Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Rhubarb and ginger crumble cheesecake

This recipe was featured on ITV's Food Glorious Food in April 2013. I adapted the recipe slightly for the show to make a bigger, taller cake, so have updated this post with the latest version of the recipe (which can also be found in the Food Glorious Food cookbook). I hope you enjoy recreating it in your own kitchen!

Yes, my dear readers. I have gone and taken two of the best desserts in existence, and combined them into one luscious, creamy, buttery, crunchy creation.

I've been wanting to make this dessert since approximately April last year, when I froze the end of the season rhubarb with the express intention of doing just that. You know the stuff - those gorgeous pink stems, such a bright and vibrant fuschia they seem almost unnatural, quite unlike anything that could possibly have sprung up from the dark, dank earth. Sadly those colours don't last - as the season progresses, those stems progressively widen, darken, become stringy and sour. Still delicious, doused in a liberal coating of snowy white sugar, but best quietly hidden beneath a mound of buttery crumble or a blanket of pastry.

I froze the bright pink stuff to use in a dessert that would really allow its colour and natural sweetness to shine. Something pure and white to exaggerate its naturally beautiful qualities. I envisaged swirling it into a simple vanilla cheesecake batter, removing my finished creation from the oven or fridge to reveal a beautiful marriage of pink and cream curled lovingly around each other. Where the idea for the crumble topping came from, I don't know.

Oh wait, I do know. Plain common sense. Why would you NOT put a crumble topping on something?

I literally cannot think of any arguments against it.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012


You know how sometimes, if you want to describe a boring individual with very little personality, you can refer to them as 'vanilla'? Meaning they're a bit bland, a safe bet, perfectly pleasant but nothing to go wild over. Average. 

Suddenly it seems to me that this is a rather inappropriate label. Surely, if we want to describe the mundane, the everyday, the tame, the insipid, we should refer to them as 'onion'.

Let's face it, no one goes wild over onions. Onions are the safe bet. The best friend that you'll always rely on and love in a strictly platonic fashion but who will never set your loins aflame. The boy that all the girls call 'sweet', which - if you're a man I'm sure you know this already - is the kiss of death as far as romantic opportunity is concerned. The trusty shoulder to cry on, dependent and reliable but always hiding back from the limelight. 

Vanilla, by comparison, seems positively exotic and exciting, suggesting secret whispers in the dark, clandestine meetings, breathless laughter, a wave of musky perfume carried on a gentle evening breeze. Vanilla speaks of secrets and seduction, of the faraway and desirable. The poor onion doesn't stand a chance.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Wild rice, toasted pecan and cranberry salad with rare duck breast

Whenever I cook with nuts, I find myself thinking about which is my absolute favourite. I suppose in the same way I often wonder which meat or fish I would choose if I could only eat one for the rest of my life (I still ponder this question in moments of boredom, but I think it'd have to be lamb, for its sheer culinary versatility, and mackerel, again for the same reason). I can never reach a conclusion, though, I think because nuts have such diverse flavours and are suited to such a range of different culinary applications. Hazelnuts, to me, belong firmly in the realm of sweet things - desserts with chocolate or pears or bananas, for example. Then there are almonds, which are usually too bland to use in desserts but taste wonderful toasted and added to fragrant Middle Eastern or Indian dishes. Pistachios have a toasty gorgeousness that I love both with fruit - apricots in particular - but also with some meat dishes. I wouldn't normally cook with brazil nuts, but their grainy creaminess is wonderful in muesli.

Sometimes, though, I think the pecan is 'the one'. Attractively shaped, easily crumbled (unlike almonds or hazelnuts, which are an absolute pain to attempt to chop without a food processor), the pecan possesses a richness that makes it interesting enough to stand up to strong flavours, both sweet and savoury. Pecans are wonderful with chocolate and bananas, for example, but also delicious in savoury dishes, as this amazing recipe proves.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Birthday blueberry and almond scones

On Monday, I turned 23.

Having had my proper celebrations during the preceding weekend, I spent the day doing things I would normally do. I ate porridge for breakfast (with chopped pear, dried cranberries, sultanas and maple syrup). I went for a swim. I bought a huge amount of fruit from the supermarket. I went for a walk. I read a bit of my book and looked at food-related things on the internet. I watched TV. I went to bed not particularly late.

There were, however, some indications that this was not an entirely normal day for me. 

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Quince tarte tatin with brandy butter ice cream

But what I am of opinion the governor should eat now in order to preserve and fortify his health is a hundred or so of wafer cakes and a few thin slices of conserve of quinces, which will settle his stomach and help his digestion ~ Don Quixote

I'm a firm believer of less being more in the dessert world, that the simplest creations often far outshine the intricate, fiddly ones. I'd far rather tuck into a piece of treacle tart, a crumble or a sticky toffee pudding than any kind of fancy French patisserie, smothered in ganache and spun sugar and delicately piped cream. Where many cooks and bloggers see macarons as the ultimate in culinary challenges, the Everest that simply must be scaled, I see them as encapsulating everything I hate about that type of baking: fussy, fiddly, cutesy, overdecorated. I admit that I've never tasted a macaron, but I have no need to - I know that it would never match up to even an average sticky toffee pudding.

The simple marriage of butter, flour, sugar and perhaps a few other choice flavourings - spices, fruit, nuts - is one that will last me a lifetime of enjoyment. No need for anything fancier.

Note, however, that I am not condemning French desserts with the above. In fact, I am about to sing the praises of one: the humble tarte tatin.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Duck, dhal and disappointment: The Hand & Flowers, Marlow

Photo taken from here: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/41982501
In a sentence: I was disappointed by the Hand and Flowers. I had such high expectations, as I suspect many of the diners there do, given its chef patron Tom Kerridge has won Great British Menu's main course twice in a row. My expectations were only compounded by the fact that it has recently won a second Michelin star. I've only eaten in one Michelin-starred restaurant in my life, and that had a single star, so I was - legitimately, I think - expecting the Hand and Flowers to be twice as delicious.

Apparently, that isn't how the scoring system works. How it does work is a total and utter mystery to me.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Beetroot, blood orange and carrot salad with peppered mackerel

The sky was what is called a mackerel sky - rows and rows of faint down-plumes of cloud, just tinted with the midsummer sunset ~ H.G. Wells

Sometimes, I get this wonderful feeling having just finished a meal. It's not just the sensation of being pleasantly full where, twenty minutes ago, I was starving. It's more than that. It's the feeling of nourishment. Feeling not just as though any old thing has come along and filled up the growling gap in my stomach, but something fresh, vibrant, nutritious. I can almost feel the vitamins and minerals seeping into my bloodstream. Although I cook pretty healthy food most of the time, I don't get this feeling as commonly as perhaps I would like. When I do, though, it is a lovely thing. 

When I think back to the number of times I've felt well and truly nourished after a meal, there seems to be a common denominator. Mackerel.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

New Year's Food Resolutions

Happy New Year to all my readers! I hope the year ahead is full of exciting things for you all.

The turning of yet another year generally passes me by without much to mark it. It took me precisely one occasion of legally being able to drink on New Year's Eve to realise that going out via all the official channels - pubs, clubs, restaurants - is not only overrated but overpriced. It took one occasion of spending New Year's Eve on the sofa with my boyfriend to realise that I am a bit of a loser who is perfectly content with such domestic pursuits and in no way inclined to put on uncomfortable shoes and drink more wine than I want to in an attempt to have a good time on the one night of the year where it is apparently mandatory. I haven't bothered with new year's resolutions for years now - all the usual ones (healthy eating, going to the gym regularly, taking up a new hobby) I do anyway out of habit and without thinking about it.

This year, however, the new year seemed an occasion worth marking.