Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Exciting endive

This is a marvellous and very flexible thing to do with endive or chicory (or are they the same thing?) that you can adapt for vegetarians or carnivores. It's also very easy to prepare ahead and doesn't take long to cook.

So, this principle is based on a lovely thing I found in Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, where you caramelise the cut face of some endive, slather it with a creamy mixture and then bake. The ingredients here are my own concoction, but you can use whatever you've got that's close.

Caremelised endive:
For 2

2 endive
40g butter
2 tsp caster sugar
some thick-ish cream or creme fraiche
thyme or chives/parsley/coriander
breadcrumbs of any description
salt and pepper
bacon or pancetta

1 Pre-heat your oven to 200C. Slice the endive into halves.

2 Melt the butter and sugar together in a frying pan gently and when it starts to bubble, place the endives face-down in the pan and fry until brown - about 2 minutes. Don't worry if the butter goes brown. Remove and arrange face-up on a baking sheet.

3 Mix together your topping of breadcrumbs, cream and herbs and bacon or pancetta. I lightly fried the bacon I used first - needless to say, it would be just as nice without. Spread a few teaspoons of the mixture onto the top of the endive.

Cook for 20 minutes. Bingo.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Berry Buttermilk Cake

A slice of Strawberry Buttermilk cake!  

It's quick, it's easy, it uses up extra berries -- the Berry Buttermilk Cake! This is a great, light, fruit-based recipe for summer! I found it originally on Epicurious, paired with raspberries. You could use any type of berry however, and I made one version with sliced strawberries, and one with raspberries. Any berry would work here, including blackberries, blueberries, and (pitted) cherries.

Quick note about ingredients: you don't have to go out and buy buttermilk just for this recipe (or any recipe for that matter). I sure didn't. In order to make buttermilk, you just add 1 tbls of lemon juice or white vinegar to 1 C of milk, and let it clabber for about 10 minutes, until it thickens. Conveniently enough, this recipe already calls for lemon zest, so you can zest a lemon, squeeze it, and then add 1/2 tbls of the juice to 1/2 C milk to get the 1/2 C of buttermilk the recipe calls for. I even used 2% milk because it was all I had in the fridge, and it worked great!

Raspberry cake before baking

The ingredients list looks long, but it really isn't. This cake comes together fast, and bakes even faster. And then you get this:



or Raspberry~
  • 1 C AP flour
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 C sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (if you are making a cherry cake, almond extract might work better)
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest 
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon (optional, best with blueberries or strawberries)
  • 1/2 C buttermilk (see above)
  • 1 C berries
  • additional sugar for sprinkling
  1. Zest your lemon. Squeeze the juice if you are making you own buttermilk, and clabber the milk (above)
  2. Preheat oven to 400F
  3. Butter and flour a 9" round pan
  4. Combine dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and soda, salt, and cinnamon) in a bowl and set aside
  5. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add in vanilla and zest, then the egg
  6. Add flour in 3 batches, alternating with buttermilk (starting and ending with flour). Mix until just combined each time
  7. Pour batter into cake pan, smoothing out top if necessary
  8. Scatter berries over top (I ended up using a little less than a cup of strawberries, but about a cup of raspberries),and sprinkle with sugar (about 1 1/2-2 tsp)
  9. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until cake is golden and toothpick inserted comes out clean
  10. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then depan and cool completely. Invert onto a plate.
  11. Pair with whipped cream or Cool Whip and enjoy!
This cake is delicious. Moist, light, only slightly sweet, and pairs wonderfully with whipped cream or Cool Whip. In fact, both berry versions of this cake tasted even better the next day, when the flavors had a chance to meld a bit more. I could definitely taste the lemon zest more in the raspberry cake, presumably because I made that cake without cinnamon, and it was a wonderful pairing. I can't wait to try it with blueberries. This recipe is definitely a great go-to cake, light and refreshing. I got raves when I brought it into the office (both times). It disappeared before 9am.

Raspberry with a hint of lemon! Delicious!

I have a mind to double this recipe and make one cake with strawberries, and one with bananas, and then assemble the whole thing with whipped cream as a layer cake.

From Morocco with love

My husband is a bit sad at the moment. A book of his newspaper columns is being published this month and someone just wrote a really, really mean review of it.

It's not like he's not used to people being mean to him. He'd never complain about it publicly because he knows that's just what happens when you put yourself out there: people crap all over you. And, as he always says, it's not like he doesn't give people a kicking all the time - it's not like he's not, basically, just asking for it. But, all the same, just in private, it brought him down a bit.

It pains me when my husband is down, because he's usually such an irrepressible, bouncy, energetic, bomb-proof chatterbox. It's usually me moping around nursing this little hurt or that little slight - I am Eeyore to his Tigger.

So last night, I thought I would host for him a sort-of-morrocan feast in the garden, with mood lighting and very spicy food. Maybe even a tablecloth; definitely some strong drink. I even decorated our vine with glass hanging tealight holders - a wedding present from The Pescetarian:

One of my husband's favourite restaurants is an old place in the south of France called Chez Grandmere, which serves merguez sausages, carrots and celery cooked in a thick broth and cous-cous cooked in stock.

There's no way I was going to be able to accurately render the cooking at CG, where they cook over hot scented charcoal, working to Grandmere's secret recipes.

But I was going to do my interpretation of it, with lovely merguez sausages purchased this weekend from the Twleve Green Acres butcher stall at the Parliament Hill Farmer's Market, carrots and celery boiled nearly-whole (to retain their sweetness) in a strong chicken stock and a moroccan couscous thing with sultanas and pine nuts and a minted yoghurt.

I imagine that most of you will be weirded out by the whole vegetables, but they do really bring something earthy and exciting to a dinner like this. If you want to do it, choose smallish carrots and cook them whole, like Fergus Henderson does, in order to retain their sweetness. It's important that you cook them in a proper chicken stock - bought concentrate won't do (and you know how slack I am about that kind of stuff).

For a convincing morroccan-tasting couscous add to your dry grains:

A pinch ground cumin
A pinch ground coriander
A pinch paprika
sultanas OR chopped dried apricots
toasted pine nuts

Give this dry mixture a stir and then pour on your boiling water or stock from cooking your vegetables and leave to cook. When ready, sprinkle over a handful of chopped coriander.

I mean, it probably takes more than a dinner to cheer you up after a really bad review but at least he knows that someone loves him.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Brownie-Bottomed Ice Cream Cake with Fudge Sauce

Ice cream cakes. They are, hand's down, one of the most versatile cakes imaginable. A home-made ice cream cake is a blank slate of endless possibilities for crust, ice cream flavors, fillings, and toppings.

This year, for my mom's birthday, I decided to make her an ice cream birthday cake, according to her specifications: brownie-bottomed, and filled with Turkey Hill Moose Tracks Frozen Yogurt. She left the rest up to my discretion.

After perusing some literature online, I decided that a springform pan would be the easiest. All of the following directions are for an 8 1/2" springform pan, but anything from 8"-10" should work fine, the larger pans will just yield a slightly thinner cake, and have shorter cooking time for the brownies.

Doing it again, I would make the cake with full-fat ice cream, not low-fat ice cream or frozen yogurt. I found that the low-fat stuff doesn't thaw or spread as easily. I only used the Moose Tracks at my mom's insistence. However, part of the problem might be the freezer in my apartment, which is old and doesn't keep things quite cool enough. Actually, doing it again, I think I'd bust out my ice cream maker and customize home-made ice cream, but let your taste buds and instincts be your guide. All good things are going into the pan, something yummy will come out.

Brownie Bottom Ice Cream Cake 

  • 8X8" brownie mix
  • Ingredients listed on the box to make the brownies (oil, water, egg, etc)
  • Additional mix-ins if you wish (i.e. chocolate chips, nuts, etc)
  • Springform pan (8" - 10")
  • Package of Oreo cookies, crushed (optional)
  • Ice Cream in a flavor of your choice (1/2 gallon)
  • Fudge Sauce (recipe below)
  • Whipped Cream or Cool Whip (optional)

I chose an 8X8" Ghirardelli brownie mix in the "caramel turtle" flavor, meaning that it already contained walnuts, and came with a caramel topping packet. Keep in mind that an 8" square pan (which the mix is intended for) has a larger capacity than an 8" round pan, so the brownies will be thicker if you use an 8" springform pan, and thus will take longer to cook.

1.  Make the mix according to the instructions on the box, adding additional mix-ins in desired. This depends on the brownie variety you choose to buy. I added about 6 oz of semi-sweet chips to mine, and swirled the caramel packet on top.

2.  Bake the brownies, keeping in  mind the size of your pan. Mine took about 40 minutes to bake in an 8 1/2" springform. Personally, I never mind undercooked brownies, because they are fudge-like. When in doubt, pull them out -- you don't want to over-bake. Besides, the brownies are going to be frozen, which will firm them up even if they are slightly underdone. It's all good.

A little fuzzy, but the cooked brownies with caramel swirled on top

3.  When the brownies come out, cool them completely. For me, this meant 30 minutes at room temp, 30 minutes in the fridge, and about an hour in the freezer.

4.  When the brownies have been in the freezer for about 30 minutes, this is a good time to start thinking about thawing the ice cream. If it isn't soft enough by the time the brownies have been in the freezer an hour, that's fine. The brownies can stay in the freezer longer until the ice cream is spreadable (but not melted).

5.  As an option (although I can't really see anyone opting out of this unless your ice cream flavor just does not go with Oreos), sprinkle a layer of Oreo crumbs on top of the brownies. If you have an ice cream flavor that you don't think will pair well, just leave them out -- or use the vanilla Oreos! Or ginger snaps! You get the could also use fruit sauce and/or puree if you want.

6.  When the ice cream is ready, spread it out evenly over the brownie layer. Freeze the whole thing for at least an hour before putting on a topping, if not longer.

7.  Top with a topping of your choice. I went with a nice fudge sauce (recipe below) and then Cool Whip, but there are tons of possibilities: caramel sauce, peanut butter sauce, fruit sauce, just whipped cream, etc etc.

Fudge Sauce

  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 6 oz chocolate (this is 2/3 C if you are using chips) -  I used bittersweet, but the choice is yours
  • 2-5oz cans of evaporated milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  1. Place everything but the vanilla in a saucepan
  2. Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat until thickened, about 5-10 minutes, stirring constantly
  3. Take off heat, add vanilla, and let cool
It might seem, during cooking, that this separates a bit, but it will gel when it cools. just give it an occasional stir while cooling.

When it is done, it will almost have pudding consistency

When it is cooled, spread it on top of your ice cream layer, and pop the whole thing in the freezer for several hours or, better yet, overnight. When you are ready to serve, you can de-pan it from the springform. You might have to fidget for a minute or two opening and tightening the latch, to loosen the cake from the sides.

Here is the cake de-panned!

At this point, you can garnish with whipped cream -- I used mine as an all-over frosting, but it was hard to handle the cake to cut it, so I'd recommend maybe putting it on the top only.

Then, you can cut and serve! I'd recommend letting the cake come to at room temp for 5-10 minutes before serving, to make it easier to cut.

Don't want a brownie-bottomed ice cream cake (what's wrong with you - j/k)? What about a blondie or congo bar-bottomed one? Or sugar cookie? Shortbread? Cake would work wonderfully as well -- just split the batter between a 9" springform and a 9" round pan (or a cupcake pan!). Use the cake in the springform as the base for the ice cream cake, and you get the added bonus of some cupcakes when you are done!

Don't want oreos? Any kind of cookie should work!

You want to make this with a fruity ice cream like peach? Use yellow cake/sugar cookie/shortbread for the crust, golden oreos for the crushed cookies, peach reduction sauce and whipped cream on top.

Have someone with special dietary requirements? The bottom can be made using Betty Crocker's Gluten-Free Mixes, and you can crush up some gluten-free cookies. Use lactose-free or sugar-free ice cream if needs be (Breyers is an excellent brand, and their All-Natural line is also gluten-free). I'm not sure if the sauce I made can be classified as gluten-free, but here's a definite gluten-free fudge sauce recipe, and here's a non-dairy recipe. Cool Whip is already gluten-free, and a list of whipped toppings that do not contain casein can be found here.

Don't want an ice cream cake at all? Well, then, you're just a weirdie and I can't help you.

Happy creating!!

Sunday, 23 May 2010


These are damned easy. Why the hell have I not made them before? Definitely give them a whirl if you haven't already.

To maximise your enjoyment, I have for you two tips:

1 When you're rolling out your scone dough, roll it out very thick - at least 2cm (I advise having a quick look at a ruler or something because 2cm is more than you think it is). This is because although scones rise a bit while they're cooking, they don't rise loads like, say, fairy cakes. So if you want a big, hearty-looking scone, right from the start they have to be pretty substantial.

2 Don't let them hang around. If you're having people over and you want to give them a cream tea, either make up the dough the night before or in the morning, store it in the fridge and then about an hour before you want to eat, roll out the dough, cut and bake.

So here we go:

for 12 small scones or 6 large

225g self-raising flour
large pinch salt
40g butter, cut into small pieces
1.5 tablespoons caster sugar
about 150ml milk

1 Preheat the oven to 220C. Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Then rub the butter into the flour until the flour looks like breadcrumbs

2 Add the sugar and mix around a bit

3 Add the milk one sploosh at a time and mix round with a knife until the mixture comes together to form a dough. Smoosh this around a bit with your hands until it seems to be all of a piece.

4 Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll out to a thickness of AT LEAST 2cm. Cut out scone shapes with a scone-cutter. Funnily enough, scones sort of shrink about 0.5cm  in width as they are cooking, so go for a slightly larger pastry cutter than you actually want your scones to be.

5 Put the scones on a lightly greased baking tray and bake for between 12-16 minutes on a high shelf

You could turn these into fruit scones by adding some currants or mixed peel between stages 2 and 3.

If this all seems a bit boring and easy, Delia Smith has a slightly more advanced scone recipe, which utilises buttermilk.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Half-American pancakes for the weekend

I have deleted this post because I made these pancakes again this morning and realised that they are DISGUSTING. The perils of cooking with a cold.

The ham (below) really is nice, though - confirmed by Giles.

A ham is not just for Christmas

I'm an impatient luncher - 1pm seems to roll around just as I'm in the middle of something actually semi-important. To break for a laborious chop-boil-fry-blend-arrange lunch means that I often sidestep the whole business and eat only a tiny piece of cheese. Then I wonder why I feel faint but also quite snappy come 4pm.

My solution to this is to usually either have a cold roast chicken or joint of beef on the go in order to hack bits up to add to a salad or put in a sandwich or just eat slathered with piccallili (have I spelled that right?) standing in the kitchen. Today I thought I'd bake up a ham to nibble at over the next four days or so.

I got a nice 1kg organic bit of gammon and soaked it for 8 hours to get rid of the worst of the brine and then
baked it with a mustard, maple and sugar glaze.

My glaze:
2 tbsp English mustard
1 tbsp maple syrup, either mixed in with the mustard or drizzled over the gammon
2 tbsp demerara sugar

For the method and the cooking times I was working to this Delia recipe, which suggested really quite frighteningly short cooking times for my gammon - a measly 20 mins per pound, which worked out at only about 55 mins for my large piece of pork.

Here's my gammon

Taking the skin off to slap on the glaze - not actually that easy

Glaze on... back in the oven...


I, like most British people, am a bit scared of underdone pork, so I left it in the oven for an extra 25 minutes. If I get trichinosis, you'll be the first to know. Actually, the Royal Free Hospital's A+E department will be the first to know, but I'm sure they've got WiFi.

Anyway, if you're the kind of person who doesn't like to play Russian Roulette with their food, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver both have fantastic glazed-gammon recipes, which include a good long stint of boiling before the gammon goes in the oven.

A great thing to do with the skin, which you remove half-way through cooking in order to spread on your glaze, is to put it in the oven alongside the gammon, well-covered with salt and grount-nut oil and roast for about 45 mins until you get crackling - turn once during cooking.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Death becomes me

It's got to the point where I can't really bluff through it anymore. The fact is, I've got a terrible cold. Awful. I haven't been able to taste anything since about 11am on Monday when the snot in my nose reached a critical mass.

It's my fault - I failed to deploy my First Defence when I first felt that fatal "uh-oh" back-of-the-throat tickle. Anyway, not being able to taste anything (plus a coldy weakness in my brain) means that even if I could drag myself to the kitchen to cook something, I wouldn't be able to tell you if it was nice or not. So I'm going to have to talk about something else today.

You may have noticed that I've got the radio tuned to Capital FM. Well, I say "tuned", but it's a digital radio so you just press a button and there it is. Anyway, it's on Capital FM not because I drive a white van in my spare time or am a third year at boarding school in the home counties, but because of my last job.

I wasn't that crazy about my last job - as evidenced by the fact that I'm not doing it anymore - and when I was there, in order to drown out various things that made being there especially unbearable, (the sound of my desk phone ringing, people asking me to do things etc), I used to listen to the radio through my computer, on headphones. It's possibly the most anti-social thing I've ever done in an office - aside from consistently refusing to wear shoes.

Anyway, the only radio station that came through loud and clear without endless "buffering" was Capital FM. So that's what I listened to for at least three hours a day, five days a week for about a year.

Then I left and quickly realised that because of that constant association of work with Capital FM, I now can't do anything unless I'm listening to it. I can't write, cook, tidy up or really concentrate on anything (except TV) unless Capital FM is on, somewhere. Strange. But true.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

This postcard always makes me laugh, even though I can almost always be bothered with food.


So, it's asparagus season again! Hurrah. And, just as snails are an excuse to eat epic amounts of butter and garlic, so asparagus is an excuse to eat hollandaise. Which, come to think of it, is only really epic amounts of butter and eggs. Is every seasonal food really just an excuse to eat butter and/or garlic?

While you're thinking about that, let's talk more about hollandaise. I've never made it before today and, on a whim, I decided not to reach for Delia Smith - usually my go-to girl when I'm scared and confused in my kitchen. I reached for another cookbook and found myself with a recipe that turned out to be a bit weird.

I mean, it worked out okay in the end... I suppose... I mean, it's mostly butter, how wrong can it go?:

but it wasn't hollandaise like old Ma Walker makes. It was more the consistency of mayonnaise... and I detected one or little lumps in it. This cannot be right.

First of all, the recipe said that when you clarify butter the residue settles at the bottom of the pan you're melting the butter in, but mine sort of floated on the top AND settled at the bottom.

Then it instructed me to rest my bowlful of egg yolks and vinegar over a pan of simmering water. Result: very nearly scrambled eggs had I not whipped the bowl away just as I realised what the hell was about to happen.

In all, it was stressful. And stress is not something I like to feel so near a 5-ring gas stove. I'm not even going to post the recipe, so umimpressed was I. Serves me right; back to Delia I go.

Summer drinking

I don't really talk about drinks here because I am the world's least sophisticated drinker. The cheaper the better. The only question I ask of alcohol is: can it burn holes through carpet? If so, pass it along. Quickly, now.

But with the summer - or this approximation of "summer" we have here - comes a new kind of drinking and the possibility of a sundowner, rather than just yopping the cork out of a £5.99 Merlot as the second hand flicks over to 6pm and sinking down at the kitchen table with some scraggy, dishwasher-cloudy wineglass (or just a ladle).

Anyway, raging through the larder yesterday for something that would constitute a cheerful drinky to a) celebrate the sunny evening and b) mask the worst effects of my headcold, I stumbled across a bottle of Martini Rosato, which is just like Martini Rosso (mmmmm) only made with pomegranate and lime.

It makes a very fetching summer drink just poured neat over a lot of ice with some lemon (or lime):

So this summer, if I ever get round to having people over, I'm going to dispense with Pimm's. All that chopping up fruit and dicking about with lemonade drives me nuts and I don't want to have to keep running back to the kitchen and hacking up orange ("Ouch ouch! My eye!") while I'm trying to have a nice time. My guests can have Martini Rosato and like it. Another decorative thing to do for a party - thanks to Rita Konig's Culinary Trickery - is to deploy prosecco in tumblers full of ice. It's a very refreshing drinky, even if it can't burn holes through carpet.

NB - apologies for over-staged photo. I just can't get over how nice other bloggers' pictures are so I'm trying to make an effort.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Pig's cheek stew with cauliflower mash

Waitrose has a clever thing at its meat counter called "forgotten cuts", where they sell the odds and ends of animal, which have become so fashionable in the last four or five years.

Usually it's just pork belly and kidney and I'm like "Yawn, not forgotten by me, laddie-me-lad" but the other day they were offering a pack of pig's cheeks. And I said to myself "Hello. Now that really is interesting." So I bought them. Here they are.

I always consider recipes that work first time (for me) as "easy" recipes, since I am so liable to get things wrong. And when I say get things wrong, I mean be too lazy to read the recipe properly, or to measure ingredients out correctly, or put the kitchen timer on. But since this recipe went right first time, I categorize it as being an "easy" recipe. I also had with it a cauliflower mash, inspired by the fashion and food blogger Liberty London Girl, who was busy poking fun at me the other week for my fear of carbohydrate. But I put a potato in it. Ha! (DID YOU LIKE MY HYPERLINK?)

So here we go. This stew makes the pig's cheeks taste quite like beef, but in a nice way. The recipe is a bastardisation of a thing I found in a Gary Rhodes book, the name of which now escapes me.

For the pig's cheek stew:
For 2

4 pig's cheeks
2 carrots, quartered
2 stick celery, quartered
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 medium onion
1/3 bottle cheap red wine
1/3 pint of stock
4 black peppercorns
Assorted herbs: parsley, sage, thyne and bay leaf. But do not worry if you don't have any/all

1 - Brown the pig's cheeks in a large frying pan for about 4-5 minutes each side. I think it's important here to fry in either ground-nut oil or lard and NOT olive oil because the olive oil will burn and taste horrible. Remove the cheeks to a casserole dish.

2 - Fry the onions, carrots, garlic and celery for 10 minutes over a very low flame. I know it's boring and it seems like nothing's happening but if you cook them any hotter they'll burn, you know they will.

3 - Add the red wine and the stock to the vegetables and bring to a brisk simmer. Then add to the cheeks. Stir round and then add the herbs and four black peppercorns. Give it another stir and put the lid on and cook on a low heat for 2 hours. Season to taste with salt after it's cooked.

Here are some herbs. I happened to have a lot hanging around so I put a lot in, but this would work just as well with whatever you've got - thyme OR bay leaves or sage or whatever.

For the cauliflower mash:
For 2

1 cauliflower
1 medium sized floury potato (like a King Edward)
1 tablespoon of cream
1 large pinch of salt

1 - Boil the potato and cauliflower until soft - the potato takes about 25 minutes, if chopped into 4 and the cauliflower takes about 5 minutes.
2 - Put the potato and cauliflower into a blender and WHIZZ. Add a tablespoon of cream and a large pinch of salt. I had to blend my cauliflower and potato mix in two batches.

So there we go. Not very summery, but then it's not really summer yet.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Don't mind me, I'm just trying out a hyperlink

Which hasn't worked. It's supposed to go to Jamie Oliver's website, but it just hits a brick wall. Does anyone know anything about this shit?!

...... [Later]........

Ha! It works!!! Many thanks to my technowhizzkids who helped out by posting advice below. This is going to usher in a brand new world of Recipe Rifling.


Friday, 14 May 2010

Better late than never

A visitor to this blog reminded me that I haven't posted those wedding photos that I promised. So here are one or two...

Me and the Hamburgler. She isn't actually as tall as that, she is wearing mega shoes. But even without them she's pretty tall.

All-important back view of the dress...

Cake! Obviously

I'd post more but then it would start to be like a spread in Hello! And also my teeth being in their ongoing state of mangling - by my damned handsome bastard dentist - look at the moment like a tankful of pirahnas. They are higgledy and piggledy. So frankly they're not really for public consumption.

I can stick some more shots of the food up though? But how interesting would that be really? I can't tell you how to make any of it because I don't know. Although I was thinking about getting the wedding cake recipe off Angela Hartnett because it was just amazing. A sort of banana carrotty cake thing. It made me slightly angry it was so delicious.

While we're all just waiting around

So, I'm planning to write about pig's cheeks in a bit. But not until tomorrow, realistically, because I'm cooking them for dinner tonight. And for lunch today we're having chicken soup, and I know you won't give a rat's ass about that. So I'm at a bit of a loss of what to write about. And I know that if you're going to do a blog you have to do it every day or people think you're a lazy tosspot who's only doing a blog because your husband is on telly and so you can't be arsed to get a job.

I hate soup, have I mentioned that? Urgh, hate it. What, honestly, is the point of soup? I am not a baby. I have a lot of very large, some very sharp, teeth. I can chew stuff. I like chewing stuff. I don't need my food boiled up and then WHIZZED, thanks.

Whenever I am flicking through a recipe book in a shop, if it's got an entire section on soup I don't buy it. I will eat soup that has good bits in it, you know, beans, barley, chunks of meat, entire quarters of carrot - all that jazz. So that's what we're having for lunch. It's only acceptable because I found this huge chicken in Waitrose, amazing, free range, slow growing bird - looked like it had a pretty good life - and it was reduced by £5 to £8 or something crazy. So I took it home and roasted it up and we've been eating it cold since then. Except this lunchtime, when it will be hot. In soup.

But I've been writing a thing for a magazine about other food bloggers and it's made me realise that I am just like totally missing a trick. So many of them write about restaurants! They're crazy for them! They go in and take photos of their food before they eat it and then post them on the internet and write about them.

And they go to foodie parties and get actual journalistical stories and break news on their blogs. The reason that this is all new to me is that I haven't been able to bring myself to have a really good look at other people's blogs because they're always so much better, with cooler photos and more interesting shit on them than mine that I get depressed and have to go back to bed for three or four days.

But with this in mind, maybe while we're passing the time before I go to the shops and buy the stuff I need for my pig's cheek thing (carrots, celery, cheap red wine) I should tell you about a food party I went to last night?

Okay, so it was a party for Tom Aikens at Somerset House. He's got some new restaurant thing opening there. There were lots of red lights everywhere and the music was really loud and there were canapes but we couldn't seem to access them, so Giles agreed to do an interview on camera (for "Tommy TV" or something) in exchange for 4 mini cheeseburgers AND THEY NEVER BROUGHT THEM.

But the foie gras and tomato chutney thing and the chicken skewer I had were both really nice. I think it will be a good restaurant. And Tom Aikens who, when I was a baby hack, had a reputation as not being especially nice, is charming! A really cheerful, smiley guy. I was amazed. We had a little joke - titter titter - about both being redheads and how shit it is. We compared freckles in the scary red light. He was wearing Converse, which I always think is the mark of a good fellow. I don't know if he's always been like that or it's because of Giles or maybe a touch of bankruptcy is good for the soul, but I give him 9.5 out of 10.

Then I had a couple of fags (or did I just mean to?) with my old mate Rob Sharp from the Independent and worshipped Elizabeth Day from the Observer for a bit and talked world domination strategies with Zoe Strimpel from City AM. And then we drove home and ate cold chicken as I nursed a really painful attack of heartburn.

And THAT, ladies and gents, is why I don't write about restaurants or food parties. Best left to the real food bloggers.

Peace out. Pig's cheeks soon.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Key Lime Pie

This is my third lime-related posting in a row. When I said that this summer's baking would be exclusively fruit-based, I didn't realize I meant exclusively one fruit! But who's complaining? Not me, that's for sure -- I love lime.

This recipe is extremely simple to put together and quick to bake. It originally comes from Emeril, and is a basic recipe very similar to others I have seen except for the amount of lime juice, which is a little more than the average recipe. Lime juice, sweetened condensed milk, and eggs come together to make a simple lime-flavored custard poured into a graham cracker crust, and a thin layer of slightly-sweetened sour cream and lime zest is smoothed on top after baking.

First point: the graham cracker crust. Emeril provides a recipe for a graham cracker crust with his recipe, which I will place at the bottom of his post in case anyone is interested. But, if you have a graham cracker crust recipe that you really like, from a cheesecake or whatnot, feel free to use that instead. Alternatively, you can do what I did, and buy the ready-made crust, which makes this pie even more convenient. I used a 9" shell, and had enough filling left over to fill 6 of the mini-graham cracker shells, so keep this in mind when you are deciding what crust to make/use. One thing I don't think I'd do, however, is use a regular pie crust. When you eat this pie, you will understand, but the graham cracker adds so much to the overall flavor that to leave it out would almost be a crime.
This took about 12-13 limes, but so worth it!
Second point: the limes. Originally, I bought ingredients for this pie because I wanted to use up the Key lime juice that I purchased for the Key Lime Coconut Crumb Bars. But that juice went bad in my fridge, so I scrambled out and bought a bunch of limes (about 13) to juice by hand -- and let me just tell you that it was a lot of work, but unquestioningly worth it. The flavor of the fresh lime juice (squeezed from run-of-the-mill Persian limes at the supermarket) was so bright and crisp, that I don't think I will ever use the Key lime bottled juice again except in an emergency. That is my recommendation, at least. The pie will still be delicious with the Key lime juice from the bottle, but it really has something extra special with the fresh juice. And whatever you do, don't ever use the lime juice in the little green plastic squeeze lime. That is for cooking garnish only, it has too many preservatives to taste good in baking.

Here's the yummy filling all blended.

  • 1 9" graham cracker pie crust, ready-made (or recipe below)
  • White of one egg
For the filling:
  • 2-14oz cans sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 C lime juice (freshly squeezed if possible)
  • 2 eggs

For the topping:
  • 1 C sour cream
  • 2 tbls confectioner's sugar
  • 1 tbls lime zest
 Mini pies without their topping -- glad I had these little crusts on hand!

  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. Brush the crust with egg white, and bake at 375F for about 5-10 minutes, until golden and fragrant. Let cool. 
  3. Lower the oven temp to 325F
  4. Combine the condensed milk, lime juice, and eggs in a mixer bowl, and beat on medium until combined and smooth (you can also do this by hand with a whisk).
  5. Pour the filling into the cooled pie shell, and bake 15-20 minutes at 325F. If you have excess filling, you can fill mini-crusts. They bake in about 10 minutes.
  6. Let stand at room temp for about 5 minutes before putting it uncovered in the fridge to set for at least 2 hours.
  7. When the pie has set, prepare the topping by mixing the sour cream, confectioner's sugar, and zest together until smooth.
  8. Gently smooth a thin layer on the top of the pie.
  9. Store in the fridge until ready to be eaten (the colder, the better).
Coated with a thin layer of sour cream topping

These pies are delicious, and that's that. The flavor is strong and bright, and even people who dislike lime (like my mom) thought they were excellent. And there is no sacrifice required with regards to flavor intensity in order to get non-lime likers to enjoy them -- these are lime pies in every sense of the word. All of the flavors meld wonderfully together. I was unsure of Emeril's sour cream topping, but it works beautifully. However, I would like to also try sweetened whipped cream or meringue as a topping, to see how they work. I also have an idea to use this basic recipe using lemon juice to make a lemon custard for a lemon meringue pie. It wouldn't quite be a traditional custard, but I think it would taste a heck of a lot better than the cooked pudding Jell-o filling I currently use.

True lime filling is not naturally green unless you add dye.

Make these. You won't regret it.

Emeril's Graham Cracker Crust:
  • 1 1/2 C graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 4 tbls melted butter
 Combine ingredients and press into a 9" pie pan, and pre-bake as above.


Crispy pork with lemongrass and chilli

I've been trying for a while to re-create a Thai minced pork dish that , seven years ago, I used to eat at least twice a week for lunch.

It hasn't been going very well because I don't know what it's called - either in Thai or in English - and so I can't find a recipe. I tried to just, you know, wing it once and piled in fish sauce, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and whatever else I could find in my cupboards onto my minced pork. And it was disgusting. Genuinely the worst thing I've ever cooked - apart from that time at university when I made pasta with a black peppercorn sauce meant for steak.

But then as a wedding present a friend got me Books for Cooks 9 and while flicking through it I found a recipe for Crispy Pork with Lemongrass and Chilli and I thought that it must be an approximation of my Thai thing and so I made it today. For lunch.

The reason I've got such a desire for this thing right now is all because of the election. You see, my first job was as a researcher at The Week, which is a news digest magazine. You might not believe it to look at my vacant little face, the dim spark in my callow eyes, but I used to be, like, well into politics, bruv. And my job at The Week meant that I had to read all the papers, every single day. ALL of them. Every day. And not just the fashion pages and the first paragraph of some crappy feature about Prozac. I mean all the politics pages, all the leaders, each columnist on every comment page from start to finish, right from the dull opening paragraph to the tedious conclusion. Everything. I used to be able to guess the columnist 9 times out of 10 from the opening sentence. Like a newsnerd's version of Name That Tune.

It's why these days I only read the fashion pages and crappy features about Prozac.

Even if I hadn't been interested in it, I couldn't help but know everything there was to know about the politics of the time; when I was there it was all about the dodgy dossier, Hutton, Iraq, Alastair Campbell's departure from No. 10, all that Sexator stuff: Rod Liddle and Alicia Monckton, Boris and Petsy Wyatt, David Blunkett and Kimberly Quinn. This last was triply exciting for us as Kimberley Quinn used to receive, and probably still does, a personally-posted free copy of The Week, which was mailed to her house every Thursday by whatever poverty-stricken Arts graduate was sitting on reception that day.

I sat through 2 years of it all in that little office on Westbourne Grove, reading the papers, photocopying, making coffee, cutting out and blu-tacking up Giles's columns to the wall, sweeping up, finding my boss's glasses, piling up old newspapers against the far window which used to bulge and leak whenever it rained.

And then, when I was feeling rich (because it cost £6 with rice) I'd go to the Thai takeaway round the corner on Chepstow Road (I never knew and still don't know what it's called) and purchase this flaming hot, dark, rich porky thing and scoff it at my desk with a large glass of water reading - as a bit of light relief - the fashion pages and crappy features about Prozac.

So say "24 hour news" to me, and I reach for the nam pla. Yesterday's departure of Gordon Brown and the arrival of David Cameron, David Dimbleby's timbre, the speculation about ties, outriders, policy, who's got what in the cabinet, the minutiae of Buckingham Palace protocol, made me forget all the bad things about working in an office. For a couple of hours last night I longed to be back in that room in Westbourne Grove, eating my expensive Thai lunch and watching BBC News 24 on the fuzzy telly in the corner of the office with the boy who sat opposite me and talking about what was going to happen next.

But you can't ever go back. The office has long gone, anyway - moved somewhere else, I can't remember where, and thus the Thai place is no longer round the corner. But as a pretty fair substitute I can sit in my kitchen eating an approximation of the Thai thing with my husband, listening to the lunchtime news on Radio 4.

So here we go:

Crispy Pork with lemongrass and chilli - from Mince! 100 Fabulously Frugal Recipes by Mitzie Wilson, via Books for Cooks 9

For 4 as a starter, for 2 as a light lunch

For the sauce:
4 tbsp fish sauce
juice 2 limes
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tbsp sesame oil

For the pork:
1 tbsp sunflower oil
500g pork mince
1/2 onion, chopped
1 lemon grass stalk, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 spring onions, sliced
2 tbsp roughly chopped coriander
fish sauce

1 - Make the sauce by whisking ingredients together
2 - Cook the pork and onions together over a medium heat, breaking up any large lumps of mince until it looks fine and crumbly (about 10 mins)
3 - if your mince is very fatty you can drain some of it away and return to the heat
4 - Cook for another 5 minutes. The recipe says "until crispy and golden" but I didn't really achieve that. You might.
5 - Add the lemongrass, chilli and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in your sauce, coriander and spring onions. The recipe say cook for another 2 minutes, but I blasted it for a bit longer, about 5-7 minutes, with a bit of water so that the spring onions and garlic were a bit less scary.

Have this with large leaves of iceberg lettuce, which you wrap the mince up in like some insane Atkins fajita. Serve with PMQs.