Saturday, November 03, 2018

Little Tummies

When I last wrote here I was single, I'd like to say carefree (but that would be a lie), devoted to my amazing job giving money away and living in my little London garret. Whilst dreaming of, and talking daily to, my imaginary dog and yes, I confess, on occasions, my imaginary partner. The dog was easier to maintain and far more loveable.

Fast forward three and a bit years and YOWSERS - how the f*ck did this happen?  I'm married, living in the US UNDER TRUMP (wtf?!) with not just two step-sons who live with us, but a third who will be moving in next year.  My adored career, and pertaining self-identity, feels like a roller coaster heading for a crash and I've recently had back surgery so can't even boost my mental health with sweat inducing runs.  I do however have a dog - a soulful, beautiful mess of a gene pool whom I utterly adore and spend more time with than my new family.  She rests her gorgeous head on my burgeoning tummy (aaagh let's not go there) and I lick the top of her head.  Because that's what her mummy would do.  It's the only chance I'm ever going to get to be a mummy.  Let's cover that story on another day.

That's not so say I don't love my funny family, I do.  It's not an easy journey being a step-mum or marrying a widower, however they all carry a myriad of harder and more painful stamps in their life-passports than  me. Which makes me an utter bitch on the days when I simply cannot cope. The days when I'm tired of trying to cater to every tastebud to ensure that the boys are having at least one of their supposed five a day, and NO - corn dogs are not a f*cking food group.  Which is when I retreat to our new holiday home (which of course I'm already having sleepless nights over in case the rental doesn't cover the mortgage).  And breathe.  And drink wine.  And think of another 30 recipes which the boys won't eat if I make them.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Chocolate Prune Cake

Filling a loved one's belly with food they enjoy is up there on my list of ways to show affection.  It's something I don't get to do often enough (one of my excuses for the paucity of posts to my poor neglected blog, but not the only one).  It only seemed fitting therefore that I rustle something up for my adored father's 70th birthday, a treat that would combine two of his favourite sweet foods - dark chocolate and prunes.

So here it is, my version of David Lebovitz's Chocolate and Prune Cake, Wilkinson style.

For the prunes:
179g pitted prunes, diced into small pieces (I use scissors, much easier and less messy than a knife)
80ml Amaretti (rum, brandy or an other such fire water would work equally well)
1 tbs sugar

For the cake:
170g dark chocolate - I used 75% cocoa content
170 unsalted butter, cubed
6 large eggs, separated
large pinch of salt
3 tbs granulated sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 165 C / 325 F.  Butter a 9 inch/23cm springform cake tin.  Dust the inside with cocoa powder or flour and tap at any excess.
2. Simmer the prunes with the Amaretti and 1 tbsp sugar in a small saucepan for a few minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
3. Break the chocolate into pieces into a heatproof bowl and sit it above a pan of simmering water along with the butter.  Stir it now and again until smooth.  Remove carefully (use oven gloves else you'll scald yourself, ouch).  Stir in the prunes with any liquid from their pan.
4. Stir the egg yolks into the chocolate and prune mixture.
5. In a separate, large bowl, whisk the egg whites with the salt until they start to hold soft peaks.  Carry on whisking, adding the sugar one tablespoon at a time until the mixture holds its shape in peaks when you lift the whisk out.
6. Fold 1/3 of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the remaining egg whites.  The moment you can no longer see any streaks of white you are done. Don't over do it!
7. Bake the cake in the middle of oven for 40-45 minutes - until the centre of the cake is still a little soft to the touch and it appears set at the edges of the pan.
8. Let the cake cool in the tin.  When ready to release its gorgeousness, dip a knife in hot water and then run it around the inside of the cake tin before unclipping the spring.

I admit the picture is not the best.  But I have it on good authority that it tasted damned fine!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Figgy Flapjacks

The past week in London has been achingly chilly with a dangerous mixture of ice and snow lurking around every corner, waiting to wrap around the feet of unsuspecting pedestrians and slip them to the icy ground.  People have been curled into tight balls of padded coats and scarves in an effort to fight against the whipping blizzards.  It has been the kind of weather that leaves one craving food that sticks to one's ribs and spreads warmth throughout our frozen limbs with a sugary smile.
I didn't want to create something that would cause an energy spike and so reached for a packet of (gluten free) oats with their low gylcemic load and some dried figs - the result?

Figgy (low-fat and allergen friendly) Flapjacks, adapted from The Intolerant Gourmet recipe for date and oat squares.

Figgy Flapjacks
200g dried, ready-to-eat figs, chopped small
250ml water
125 (gluten-free) oats
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tbsp honey
pinch of salt
handful of sunflower seeds
1-2tsp ground cinnamon (depending on your taste)

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
2. Tip the figs into a saucepan, pour over the water and bring to simmering point.  Simmer for up to 20 minutes until you have an unctuous, figgy paste.
3. Stir in the rest of the ingredients and mix until well combined.
4. Put the mixture into an 8inch square tin, pushing it into the corners.  Use a palette knife or spatula to ensure that the mixture is evenly distributed and level on the top.
5. Pop in the middle of the pre-heated oven and cook for 20-25 minutes until nicely golden.
6. Remove from the oven, cut into squares and leave to cool in the tin.
7. When totally cool, cut again and remove to a cake tin. If you can resist eating them straight away!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Springtime Soup

It may be April but this week has felt decidedly autumnal at times.  We have been beaten by hail storms, whipped by torrential rain only to then be treated with bursts of amazing sunshine.  Today is no exception and rain is falling relentlessly from a dull sky and so my thoughts turned to soup.

I am having to be careful with my diet at the moment due to a nasty flare-up of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, no doubt exacerbated by a recent change of career,and so I consulted one of my favourite new cookbooks, 'Pippa Kendrick - The Intolerant Gourmet' and her blog

Pippa clusters her recipes by season and having flicked through Spring, I used her recipe for Garden Soup as inspiration to create my own Springtime Soup.

Springtime Soup (makes four servings)
1 red onion
2 leeks
4 sticks of celery
4 cloves of garlic
good slug of olive or vegetable oil
2 sweet potatoes
1 courgette
125g mix of frozen peas and broad beans
1 litre marigold vegetable bouillon
glass of white wine or sherry
1 bay leaf
1 bag of washed watercress
salt and pepper to taste

1. Chop the first four ingredients fairly finely.
2. Peel and chop the sweet potatoes and chop the courgette into similar sized pieces as the potato chunks.
3. Warm the oil in a large pan (I used a casserole) and add the chopped vegetables.  Sweat with the lid on for five minutes until softened, making sure that you have sufficient oil to stop the veggies catching.  Season.
4. Add the sweet potatoes, return the lid and continue to sweat for up to 10 minutes.
5. Add the courgette, frozen peas/beans and pour in the stock and alcohol (if using).  Add the bay leaf and season.
6. Bring to the boil then simmer with the lid on for around 20-30 minutes.
7. Remove the bay leaf.
8. Chop or cut the watercress and stir into the vegetables.
9. Remove from the heat and then either remove half of the mix and blitz with a hand-held blender or simply blitz it in the pan, depending on how chunky you like your soup.
10. Season again to taste, reheat and enjoy.

I added some tinned butter beans to a bowl for a protein kick and am looking forward to being welcome home from work by the leftovers throughout the coming week.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pea & Mint Dip

Today I had a craving for peas and mint and always love eating with my hands rather than cutlery (there's a reason I live alone!).  The solution?  A simple pea dip.  Takes moments to concoct and as long as one likes to savour.
I confess that I didn't measure anything but this made a good sized bowl that I imagine will be ok in the fridge for a few days to come.

Pea & Mint Dip

500g peas (fresh or frozen)
3 spring onions
garlic - as many cloves as you like (I use ready minced for speed)
handful of mint leaves
juice & zest of half a lemon
splash of balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper

1. Cook the peas in boiling water for 3-5 minutes.  Plunge into cold water to keep their colour and flavour.
2. Roughly chop the spring onions and garlic cloves.  Chuck into a food processor and tip in the peas.
3. Tear the mint leaves and throw them in along with the lemon zest and juice and a splash of vinegar.  
4. Grind in some black pepper and salt.
5. Blitz until you have something that resembles a dip.

And that's it.  Simple.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Elderflower Fairy Cakes

There are certain flavours and dishes that represent the seasons for me.  Venison casserole and swede make me shiver at the memory of long winters.  Asparagus and broad beans make me smile at the thought of nature creaking into life as spring emerges.  And the floral scent of elderflower is forever linked in my mind to British summers.  So what better ingredient to choose when I was asked to make cakes for a double celebration - not just my friends' wedding but their send off party as they leave Blighty and head for a new life in Oz?  Elderflower.

In addition to the traditional iced, boozy fruit cake and a blueberry and almond sponge, I whizzed up a couple of batches of these little treats.  Only to find that they got left behind in the mad panic to get aboard the wedding bus!  The best laid plans......

Elderflower Fairy Cakes
(makes 12)

110g salted butter, softened
110g caster sugar
2 medium eggs, beaten
2 tbsp elderflower cordial
80g self raising flour, sifted
1tsp baking powder
50g ground almonds
For the fondant icing:
175g fondant icing sugar
1 tbsp elderflower cordial
2-3 tbsp lemon juice (sieved)
Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180°C/fan oven 160°C. Line a 12-hole bun tin with paper fairy cake cases and set aside.
Cream the butter with the sugar until fluffy and combined. Beat the eggs with the elderflower cordial.  Beat in the egg, a large spoonful at a time - alternate with a spoon of sieved flour to stop the mixture curdling.  
Sift in the rest of the flour and baking powder and add the ground almonds. Fold in until well combined and the mixture is pretty firm. Divide it between the paper cake cases and bake for 20–25 minutes or until golden, risen and springy to the touch. Cool the cakes on a wire rack.
Sift the icing sugar into a large bowl and stir in the elderflower cordial and lemon juice to make a smooth, thick icing. Spoon the icing over the cakes and spread it to the edges to coat the cakes. Leave to set.
Enjoy with a cup of tea for that quintessential British taste. Or a glass or two of champagne.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Forman & Field Smoked Salmon

To my utter astonishment and amusement, I was recently emailed by Forman & Field (the online gourmet shop that specialises in independent producers) who had read my blog and wondered if I'd review some of their smoked salmon if they sent a pack of their 'London Cure' to me.  Being deeply cynical 'where's the catch' was my immediate reaction followed by 'what if I don't like it?'.  Greed outweighed such silly concerns and so a package was promptly dispatched.

I rarely buy smoked salmon for myself and so to receive a pack of 'H. Forman & Son London Cure Smoked Scottish Salmon' was a real treat.  According to the packaging, Formans are the oldest salmon smoker in Britain, started in 1905.  They claim that their London Cure is one of the most delicate as the idea is to taste the salmon, not the smoke.  They also recommend that one doesn't serve the salmon with lemon as it disguises the fish's natural flavour.

So, what should one serve it with?  I took Formans' advice and had my first slice unadorned.  The fish had a rich, silky texture and melted beautifully on my tongue.  Although it was far from cloying, I decided that I personally needed a touch of acidity to cut through the richness of the fish.  It certainly wasn't the smokiest fish I'd ever tasted but instead had a sweet character that was akin to chestnuts and peat.

Formans' generous gift saw me through two meals.  The first, a simple open sandwich (on a gluten free roll) accompanied by a simple salad including my favourite broad beans with a drizzle of lime juice.  

The lime was a touch too far and so I experimented with alternative sources of acidity and arrived at an elegant solution of preserved lemons, dill, capers and mere touch of Dijon mustard which I mixed with prawns, peas and beans and served with the final slices of salmon, nestled on a bed of finest English round lettuce.  Springtime on a plate.

Personally I like a touch of zing and so sorry H. Forman & Sons - this sampler will continue to add lemon (albeit in the preserved, salty form).  So, the overall verdict?  Lovely texture, gorgeous natural colour and subtle sweet flavour and very rich.  Not to be eaten everyday but then it wouldn't be such a treat, now would it?!