and zesty soft goats cheese.

Also this recipe, as well as being delicious, is also very cheap to make. I used dried chickpeas and soaked them overnight because in the past I've used tinned for hummus (humous, houmous?? I never know) and all it tasted of was the fousty brine. Lovely. Plus dried are cheap, 500g was only 97p and more than double in weight once soaked for 24 hours.

I made A LOT of these falafels with the thought that I could could freeze a big batch and lunch would just be a case reheating and munching, this is possible but they are so much better fresh from the pan.  I would recommend either only making as much as you will eat (and this an easily adjusted recipe) or make a large batch of the mixture and freeze, then defrost and fry.

This recipe is adapted from the Abel and Cole site which has some cracking recipes that celebrates the wonderful world of veg.

makes 20 - 25 falafel

1/2 small to medium-sized butternut squash, deseeded
4 spring onions, cut finely
2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
2 tsp of cumin seeds
1 tsp of chilli seeds
400g soaked chick peas
20g fresh mint
20g fresh coriander
100g Abergavenney goats cheese
100g fresh breadcrumbs
1 egg yolk
1 tsp baking powder
salt and pepper
plain flour (for rolling)
olive oil (for frying)

The day before soak the chickpeas, at least 24 hours in advance.  They will double in size so for the sake of this recipe soak 200g of dried chickpeas.  If, after soaking, there is a little more than 400g chuck them in a salad or stew, if its a little less don't worry.  Rinse thoroughly once soaked.

The next day preheat the oven to 200c/390F/Gas Mark 6.  Cut the squash into 2-3cm chunks, no need to peel as the skin becomes lovely and chewing when roasted and adds texture to the falafel.  Place in a roasting tray and sprinkle over 1 tbsp of olive oil, the cumin seeds, chilli flakes, a good pinch of sea salt and a proper grind of black pepper.  Toss it all together and place on the middle shelf of the oven.  Roast for 20-30 minutes, turning occasionally.  Once soft and caramelly, cool to room temperature.

Add all the remaining ingredients and the squash (plus any juices) to a food processor and blitz together to make a rough paste.  Test a small amount of the mixture by taking a small piece and form a ball, if the paste falls apart too easily add a tablespoon of plain flour and blitz again.  Season with salt and pepper.

Scoop the paste into a large bowl with a spatula and cover tightly with clingfilm.  Chill in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours.  To shape the falafel; dampen your hands, take about a tablespoon of the mixture and shape into a ball.  Dip the ball into plain flour and place on a plate lined with greaseproof paper.  Repeat.

Heat some olive oil in a pan, it needs to have a depth of about 1 inch.  Test the temperature with a piece of bread, once the bread fries to a golden colour the oil is ready.  Cook 5 falafel at a time, making sure not to crowd the pan, for about 3-5 minutes until golden and crispy.  Drain on kitchen paper.

Have a perfect lunch.

A salad dressing made with natural yogurt, lemon juice and very good extra
virgin olive oil.  Goes beautifully with a salad of crisp, thinly cut veg.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Happy To You!

To my dear friends and readers; some from home, some (bizarrely) from Angola, the time has arrived to celebrate.  Put your Kate and Wills bunting back up and pop open something chilled and fizzy (Appletise will do) because...


I think the cake was too small for 'birthday'.

And a huge thank you is in order.  Firstly and most importantly to you, for taking the time out of your hectic lives to read my rambles through culinary adventures.  Someone asked me recently if I would still write a blog (still hate that word) if nobody read it.  An interesting question and one that will plague bloggers (eek, worse!) for years to come.  My answer? Yes of course, but in no way would I get as much pleasure out of it as I do.  With the risk of getting slightly American on you all, through your feedback and friendship I laugh, learn and discover more and more about this wonderful world of all things edible.  Your comments are valuable, often hilarious and... oh God I'm welling up here...

Just thanks.

I also want to say a huge merci to my friends and family for helping and listening as always.  Particularly to Bo, who not only lets me insult his eating habits on the Internet but proof reads them too.

And lastly, fellow food writers (I can't bring myself to use that word again).  Some of which I have met, most of which I've read and some of which I have hilarious Apprentice banter with on Twitter.  There is amazing people doing some amazing things out there, it's lovely to be part of it all.

So finally, to show my appreciation I baked you a cake.

Rhubarb and Custard Fairycakes

makes 12

These cakes taste completely of rhubarb and custard.  I'm not being blonde but I just want to warn people that might not be too fond of that combination that this is not a hint of rhubarb and custard.  Its like a rhubarb and custard bomb going off in your mouth.  On the other hand, if like me, you LOVE rhubarb and custard then these are going to make you very very happy.  I ate five.  In one afternoon.

300g rhubarb, cut into 1cm slices. Plus 1 whole stick for decorating.
125g caster sugar, plus 4 tbsp extra
zest and juice of 1 orange
100ml plain yogurt
2 eggs
100g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
75g ground almonds

For the icing:
200ml milk
2 tbsp cornflour
175g butter
2 tbsp mascarpone
175g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180c/gas 4.  Line a cupcake tray with 12 cases.

In a small saucepan add the chopped rhubarb and the whole stick (chop in half if necessary).  Add the 4 tablespoons of caster sugar and the juice and zest of the orange.  Bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer for 2 minutes, or until the rhubarb is soft but not breaking up.  Leave to cool on the side.

In a small bowl whisk the eggs and yogurt together.  In a larger bowl sieve in the flour, sugar and baking powder.  Stir in the ground almonds and a pinch of salt.  Make a well in the centre and add the yogurt mixture and fold together.  Lift the whole stick of rhubarb out of the pan and put to the side.  Strain the rest of the rhubarb away from the juices in the pan - the juices can be used for beautiful summer cocktails or just added to yogurt at breakfast.  Fold in the cooled rhubarb into the cake mixture, making sure that the pieces are kept as whole as possible.

Split the mixture between the 12 cases and bake for 19 - 23 minutes on the middle shelf.  Cool on a rack once ready.

Meanwhile make the icing.  Mix together the cornflour and a splash of milk to make a paste.  Pour the rest of the milk into a small saucepan and whisk in the paste.  Put the saucepan on a low heat and continually whisk until the milk has thickened to the consistency of custard.  Leave to cool.

In a large bowl cream together the butter, icing sugar, vanilla extract, mascarpone and a pinch of salt.  Cream until pale white and whisk in the milk mixture.  Ice the fairycakes generously.  Cut the whole pieces of rhubarb into thin, jewel-like circles and sprinkle over the top of the cakes.

This recipe has been brought to you by a Jamie Oliver supplement, although the recipe was wrong (gasp) and I had to fix it, and my Grampa's rhubarb.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Dorset Cereals Little Blog Awards

Breaking News!  Breaking News! 

The Larder has been nominated for a Dorset Cereals Little Blog Award and there is less than 1 week left to vote!  I'm am very aware that I have been slightly badgering everyone around me but I am very excited and slightly obsessed with winning an egg cup.  Currently 4th in the race so if you would like to vote (and that would be tremendous) you can by clicking the link on the right.  Blatant self promotion over. 

Friday, 11 March 2011

Boy Wonder and his Rainbow Cake

When we were growing up my brother (Boy Wonder) and I had an unhealthy obsession with food colouring.  Anything that could be made a different, and hopefully a more disgusting colour was fair game. Our tongues were permanently shades of lime and violet much to Mother Hen's horror.  Boy Wonder's speciality was pancakes; one pancake batter a vivid flamingo pink another the deepest shade of aquamarine, then both swirled together so the finished item would make you trip a little. It was the only way to start the weekend.

Now I can't actually remember if I dreamt this cake or clapped eyes on it during a bizarre internet search (I'm hoping it was the first because god knows what I'd been searching for) but as soon as it was lodged in my head it was the only cake that could celebrate Boy Wonder's birthday properly.  Further investigation proved unfruitful, most 'taste the rainbow' cakes were not dissimilar to our old pancakes in appearances and I wanted to create something that was a bit more grown up but still magical.  So I got my pencil crayons out...
The dream was realised...
I have only started to master the art of the Victoria Sponge in the last year. This is down to a few simple rules that I have learnt and I would like to share that wisdom.

1. Make sure that the butter and eggs are at room temperature.  Leave them out for a few hours before.
2. Use an oven thermometer, ovens are crap and the wrong temperature will wreck your cake.
3. Never shortcut and miss out the greaseproof paper.
4. A spatula is your best friend.
5. Creaming the butter and sugar is the most important step, it must change colour completely and be a pale ivory. To get the best results use an electric whisk.
6. Adding a little flour with each egg stops it from curdling.
7. Eating the mixture will make you feel sick. Somehow I always seem to forget this.

The Sponge

To make the sponge for this cake I just doubled a basic Victoria Sponge recipe. I knew that each layer would have to contain at least one egg if they weren't going to pancake thin so doubling up from four to eight made sense.  The plan then was to make basic sponge, divide into 6 equal amounts, colour and then bake in pairs. I bought 2 shallow sandwich tins at a bargain £2 each, like these. This cake contains a lot of butter - almost 4 packets - please remember that it is a celebration cake and it happens to be huge so don't let it put you off.

8 eggs
450g (16oz) unsalted butter
450g (16oz) self raising flour
450g (16oz) caster sugar
pinch of salt
vanilla extract or 1/2 vanilla pod
food colouring - green, blue, yellow and red

Set your oven to 180c/350F/Gas Mark 4.  Fold a long length of greaseproof paper over six times and trace around one of the sandwich tins.  Cut around the trace making 6 identical circles of greaseproof paper.  Grease both the tins and place a piece of greaseproof paper in the bottom.

Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy, this may take some time but it's important.  Lightly whisk the eggs together in a separate bowl and, a bit at a time, beat into the sugar and butter - remember adding a spoonful of flour at the same time will stop the mixture from splitting.  Once all the eggs are incorporated sieve the flour and salt into the bowl and fold in with a large spatula or spoon.

Divide the mixture into 6 bowls (you can weigh this to make it properly accurate) and start to add the colour.  It must be as saturated as possible so don't be afraid to add more than you think.  Blue and red make the purple (more blue than red) and red and yellow are mixed for the orange.

Bake two of the sponges at a time for 10-15 minutes (mine took exactly 13 mins, test with the first two sponges and use this time for the rest).  When the other sponges are cooking place the others in the fridge covered tightly in clingfilm.  Once a skewer comes out clean and the top feels springy take them out of the oven and let them rest in the tins for 5 minutes before turning upside down onto a cooling rack.  The underside of the sponge is neater and smoother than the top which can rise unevenly therefore keep them this way.  Continue to do this until all the sponges are cooked.  The sponges can keep for a few days if properly airtight, alternatively they can be frozen too so make them in advance if time is tight. 


To contrast with the technicolour interior I wanted the icing to be a brilliant white.  Buttercream is a rich icing so to cut through the sugar I added lemon zest and juice to give wee tang.  I watched a couple of icing technique videos on YouTube (rock and roll eh?!) and they were really helpful.

420g (15oz) butter
840g (30oz) icing sugar
1 lemon

In a large bowl beat the butter until soft, add half the icing sugar and beat until smooth.  Add the remaining icing sugar plus the zest and juice of the lemon and continue to beat until the mixture is full of air and significantly paler.  If the mixture is too stiff a drop of milk can be added.

Start with the purple sponge and spread a large tablespoon of the buttercream on the top, smooth it evenly and place the blue sponge on top of it.  Continue with this process with green next, then yellow, then orange and finishing with red. By this point there should be at least 2/3 of the buttercream left to cover the top and sides.  Start by placing almost half of the buttercream on to top, using a palette knife smooth over the top and down the sides creating a thin layer allover the cake.  Place the cake in the fridge for half an hour.  This technique is called crumbing (get me!) and seals in all the crumbs so they don't mix in with your icing and ruin the clean effect. 

Once the first layer has set, place the remaining icing on top of the cake and work down using a palette knife or spatula.  I used a hilarious gadget that my dear father was conned in to buying at Nick Nairn's cook school.  It is meant to be used for scrapping ingredients off the chopping board into the pan but why you couldn't just use your knife I will never know.  Anyway it was perfect for getting sharp edges along the top and a smooth finish around the sides (so good money well spent Pa!).

So there you have it, the rainbow cake.  Decorate with skittles for the full 'taste the rainbow' experience.  Also a handy cake to bring if you are coming out to your family.