Thursday, 11 December 2014

Plaited Cranberry, Cherry and Orange Stollen

This is a variant of this stollen recipe I posted in December 2011. The dough recipe and quantities were based on this Delia Smith recipe for stollen. My original recipe changed the fruit to my liking- adding in dried cranberries and apricots, and taking out the candied peel. I also soaked the fruit in Cointreau, and surrounding the marzipan core in cranberry sauce.  This time, I kept the fruit mostly the same, but made up some of the sultanas’ and glace cherry weight with dried sour cherries. The Cointreau stayed, but the layer of cranberry sauce was left out- I did like it, and I would make it like that again, but wasn’t especially in the mood for it at the time of baking.  
The biggest change was plaiting the loaf, which is a bit fancier than my usual cooking-style, but I had a piece of plaited stollen made by a friend, and I really liked it- the marzipan is dotted throughout the loaf instead of a big chunk in the centre- I prefer it that way. I suppose this could be simplified by cutting the marzipan into chunks and adding it to the dough with the fruit- but then you might get burnt bits of marzipan at the surface of the stollen- plaiting it will keep all the sugary marzipan encased in the loaf. And it is no way near as fiddly as I thought it would be- you need quite a gentle hand working with the dough, but that’s about it.
Finally, this time I didn’t add any orangey icing, because I didn’t want to anything to disguise my success of plaiting bread dough.
The recipe below makes two stollens- I used half the dough to make one stollen, put the other half in the fridge, and made a second stollen the following day to take to a party. The dough keeps for 2 days in the fridge, according to Delia.

150ml Cointreau, Triple Sec or brandy
300ml full fat milk
100grams caster sugar
4tsp dried yeast
700 grams strong white bread flour
220 grams softened unsalted butter
2 eggs, beaten
140 grams dried cranberries
70 grams sultanas
80 grams dried no-soak apricots, chopped

60 grams dried sour cherries
30 grams glace cherries (natural colour, preferably), halved
50 grams almonds, chopped
grated zest of 1 lemon
grated zest of 1 orange
350 grams marzipan

 Put the dried fruit and glacé cherries in a small saucepan with your chosen alcohol. Bring the liquid to a simmer, and then remove from the heat. Now get on with the dough while you allow the fruits to become imbued with festive spirit.  Alternatively, soak the fruit overnight in the Cointreau. Warm the milk (I do this in the microwave), add 2 tsp of the caster sugar, and sprinkle of the yeast on the surface of the milk. Leave the yeast to create a frothy head on top of the milk. Now sift the flour into a large mixing bowl with the salt and remaining sugar. Make a well in the centre, and pour in the yeasted milk mixture, along with the eggs and butter. Mix with a wooden spoon, along with the dried fruits, almonds and zest. Knead the dough, either with your hands, or an electric mixer with a dough hook attachment. You may need to add more flour, you want a slightly sticky dough, it is ready when it feels springy and elastic. Put the dough in a bowl, clingfilm and leave to double in size, this could take up to 2 hours.
After the first prove, punch the dough down, and divide into two. Knead one of the halves of dough on a floured surface until it feels springy.  Divide the dough into 3 balls, and using your hands, roll each ball into a 25cm sausage. On a floured board, roll one of these pieces of dough so it has a width of about 7-8cm. Take a third of the marzipan, and using your hands roll it into a sausage almost the length of dough and place in the centre, and fold the dough over it. Remove carefully to a lined baking sheet. Repeat with the other two pieces of the stollen dough.  Plait the three lengths of dough as tightly as you can, sealing the edges together. You can repeat this process to make a second loaf, or return the other half of the dough to the fridge, covered in clingfilm. Leave the loaf or loaves to rise again, this time about 20 minutes. Set your oven to 180 degrees, and when they have finished the second prove, bake for about 35-40 minutes. Dust with icing sugar when you take it out of the oven.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Peanut Butter Fudge

I am planning on making some fudge for a secret santa present this year, and I wanted to give it a trial run. I wasn't going to risk making a dodgy recipe for a gift- and I wanted my own batch. I specifically wanted to make peanut butter fudge, as I the person I have for secret santa loves it.

A quick google search came up with the Sophie Dahl recipe for peanut butter fudge, which looked pretty easy- there is no mention of a sugar thermometer, for one thing (which I don't own). I'm quite hit and miss when it comes to fudge making, so the simpler the recipe the better, for me, at least.

I really liked the end result- it's not chewy, which is how I prefer fudge to be, but it has a really lovely flavour- the dark brown sugar makes it slightly treacley. It is incredibly sweet, so cut it into little cubes (unsurprising for a recipe that contains 800g sugar).

Friday, 21 November 2014

Merguez Baguettes with Coriander Aioli and Harissa Vegetables

Sometimes you can't beat a really good sandwich. For 2 people with large appetites, I peeled and finely sliced one small onion, and fried in some olive oil in a large frying pan. While they were cooking, I made some aioli- if you need a recipe, you could use this recipe for mayonnaise, using an additional clove of garlic and using about two thirds olive oil, one third groundnut oil. I then stirred in a handful of finely chopped coriander leaf. When the onions were golden, I added some stoned kalamata olives to the pan and a handful of halved cherry tomatoes. I cooked for a few more minutes until the tomatoes started to look slightly pulpy, and then stirred in a tablespoon of harissa (adjust to the heat of the harissa you have, and you personal taste). Then I pushed the fried onion and tomato mixture to one side of the pan, and added 6 merguez, turning the heat up to a sizzle. While they were cooking, I spread some of the aioli onto some halved lengths of baguette. When the merguez were nicely browned and cooked through, I assembled the rest of the sandwich (easiest tomatoes and onions before the sausages, I think.) Apply to face- it's pretty messy, so have some kitchen roll to hand.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014


I don't live near anywhere that sells a decent bagel, so if I want one without having to make a long trip, I make them myself. By decent, I mean chewy and slightly sweet, not the dry bread rolls with a hole in which is all I have ever been able to get from a supermarket. 

Bagels aren't hard to make, if  you have an electric mixer with a dough hook. You could make them by hand, but it would be a real upper body work out to knead the dough- it's so dry and dense it takes at least 10 minutes using a machine to knead the dough to the requisite smooth texture. Perhaps if you are stuck doing it by hand, get a friend to take turns with. 

The recipe I use (Nigella's) gives the dough a one hour rise at room temperature, I often let the dough rise overnight in the fridge instead. This way, if you want bagels for brunch, you can make up the dough the night before, and just have to do the shaping, poaching and baking the next day. I have made it both ways- the one hour rise, and the slow rise in the fridge- and haven't noticed any difference in the results. 

For shaping the bagels, I find it easiest to get a ball of dough, make a hole in it with my index finger, and gently widen it. The suggested method- having a strip of dough, curling it round into a circle and sealing the edges doesn't really work for me- my seals usually break, and I end up with 'C' shaped bagels. Another blogger suggested using a small round cookie cutter to cut out a hole, which I think is a great idea, and I would have tried it if I had the right sized cutter.

1 kg of white flour, plus more as necessary for kneading 1 tablespoon of salt
7g of easy yeast or 15g of fresh yeast
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for greasing
500mL warm water, plus more as needed
2 tablespoon of malt extract or sugar, for poaching the bagels (I got malt extract at Holland and Barrets)
2-3 baking sheets, oiled or greased

Combine the flour, salt and yeast together in a large bowl, add the sugar and the oil to the water. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the liquid, mixing to a dough with a spatula or wooden spoon. Knead the dough either by hand or with dough hook, trying to add more flour if you can, dough is better drier than wetter, the dough will be stiff and hard work, even with the dough hook it takes 10 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and put it into an oiled bowl, turning once to coat all around, then cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave it to rise for 1 hour. It should be well risen, and when you poke it with your finger , the impression should remain.

 Punch the dough down and then give a good knead and divide into 3 pieces. Using your hands, roll each piece into a rope then cut each rope into 5 pieces. Roll each piece between the palms of your hands into a ball and then roll into another rope, curling to form a ring. Seal the ends by overlapping (or use my suggested method, above)

Put on a large pan of water to boil, when it boils add the malt or the sugar.Sit the bagels on the baking sheets cover with tea towels and leave for 20 minutes by which times they should be puffy. Preheat oven to 240C.

When the waters boiling, start poaching, drop a couple of bagels at a time into the boiling water and boil for 1 minute turning them once, use a couple of spatulas for this. As you poach them put them back onto the oiled baking sheets, well spaced and then bake for 10-15 minutes until they're shiny and golden brown.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Quince Vodka

This is very easy to make- slice the fruit, put in a jar, add some sugar and top up with vodka. And then you wait. Quinces are very hard and don't give out their juices quickly, so I recommend leaving this for at least a year. Your patience will be rewarded with a golden, fragrant liqueur, good to drink  on it's own or in cocktails. It's nice mixed with some whipped cream too, to go with mince pies or Christmas pudding.

To make it, I sliced 2 quinces, (not huge ones), leaving the core behind. I put them in a 1 litre jar. I added about 50g sugar, and topped it up with about 600ml vodka. Put the lid on the jar, shake to help dissolve the sugar, and then leave for about a year. When it is ready, strain out the pieces of fruit. After the infusing period, I recommend storing in the fridge, as it is nicer to drink cold, but it can be stored at room temperature.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Chocolate Mincemeat Eccles cakes

The name is pretty clumsy, I'll grant you. I couldn't think of a better way to describe these, 'chocolate mincemeat in flaky pastry' sounds a bit dull. They aren't even Eccles cakes, but as I used the same sort of pastry and shaped them in the same way, I felt this title conveyed what they are reasonably well.

Proper Eccles cakes don't use mincemeat as a filling (let alone experimental chocolatey mincemeat), they use a less gloopy, less rich mix of currents, butter, sugar, citrus zest and spices. Mincemeat is an obvious substitution, especially if, like me, you make mincemeat in such large quantities you need a few different recipes to finish it up post-Christmas.

This was my first time cooking with the chocolate and sour cherry mincemeat, and I was really happy with the results. I was concerned the chocolate would take over and it would be too sickly, but the characteristic tang of the mincemeat still comes through, helped by the additional orange juice and the sour cherries. The chocolate is just another dimension to the mincemeat mix.

I used, as I always do for Eccles cake, this Delia recipe, using butter and not the suggested margarine.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Hazelnut, Yoghurt and Blackberry Cake

This is a simple adaptation of one of the first recipes on my blog, a hazelnut loaf cake. All I have done is stir 200g blackberries and some the juice of a small orange into the cake batter, to make a less plain cake. I like it both plain and with the fruit. When it is plain, I think it is nicest with some stewed fruit or jam or curd (I suggested this spiced damson curd), and with the fruit in the cake, it's good just by itself.

I have made the name a little fancier- the original recipe always had yogurt in it. Two reasons- I like the way it sounds, and you can taste the tang of the yogurt in the cake, so I think it is worth mentioning.

Skinning the hazelnuts is a bit of a faff, so I don't do it very thoroughly, but I definitely think it is worth the extra effort to use whole hazelnuts that you grind yourself. The flavour you get is much more intense than anything you could get with ready-ground nuts.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Osso Buco

Until last week, I had never tried the classic Milanese dish, osso buco, let alone made it myself. It's something I have been intent on cooking for some time, but the main ingredient, thick slices of veal shin, have eluded me. I have never been interested in making a variation on with a substitute for the veal, such as pork- I wanted to try the real thing. My butcher had osso buco in stock the other week- this is not a regular occurrence, so I took the opportunity to buy what I could.

I mentioned wanting to try the real thing- osso buco is one of those dishes that has a lot of dispute on how to cook it the correct way- namely, whether or not tomatoes should be added to the dish. I am not an experienced enough cook to join in on this debate, so I went with the advice of Anna Del Conte, who is both Milanese and author of some of my favourite cookery books. She is very clear on her opinion that tomatoes should not be added to osso buco. I wouldn't rule out trying it, as I would like to be able to form my own opinion on the great tomato debate, but veal is a bit too expensive for me to buy often enough to experiment.

I served the osso buco with the it's classic pairing, risotto alla Milanese. The recipe I used suggested using some beef marrow into the risotto, which I sadly do not have a ready supply of- I used the listed substitution of pancetta. The big slices of veal I had, did hold a lot of wonderful, creamy marrow, which was a real treat, especially with a sprinkling of sea salt on it- so I didn't feel I was missing out by not using marrow in the risotto too.

The recipe I used is here. I only had 4 slices of osso buco, but I kept the other ingredients in the same quantities. It meant I had a lot of leftover cooking liquid, but it was so delicately delicious that the remaining juices got eaten the next day with just some bread to soak it up.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Chocolate and Sour Cherry Mincemeat

 I have been deliberating about making a chocolatey variation on mincemeat for a while, I couldn't imagine if it would be a pleasant or disappointing change to a classic. I don’t follow the mindset that an addition of chocolate will make any sweet dish better, but having tried the Nigella Christmas cake with added chocolate, and seeing this recipe, I thought it would be worth a try. If I didn't love it, it’s not like non-chocolately mince pies wouldn't be available to me over the Christmas period. As well as the addition of chocolate (from cocoa and chips) I added made up some of the dried fruit weight with dried cherries, which I love, and thought would go well with the chocolate.

I used a tried and tested Delia Smith Mincemeat recipe, halving the weight of the currants and sultanas, and using 225g dried sour cherries. I also added in 50g of cocoa powder, and used an extra orange’s worth of juice, as the cocoa made the consistency of the mincemeat mix thicker. After cooking and cooling, I stirred in 200g chocolate chips along with the brandy.

I have tasted it, but I think it needs a little time to settle- for now, I’ll say it is very rich! I will be doing some cooking with it- obviously regular mince pies, but  I have made enough for some further experimentation. My ideas so far have included making mincemeat brownies, making rolls similar to cinnamon rolls, with the chocolate mincemeat in place of or alongside the cinnamon butter, and some puff pastry turnovers, with a chocolate mincemeat filling.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Slow Cooked Beef Short Ribs with Chorizo and Borlotti Beans

I came up with this recipe last week, when I was craving something warming, but wanted to avoid the stodginess that winter food can often have. I used some flavourings that I associate more with late summer, such as orange, chilli and fennel, which lifted the dish from potential blandness.

The butcher near me had beef short ribs on offer, but any cut suitable for slow cooking would work. I enjoyed cooking with them though, using a bone-in cut meant the dish had a real body to it.

 For the beans, I had been given some home-grown borlotti beans, so I used them, but they don't have to be borlotti beans, and they certainly don't have to be fresh- dried or tinned would work fine too. If you are using dried, soak and cook them separately first. For tinned beans, I would add them to the dish about 1 hour before it is ready, so they don't disintegrate into the cooking liquid.

We just ate this with lots of bread and butter.

750g-1kg beef short ribs
200g chorizo- I used a pack of Brindisa mini chorizos
200ml red wine
1-2 tbsp plain flour
Beef stock, to cover- approx 500ml
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 stick celery, diced
2 red onions, peeled and sliced
1 bay leaf
approx 6 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
small bunch thyme leaves
sprig rosemary
Juice of 1 small orange, plus a strip of zest (ideally use an unwaxed orange)
1-2 dried chillis
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 handful fresh/ dried, soaked and cooked borlotti beans (or one tin)

Roughly chop the chorizo into chunks, or, if you happen to be using the same type as I did, just cut them into individual sausages. Brown the chorizo in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Remove with a slotted spoon to a casserole dish, leaving behind the paprika-y oil. Put the flour on a plate, and season, then lightly coat the beef ribs with the seasoned flour. Brown in the same pan used to cook the chorizo, over a high heat, so the surface gets nicely caramelized. Whilst this is cooking, add all the other ingredients to the casserole dish except for the beef stock, and stir to combine. Add the beef once full browned, and add enough beef stock to cover. Bring to a simmer on the hob, then turn the heat down, cover, and cook for approximately 3 hours, or until the beef is very tender. I chose to remove the rib bones from the beef, cut it into chunks, and stir it back into the stew before serving.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Curried Smoked Mackeral Pilaf

Almost, but not quite, kedgeree. It is a little easier (no poaching uncooked fish first), and a little less nursery-food-gentle, with mustard seeds and a little more spice. I made this a lot in my first year at university, and have revisited more recently. I am not sure why I stopped making it in the first place, since starting again I have been having it almost once a week because I like it so much.

1 big knob of butter
1-2 white onions
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 bay leaf
Pinch turmeric
1 tbsp (more or less, to taste) curry powder (I used hot, but mild or medium can be used)
300g basmati rice
1 pack smoked mackerel fillets
300ml  water
300ml milk
3 eggs
Small bunch flat leaf parsley
Half a lemon

A little extra butter, if desired. 

Peel and slice the onion(s). Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan that has a well-fitting lid. Add the onions, and cook over a low heat until softened and slightly golden- about 10 minutes. Meanwhile boil your eggs- I tend to give them  8 minutes, which results in a still oily yolk, but boil for up to 10 minutes if you prefer them firmer. However you cook them, make sure you cover them in cold water straight away after they have finished boiling, so they don’t keep on cooking.

While the onion and eggs are cooking, remove the skin from the mackerel, and flake into medium sized pieces.

Add the mustard seeds to the pan, and cook for about 30 seconds, then stir in the curry powder, rice and bay leaf. Stir to coat the rice in the spices, and then add the mackerel, stirring to combine again. Pour in the water and milk, season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat up to bring the liquid to a boil, then turn the heat down to the lowest setting, place the lid on, and leave to cook for 15 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, peel and roughly chop the eggs, and remove the stalks from the parsley and chop the leaves.  When the rice has finished cooking, add a few pieces of butter (if desired), and  squeeze the juice from the lemon into the pan, and use and fork to fluff up the rice and mix in the butter and juice. Taste for seasoning, and adjust if necessary. Fork through the parsley and the eggs, and serve.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Charred Pineapple and Vanilla Rum

I have been making differently flavoured alcohol for a few years now, mostly vodka and occasionally gin. I tend to let the flavourings do their thing for at least a year before tasting. There a few exceptions, I recently made a horseradish vodka that needed a few hours infusion time, max, but generally with fruit I like to leave it for as long as possible. Not too long ago, I wanted to make a flavoured spirit for a gift- not vodka or gin- and with only about a fortnight to make it in. I turned to my fried Toby, who makes incredible cocktails, as well as tinctures, homemade ginger beer, and all sorts of delicious things to drink or make drinks with. He suggested charred pineapple and vanilla rum, which could be done in a week. I was surprised, but not sceptical about the short infusion time- I trust his advice in these matters completely.

This is how I did it:

Peel and cut one ripe pineapple into slices . Char the pineapple slices- I did this by skewering it, and holding if over the flame of my gas hob. You could use a blow torch, or even a lighter. Put the pineapple slices in a 1 litre jar, add a few spoons of demerara sugar, and top with rum- I used golden rum. Put the lid on, and give it a shake to help dissolve the sugar. Leave for 6 days, then add a vanilla pod- I crushed it slightly with the flat side of a knife before adding it, to help release the aromatic oils. Leave for another day, strain and bottle.

I was really pleased with the results- I had to try some before giving it away, of course, for quality control purposes. Now, I like to always have a bottle on hand for myself. It's nice on its own, but I like it even more in a daiquiri. The basic recipe for a daiquiri is here, I substituted the white rum for the pineapple rum, and cut used a touch less sugar syrup, as the flavoured rum is sweetened already.

I've been playing with the recipe too- I don't always include the charring step, depending on what I feel like drinking, and how bothered I can be. The last batch I made, I used spiced rum, and added a bay leaf instead of a vanilla pod for the final flavoring- this has been my favourite version so far.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Roast Pork Belly with Quince

I get a bit overexcited when I see quince in the greengrocer- they are one of the few things that you can't get all year round, so I like to make sure I buy them when I can. Some end up flavouring vodka, and some for pudding- last year I poached quinces in mulled wine and honey, with pleasing results. I've also used grated quince as instead of apple in mincemeat, which was nice but not necessarily better. I'm most interested in using them in savoury dishes, either to add needed sweetness to things like tajines, or as a foil to something fatty, like duck or pork belly. I had seen a recipe a while ago that had stuck in my head for roast pork belly with quince. I couldn't find the original recipe, or remember everything that went in it, so this is my spin on it. I loved the results- fatty, sticky pork belly with sour, fragrant quince.

1 piece pork belly, skin scored
2 quinces
3 onions
2-3 cloves garlic
½- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
About 1 tbsp thyme leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Peel the garlic cloves, and put in a pestle and morter with the thyme leaves, and pound to a paste. Add the fennel seeds, and lightly crush. Add a little olive oil to loosen the consistency, and some salt and pepper. Rub all over the sides and bottom of the pork belly- don’t put any of the garlic paste on the skin, but do give it a good sprinkling of sea salt.  Place the pork in a roasting tray. With a sharp, heavy knife, cut the quince into slim segments, cutting out any core/pips you get on your slices. Peel and slice the onions, and scatter around the pork belly with the quince. Lightly slick the onion and quince slices with some olive oil, and season. Roast for 25 minutes, then turn the heat down to 160 degrees and roast for another 1 and half-2 hours. Turn the heat up towards the end of cooking time if the skin is not completely crispy and blistered.

Leave the meat to rest under some foil for at least 10 minutes before serving.

I deglazed the roasting tin with some dry cider for a quick gravy, and ate with some mashed potato, and just-tender kale with chestnuts and lardons.

Thursday, 16 October 2014


I love reading and learning about Louisianan food, but I haven’t cooked that many dishes from the state. I now make a gumbo without a recipe, feeling comfortable enough to make any changes and tweaks as the mood suits me. I’ll occasionally cook a jambalaya, but will usually refer to a recipe. I have made an attempt at doberge cake, an extravagant layered chocolate confection which I think most people would buy in rather than make at home. It was delicious, but is quite a labour-heavy experience to make.  I have made a pecan pie, using the filling recipe from The Gumbo Pages although that’s not exclusive to Louisiana.

My latest addition to this list are beignets- the state doughnut of Louisiana (as an aside- I love the idea of an official state doughnut, although after reading this article, sadly I don't think there is a doughnut per state). Beignets can be made with a choux pastry or a yeast-leaved dough. I made the latter. I think the place to get beignets in New Orleans sells the yeasted type (I could be wrong about this though). I will have to try the choux pastry version too though, to complete my beignet education. 

The recipe I used was from Taste and Tell Blog (scroll down to the bottom of the page for the recipe). They were definitely a success, except for the first 2 I made which were a little uncooked in the middle- I don't own a thermometer for deep frying.

My favourite thing about this recipe is that once you have made the dough, you can keep it in the fridge for up to a week with no ill effects. So whenever you fancy a treat, you can tear off enough dough for a beignet or two, and cook it to order. Like most deep-fried foods, it’s best to eat them fresh out of the pan rather than letting them sit around.

Being able to keep a ball of the dough in the fridge and cook in batches over the week helped me gain a better feeling for when the oil was hot enough to put the uncooked beignet in the pan, and tell when it was ready to be taken out. It also gave me more opportunities for experimentation, such as making a chocolate and salted caramel dipping sauce. This was my only deviation from the recipe, but there is a lot of scope for new ideas. Having said that, a plain beignet, liberally dusted with icing sugar is a wonderful thing, and doesn’t require anything else- except maybe some coffee alongside.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Roman Holiday: Part IV

We began our last day in Rome with a trip to the ever-wonderful Campo Di Fiori. I limited my spending there to some very ripe, sticky figs, and a punnet of wild strawberries.

 We then went to I Dolci di Nonna Vincenza, a Sicilian bakery for something a little more sustaining. We shared two extremely rich pastries, a ravioli dolci di ricotta and a cannoli stuffed with sweetened ricotta and dipped in pistachios. They were incredibly delicious, and not very expensive- the shop itself looks like it could charge you a lot, but for these two (big) pastries and a coffee we were only charged 5.

Go to your blog list

Next we went to the Jewish ghetto of Rome, where we went to Nonna Betta, one of the older kosher restaurants in the area.  The menu is split into a meat section and a dairy section, and given our ricotta-heavy breakfast, we both opted for a meat based meal. I had homemade gnocchi with braised lamb. It’s not the most beautiful looking dish, but it was wonderfully flavoursome and rich.

For dinner, we decided to treat ourselves to something a bit more upmarket, as it was our final evening in Italy. We went to Dal Toscano, a Tuscan restaurant (unsurprisingly) not too far from St Peter’s Square. I wanted to go for their speciality, a thick T-bone steak, but was a bit scared by the price (48 per kilo). So I had a rump steak, which was tasted lovely, but was not as rare as I would have liked. I did regret my more frugal choice when I saw other diners’ incredibly thick and bloody T-bone steaks. I’ll know for next time. Adam had a veal steak, which was delicious- better than my steak, I think.

To follow, I had zabaglione. Again, Adam made a better choice than me, and had a custard and pine nut tart. Luckily he was happy to let me try both of his courses, so I could appreciate everything.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Roman Holiday: Part III

I could have eaten Roman food for the entirety of my holiday and not gotten bored, but I decided to be adventurous and hop on the train to Santa Marinella for a day of eating seafood and lying by the beach. Well, maybe not that adventurous, because I got the idea entirely from this article. Even if I’d ended up in Santa Marinella without guidance, there is no way I would have found the restaurant we visited; it's about a 25 minute walk from the station along a main road.

The restaurant in question, Tavola Azzurra 2, is an unassuming-looking Sardinian restaurant. They don’t do menus; you are offered what’s being cooked that day and you can take it or leave it. They brought us a jug of white wine, water, crispy carta di musica and a salad of assorted sea creatures dressed in olive oil, lemon and parsley (mostly octopus, but there were some prawns mixed in too).

 Sometime later, they brought us a huge plates of spaghetti alle vongole. It was incredibly garlicky and buttery, and had a generous amount (and variety) of clams. Despite feeling very full, we still used the bread to soak up the butter-garlic-seafood juices left on our plates.

We were then brought some pastries which we shared - a fig and almond tart and a berry tart. These were nice, but I didn’t appreciate them as much as the seafood. I couldn’t manage the final offering: a thick, bitter medicinal spirit.

Our bill

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Roman Holiday Part II

Ragno D’Oro is located a short walk from St Peter’s square, but far enough take away any worries that you might be walking into a tourist trap. The name translates as Golden Spider, according to Google translate. We started with a very Roman selection of appetisers- fried courgette flowers, a globe artichoke to share and salt cod fritters, as well as some prosciutto and focaccia. I enjoyed it all, and despite the high proportion of deep-fried items, it didn’t feel too heavy.

To follow, I had a risotto alla crema di scampi, and Adam had spaghetti al frutto di mare. They were both gorgeous, but exceptionally rich- Adam struggled to finish his spaghetti due to the sheer quantity of butter in the dish. I found my risotto more manageable, but then I do have a love of fatty and dairy laden food.

Like the previous night, we didn’t have dessert at the restaurant, but went to a gelateria. This time we went to Fatamorgana, which is in the Prati area. They have a large selection of flavours, including a chocolate a tobacco concoction called ‘Kentucky’. Sticking to the rich food theme, I had a scoop of Venezuelan chocolate and a scoop of gianduja, whereas Adam went for a lighter option of strawberry and lemon sorbets.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Roman Holiday: Part I

I've just come home from my fourth trip to Rome, it's been my best trip there so far for a number of reasons, one of which was the food. Any holiday I take I centres around food as much as possible, and this time I was with my partner who is as interested in eating as much as I am, and doesn't seem to mind searching for the nicest looking deli or pasticceria, even if it is 11am and we haven't had breakfast yet.

Our first meal was surprisingly good- I say surprisingly because it was at about 3pm on a Sunday, and most places that aren't tourist traps would be closed at this time. We ended up stopping at the first place that was actually open, which looked unassuming, but turned out to serve very decent, simple food- I had a very tasty bucatini all'amatriciana, and Adam had spaghetti alle vongole. Unfortunately, my head wasn't really in food critic mode, I was too hungry and too tired from the trip to really assess what I was eating, or take down the name of the restaurant.

A nap and a walk into the centre of the city later, we were ready for our next meal. This time we could be more discerning where we went, as the restaurants had re-opened for evening service.  We found ourselves at Da Baffetto, which is a very popular pizzeria with both locals and tourists. It seems to make an appearance in every travel guide to Rome, and in every list of top 10 pizzerias in the city. We joined a queue for a table, where I could take some pictures of the exterior:

The queue moved quickly, and were seated right next to the wood burning oven- not great from a comfort perspective-it was a very warm evening-but watching the 3 chefs prepare the pizzas was good entertainment.

The pizza was as Roman pizza should be- thin, crispy and slightly blistered from the oven.
We didn't stay for pudding, instead continued our walk, stopping of for gelato at Cremaria Monteforte, which is a few moments away from the Pantheon. I went for a rather Middle-Eastern inspired combination of rose and pistachio ice creams, and Adam opted for lemon sorbet.

The rose ice-cream was delicious, flavoursome without reminding me of bath products, which rose flavoured things often do. 

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Warm smoked mackerel, lentil and roast tomato salad

250g green lentils
3 fillets smoked mackerel
about 200g cherry tomatoes
one small/ half a large red onion, peeled, or a bunch of spring onions
bunch flatleaf parsley
2 small sticks celery
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar
Zest of 1 lemon
Leaves from a few springs of thyme.
Wholegrain mustard
clove garlic
2 big handfuls  of rocket, watercress or other salad leaves

Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, and add the lentils. Don't salt the water, as it will make the lentils harden. Cook until the lentils are tender, which will vary in time depending on how old they are- I'd allow at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 190 degrees. Halve the tomatoes and put in an oven proof dish. Lightly coat with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast for about 15-20 minutes. Set aside in the pan. Any juices left from roasting the tomatoes will be added to the dressing, so don't be too enthusiastic with clearing up just yet.

Finely chop the red onion or spring onion, and set aside. Slice the celery finely too, and put with the onion. Destalk the parsley, and roughly chop the leaves. Skin the mackerel fillets, and flake into medium sized pieces.

Once the lentils are cooked, drain and let them cool for a few minutes. Slice the garlic clove in half, and crush lightly with the flat side of a knife. Rub the cut side of the clove around the serving dish. This will give the final dish a slight scent of garlic, without being overwhelming. Put the lentils into the serving dish and add  the tomatoes, with any juices from the roasting tray to the serving dish too.Dress the lentils with some olive oil, and just enough red wine vinegar to give them a twang. Add some wholegrain mustard, to your taste. Start with a heaped teaspoon and increase from there. Finely chop the thyme leaves, and add to the lentils along with the lemon zest.Stir through the mackerel, onion and celery. Add the salad leaves and parsley, using a fork to gently mix it in. Taste for seasoning and serve.

Serves 4

Friday, 18 April 2014

Hot Cross Buns

I made these using the same recipe last easter, and left it too late to post a recipe- hot cross buns in June just aren't right. I didn't want to make my own hot cross buns before Easter, but I hope posting the recipe on Good Friday gives any potential HCB bakers the chance to make them over the long weekend.

Again, I turn to Felicity Cloake's 'How to Cook the Perfect...' series. It does make me so much lazier at experimenting with cooking, on the other hand it allows me to bypass mistakes and go straight to perfect recipes- I am torn between whether I love it, or whether I resent having the exploration already done for me. I do know I really enjoy the articles, and I am hugely envious of her job.

I was glad Felicity has written a HCB recipe- before I relied on Felicity, I relied on Nigella; and I wasn't too impressed with her hot cross buns recipe- they were not sweet enough, and were too much like plain bread rolls. Felicity's feel more of a treat, richer and sweeter.

I did still make some adjustments to the recipe:
  • I soaked the currants in Lady Grey tea. Dan Lepard soaks the fruit in his recipe in tea- a touch which creates, in Felicity's words an 'unnervingly juicy result'. I took this as a good thing, although Felicity doesn't do this in her final recipe. Perfection is, of course, subjective. I chose Lady Grey for it's citrussy flavours, which I really like in my Easter bun.
  • I left out the 50g mixed peel, and made up the weight with extra currants. (I hate mixed peel).
  • I added a strip of lemon peel and a strip of orange peel to the milk when I was infusing it with the spices.
  • A controversial choice- I used strips of marzipan to make the crosses. I didn't like the alternatives for making the crosses that Felicity came across- icing, and cream cheese frosting. They both seem an very unwelcome addition. But marzipan doesn't seem unfitting here- and it makes the cross part actually interesting to eat. Also, you can make cut out strips of marzipan that make very neat crosses, whereas piping out a flour and water paste can be a very messy affair.
Soaking raisins in tea and infusing milk with citrus zest and spices.

Dough after the first prove

Shaped and unbaked buns

Unbaked buns with marzipan crosses