Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake

Bank holiday weekend means baking. Fortunately, I've been sent some recipes to test by Baking Mad. With a selection including cupcakes, biscuits and even a cupcake wedding cake to choose from, I had a hard time selecting this cheesecake (particularly as I was sent recipes for two others, including a Tia Maria version). However, it's one of the most successful and delicious cheesecakes I've ever baked, so I'm glad I tried it out, and I now get to share it with all of you. You can scroll down for the rest of the recipes, but be sure to ogle the photos of this gorgeous dessert on the way.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Sticky couscous cake

I didn't think this sounded that odd when I first heard about it, but the general reaction from people I know to the concept of a couscous cake has been to turn their nose up, and look at least sceptical, if not downright disgusted. Upon tasting it they are usually pleasantly surprised, but I can't tell if this is just to keep me happy and unoffended, or because they are genuinely sold on the idea of couscous as a dessert. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by this cake, and was also told by a couscous-hating friend that "it doesn't really taste like couscous", which apparently is a good thing.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Roast beef, truffled polenta and summer vegetables

I don't exaggerate when I say that I can count on one hand the number of times I have cooked beef. I've made a couple of beef stews; a gorgeous warming one with ale, carrots and onions on bonfire night a few years ago, which was the perfect antidote to standing around in the freezing cold to watch the pretty lights in the sky; this rather delicious tomato and pepper stew enriched with cinnamon and stirred into pasta ribbons; and a couple of weeks ago I made an improvised beef goulash for eighteen hungry Navy people. Tender cubes of lean stewing beef, in a rich tomato sauce with strips of red and green peppers, lashings of paprika and cayenne pepper, and dumplings. It was unexpectedly delicious, and inspired me to experiment a bit more with the humble cow. I don't know why I hardly ever cook beef; I think it's because it's a meat that you can't really experiment with, and by that I mean pair it with fruit. Anyone who's ever been cooked for by me will know that I adore the combination of fruit and meat, which is why I usually cook with lamb or pork. Beef doesn't really lend itself to such weird and wonderful combinations, so I usually assume it's 'boring' and steer clear.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Baked mushrooms stuffed with triple-garlic risotto

This week Graziana from Erbe in Cucina is hosting Weekend Herb Blogging, and I have been cooking with not one, not two, but three new and exciting types of garlic. It started with the Real Food Festival, where I picked up a beautiful bronze bulb of smoked garlic. The intense aroma of this is just incredible; it has an immensely appetising quality to it. You wouldn't pick up a bulb of normal garlic and consider eating it there and then, yet the smoked variety has a sort of sweetness and mellowness to it that invites immediate eating (I wouldn't recommend it though). I was trying to think of the perfect recipe to showcase its wonderful qualities, when two more exciting ingredients appeared on my radar.

Poached apricot tartlets with Chai tea ice cream

The sight of the season's first apricots never fails to fill me with joy. It's probably more of a novelty thing than anything else, because apricots are one of the few fruits you don't find all year round. If I remember correctly they seem to have two seasons here in the UK; early winter, and summer - it depends on where in the world they're being shipped from. In the winter it's usually Africa, but now the Spanish and French varieties are starting to appear, and I couldn't be more excited about their culinary potential. I say culinary, rather than gastronomic, because I rarely use or consume apricots raw. There always has to be a modicum of cookery involved, because otherwise I find they are often woolly and bland inside - highly disappointing given the promise heralded by their gorgeous blushing skins. Once heat has been applied, however, the humble apricot transforms into something ethereal; sweet, tart, tender, and beautiful to behold.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Stuffed sardines with samphire, asparagus and Jersey royals

I am feeling slightly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of food-related treasure that keeps accumulating as the weather grows warmer and sunnier. First up was asparagus, appearing much earlier than usual, I'm sure, and enticing me to try more and more innovative ways of being able to tolerate the stuff (as mentioned previously, I'm generally not a fan, though this has changed recently). Then Jersey royals, widely lauded as some of the best potatoes money can buy, for their dense, waxy, nutty-flavoured flesh. Then the other day, I spotted a big box of samphire at the fishmongers, which is going to be the focus for this week's Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Lynne from Cafe Lynnylu. I was introduced to this 'poor man's asparagus' (what a joke - it sells for about five times the price of asparagus) by a chef I once worked for, and haven't sampled it since the days of peeling prawns and podding peas in his kitchen when I was seventeen. I figured it was high time to cook with it for myself.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Real Food Festival, 2011

A pervasive motif in Medieval and Renaissance art and literature is the memento mori, the 'reminder of death'. Whether a skeleton haunting the periphery of an oil painting or illuminated letter, or a dramatic literary death scene during which the hero nearly meets his end, readers and viewers were frequently presented with images and events designed to remind them of their mortality.

Times have moved on a little since then, and whilst we are still often reminded of the finite nature of our existence on this mortal plane, I would venture to suggest that where the medieval period had the memento mori, reminder of death, the 21st and 22nd century equivalent is the memento middle-class. This occurred to me as I stood in line at Earls Court a couple of weeks ago, surrounded by affluent Londoners avidly discussing the virtues of gluten-free granola and the undoubted superiority of loose-leaf white tea over teabags, waiting for the doors to open and allow me to rush forth into what is, unashamedly, a paradise for the middle-class food snob.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Cheese for breakfast?

I was about to write "this barely even warrants a post, but...". Then I paused. That is entirely untrue. This definitely warrants a post, because a) it obviously inspired me to start writing one, and b) just because what I am about to write about is incredibly simple, it doesn't mean it isn't incredibly delicious. Sometimes the best food experiences are the simplest: eggs on toast; a really good grilled fish; a Victoria sponge cake; a loaf of crusty bread and some cheese. Today I made a sublime mackerel pâté by putting some garlic and herb cream cheese, some smoked mackerel, lemon zest and dill in a blender. Shockingly simple - too simple to merit a blog post - but a wonderful lunch. However, that is not what I am about to discuss.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Pineapple and coconut sorbet

I'd like to reassure you, if you're reading this, that I haven't spent most of the last month drunk on piña coladas. It would be easy to think so, given that I've now posted three recipes in quick succession featuring the combination of pineapple and coconut, but I think it's more down to a sort of pineapple snowball effect, whereby the more pineapple I used in recipes the more I decided to experiment. It's a fruit I rarely use, preferring just to eat it as it is, sprinkled with a little cinnamon or chopped mint. However, having bought a few to cook with, I ended up with a very overripe specimen that demanded quick culinary usage. Not fancying a heavy, butter-rich dessert, I decided a sorbet would be the perfect option.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Bakewell pancakes

"Another pancake recipe?!" I hear you cry. But I'm not going to apologise, because these are delicious and because a tiny bit of me takes great delight in making you wish you'd had these for today's brunch, instead of some hideous greasy fry-up, or a boring piece of toast. After the success of cheesecake pancakes, I bring you bakewell pancakes. As the name suggests, they are basically bakewell tart but in pancake form: almondy, rippled with sweet cherries, and perfectly acceptable to eat for breakfast. I imagine soon we'll be seeing apple pie pancakes, fondant fancy pancakes, lemon meringue pie pancakes, and possibly banoffee pie pancakes. I just can't resist taking the flavours from classic desserts and recreating them in pancake form. Largely because it means I get to eat dessert very soon after getting out of bed. Not a bad life, really.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Sumac and za'atar roasted chicken

This week Simona from briciole is hosting Weekend Herb Blogging, and I've been using two of my favourite Middle Eastern spices: sumac and za'atar. Sumac is made from the crushed berries of a small Mediterranean tree, and used liberally all over the Middle East, where it can be sprinkled over food or infused in water and used to flavour dishes, rather like tamarind. It has a sharp flavour, like lemon juice, and is used in the same sort of way. Za'atar is not a spice but a spice and herb mixture, comprising dried thyme or marjoram, sesame seeds and salt. It can sometimes contain sumac as well. One of my favourite ways to eat za'atar I discovered in Jordan, where they mix it with olive oil to form a vivid green paste which is then spread on rounds of flatbread, to form a sort of za'atar pizza. It's incredibly delicious; you wouldn't have thought dried herbs on bread could taste so good, but the olive oil gives it an almost buttery flavour. I could happily have subsisted off those little pizzas for the entire time I was there. Supplemented by some falafel, naturally. And baklava.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Aubergine heaven

No, not the place where well-behaved aubergines spend their afterlife, but probably my favourite aubergine dish to date (although moutabal comes a very close second). It's recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi, so I should have known it would be brilliant, though I'm sometimes sceptical of his recipes because the ingredients seem so disparate, it often appears that they could never work together. I should never doubt him, after this triumph. It features aubergine baked into a luscious softness, rubbed with a spice mixture for deep flavour, served with a fruity, herby bulgur wheat mixture and a dollop of yoghurt. Initially it might not sound all that great, but I can assure you that this is delicious.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Inspiration from Damascus: lemon and mint cheesecake

Last summer I travelled around the Middle East with some friends. The highlight of the trip was definitely Syria, a country I'd been longing to visit for ages, though without knowing precisely why. I was captivated by its heat, its chaos, the charm of its people, and - above all - its food. One of the many gastronomic items that stand out in my recollection is actually a beverage, which is unusual for me - I tend to only ever consume four drinks: water, tea, wine and gin. Smoothies sometimes, if I've made them myself to use up overripe fruit, and occasionally the odd sip of juice from my boyfriend's glass if he offers it to me, but that's about it. I don't go in for fruit juice, generally seeing it as unnecessary calories that could be better expended on a large piece of cake.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Adventures with a KitchenAid mixer #4: piña colada cake

When a friend of mine has a birthday, my first thought is generally not "What can I buy them?" but "What can I bake them?" I'm a firm believer in edible, preferably baked, presents, mainly because I have a lot of friends who I don't know well enough to get them that perfect, "oh my goodness this is so me" present, and therefore it would just be a waste of money getting them something that they'll end up putting in a drawer and never looking at again. 

Actually, that's a load of rubbish. My main reason is entirely selfish: it gives me an excuse to hone my baking skills.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Berry pancakes for the British strawberry season

I mentioned in my recent post about my trip to Prague the discovery of bublanina, or Czech 'bubble cake'. I also mentioned that it was a bit of a revelation for me, in that it made me realise that it is possible, against all popular culinary advice, to cook a strawberry. The strawberries I unearthed in that beautiful sponge were not the sad, flaccid specimens that such advice would have taught me to expect, but rather a gorgeous juicy surprise with a flavour reminiscent of strawberry jam. For this reason, I was inspired to update my favourite Sunday brunch dish, pear and hazelnut pancakes, with a summery twist. You can tell it's my favourite, because I've posted about it twice in less than a fortnight.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Smoked fish and quail egg ravioli

I've had quite a few moments of late where I've one way or another stumbled upon a recipe idea or concept that is either so simple or so brilliant that I find myself amazed it had never occurred to me before. Tonight I went to La Cucina, one of my favourite Italian restaurants in Oxford, and on the specials board they had stuffed sardines wrapped in pancetta. So simple, yet so delicious-sounding, and something I can't wait to try. Another such moment occurred on an episode of Raymond Blanc's latest TV series. He made a stunning pasta dish featuring ravioli filled with spinach and quail eggs; the eggs were briefly poached before being encased in the pasta, meaning that they were still liquid when cooked. I remember the camera lingering lovingly on a shot where the knife cut through the beautiful pillowy pasta to reveal flowing golden egg yolk, encased in a nest of greenery, and I wondered why on earth that had never occurred to me before. Who doesn't love slicing into the tender yolk of an egg to reveal its molten core? Surround it with a thin film of carbohydrate, and you have food heaven.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Pineapple and coconut cheesecake

Apart from that retro classic, pineapple upside-down cake, you don’t see many modern recipes featuring the humble pineapple. Perhaps that’s because it’s such a wonderful thing eaten unadulterated, preferably at the point of ripeness where the juice is likely to drip down your chin. It might also be because pineapple has an irritating habit of curdling any dairy it comes into contact with. However, since fresh pineapples are so often on special offer at the supermarket, and there’s only so much raw pineapple a girl can eat, I came up with this delightful dessert that brings out the best of the fruit by pairing it with what I feel is one of its natural bedfellows: coconut. I’m not alone - just think of piña colada. This cheesecake is basically that classic cocktail in more solid form, and that can only be a good thing. It even includes rum. Yum.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Rhubarb preserves

Astrid from Paulchens Foodblog is hosting Weekend Herb Blogging this week, and once again I am going to go a little crazy over rhubarb. Still struggling to get through the enormous bag of the stuff given to my mum by a friend (the rhubarb and ginger cake made very slight inroads), I decided the most appealing option remaining was to preserve it in some shape or form. It wasn't quite gorgeously pink and slender enough for bottling, so I went down the jam and chutney route. It's been a while since I've made jam or chutney, but I do enjoy the wonderful alchemy of putting a load of apparently disparate ingredients (raisins, vinegar, onions, rhubarb, spices) in a huge pot and stirring away with a giant wooden spoon until they have merged together into a harmonious, spreadable delight. It makes me feel rather like a Victorian housewife.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Czeching out Eastern European cuisine

I've just returned from a lovely, albeit too brief, trip to Prague with my boyfriend. I was excited about this for a number of reasons - the five star hotel with spa and epic buffet breakfast, the prospect of relaxation, the fabled beauty of the city - but mostly I was keen to sample the cuisine. My guidebook disparagingly pointed out that "since Czech cuisine largely consists of dumplings and cabbage, it's never likely to win any awards". However, as an avid fan of Moya, Oxford's only (to my knowledge) Eastern European restaurant, I was pretty sure that Czech cuisine had slightly more to offer than the ubiquitous dumplings and cabbage. 

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Pancakes fit for a king

...or just for a royal wedding. I promise I'll shut up about the royal wedding soon...but, then again, England shows no sign of shutting up about it, so I don't think I should have to either. Particularly when these sublime pancakes are involved. These are what I made and ate while watching William and Kate walk down the aisle. Indeed, we even had an iPad live streaming the wedding poised on the kitchen worktop so I could make the pancake batter while I watched the happy occasion - nothing, not even a regal marital union, can stand between me and my breakfast.