March 6, 2012 § 2 Comments
There is change in the air this week. Each day brings a new tug-of-war. On one side the skin-warming sun, promising longer, lighter days ahead, teasing out the abandon of bare legs and sandals. On the other, the bracing breezes that keep us anchored to the reality of living in this part of the world, always lingering just behind one hill or another, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting tourists and optimistic locals. I lug around layers to be donned or shedded depending on the victor of this battle between sun and wind, which changes by the hour. These are days in which we must be ready for the unexpected.
Change moves in on the domestic front too. A new apartment, a new neighborhood, a new stove; all beckon. Already we are preparing for the work of divesting ourselves of the piles of clutter that come to symbolize the three years in this one place, guiltily recycling dusty stacks of the New Yorker, shredding dated paperwork, avoiding the inevitable tackling of the boxes of nostalgic ephemera hiding under the stairs. I clip recipes from my food magazine stash as I go through them and the months ahead start to take the shape of fava bean and ricotta crostini, and Easter lamb pie, and thick slices of ruby-red tomatoes. We will need cakes and roasts to calibrate the oven, and hungry friends to warm the new spaces. An evening of decluttering becomes anticipation of sunny flavors, and colours, and gatherings to come.
Yet as much as I think ahead, the seas of change want to toss me to houses and kitchens past, with their indelible associations with specific recipes. The memory of the kitchenette of our first apartment still smells to me of jacket potatoes in the oven, waiting to be stuffed with tuna salad and eaten on breaks from a much-loathed evening job, each mouthful taking me precious seconds closer to having to return for hours of boredom. The brick-red kitchen of our first house is filled with the bustle of friends and scenes of bbqs with vodka jellies, first attempts at sponge cakes, and cozy evenings of sausages from the local butcher with roasted squash mash and cider gravy. And then there was the sunny yellow hub of the house we bought while tipsy on local ale and from which we emigrated, the place where I really learned to cook. It was where I devoured Nigel and Nigella, baking sticky butterscotch birthday cakes, honing the brownie obsession, turning out pastry from scratch, and discovering the orange marmalade loaf. Those days, those firsts, are long gone, but the recipes soldier on with us.
While change and nostalgia swim around us, the markets remain stubbornly citrus-hued, yielding piles upon piles of puckered fruits. I hadn’t thought of this delicate orange-scented cake for a while, nor of that kitchen, but the tussle between old and new and the ubiquitous piles of oranges conjures both up vividly and I rush to bake it. The sponge is a simple, light, pound-cake inspired recipe, enhanced by a generous dollop of thick-cut marmalade, and the zest and juice of an orange. But what makes this cake unforgettable is the thin crackle of orange icing that drizzles over the top, into the crevice in the middle, and down the sides in rivers. While certain occasions call for inch-high buttery frosting, declaring fun and frills ahoy, this is not a time for such extroversion. This cake, and these times, beg for the quiet reflection of icing from another time and place, from a small and dark Victorian house in England. When all around whirls with change, there is much comfort in looking back and eating a slice of such a cake.
Orange Marmalade Loaf Cake
Adapted from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries
175g/6 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
175g/6oz golden caster sugar/golden cane sugar
one large orange
3 large eggs, at room temperature
75g/2.5oz orange marmalade (I prefer thick-cut for this recipe but you can use either)
175g/6oz self-raising flour (*see conversion note from all purpose below)
100g/3.5oz icing/confectioners sugar
2 tbsp orange juice
*to convert all-purpose or cake flour into self-raising for this recipe, simply take 175g/6oz all purpose flour and add 2 1/4 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt. Sift or whisk together well, and proceed to use this mixture in place of the self-raising flour. If you want to be pedantic about the measurements you can remove a tablespoon of the flour before you add the baking powder and salt to allow for the additional volume, but this recipe is forgiving enough for you just to add the extra ingredients.
Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Line a 9×5 inch (25x11cm) loaf tin with parchment paper and set to one side.
Cream the butter and sugar together, using a stand mixer or hand-held electric whisk (back in the day I used to make this recipe with a wooden spoon, so don’t worry if you don’t have either of these – you will just get good arm tone!). It should become pale and fluffy. Grate the zest from the orange. Beat together the three eggs in a small bowl and then add gradually to the batter, keeping the mixer at a moderate speed, or adding gradually and beating well between each addition. If your ingredients were cooler than room temperature the mixture may well curdle – don’t worry if this happens. Beat in the marmalade and orange zest.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the flour with a large metal spoon or plastic spatula. Work firmly but gently and do not overmix: stop when the last trace of the flour has just disappeared. Finally, gently stir in the juice of half the orange. Spoon the mixture into the lined loaf tin and smooth the top. Place in the middle of the oven and bake for around 40-45 minutes, checking after about 35 by inserting a metal skewer into the centre of the loaf. The cake is ready when the skewer comes out clean, with perhaps a crumb or two sticking to it. Leave the cake to cool in the tin – the middle will sink slightly – and then remove to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
Sift the icing/confectioners sugar and add the orange juice gradually, mixing until it becomes a smooth, slightly runny consistency. Normally I am able to achieve this with the juice from the remaining half of orange from the main cake. If you make the icing too runny, just add a tiny bit more sugar until it is the right consistency. Drizzle the icing over the cake, letting it run over the sides, and leave to set.
The cake will keep wrapped in parchment paper and tin foil for 2-3 days. Once it becomes on the staler side, it is extremely good toasted and smeared with marmalade and served with a dollop of yoghurt.
October 4, 2011 § Leave a Comment
We were sitting around a large communal table, laden with glossy food and travel magazines. I was sipping a flat white of locally-roasted beans, trying not to ruin the delicate latte-art fronds. In front of us: a huge bowl of bircher muesli, adorned with slivers of apple and dates; a plate of orange-hued, creamy scrambled eggs atop thick-cut sourdough; a hunk of apple and cherry loaf, aside a honeyed bowl of ricotta for smearing. This is how we holiday: ambling from meal to meal, trying to walk enough in between to recoup some hunger for the next round. Walking off breakfast at bills, in Sydney, takes some miles.
In between mouthfuls, I flicked through a magazine and came upon an article from the ever-acerbic AA Gill about the differences between the Australians and British. The musings about the British obsession with past glories and consequent pessimistic approach to life rang true enough, if not especially originally so, but then we Brits form pretty easy targets for that kind of analysis. Instead, what stuck with me afterwards from the article, and through the entirety of September which saw me mostly on a plane, in a spare bed, in a hotel, but rarely at home, was the idea that travel isn’t really about where you are there and then, but about the perspective it gives you on where you are not: on your desk, your house, your street, your city, your country of residence.
And so I come back from the most recent set of travels and try to cling to the fresh eyes – even when rimmed red with jet-lag – with which I see life. Mostly I am able to admit for the first time in a long while that in an ideal world I would live both in San Francisco and in London. San Francisco nourishes my soul and my heart and London fires my mind and creativity. But it’s the travel between the two that makes both work, setting into relief the other. On the road or at home, it’s so often the food that gives me access to whatever is not there. So when I cart home the pile of cookbooks from London, leaving my weary suitcase-dragging shoulders set as concrete for the following week, I am transporting lazy, bantering afternoons in the pub, and the desire to be overdressed even on a Tuesday, and the crisp afternoons of early autumn, strewn with a light much thinner than the one that sets the California sun.
The Scotch Egg is quintessentially British to me, channeling a worn seat by the pub fire after a crisp walk through October leaves, or a picnic in the park cherished for a rare day of summer sun. But it travels well – literally and figuratively – a palm-sized portable token of the retro food revival. Fried chicken in San Francisco, buttery crumpets in Sydney, scotch eggs in London: all part of a search in our modern urban settings for the simplicity of times past, for pockets of community, for something with a comfortable back-story. We carted off a bag of the whopper-sized eggs, split in half for slightly more delicate access, to a music festival in the Golden Gate Park. Sexagenarian silver hippies in tie-died t-shirts stumbled, stoned, among teenagers with matted waist-length blonde hair, dancing with iPhones waved aloft. Elbow, “from Manchester”, a mere 30 miles from my place of birth, played out one of the main stages as the sun drifted towards the Pacific. The eggs were as gloriously hybrid as that moment, both utterly out of place and yet a perfect fit all the same.
Adapted from The Ginger Pig Meat Book
Makes 4 eggs, which really is 8 servings unless you are a) incredibly hungry or b) a giant
4 eggs plus 1-2 extra beaten for the coating
50g/2oz plain flour
800g/2lb pork or sausages (see note below)
2 tbsp sage, chopped
salt and pepper
175g/6oz panko breadcrumbs
1 litre/2 US pints vegetable oil for frying
The original recipe calls for a mix of pork meat and pork fat. I used ground pork shoulder, which seemed plenty fatty to me. You could also take some sausages or sausage meat and use that instead in which case make sure they are of the highest quality and omit the stage of seasoning with sage and salt/pepper.
Place the eggs in a pan of cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 6 minutes then remove to a bowl of ice water. Once cool, crack and peel the eggs. Dry them on paper towels and dust lightly with flour to help the meat mixture adhere.
Mix the pork meat with the sage and season generously. Use your hands to distribute the seasonings well through the meat.
Put the breadcrumbs, flour and egg on separate plates or in bowls. Take a quarter of the meat mix and form into a ball. Press into the ball to make a hole for the egg. Place the egg in the gap and gently form the meat until it covers the egg all round. Roll the meat in the flour, then in the egg wash and finally in the breadcrumbs. Repeat with the egg wash and breadcrumbs to form a thicker crust. Set to one side and repeat with the other eggs.
Heat the oil in a large pan until it reaches 175C/350F. Carefully place the balls in the oil and deep fry for 13 minutes, turning periodically to get an even golden brown colour. Be very careful and attentive with the pan and oil – do not leave it unattended and do not allow it to overheat. The oil temperature will dip when you first add the balls so you will need to increase the heat until it returns to the right temperature and then return the heat source to around medium.
Remove the balls from the oil with a slotted spoon and place to one side on paper towels to absorb the excess oil. The eggs can be enjoyed warm or cold and they keep well in the fridge, wrapped.
July 19, 2011 § Leave a Comment
People, this is a difficult post to write. I am currently on day 6 of a 30 day cleanse (the whys and wherefores of which I’ll save for another day). Needless to say, cake does not feature as a central part of a detox diet, other than in cravings and dream-form. As such, trailing through the pictures of Suzanne Goin’s almond financier cake this morning is akin to a form of mild torture only made bearable by frequent trips to the almond butter pot downstairs. But I am prepared to put myself through this pain for you because, quite simply, you have to know about this cake. It’s a dream: a crumb that is miraculously both heavy from the almond meal and yet light from the egg whites all at once, and oh-so-moist from the eye-watering amounts of butter that go into the batter. Not just any butter, mind, but that which has been melted and browned with a vanilla pod until nutty and fragrant, leaving dark, fragrant flecks right through the cake.
On its own the cake is spectacular and I promise you will find yourself trying to slice off just a slither (no-one will notice) every half hour or so. But where it really shines is as a foil for the fruits of the season. The almond-butter-vanilla combination perfectly sets off stone fruits, figs, berries – whatever is good where you are right now. Goin recommends serving with nectarines and berries, which was sublime, but play around with combinations and see what shines – if you still have rhubarb in season I could see a warm dollop of compote working really nicely. A soft heaping of whipped cream or creme fraiche doesn’t hurt either.
Finally, the cake batter calls for 6 egg whites. Hello leftover yolks! This screams one thing only to me: ice-cream. I use David Lebovitz’s recipe for what I think of as the Platonic vanilla ice-cream from A Perfect Scoop which is also available on his website. If you’re going to have a vanilla ice-cream in your repertoire, make it this one. Of course, we have to try the ice-cream with the cake, and so another round of fruit, cream, cake combinations ensues. I implore you to go off and do the same: I’ll be dribbling from afar.
Almond Financier with Seasonal Fruits
Adapted from Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (260g) unsalted butter, plus a little extra for the pan
1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup all purpose (plain) flour
3/4 cup confectioners’ (icing) sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 cup almond meal/flour (ground almonds)
1/4 tsp salt
6 egg whites (from large eggs)
2 tbsp honey
Lightly butter the sides and bottom of a 9 inch round pan. I also lined the bottom with parchment paper to be super cautious. (NB the batter will later rest in the fridge for an hour, so you can prepare the pan at that point if you prefer).
Place the butter in a medium saute pan. Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use a small sharp knife to scrape the seeds and pulp onto the butter. Goin offers the great tip of running your knife through the butter to make sure every precious seed makes it to the pan. Add the vanilla pod as well and cook the butter and vanilla over a medium heat for about 8 to 10 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. You are looking for the butter to brown and smell nutty, but be careful not to burn it. Discard the vanilla pod (you can wash and dry and it and put it in your sugar jar to add fragrance). Set the butter to one side and keep it warm.
While the butter is browning, sift together the flour, confectioners’ sugar and 1/2 cup granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the almond meal and salt and stir to combine well.
Beat the egg whites in a medium bowl until frothy. White the whites and the honey into the dry ingredients. Next, whisk the brown butter into the batter, and be sure to get all the little brown bits from the pan (these are the tastiest parts!).
Let the batter rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350F/170C. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the sugar over the top. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the cake is a deep golden brown and pulls away from the sides of the pan. It will be springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the centre should come out clean. Cool on a wire rack and serve with fruits and cream (or ice-cream).
June 14, 2011 § 1 Comment
There was a birthday dinner, several years ago now, where I ordered a dessert that I recall as arriving in the shape of a teardrop and comprising a chocolate mousse enclosed in a crisp chocolate shell and possibly even sitting on a base of chocolate sponge. It wasn’t my birthday and Ollie, indignant at his beautiful but clearly inferior fruit crumble or similar, invoked two new statutes there and then: the birthday rule, which means that the celebrant is allowed to commandeer any part of a birthday meal should it be to his or her preference; and the chocolate rule, which states that if there is a chocolate dessert option on a menu, it should take precedence over other options. The birthday rule is still going strong but it’s fair to say that both of us, chocoholics though we remain, have loosened up a lot on the latter rubric. Nowadays I more often seek out desserts where fruit is the star and I prefer my chocolate in purer forms, separate from meals: a couple of squares of 70% as an afternoon pick-me-up, a mug of decadent, warming Venezuelan-spiced hot chocolate, perfectly petite fondant-filled chocolates while watching afternoon black and white movies (especially when gifted from somewhere like Burdick’s – thank you Pablo!).
When it comes to after-dinner treats, it might just be that the fruits of California are too difficult to resist. Almost four years into West Coast life and I’ve found the seasonal rhythm that our weather denies through the markets. Late spring is characterized not only by abundant strawberries and rhubarb but the build of anticipation for sweet, juicy summer peaches and plums, pluots, apriums and every other combination possible. And when cherries recently hit the stands I scooped them up by the bagful, knowing their availability to be ephemeral and all the more sweet for that. In our house there is only really one destination for cherries, other than straight from the bag, as they come: the elegant clafoutis, where the deep garnet gems are cradled in a vanilla-flecked custard, baked until it puffs softly. I’ve tried many clafoutis recipes and have never had a failure, so simple is the dish, but this year I have fallen hard for the version from Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson’s Tartine. This is hardly surprising since the bread pudding with seasonal fruits that is a constant at their Mission cafe is pretty much my favourite thing to eat in the whole city and features the same caramelized custard flavours that distinguish their clafoutis from the rest. The trick is the addition of a sprinkling of sugar once the custard is almost baked and then a final blast in a super-hot oven to brown the sugars. The recipe yields a pretty sizable dessert, which makes it perfect for entertaining: it’s also, in my opinion, much nicer at room temperature than hot which means you can make it ahead of a dinner with minimal stress. If you have leftovers, it’s also pretty fine at breakfast time. This year, so far, there have been no leftovers.
Adapted from Tartine by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson
Yields around 8 servings (i.e. 4 plus seconds)
2 cups (500ml) whole milk
3/4 cup (150g) sugar
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
pinch of salt
3 large eggs
1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp (50g) plain flour
2 cups cherries, pitted* (about 1lb or 450g unpitted weight; 13oz or 380g pitted weight)
2 tbsp sugar (50g) for topping
Preheat the oven to 220C/425F and lightly butter a 25cm/10inch ceramic quiche mold or pie dish. Spread the halved cherries evenly across the base of the dish.
Combine the milk, sugar, vanilla seeds and salt in a small saucepan. Place over a medium heat and stir to dissolve the sugar until the mix is just under a boil.
While the milk mixture is heating, whisk the eggs and flour together in a heatproof bowl until smooth.
Remove the saucepan from the heat. You are going to combine the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture and you have to do this very gradually to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Start off by tempering the egg mix by adding a very small amount of the hot milk, whisking constantly as you do so. Once combined, add a small ladleful of milk, whisking all the time. Continue to add the milk to the eggs by the ladleful until all the milk mix is added and you have a smooth custard.
Pour the mixture over the cherries in the prepared dish. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the custard is just set in the middle and slightly puffed and browned around the outside. Remove the clafoutis from the oven and increase the temperature to 260C/500F. Evenly sprinkle the sugar over the top of the clafoutis. Return to the oven for 5-10 minutes to caramelize the sugar – keep a close eye on it as it will darken quickly.
Let the clafoutis cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before slicing and serving. I like my clafoutis lukewarm or at room temperature. You can also refrigerate it once cool and serve the next day – just bring it back to room temperature before serving.
June 7, 2011 § 2 Comments
There are foods worth learning to perfect. Others less so. The item “learn to make croissants” has persisted in appearing on my ever-expanding list of goals for a couple of years now. But it might just be time to scrub it out and focus precious efforts elsewhere. A good croissant is priceless: a crisp crust – baked just shy of dark brown – yielding to a pale golden, butter-moist, pillow-soft interior. Hunting down an exceptional croissant might require a modicum of effort but, let’s face it, finding a better than good crescent pastry is straightforward enough thanks to its canonical place in French patisserie and the centrality of such techniques in any kind of culinary training. In other words, there’s almost always going to be someone nearby who can make a croissant better than I ever will (without giving up the day job to become a pastry chef: another previous list-item of which I have since thought better). More than anything, I can’t imagine ever living in any place without a good pastry-offering-cafe within stumbling distance: such locales are central to my wellbeing and productivity. So the flakes of that perfect crust that persist in working their way in between the keys of my laptop will continue to come from someone else’s kitchen until further notice.
There are other less ubiquitous sweet treats that should come with a waiver, presenting, as they do, the acute danger of acquiring an addiction that hangs on the whim of a chef. One bored Wednesday in the test kitchen can spell death for your twice a week financier fix as some new cake on the block muscles it out of the way. And this is how I recently came to be making an arborio rice cake spiked with madeira, inspired by a similar creation erratically available from local coffee purveyors Blue Bottle. The fragrant loaf had long been a fixture on my mental cake and cappuccino map of San Francisco and has persisted as a craving even since our previously slightly sketchy block has exploded into a hopping “micro-hood” where baked goods now abound close to home: retro-chic lemon bars and whoopie pies, quadruple chocolate cookies as big as your palm, scones flecked with seasonal fruit and cocoa nibs. But none of these fill quite the rice cake-shaped niche and so I set to making good use of that time now free from the planning of croissant making (yes, I know) to find a good home-made version.
The Blue Bottle Ur-loaf is always moist, not overly sweet, and perfumed with vin santo. I contemplated plucking up courage to ask for the secret formula until discovering with cowardly glee a recipe in Marcella Hazan’s classic Italian cookbook for a traditional Bolognese rice cake which seemed more than close enough to warrant an attempt. Apparently this cake is a staple around the Easter table in Bologna and the egg-dominated loaf certainly conveys a feel of spring festivity, although it would be equally at home on a foggy afternoon or as part of a summer brunch platter. You start out by making a gloupy rice pudding which, once cooled, is folded into a simple egg batter along with flaked almonds and candied peel. There’s no leavening apart from the egg and the resultant cake is very dense but with its moisture preserved through the milk from the pudding and the final soaking in liquor. Hazan suggests rum; I wanted to use vin santo in my quest for the Blue Bottle flavour but for reasons of cost and convenience used some madeira we had lingering in the cupboard. The cake is tightly wrapped in foil and left to mature for at least 24 hours and ideally longer: I’d suggest having alternative treats on hand to distract during the period for optimum results. And the taste-test: well, it wasn’t an exact replica of the Blue Bottle cake but in the end that was fine. It was delicious and it was my own.
Bolognese Rice Cake
Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
1 quart (950ml) whole milk
¼ tsp salt
2-3 strips of lemon peel, skin only with white pith removed
1 ¼ cups (185g) cane sugar
1/3 cup (75g) risotto rice (Arborio or Carnaroli)
4 eggs plus 1 yolk
½ cup (60g) almonds (blanched and chopped, or see instructions below for blanching your own)
1/3 cup (60g) chopped candied citron
butter for smearing the pan
Fine, dry, unflavored breadcrumbs
2 tbsp madeira, vin santo or rum
To blanch your own almonds: take your almonds, which should be shelled but with the skin on, and drop them into a pan of boiling water. Drain after two minutes, enclose them in a damp towel, and rub briskly for a minute or so. Open up the cloth, remove the almonds whose skins have been removed and repeat the rubbing until all are peeled clean. For any stragglers you should be able to pull the skins off easily. Chop roughly with a knife to pieces about the size of a grain of rice.
Put the milk in a saucepan along with the salt, lemon peel and sugar and bring to a moderate boil. As soon as the milk starts to boil, add the rice and stir it quickly with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat so the milk mixture cooks at the lowest of simmers and continue to cook for 2 ½ hours, stirring from time to time. The mixture will become dense and pale-brown in colour when done. If the lemon peel hasn’t dissolved, remove the pieces, and set the mush aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Prepare a loaf pan or square cake pan that holds around 6 cups in volume (approx 1.5 litres): smear the bottom and sides of the pan generously with butter. Sprinkle the buttered pan with breadcrumbs, then turn the pan over and tap out any excess.
Beat the 4 eggs and the yolk in a large bowl until evenly blended. Add the cooled rice mush, beating it into the mix one spoonful at a time. Add the chopped almonds and candied peel, stirring them into the mix gently until well combined. Pour the mix into the prepared pan.
Place the pan on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake for 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
As soon as you remove the pan from the oven, pierce the cake all over with a fork or skewer and drizzle the madeira or alternative liquor over it. Leave to cool to lukewarm in the pan, then turn out the cake and leave to cool fully on a wire rack. Once cool, wrap the cake tightly in foil and leave to mature. You should leave the cake for at least 24 hours for the flavours to mingle and deepen, ideally 2-3 days longer.
February 15, 2011 § 2 Comments
Last week I lost my balance. It started literally: sliding on my backside down
snow ice the texture of large grain sea salt, something resembling an elongated tea-tray strapped to my feet. It ended figuratively with some particularly unattractive pouting and sulking. I don’t especially like being bad at things, and the crosser and more frustrated I got with myself and my lack of overnight snowboarding prowess, the more my inner-hormonally-challenged-14-year-old self reared her spotty head. Add to the mix a couple of nights of insomnia in an unfamiliar bed, stir in a stressful work week, and sprinkle with a hectic visitor schedule, and it would be fair to say that my equilibrium was well and truly off kilter.
It’s all too easy in such situations to deprioritize cooking. It becomes another chore, yet another item to cross off a looming list. The take-out menu winks seductively from the drawer; the pizza joint on the corner wolf-whistles as you walk by. At the most peril are those times when you need to cook for you and you alone. Just as we turn to the language of food to show someone support, love or pleasure, the food choices we make when no-one else is watching tell their own stories. They reveal how you are talking to yourself and betray the time you think you deserve. If you reach the third consecutive day of lunch consisting of a bowl of cereal eaten one-handed in-between emails, you know it’s time to act.
And so, yesterday I put down tools, turned off the phone and put on my current favourite album. One bunch of iron-green dino kale, a substantial handful of the prehistoric leaves shredded away from the tough stems and into fork-manageable strips. A couple of meaty cloves of garlic, chopped roughly. A small handful of dried chiles de arbol, seeds mostly removed, crumbled into flakes. A pair of sunny pasture-raised eggs, ready at the side of the stove. Two slices of a favourite farmhouse levain, set in anticipation on a plate. A good slick of olive oil in a non-stick skillet, to which the garlic and chiles are added and briefly sauteed, followed by the kale. A generous pinch of sea salt and a minute more of sauteing. Eggs cracked straight into the pan, broken quickly with a spoon and tossed over and under the now bright leaves. A minute for them to firm up and the scramble tops the waiting bread. It’s simple and doesn’t really take that much time but it shows care and thought: it nourishes the body and the mind. Perhaps it’s because kale is to my 14-year-old-petulant self as garlic is to Dracula but I feel my balance return. Later that night I go to yoga, hold Warrior III and do not so much as wobble. I am back.
a generous handful of kale leaves, tough stems removed and roughly shredded (or any other robust green such as chard or spinach)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
a tablespoon of red pepper flakes (from dried chiles if you have them in the cupboard, otherwise from a jar is fine)
a tablespoon of olive oil
2 slices of bread or toast
If you want your bread to be toasted, begin by getting it ready, as everything else happens pretty quickly. Then, heat the oil over a medium to high flame in a saute pan. I prefer to use non-stick when I cook eggs. Add the garlic and the chile flakes and move quickly around the pan for around 30 seconds, taking care that neither burn. Add the kale along with a good pinch of salt and continue stirring frequently for another minute, until the kale turns bright green and begins to wilt and soften. Turn the heat down slightly to medium.
Working quickly, crack both eggs into the pan on top of the kale and immediately break up with a spoon. Give them a few seconds to start to firm up, then stir again to cover and coat the kale. The eggs should be cooked within about a minute: you want to ever so slightly undercook them as they will continue to cook from their own heat even when you take the pan from the stove. Tip over the waiting bread and eat immediately (at a table, away from the computer).
February 2, 2011 § Leave a Comment
There is always a time and a place for cake. Always. It just has to be the right cake at the right time. The most gooey and sticky creation you can imagine slathered in cream with a candle stuck askew in the top for a special someone on their special day. A seed-packed handful of a muffin on the way to an early morning meeting. A pale and delicate waif of a loaf, perfumed with lemon zest and topped with the merest suggestion of icing, waiting on the table when guests get off a long-haul flight. When a cake slips perfectly into the cake-shaped moment of whatever is happening in that day it can be so perfect as to be both eminently present and unobtrusive at once. Might I gently suggest that this hazelnut and muscovado creation be served in a generous hunk at some quiet, transitional time on a fresh February weekend? An hour when rather than turning to the next thing on the to do list you find the space to curl up in an armchair and enjoy cake, just because you can. Not because you are entertaining and ideally not even because you are hungry. This cake, with all its earthy warmth, is one for you and yours with no guilt, no rush, no fuss. That is all.
Roasted Hazelnut and Muscovado Sugar Cake
Adapted from Nigel Slater’s Tender, Volume 2
Yields 1 22 inch cake
250g/2 sticks/8 ounces butter, unsalted, ideally at room temperature
125g/4.5 ounces golden caster sugar
125g/4.4 ounces light muscovado sugar
200g/7 ounces shelled hazelnuts
65g/2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) self raising flour*
*to make self raising flour from all purpose: for this recipe simply add 3/4 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt to 2 ounces of all purpose flour.
Beat the butter together with the two sugars until light and fluffy. If you have forgotten to take your butter out from the fridge in advance, you can give it a very quick blast in the microwave (but be VERY careful as it will start to melt from the inside sooner than you might think), or cut it into chunks to help the beater soften the butter from cold. You want to end up with a batter that is pale and smooth – Nigel describes it as “latte-coloured”. It will take 5 minutes or so of beating in a stand mixer, and longer by hand.
While the sugar and butter are beating, preheat the oven to 160C/320F and line the base of a deep 22-23 cm cake tin with baking parchment. I very strongly recommend you use a springform tin as I found it very difficult to get my cake out of a loose-based cake tin without it crumbling apart as the cake is so oily and moist from the nuts. If you don’t have a springform tin, make several strips out of parchment paper to form a handle which you can place underneath the base lining to help you lift the cake from the tin when it comes to it.
Then you can roast your hazelnuts, by tipping them into a dry frying pan and toasting them over a medium heat until they start to brown lightly on all sides. Watch them carefully once they start toasting so they don’t burn. Place half of the nuts in a food processor and grind to a fine powder; then add the second half of the nuts and pulse to grind the remaining nuts until they have the knobbly texture of gravel.
Break the eggs into a small bowl and use a fork to beat them very lightly. Gradually add the egg mix in four or five stages to the creamed butter and sugar, ensuring that you beat well in between additions to combine. Tip in both the smooth and knobbly hazelnuts and mix gently until just combined. Finally, you can gently add the flour to the batter, mixing until there are no traces of white left but not beyond that point – you don’t want to overmix at this point. Scrape the batter into the prepared tin using a rubber spatula and smooth off the top as much as you can.
Bake for 44-50 minutes in total, covering the top of the cake loosely with foil for the last 10 minutes so it doesn’t over-brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for about 15 minutes in the tin before very, very carefully turning the cake out onto a rack to finish cooling. If the cake seems much too crumbly to come out easily from the tin (assuming you haven’t been able to use a springform tin), leave it in the tin to cool completely as this will help firm it up. Gently peel the paper away from the base of the cake and leave to cool completely. Serve with coffee!
December 2, 2010 § Leave a Comment
I don’t typically think of myself as someone who makes pretty food. Indeed, I’m hiding many good recipes from you while I figure out how to make the finished products look like something other than a bowl of brown mush (insanely tasty brown mush, I hasten to add). So I’m partly sharing this recipe with you because, look, it’s so pretty! I’m so proud! And I promise that if I can make it look like this, so can you, which means you might want to consider this for one of the many parties I’m sure you, my social-whirlwind-esque readers, have on the cards.
Pickling eggs with beets is a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition, apparently. Not that I know much about that particular culinary heritage: in England you’re most likely to have encountered (non-pink) eggs in a jar on the counter of a fish and chip shop, or a pub. Whether you’ve already been privileged to try a pickled egg in any one of these disparate settings or not, just know that this version packs a whole lot of flavour into a one or two bite serving and will make you and yours happy whether you’re caroling by a cosy fire or mingling at the swishest cocktail party this season. The beet pickling process imparts the eggs with their lovely rosy shell and a subtle earthy tone, while the creamy decadence of the egg yolks and mayonnaise is tempered by a healthy amount of mustard and rounded out by the pungent caraway. The end result is a perfectly balanced piece of finger food, possibly only improved by a martini in the other hand.
We ate the eggs as part of the first course of a really rather spectacular Thanksgiving feast. I have to say that I have embraced this national holiday rather eagerly: the centrality of food, people, and the impetus to pause to appreciate the good things in your life seems like a pretty stellar combination to me. It turns out that my birthday falls on or around Thanksgiving too, which makes it a week packed not only with celebrations but also a bit of taking stock. Never one to pass up an opportunity to make a list, I’ve started a tradition of using that marker of time to set goals, some big, some small, as a reminder throughout the year of good intentions. It has worked well so far: this blog is a result of last year’s list for a start. I’m still finalising the one for the coming year; perhaps I will add “cook prettier food” to the shortlist…
Beet-Pickled Deviled Eggs
Adapted from Gourmet, November 2009
Yields 24 half eggs
3 cups/750ml water
1 cup/250ml distilled white vinegar
1 small beet, peeled and sliced
1 small shallot, sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
12 large eggs
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted, cooled
1/3 cup/80g mayonnaise
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Begin by hard-boiling your eggs. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, sitting the eggs out at room temperature while you do so if they have been in the fridge. Gently lower the eggs into the pot and adjust the heat to keep it just under a simmer. Cook the eggs for 9 minutes then remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice-water to stop them cooking further. Once cool, peel the eggs and set to one side.
While the eggs are cooling, bring the water, vinegar, beet, shallot, bay leaf and 1/2 tsp salt to boil in a medium saucepan, then simmer, uncovered, until the beet is tender: this should be around 20 minutes. Leave uncovered to cool completely. Put the peeled hard-boiled eggs in a container with the beet mixture and marinate in the fridge, gently stirring once or twice, for at least two hours. You can also prepare the eggs up to three days in advance of filling them, in which case you should keep them in an airtight container in the fridge until you need them.
When you are ready to fill the eggs, begin by grinding the caraway either with a pestle and mortar or in a spice grinder. Remove the eggs from their marinade and pat dry, discarding the beet mixture. Cut the eggs in half lengthwise and remove the yolks to a medium-sized bowl. Mash the yolks with the mayonnaise, mustard, parsley, and half of the caraway, until reasonably smooth (you might want to use a whisk to get them fluffy). Taste and season with salt and pepper, then divide the filing among the egg whites. Sprinkle with the remaining caraway. Either serve immediately, or loosely cover and keep chilled for up to 3 hours.
November 8, 2010 § Leave a Comment
If it were to happen that some cruel being were to send out an edict that we all had to choose only one meal a day (who would do such a thing?!), I would be first in the breakfast queue. I can’t remember the last time I skipped the first meal of the day and I always wake up hungry and looking forward to it. Sometimes (ahem, often), I even eat breakfast twice in one day. Wild, I know.
Breakfast also fascinates me culturally, the meal that reveals most about lifestyles and attitudes to food. Perhaps because it’s so often constrained by the morning clock, we seem to fall back on patterns and traditions more than at other times of the day. And I know many people who would order a curry for dinner without a second thought but who would be shocked at the idea of spiced rice just after getting out of bed. If one day you wake up in a strange part of the world and need to get your bearings, order breakfast and you’ll start to figure things out. Our trip to Bordeaux this summer was emblematic of this cultural connection. We were mostly staying in chambres d’hotes and the pride and care our hosts took over our morning eating was inspirational and oh-so-French. We worked our way through clafoutis and caneles, home-made brioche and a cornucopia of jams and preserves, and a lot of local melon. We also fell head over heels for the amazing home-made yoghurt we enjoyed in a couple of the places and promptly came home and starting making our own (recipe to be shared as soon as I have finished playing with it). But more than anything else we brought home a new appetite for breakfast and for getting beyond the routine of oatmeal or granola (good though both those dishes might be), for trying new combinations and most of all, for pausing and appreciating the first flavours of the day.
I want to share two very different recipes (one being more of an idea than a recipe) that prove the point that I could, and do, eat breakfast all day long. I’ve eaten both these dishes for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and supper and highly recommend you follow my lead. The first, wonderfully straightforward concoction is inspired by the “daily toast” on the menu at farm:table in San Francisco’s Tendernob district. This adorable postage-stamp sized joint doles out chunky cuts of toast each morning with a topping of either some kind of nut butter or lashings of cream cheese and slices of seasonal fruit. It’s perfect for these autumnal months when apples and pears are abundant and fragrant. I love to combine apples with peanut butter and pears with almond butter and a scattering of cocoa nibs on top of either works a treat. In the summer you might consider pairing mascarpone and berries and swapping out the nibs for a few chopped pecans or walnuts. Just thickly slice a couple of pieces of bread – I especially like sourdough or farmhouse levain for this – lightly toast them if the bread is anything other than fresh that day (feel free to leave them be otherwise), slather generously with the nut butter and arrange fine slices of the chosen fruit on top before scattering cocoa nibs over it all.
The second recipe is something quite different, to the extent that I expect many readers will immediately file it under “dinner” or “lunch” rather than breakfast. That’s fine by me since it’s delicious at any time (NB especially post-exercise of any kind) but do give it a chance as a weekend brunch with a kick. The recipe is for an aromatic, cardamom-infused, oven-baked pilaf, which is topped with a dollop of thick, creamy, Greek yoghurt and an unctuous soft-poached egg. It exemplifies the comfort fusion dishes I have come to expect, nay, demand, from Yotam Ottolenghi and won out as the first thing I cooked from Plenty, in the midst of stiff competition. The egg oozes out over the yoghurt, giving the firm and spicy grains of basmati rice a silky coating without suffocating the warm spices. It was love at first mouthful and more than enough to get me out of bed on a cold dark morning.
Cardamom Rice with Yoghurt and Poached Egg
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty
The recipe yields 4 servings. I made a half portion of the rice without any problems. The original recipe uses curry leaves rather than curry powder; I couldn’t get hold of these but you can swap out the powder for 6 fresh curry leaves if you have access to them.
4 tbsp groundnut or canola oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp curry powder
8 cardamom pods
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp turmeric powder
2 fresh green chiles (such as serranos), thinly sliced
400g basmati rice (I used brown but white would be fine)
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
8 medium eggs (you can reduce this to one egg per person if you are less hungry or have fewer eggs to hand)
a large handful of parsley leaves, chopped
a large handful of cilantro/coriander leaves, chopped
6 tbsp lime juice (approx 2 limes’ worth)
8 tbsp Greek yoghurt
salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Start by making the rice. Heat the oil in a large ovenproof saucepan or Dutch oven for which you have a tight fitting lid. Add the onions and garlic to the oil and cook over a low heat for around 8 minutes, until the onion is transparent and the garlic fragrant. Add the curry powder, cardamom, coriander seeds, turmeric, chiles and a teaspoon of salt. Increase the heat a little to medium and continue to cook, stirring, for about 4 minutes.
Add the rice and stir well to coat in the oil, onion and spices. Add the water, which should come to about a centimeter above the rice. Bring to the boil, cover the pan and place in the oven. Cook for about 25 minutes, at which point the rice should be completely cooked (it might take a little longer if you use brown rice). Try not to let too much steam out of the pan when you check the rice. Remove the pan from the oven and set somewhere warm while you prepare the eggs. If you like, you can turn off the oven and leave the pan in it with the door ajar.
Now you want to poach the eggs. Fill a shallow saucepan with enough water to cook a whole egg. Add the vinegar and bring the pot to a vigorous boil. To poach the eggs, break first into a cup then tip gently into the boiling water. Remove the pan from the heat immediately and set to one side. After about 4 minutes the egg should be soft-poached. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon to a bowl of warm water to prevent the eggs from cooling while you cook the others.
While the final egg is cooking, stir the herbs and lime juice into the rice and fluff with a fork. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more lime juice if you like. Divide the rice among bowls, spoon yoghurt on top and finish with an egg or two. Sprinkle salt and pepper on top and serve immediately.
October 21, 2010 § Leave a Comment
A mere 8 days remain until the third anniversary of our arrival in San Francisco. On that Tuesday 155 weeks ago, we dragged our over-packed bags out of the airport into a crisp, starry evening and took a yellow cab to our new home. The celebratory airplane champagne and anticipation of the unfamiliar proved a heady combination. We beamed stupidly at each other as the cab flew high in the air over the 280 ramp, making its way towards the twinkling high-rises of the metropolis stretched out before us. I remember it as wildly futuristic, like a scene from Blade Runner and although we’ve repeated the journey many times now, day and night, I can’t ever imagine tiring of that skyline welcoming you home. The cab dropped us on the corner of a street with a number for a name and we pushed through revolving doors into the lobby of an apartment building where a 15 foot garland of pumpkins and gourds stood in proud welcome. We took the elevator to the 17th floor and collapsed into a bed that was a fairytale height from the floor and where we could stretch wide without finding one another. We slept well.
And then we did what we had fantasized about during the manic and stressful weeks of organization and admin leading up to that day. We got up, we walked, and we went for brunch. The brunch dish in question was one suited for those with the kind of rabid hunger accompanying adrenalin and jet-lag: the playfully named French Toast Orgy. Chunky slices of sourdough soaked in eggy custard and caramelized in the pan before being topped with a mountain of fruit and granola, themselves capped by thick, creamy yoghurt and honey. We ordered one each and licked the plates clean, a feat never yet to be repeated. But to get to the real point: the particular restaurant and dish were unimportant. What mattered to us was that we could get up, survey the day, and choose between a plethora of restaurants. On our previous trip to the city, when the prospect of our actually living there was still more in the realm of fantasy than reality, I had remarked excitedly that you could eat out in a different restaurant every night and never get bored. It was the comment of someone who had spent most of the previous 10 years frustrated by a small college town but it is still an excitement that resurfaces today from time to time. And we proceeded to spend our first few months trying to do just that, until we moved to our permanent apartment and had a kitchen with a gas hob and had adjusted to the real meaning of the silly numbers and monopoly money.
The pleasure of food lies squarely in ritual and relationships, for me at least, and eating out provides its very own version of that, whether it be standing in a noisy line with a group of friends for a late night burrito, or a spontaneous dinner for two, just because it’s Tuesday and you can. I don’t want to write routinely about restaurants on this site, mostly because the nuances of San Francisco pizzas might be endlessly fascinating to a small group of us, but clearly not to all (although I will at some point add a fixed page of SF restaurant suggestions because I do (surprise surprise) have opinions). But where cakesnail and my eating-out-life intersect are those happy points at which I discover a new dish at a restaurant and it inspires me in the kitchen and thus, dear reader, we arrive at the delight that is the dish of ful medames.
The discovery came on a recent trip to the Pacific Northwest. The food in Seattle was inspirational across the board, with the rightly famed seafood of the region highlighted at every point, and in the form of simple yet innovative dishes. Indeed, my favourite meal of the trip, at Anchovies and Olives, would be highly difficult to repeat outside of the Pacific Northwest, and that was precisely why I adored it. The Ful discovery came at a place I was particularly excited to try: Sitka and Spruce which is in the beautiful Melrose Market at the lower end of Capitol Hill. It’s exactly the kind of restaurant I love: a small, thoughtful menu changing frequently with the seasons to make the most of local produce, a busy open plan kitchen to ogle from the long communal table, and a casual modern rustic décor that invites lingering with a coffee or glass of wine long after you’ve polished off the food.
Ful Medames is a traditional Middle Eastern breakfast dish consisting of dried fava beans which are gently simmered until soft and creamy and then coarsely pureed with garlic and spices before being topped with a variety of good things. At Sitka and Spruce this included a soft-boiled egg, pistachios and dill. Other traditional options could involve yoghurt, olives or cucumber and tomato salad. For my version at home I stuck with the dill and pistachios and swapped out the egg for some crumbled Bulgarian sheep’s feta which I needed to use up. The feta and dill complimented each other perfectly but you should feel free to play around with combinations: the beans provide a mild enough base that they will stand up to experimentation. And although we had this for dinner it would be a fun dish to serve up to friends for brunch: you could put a variety of toppings in the middle of the table and let each person choose his or her own combination. I would consider serving it for our anniversary brunch next week, but I expect we’ll be eating out.
Yield: 4 servings
2 cups (approx. 350g) dried fava beans
½ cup (a handful!) pistachios
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp za’atar (optional)*
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tbsp dill, chopped
feta, to taste (approx 50g per serving)
*Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice mix, usually consisting of thyme, salt and sesame seeds, sometimes with other additions like sumac. It’s readily available in Middle Eastern grocery stores. I have approximately 1lb in my cupboard (Ottolenghi uses it frequently) so I use it liberally but you could skip it without ill effect.
Soak the fava beans overnight, or for at least 8 hours. Drain the soaking water and place in a large pan. Cover with fresh water so that it covers the beans by an inch or two. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook the beans for 2-2 ½ hours, until soft.
If there is a lot of water left at this point, reduce it and smash the beans to a coarse puree.
In a skillet, toast the pistachios over medium high heat then leave to one side. Toast the cumin seeds in the same pan until fragrant, add to a pestle and mortar and grind (you can use ground cumin if you like but the flavours are fresher and more pungent if you take this extra step). Stir in the za’atar if using and leave to one side.
Add 1 tbsp oil to the same skillet, add the chopped onion and cook over medium high heat for 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the chopped garlic to the onion and continue cooking for a further 2-3 minutes. Add the cumin and za’atar to the pan and stir into the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring, for a further minute, allowing the mix to become fragrant, and then add the fava beans. Stir to combine and re-heat the beans, and then taste for seasoning (bearing in mind that if you are going to use feta it will be very salty so sightly under-season at this point).
Serve topped with the dill, pistachios and crumbled feta, or with the toppings of your choice.