Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Rosemary honey cupcakes

I'm a bit late for National Cupcake Week, which was 12-18 September, but I think I have a fairly valid excuse. You see, dear readers, when you may have been in the kitchen whipping up delightful sugary treats, I was twenty metres below sea level.

I spent that week in Gibraltar, learning how to scuba dive. It was without doubt the most terrifying experience of my life. In second place would be learning to ski for the first time, but at least when skiing there's no risk of running out of air. Or sharks. Or jellyfish. Or the bends. I suppose you could argue that diving is safer than skiing, with no risk of sudden death by broken neck or back, but it didn't feel that way when I was twenty metres below the ocean surface, freezing my face off in a wetsuit that didn't fit properly, twelve kilos of lead strapped around my waist and almost certainly causing irreparable damage to my ovaries, being asked by my instructor to remove the oxygen-giving device from my mouth or take off my mask underwater and put it back on again. They like to call this "safety drills". I like to call it "torture".

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Altamura bread, fresh figs, ricotta and smoked prosciutto

"For water is sold here, though the worst in the world; but their bread is exceeding fine, inasmuch as the weary traveller is used to carry it willingly on his shoulders" ~ Horace

It's dark outside while I'm cooking dinner. I've bought a sexy new pair of black suede ankle boots with a fur trim. My electric blanket is, without fail, switched on every night at 10pm. There are cooking apples, plump and red-tinged, burdening the branches of the apple tree that overhangs our garden. There are even more of them lying, half-rotten, on the lawn, reminding me to get off my backside and do something about drying them into foamy rings, or turning them into jam or crumble. The blackberries have been and gone, leaving crinkled little green stumps where once there were glossy, dark, edible treasures. I feel the need for my favourite pair of thick, lilac knitted socks when I'm just lounging around the house. A new series of Spooks is underway. I've started thinking about my Christmas list and - more excitingly - soaking the fruit to make the Christmas cake a couple of months in advance. My cotton dresses and harem pants have been relegated to the 'summer clothes' bag in the loft, to be replaced with Ugg boots, knitwear and leggings. I have to put my dressing gown on every morning just to survive the journey from bed to bathroom. 

I feel I may soon have to accept that autumn is well and truly underway.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Sweet and sour dhal with grilled aubergine

There are a few things this dish is not. 

a) Pretty
b) Meaty
c) Photogenic

There are a few things this dish is.

a) Delicious
b) Surprising
c) Moreish

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Keep Calm and Cook On

"I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around." ~ James Beard

Ah, the good old 'Keep Calm and Carry On' poster. So very classic, so much scope for amusing and facetious variations. A friend of mine has a poster in her room instructing her to "Keep Calm and Drink More Tea". My brother has something, I forget what, bearing the slogan "Now Panic and Freak Out". When I was about halfway through revising for my Finals, and every day was a struggle to avoid either throwing myself under a passing vehicle or bursting into tears in front of strangers, I had the bright idea of making the 'Keep Calm and Carry On' poster (the original red one) my iPhone wallpaper. As simple as it sounds, it really did have a positive effect on my morale. Every time I checked my phone - which, as you can imagine, happens fairly often on an average day, particularly if I've forgotten to put on my watch - I saw those bold white letters and that dramatic red background, and I reminded myself that life probably could be much worse. After all, there are worse places to be taking your Finals than Oxford, and there are worse crises in life than "Oh my goodness I might not get a First". Unsurprisingly, no one really wanted to hear about my first world problems, so I took my phone's advice. I kept calm and carried on. With the aid of chocolate, tea, and a religious schedule of post-lunch power naps.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Courgette, chocolate and cardamom brownies

I'm generally quite good at suppressing the need for a chocolate biscuit to go with my cup of tea. To me, a cup of tea is a highly important entity in itself, not merely the support act for the headlining baked good. It's why I'm always slightly wary of accepting a proffered cup of tea - unless I know I'll be able to drink it slowly, in a civilised fashion, sipping it daintily at first so as not to scorch my tongue, then proceeding to take larger, though still restrained and relaxed, gulps, all the while able to put my mug down and take a nice deep breath in between mouthfuls, I won't accept. It's why I would never have a cup of tea when sailing on HMS Tracker during my time in the Oxford University Royal Naval Unit. 

OK, so the fact that we had to drink inferior tea with milk that had previously been in the freezer, out of questionably clean mugs with a piece of clingfilm over the top to stop the tea spilling everywhere at sea didn't really whet my appetite for a brew, but the main reason was that I knew I wouldn't be able to give it the attention it deserved. 

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Oxford Foodies Festival with Rémy Martin

Aside from the opportunity to hone my writing skills, rant about things that are important or repellent to me, invent new and exciting ways of using ingredients, and challenge myself to come up with new synonyms for "OMGYUMZZZ", one of my favourite things about being a food blogger is that it gives me the chance to try things that I'd never normally consider.

A couple of weeks ago I was very kindly invited by Rémy Martin, producer of fine champagne cognacs, to attend the Oxford Foodies Festival and enjoy a complimentary Coeur de Cognac at their Signature Lounge. Having never to my knowledge imbibed cognac before, I was more than a little intrigued, and pleased by the added bonus that I'd have an excuse to return to my beloved Oxford. Yes, dear readers, I am no longer at Oxford University, surrounded by dreaming spires and glorious revelry, talented minds and meaningful conversation, historic sandstone and ornate libraries. Instead, I have had to make the miserable journey home to...er...Cambridge.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Two redcurrant cakes

I've always been a bit of a magpie. When I was quite little I used to hoard sweets. Nothing unusual there, you might think - all children like to have lots of sweets. Except I didn't actually eat said sweets. Instead, I kept them in a special box that was like a mini chest of drawers; each type of sweet had its own drawer (jellies, caramels, hard suckable sweets, soft-centred sweets...) and I would consider it a great personal achievement if I managed to possess multiple colours of the same type of sweet. 

I could never understand why my childminder was so unreasonable about letting me to go the corner shop to get sweets, why she usually said no. It is only now that I realise I never actually told her that I didn't want to eat the sweets (I didn't even like them), just to add them to my collection. Not that she'd have believed me anyway, I'm sure, but I remember being struck by the unfairness of it all - where was the harm in going to get more sweets for the sweet box?! I suppose I owe my undecayed teeth and lack of fillings to her strictness, so I guess that's something.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Swiss chard, feta and filo pie

Continuing the Moroccan theme from my last post, but this time on a savoury note. I'm rather conscious of the fact that many of the recipes I've posted recently have been sweet ones. If I were trying to write a baking blog, that would be fine, but I'm not.

Sometimes I wonder if I'd get more hits if I styled Nutmegs, seven as a baking blog. Correct me if I'm wrong, but a large majority of the most popular blogs out there do seem to be baking blogs. I can see why - the fact is that photos of cupcakes, pies, tarts and artfully styled, seven-tier, buttercream-smothered layer cakes with sugar flowers are just much more visually appealing than a picture of, say, a roast chicken or a muddy-coloured stew. Your latest beef casserole recipe may taste heavenly, but a photo of a brown mass clinging to some rice on a plate isn't going to create the same wow factor as a trio of neat pastel cupcakes, crowned with a plump raspberry, sticky pink icing dribbling artfully down the sides, glistening enticingly for the camera like a page three model.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Orange flower, pistachio and almond polenta cake

The keen cook will always have a "must-try" list of ingredients that they keep tucked away in their head somewhere. This list is likely to be subdivided into "easily accessible ingredients that I see all the time but just haven't got round to experimenting with yet" and, the more interesting list, "ingredients that I read about every now and then but can't for the life of me find in any of the grocery stores or supermarkets I've ever visited". The latter list pretty much reads like your average Yotam Ottolenghi recipe: kashkaval cheese, okra, shiso leaf, dried barberries, fennel pollen, pandan leaf. It's apparently become the done thing, now, to read his recipes on the Guardian website every Saturday and leave bitchy comments along the lines of "oh good, a recipe with twenty ingredients, none of which I can source in my local corner shop". The Guardian has neatly organised Yotam's recipes into a handy list from which you can judge their exoticism and complexity in an instant - not from the title, but from the amount of comments posted below each recipe. My favourite one was a comment on one of Ottlenghi's recent recipes for a soup with halloumi croutons: 

"I find articles like this hugely irritating and presumptuos [sic]. Admiitedly [sic] I may,in my irritation have missed an explanation . If so I apologise but as a first point what on earth is halloumi? I know I could look it up but why should I? A recipe should explain things and it is presumptious [sic] to assume that we are all conversant with the ingredients of all cuisines."

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Bottled apricots; Kelly's of Cornwall blackcurrant ice cream

It would seem that summer came and went without me noticing. Actually, I did notice when it reared its lovely head some time around the beginning of April, and allowed me to swan around in a maxi dress for a couple of days, eating ice cream and desperately trying to tan my legs in preparation for all those days of short-wearing that were no doubt soon to come, dreaming of summer pudding and barbecues. Then followed a period of cold, grey drizzle that had me considering getting my Ugg boots out of the attic, but I held on, sure that we'd be in for a brief spell of delightful weather at some point between April and September.

It never came. I waited and waited, churning out pies instead of summer puddings, beefy stews instead of barbecues, gloomily thumbing through food magazines with glossy seven-page features on "no-cook recipes, for when it's just too hot to turn on the oven". This ridiculous fallacy always makes me laugh. I'm pretty sure there has never been a moment in British history when it has been "too hot to turn on the oven" - why do food writers always fail to recognise this?