Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Spiced pumpkin and pecan cheesecake

Is it possible to have a craving for something you've never eaten before?

I suppose it is, if you think about bizarre pregnancy cravings. Soap, coal, chalk, cigarette butts and laundry detergent are, apparently, not uncommon cravings for women with child. They're not items you're likely to have tasted before in life. I didn't eat pasta until I was around fourteen years old (shocking, I know). The first time I did, it was because I suddenly had an overwhelming urge to make myself a bowl of pasta (with oodles of grated cheese and a bit of crispy bacon, in fact). I can't really explain this; I just knew I'd like it.

So it is really quite plausible that over the last few weeks I've had a huge craving for pumpkin pie.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

For the love of figs

It's no secret that I love figs. You'd only have to take a closer look at my blog avatar, Twitter picture or Facebook profile photo to notice that in said picture I am fondly caressing a pair of plump, ripe figs in the palm of my hand, while sporting an ever-so-slightly coquettish expression that suggests my reverence for these luscious fruits is a little more than strictly platonic. This autumn I have made it my mission to buy figs in abundance while they're cheap and try out all those recipes I've ogled throughout the past few months when there was a sad dearth of figs in the shops. My local market sells trays of figs that are past their best, too bruised or overripe to grace with the '60p each' price tag, for 10p each. It often requires a bit of a rummage to find the decent few that aren't leaking mouldy syrup everywhere, but there are usually some more than acceptable specimens to be had, and they're ideal for cakes and savoury dishes where the figs are cooked lightly before serving. 

This makes figs a bit of a bargain, really - I've certainly feasted on far more fig dishes this year than ever before. I've been hoarding the fruits, ensuring I have a constant supply in a bowl in the fridge, constantly topping up said bowl when supplies are running low. I'd like to share a few of my favourite fig recipes with you, should you need more inspiration for this excellent fruit while it's still around.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Playing at Masterchef: the Mexican challenge with Discovery and Benito's Hat

(...or, "how I won this apple green beauty")

I know nothing about Mexican food. My experiences of said cuisine have been largely limited to homemade attempts at fajitas (read: cook chicken. Cook peppers. Roll in tortilla wrap. Add sour cream and salsa from a jar), and a trip to Wahaca in Covent Garden (delicious - must go again sometime). It is, perhaps, the cuisine I am least familiar with and cook least often. For no particular reason, I suppose - mainly lack of knowledge and experience. I used to enjoy burritos from The Mission in Oxford when I was there as a student...at least, I enjoyed the first few mouthfuls, after which I would start to feel mildly sick, but obliged to continue until the bitter end as said meaty wrap had cost me over a fiver.

So when I was invited to take 'the Mexican challenge', in association with Discovery (whose brand name is synonymous with make-your-own fajita kits) and Benito's Hat (Mexican restaurant with three branches in London), I was more than a little apprehensive. I had visions of said challenge perhaps involving an all-you-can-eat-tacos contest, a guacamole mud fight, or some kind of re-enactment of an Aztec sacrifice. Fortunately, it involved none of the above (although all of the above could certainly have happened on the actual night I'm sure, had enough margaritas been involved).

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Mango and avocado salsa - my entry for the Ryvita Challenge

Do you like the look of this mango and avocado salsa? It's a creamy, guacamole-style avocado dip with chilli and lots of fresh herbs (basil, mint and coriander), beautiful sweet chunks of ripe, juicy mango, and lashings of zesty lime goodness.

If you do like it, please click HERE to vote for me in the Ryvita Challenge (the challenge being to create a winning dip to accompany new Ryvita Thins). It'll only take a second (you just have to click an option on a poll) and your help would mean a lot to me.

Thank you!

(Should you want the recipe too, read on.)

Monday, 21 November 2011

Nutmegs, seven on Facebook

For those of you who are never very good at following blogs and always forget to check back for posts (I know, because I'm one of them), you can now follow Nutmegs, seven on Facebook - it has its very own page, here. At the moment it's a bit lonely so come and have a look!

I've also started writing pieces for student cooking website Beyond Baked Beans, brainchild of the brilliant food and wine writer Fiona Beckett. I'm very proud to feature on their list of contributors - the website is an excellent resource for students wishing to defy the stereotypes about university cooking. You can read my first article, on how to sneak my favourite ingredient (fruit) into all your meals, here; my second, an ode to the humble bowl of porridge and how to dress it up, is here.

In a similar vein, I've also been published in online food magazine The Foodie Bugle this month. I'd suggest you all go and have a look at this wonderful site - the photography is beautiful and the articles really interesting.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Homemade quince jelly

Things in jars give me a deep and profound sense of satisfaction.

Well, OK, not entirely. I should probably qualify that statement. Things I have made that I am able to put in jars give me a deep and profound sense of satisfaction. Such things include jam, jelly, chutney, preserved lemons, and bottled fruits.

What is it about the simple act of putting something homemade in a jar that is so enjoyable? I think it's perhaps that we tend to associate jars with things we've bought in a shop, rather than made at home. When we make something ourselves, put it in a jar and label it, it's almost as if we feel we're packaging up a product that's good enough to be on a shop shelf (though, of course, the irony is that homemade produce is often far better than anything you'd find on a shop shelf).

Friday, 11 November 2011

Sticky Asian-spiced pig cheeks

Chillies are not something I look kindly on.

Nor would you, if you had spent an excrutiatingly painful night tossing and turning in your bed, clutching a fridge-cold beer bottle, much to the apprehension of your mother, in an attempt to stem the burning pain in your left hand, reminiscent of the kind of sensation you might experience were you forced to hold on to the scalding tail of SATAN for five hours.

My bad experience with chillies occurred as a result of a batch of tomato and chilli jam. Five normal chillies went into the pot; five chillies that I had to painstakingly deseed and finely chop. Five chillies that somehow leeched their filthy fiery chemicals into my pores and left my fingers practically cremated. Five chillies that were your average supermarket type, not even a Scotch Bonnet or a Birds Eye. At least then I might have expected such an incident. 

I'm just glad I hadn't done the taste test to check how hot my chillies were before I cooked with them. I rather like my tongue, it's useful, and it would have been a shame for it to have been singed off.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Flash Cooking by Laura Santtini

Flash Cooking, the new cookbook by Laura Santtini (published by Quadrille) will rescue you from a recipe book rut, should you be stuck in one.

Its tagline, "Fit fast flavours for busy people" promises ingredients and recipes that are zesty, fresh, healthy, lively and quick, and its contents don't disappoint. Designed not so much as a recipe book but as a guide to a healthful way of life based around food, Flash Cooking shows you how to get the most out of basic ingredients and not-so-basic flavourings. Adopting a novel approach to cooking, using rubs, pastes and 'flavour bombs', Santtini offers "a passport to the flavours of all the continents, so you can confidently cross borders and create your own world of deliciousness". She is in a good position to help provide this passport: she won an award for her first recipe book (Easy Tasty Italian) in 2010, and has successfully marketed her intense flavour combinations as a range of food products ('Laura Santtini's Spellbinding Flavours').

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Homemade sloe gin

"All around it looked so cold and raw: the long willow-leaves were quite yellow, and the fog dripped from them like water; one leaf fell after the other: the sloes only stood full of fruit, which set one's teeth on edge." ~ Hans Christian Andersen

If this country were a kitchen, its larder would be Yorkshire. I never fail to be amazed by all the wonderful produce around me whenever I go and stay in our house up north. There are the two excellent butchers three minutes away from our house, whose steak and ale pies, sausages and sirloin steaks are to die for, and whose meat all comes from farms barely a stone's throw away. There's another butcher a five minute drive from the house, where I picked up six partridge and a mallard for under £15 last week (more on the partridge at a later date...). There's the quaint little deli where I've found treasures like shocking pink Yorkshire rhubarb in late winter, or beautiful glossy damsons at the close of summer, and which can always be relied upon to sell oddities that you'd normally never find in a local country shop: tahini paste, quinoa, pomegranates, fresh fennel. However, it's not just the produce that I have to pay for that I love, but everything that's available for free, too. 

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Five things I love this week #3

There's a definite autumnal feel to my 'five things' this week; that much is evident from the muted beige tones of these photos. After a wonderfully warm October, I think I'm finally ready to embrace the onset of autumn, and all the delicious produce it brings with it. 

1. Wild mushroom and truffle risotto. I've been craving risotto ever since I had a beautiful starter at the Yorke Arms last week: truffled partridge boudin with ceps and carnaroli rice. The rice was a gorgeous risotto-like concoction, heady with the musky fragrance of truffle, the rice still with a little bite to it, creamy and savoury and incredibly delicious. I couldn't ignore my truffle/risotto cravings any longer, and succumbed with this lovely recipe. 

It's a standard risotto to which I added chopped chestnut mushrooms when frying the onion and garlic; I also used soaked porcini mushrooms and added their soaking water to the chicken stock used to plump up the rice. The risotto is finished off with some pan-fried girolle and shiitake mushrooms (shockingly expensive, but a nice little luxury, and so much more interesting to eat and look at than standard mushrooms), a drizzle of truffle oil, lots of lemon thyme leaves and a hefty grating of parmesan. Savoury, umami-rich wonderfulness.