Tuesday, 20 March 2012

For my mother: the mother of all chocolate cakes

Three layers of dense, dark, cocoa-rich chocolate cake. Interlaced with layers of silky, creamy dark chocolate ganache. The entire thing smothered in more ganache, lovingly applied and smoothed with a palette knife in an attempt to achieve a flawless, mirror-smooth finish. Like a chocolate ice rink. Topped with fresh, glistening strawberries pointing upwards like a delicious crimson mountain range, their peaks slicked with glossy apricot glaze to make them shimmer. Finished with bright green mint leaves for a hint of spring, and a dusting of snowy icing sugar. The concentrated aroma of cocoa, a product of the intense chocolate content, wafting in glorious seductive waves around this magnificent creation.

I made this for my mum, because she is awesome. 

Friday, 16 March 2012

Blackberry & rosemary glazed pigeon with mushroom and chestnut risotto

Look at those pigeon breasts. Don't they look like something you'd pick up in a neat vacuum pack from the butcher? Already filleted and trimmed and arranged so all you have to do is chuck them in a pan? All the hard work done for you?

Would you ever guess that they were the result of some extremely amateurish home butchery, mainly involving the hacking of pigeon flesh from bone using a small paring knife and - towards the end, out of frustration - a pair of kitchen scissors? Note to self: there is very little point in buying whole pigeons and not getting the butcher to take the breasts off for you. There's about as much meat on the rest of a pigeon as there is on my little toe. 

Kitchen carnage aside (there was a definite Lady Macbeth moment once I'd finished), these plump, juicy pigeon breasts - once separated from their owners - were the perfect choice to showcase a very special ingredient I picked up at the Feast East food festival in Cambridgeshire a couple of weeks ago.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Mini Simnel cakes

“I’ll go to thee a Simnel bring, ‘Gainst thou’ go’st a Mothering, So that when she blesseth thee, Half that blessing thou’lt give to me.” ~ Robert Herrick, 1648

Simnel cake is one of those things bearing a gastronomic heritage shrouded in mystery and myth. Its basic make-up, however, is widely accepted: a rich spiced fruit cake, lighter than a Christmas cake, with a vein of marzipan running through the centre and another layer on top, which is toasted (if you're smart/a pyromaniac, you'll use a cook's blowtorch for this...if not, you'll use the grill, and probably end up scorching it to cinders, as I've done on several occasions). It's usually decorated with eleven marzipan balls, said to represent the disciples of Jesus - eleven because, of course, Judas didn't really earn his place on the cake. More fool him. 

Simnel cakes have been around since medieval times. They are associated both with Easter and with Mothering Sunday, where young servant girls would apparently make one to take home to their mothers on their day off. Whether any of this is true, no one seems to know. What is clear is that this has now become as traditional Easter fare as the humble hot cross bun, and I would hate to let a year pass without baking a Simnel cake.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Pairing food with Chablis: a four-course tasting menu

I was recently invited to take part in the Chablis blogger challenge, an initiative designed to get food bloggers who are not wine experts thinking about food and wine pairing; specifically, creating dishes to partner Chablis. As someone who knows very little about wine and even less about pairing it with food, I was intrigued and a little excited by this prospect. I love having something to give my cooking a focus; a particular ingredient to showcase, a certain technique to perfect, or a concept to follow, and this sounded like the perfect opportunity to take up a challenge and get a little bit creative.

Plus, there was wine involved, so why wouldn’t I say yes? As French chef Julia Child apparently once said: “I love cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food”. 

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Bacon, pecan and maple syrup muffins

'Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon' ~ Doug Larson, 1924 Olympic gold medal winner

No, don't worry. This is still me. This blog hasn't been taken over by an impostor. I'm not being held hostage somewhere chillingly remote while food-blog fraudsters take over Nutmegs, seven.

But yeah, I know. You probably think I'm going mad. That I'm not myself. My recipes are normally so healthy, so full of vibrant fruit and vegetables and sexy wholegrains. Only a couple of days ago I posted about my love for virtuous sugar-free dried fruit compote...

...and now I've created something that basically combines all the hallmarks of American gastronomic hedonism in a single muffin.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Spiced dried fruit and blood orange compote

I have a curious fascination with dried fruit. Perhaps that associates me with socks-and-sandals-wearing health freak weirdos, but I don't care; I love the stuff. Not just your run-of-the-mill raisins and maybe dates or apricots, but other more overlooked fruits too. Prunes, often unfairly dismissed as a bit too virtuous, I find utterly squishy and divine, particularly simmered in a lamb tagine. I enjoy the crunch of a dried fig, with its sweet aromatic flavour and nubbly little seeds. Dried cranberries add a perfect sweet-sour zing to everything from porridge to salads. I relish the foamy sweetness of a dried apple ring and its slightly tangy flavour, reminiscent of Granny Smiths. Strips of leathery, golden dried mango are often far more promising than they look, delivering a gorgeous deep, sticky sweetness if you make the effort to sink your teeth in.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say I get a bit of a kick out of finding new and unusual dried fruits. Tragic? Perhaps.