Most food writers, cooks and chefs worth their generous seasoning will tell you that their vocation stems from a desire to feed people. It’s hard to argue with that comforting, coddling domestic image of the buoyant, buxom feeder, apron stretched over a reassuring bulk (never trust a skinny chef), oven gloves at the ready as they dish out tray after tray of mouthwatering treats to a table full of rapt admirers armed eagerly with forks and the appetites of adolescents, guests who nurse that most fundamental and primal of human instincts: the desire to be fed. That’s why we cook, we’d have you believe: our life’s purpose is to be the smiling matron bestowing hearty, homely manna upon our loved ones, like a plump bird in a nest surrounded by plaintive little open mouths.Read More
The glorious bounty of summer is on its way. I don't know about you, but I'm already excited for sunny days spent at the pick-your-own farm, greedily clawing berries off their stalks until my hands are smeared with a dramatic mixture of dark juice and blood from the inevitable gooseberry thorn-pricks. I'll soon be turning on the spare freezer in my shed, ready to fill it to bursting with jewel-like summer fruits: tiny glistening blackcurrants and redcurrants, voluptuously downy raspberries and plump jade gooseberries, all waiting to be enveloped in cake batter, simmered into compotes or churned through creamy frozen yoghurt. Last summer I came up with another wonderful way to use a glut of summer berries: spend a couple of days turning them into gorgeous fruit vinegars. It's very simple, and you end up with the most beautiful bottles, glowing with golden hues of red and yellow and looking like something that wouldn't be out of place on the shelf of a medieval apothecary or the souks of the Arabian Nights. Head over to my post on AO Life to see how it's done, and for recipe suggestions for using these captivating concoctions.
Some of my favourite recipes are those that involve a slightly risky frisson of surprise. Those ‘no-peeking’ dishes where, perhaps worryingly, you won’t know how they’ve turned out until the cooking is over and the moment of revelation is at hand. A stew that’s been simmering and melding beautifully under a lid in the oven for a few hours, for example. What went in as lumps of meat and veg suspended in a watery broth emerges – hopefully – as a dark, glossy and unctuous mass of slippery vegetables and tender chunks of meat, deeply rich and savoury.Read More
When I first made hot cross buns as a teenager, they ended up more like hot cross rock cakes. I think maybe I over-proved them, or left too much space between each bun on the baking tray, so they puddled out like strange, beige, fruit-speckled UFOs. They were delicious, but I found myself rather disheartened at their complete lack of resemblance to those perky, burnished, perfectly-crossed specimens you can buy in the supermarket. Every year since then – and, sad to say (or a relief?), many have elapsed between my teenage years and the present – I’ve been trying to create a hot cross bun that rivals those upmarket bought varieties.Read More
Easter and Christmas are very meaty holidays, but while the nut roast seems a standard vegetarian option during the winter, there isn’t really a general consensus on what vegetarians should tuck into while everyone else is enjoying their roast lamb. This delicious savoury cobbler should satisfy the non-carnivores around the table. It’s bursting with the colours and flavours of the Mediterranean, perfect for welcoming spring: lovely fresh tomatoes and peppers bake until tender under a crust of goat’s cheese scones, fragrant with lemon thyme, rich with parmesan and topped with golden pine nuts. It’s easy to make and provides a hearty, all-in-one main course, deliciously rich and sweet, with those lovely tangy scones to soak it all up. Find my full post and recipe on the AO Life blog!
Some beautiful things are born out of frugality in my kitchen. Dense, fudgy loaves of banana cake made to rescue two blackened bananas from the fruit bowl. Bowls of healing broth whipped up from the sad-looking carcass of a picked-clean roast chicken. Glossy, scarlet chilli jam that has saved a bag of overripe tomatoes from a tragic fate in the compost bin. I love averting waste and turning ingredients that were so nearly rubbish into something delicious, particularly when it encourages me to try new recipes in the process.Read More
There are a million and one delicious things in the world. Chocolate. Ripe mangoes. Jennifer Lawrence. But sometimes I think that, as far as simplicity goes, you can't get much better than curd. I'm not talking about the pale, buttery clouds that rise to the surface when you make cheese (the curds of Little Miss Muffet, as they are otherwise known), but that blissfully ambrosial concoction of butter, eggs, sugar and fruit, heated and whisked until glossy, gelatinous and spreadable and then placed in jars where you can admire its beautiful pastel hues.Read More
A couple of weeks ago, something magical occurred in my kitchen. Craving a warm, comforting pudding and wondering what to do with a quince hanging around in my fridge, I poached the fruit in a spiced sugar syrup and caramelised it, along with juicy chunks of ripe pear, in a hot pan. I added a little quince jelly, which melted into an amber syrup as it hit the surface of the pan, and bubbled in a splash of honeyed dessert wine. I tumbled this sticky, golden mixture into a baking tin, luscious juices clinging to the fruit, and topped it with a buttery crumble mixture flecked with crunchy almonds. Thirty-five minutes later, the best crumble I've ever had emerged from the oven.Read More
When I was a lot younger, I remember stumbling upon a very curious utensil in my family's kitchen. This little knife had a wooden handle like any other, but its blade was serrated on both sides and, bizarrely, curved sharply to one side. My mum explained that it was a grapefruit knife, designed to enable the scooping out of grapefruit flesh from the skin so you could enjoy it for breakfast. She must have shown me how to use it, because I distinctly remember enjoying, on several occasions, the ritual of slicing a grapefruit into two heavy halves, running that special knife in a circular motion around the pink flesh, using a small paring knife to cut in between the membranes, bisecting the fruit like the spokes of a wheel, and finally savouring the fruit of my labours with a teaspoon, scooping each tiny segment out of the skin and popping it into my mouth.Read More
Last week I took the daring step of taking all the half-opened bottles of red wine out of my wine rack. There were seven. It's probably a good thing wine doesn't have a sell-by date on it, which would give me some indication of when those bottles were last opened and drunk from, because I'd probably be horrified by the length of time they'd been languishing. I'm not the biggest fan of red wine, nor do I cook a lot of heavy casserole-type recipes that involve stewing a piece of animal bathed in it, so wine brought by dinner guests tends to have a fairly extended shelf life in my kitchen. Seven bottles, though, is verging on ridiculous and they were taking up valuable space in the wine rack that I wanted to fill with gin. Naturally.Read More
I was teaching a student the other day when he asked me to explain the term ‘idiolect’. As with so many definitions, this is something that benefits from the giving of an example. I was plunged into a moment of introspective self-analysis, rapidly mentally running through the lexicon I use on a daily basis, the words to which I attribute non-standard uses or meanings and which therefore constitute my own, distinct, idiolect. I hit, suddenly, upon the word ‘insane’. “You see, when I use the word insane,” I explained to my student, “I use it to mean amazing; ridiculously good; incredible.”
The other night, I found myself murmuring, through a mouthful of pecan nuts, “Oh my god these are insane.”Read More
Rejoice: here is a recipe that uses egg whites. Are you the kind of person who keeps egg whites stashed in bags in your freezer after making ice cream because you can't bear to see them go to waste? Are you the kind of person who once took home a kilner jar of thirty egg whites from the restaurant where she worked because the chef was otherwise going to throw them in the bin after a furious bout of pasta-making? Are you the kind of person who is horrified by Nigella Lawson's admission that she sometimes separates eggs directly over the sink so as to avoid the conundrum posed by the leftover whites? If you're not, you're probably on the wrong blog and we have nothing in common. If you are, read on. You'll be delighted.Read More
1. Southern Italian wine dinner at the Chequers Inn.
Last week I ventured out into the Yorkshire countryside on a snowy night to attend the first southern Italian wine dinner at the Chequers Inn, Bilton-in-Ainsty. This lovely, cosy pub is tucked away in a small village on the way to Wetherby and was offering a fabulous five-course menu complete with matching wines from the lesser-known southern regions of Italy. A platter of goat’s cheese fritters rescued us from the outside chill, along with delicate morsels of fig wrapped in parma ham and asparagus wrapped in leeks. Why have I never considered deep-frying balls of goat’s cheese before? They tasted like creamy, gooey clouds of joy.Read More
"I think I'm going to smoke something this weekend!" I announced excitedly to my friends last week. There were raised brows and quizzical looks. As probably the most straight-laced person in the entire universe, someone who has never in her life been properly drunk, stayed up all night, got in trouble at school, inhaled a cigarette or toyed with the boundaries of the law, someone who would much rather have a quiet evening in with friends and go to bed at 10pm than attend a party or - heaven forbid - a club, someone who is, let's face it, boringly calm and neurotic and ripe for a career as a cat lady, their surprise at my suggestion of forthcoming tobacco/illegal substance consumption is perhaps unsurprising.Read More
There may not be much that is certain in life, but here are three things that are certain in the world of cooking:
- You will always happen to be wearing a white shirt when preparing tomatoes, pomegranates or beetroot.
- You will never be able to brown meatballs ‘evenly on all sides’, because they are in fact spherical and therefore do not have sides.
- You will never, ever, find a recipe that calls for an entire red cabbage.
My arrival in Indonesia was not under the most pleasant circumstances. My plane from Borneo was delayed for nine hours, leaving me stranded at (probably) Malaysia’s tiniest airport after all the shops shut with nothing to eat except for the complementary KFC offered by the AirAsia team when it became clear that, despite the assurances of the man in uniform waiting at the gate that the plane was ‘not delayed’ (he maintained this brave pretence for a good three hours after the time when the plane was supposed to have taken off), the plane was clearly not taking us anywhere anytime soon. I made friends with three very funny Malaysian boys who coaxed me intro trying some of their KFC and found my reluctance absolutely hilarious. I had to cave, after about seven hours. I was expecting this crossing over into the dark side to be sinfully delicious, to initiate me into the guilty pleasures of fast food that I have, for so long, abstemiously avoided. In actual fact, I ate the withered, flabby, tasteless chicken burger in dismay, finding it tasted of very little except the hard-to-place ubiquitous flavour of mass-produced spongy carbs and soggy batter.Read More
On a January morning, you need dessert for breakfast. This is probably my favourite category of recipe, and the one most of my cooking falls into. I should point out that this does not mean you are ever justified in eating a chocolate orange, Magnum or cheeseboard before 12pm. Instead, it means adapting certain post-savoury classics to make them a little healthier, a little more substantial and a little more appropriate for the beginning of the day. I try and cut out a lot of the refined sugar and processed flour, sticking with wholesome staples like honey, spelt flour, oats, polenta and unrefined muscovado sugar. I like to think I have this down to a fine art, perhaps evident from the number of ‘breakfast crumble’ recipes in my repertoire.Read More
I enjoy recipes that begin with the gentle infusing of a liquid. I make that most restorative of broths, Thai tom kha gai, on a regular basis, and it is the initial steps of the recipe I find most soothing. Using the sturdy little cleaver I picked up in a market in Chiang Mai, I slice fat, pale-pink knobs of galangal into coin-sized discs, split shiny red chillies down their centre and bruise the papery outer stalks of lemongrass before throwing the lot into a pan of simmering water and coconut milk. It only needs a few minutes before the powerful aromas of Thailand have permeated the broth, promising the ultimate in sinus-clearing comfort. I also enjoy the sweet side of infusion: throwing a huge, fragrant handful of lemon verbena leaves into warm milk and cream, for example, to be churned later into an incredibly aromatic ice cream, or spiking a sugar syrup with cinnamon sticks, glistening vanilla pods, bruised green cardamom and maybe a furl or two of orange or lemon peel. I love the idea of capturing flavours in liquid, turning up the heat until their gentle perfume permeates and is locked inside, like an insect in amber.Read More
Let's be realistic. No matter how long it sits on my 'to-do' list, I am never going to get round to delivering that lengthy, nuanced, insightful, evocatively-written, anecdote-peppered, florid prose masterpiece that is 'Elly's travels around Thailand' on the blog. I think I exhausted myself for life in that area when I wrote an almost book-length post on Vietnam and Cambodia a couple of years ago, and have never had the inclination to repeat the effort. I keep a hand-written travel journal and simply cannot find it in me to take the time to transcribe it for the benefits of the internet. But, since we're all obsessed with lists and bite-size chunks of information these days, I thought I would deliver a Buzzfeed-style recap of my trip that cuts out the boring parts and gets straight to the valuable, the memorable, the gastronomic...and the cat-related. Because I've heard the internet loves cats too.
P.S. Scroll down to the bottom for accommodation/restaurant recommendations.Read More
Life has moved on from the days when a kiwi slice on your cheesecake was the height of fructose-based sophistication, when mangoes were only acquired in sorbet form and when pineapples were the ultimate status symbol at parties. While I bemoan the fact that grand buildings no longer come with a dedicated 'pineapple house', I do love the fact that we can choose from a growing variety of exotic and tropical imports at the supermarkets these days. Yet it seems that although we're well-versed in mangoes, kiwi and grapefruit, there are some newer fruits that we shy away from, unsure of what to do with them in the kitchen or daunted by the task of preparing them for consumption (if you're wondering, you just cut a dragon fruit in half and scoop out the flesh. Far easier than all those hot-pink spiky tendrils would have you believe). Ottolenghi has popularised the pomegranate (for which you only need one recipe, and it goes thus: throw the seeds on all foods to make them pretty), while Nigel Slater and garnish-happy chefs around the world have induced a taste for figs, but what about those other weird and wonderful, vibrant-coloured delights we so often shun in favour of the familiar, the safe, the bunch of grapes or the six-pack of kiwi? Here are my top five slightly more unusual fruits: what they are, how to prepare them, and how to use them in both sweet and savoury dishes. If I've inspired you to try something new after this, I'll be very happy.Read More