They are based on a Danish sweet treat, havregrynskugler, which essentially means ‘oat balls’. I first tried these at one of my favourite hyggelig cafes in Aarhus, a delightful little place attached to a deli and farm shop. For that reason, I assumed the oaty things they had out on the counter would be some kind of worthy, uber-healthy raw cake or similar, and finding myself in need of a snack with my cup of tea one day, I decided to try one. I was surprised by how utterly delicious it was, with the nutty, slightly sweet taste of oats that took me straight back to making flapjacks and oat biscuits as a child. I remember once trying to eat raw oats out of the jar, assuming that they were what made the flapjacks taste so good, so by that logic they should be delicious on their own. I was wrong. I am not a horse. My oats need to be doused in butter and sugar.Read More
What can you tell about a person from the contents of their kitchen cupboards? When I was filmed for a cookery programme several years ago, the camera crew made me reveal, on film, the contents of my larder to prove that I was not your average student when it came to culinary ingenuity. ‘No pot noodles in my cupboard!’ they wanted me to declare with an impish grin, gesturing instead to the bottles of raspberry-infused balsamic vinegar, bergamot olive oil, buckwheat flour and dried edible rose petals. I refused, unwilling to abandon completely my dignity on national television, but they did have a point. You can infer a lot about a cook from rifling through their cupboards, whether they are of the Ottolenghi school of thought (giveaways: jars of za’atar and sumac, and wooden spoons forever tipped with purple stains from bashing out pomegranate seeds over every meal), the Nigella (fridge full of butter, double cream and bacon, mandatory carbonara-eating negligee draped over a chair), the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (weird offal in the fridge and boxes of home-cured meats lying around in various stages of fermentation), or an ardent follower of the Clean Eating brigade (chia seeds, bee pollen, cacao powder, a frankly alarming and small mortgage-worthy quantity of Medjool dates). Or, of course, an indifferent, fairweather cook (large quantities of pasta in various shapes and sizes, lots of canned sauces, a jar of 'all-purpose seasoning').Read More
‘And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.’ So reads the story of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, the bitter knowledge imparted by the forbidden apple bringing forth shame and humiliation and leading to the expert crafting of loincloths out of a piece of foliage so perfectly suited to cloaking the human genitalia that you’d almost think God had all this planned out. Whether the forbidden fruit of Genesis was, as many have speculated, actually a fig rather than an apple (other contenders are pomegranates and quinces), there’s no denying that fig leaves are associated with a certain frisson of eroticism and desire in western culture. Depictions of Adam and Eve from the medieval period onwards feature modesty-preserving fig leaves, strategically and titillatingly placed, and the Renaissance period witnessed the fabulous ‘fig leaf campaign’, during which lascivious artworks were hurriedly covered with branches from nearby bushes to avoid offending delicate religious sensibilities. And, to use a slightly less highbrow cultural example, there is the successful internet underwear brand, Figleaves.com.
But the fig leaf has had its time in the limelight. I want to talk about blackcurrant leaves.Read More
I learned to make Thai soups on a cooking course in Chiang Mai, and couldn’t quite believe how little effort went into something so vibrant, flavoursome and punchy. The creation of a prawn tom yum took under five minutes, and simply involved throwing some ingredients into a wok of simmering water. The resulting broth was heady, sinus-clearing and fresh, and I resolved to make these simple soups a staple in my kitchen upon my return. Now there is something vaguely ritualistic about their creation, as I chop through galangal, lemongrass and chillies with the small cleaver I bought in a Thai market, picking kaffir lime leaves off the plant in my conservatory and pouring rich, zesty coconut broth into deep bowls lined with a tangle of soft rice noodles.Read More
It physically pains me to put food in the bin. So much so that I often have to recruit a willing helper (read: boyfriend) to do so, on the rare occasion that I cannot rescue whatever is languishing in my fridge or cupboards. I try and engineer my kitchen design around being able to see, clearly, what I have to use up, before it’s too late, but there are occasions when even this doesn’t quite work out. One of the most depressing moments of my life took place several months ago, when I had to throw two free-range chickens in the bin. Whole, oven-ready, uncooked chickens, for whom I had had big plans involving Thai spices and Vietnamese broth. They had been kept at a market stall in a fridge that was too overcrowded, resulting in poor cold air circulation, and had started to turn rancid, emitting a strange aroma of French cheese that warned my primitive survival instinct not to let them anywhere near my kitchen or stomach. Throwing away food is always sad, but it’s even sadder when an animal has died in vain. That said, I get upset even just having to pour the remnants of a bottle of milk down the drain, or throwing a mouldy lemon onto the compost heap – it just seems irresponsible and an insult to beautiful ingredients and the hard work of farmers and producers.Read More
Once, when I was studying at Oxford, I found myself staring blankly at the ready meal aisle of M&S for over an hour. I’d come down with some horrible bug and was feeling exhausted and sorry for myself. Convinced I had no energy to cook, I thought that once, just this once, I would ‘treat myself’ to a nice ready meal. Except it turned out to be not such a treat after all. They all looked so soulless and tragic in their sterile little boxes, the portions stingy, the ingredients congealed, with the kind of matt, pallid hue that only a flimsy black microwaveable box can bestow. They all had unnecessarily unpronounceable ingredients in them. They were all far too expensive to justify their meagre contents. Paralysed with indecision, probably exacerbated by my increasingly ill and fuzzy mental state, I stood there for over an hour, wandering the aisles, trying to find something I fancied, trying to justify spending five pounds on a tiny tub of ravioli that I was convinced would only leave me hungrier, trying to urge myself to just get over it and stop being so precious about what I was going to have for dinner (I have urged myself to do this on a daily basis for nearly a decade now, incidentally - it never works).Read More
1. One pumpkin, so many meals. My boyfriend has started to despair of my ongoing pumpkin obsession. I currently have at least five in a basket in my kitchen at any one time, and buy a gorgeous slate blue Crown Prince every time I go to the market. This is no mean feat, as they weigh about three kilos. But it’s worth it for the luscious bright marigold flesh, with the texture of delicate fudge and a deep autumnal flavour. I’ve discovered that a single one of these pumpkins can be transformed into about eight different meals, which is pretty budget-friendly considering they cost £1.20 at my local market. I also grew my own pumpkin this year (top left) - a proud moment. Here are just some of the recipes I’ve enjoyed with pumpkin over the last two months – catch them while they’re still in the markets and have a go yourself.Read More
Sometimes, you read a menu description that sends you into paroxysms of longing and desire, and has you practically gaping at the waitress as you urge her, wide-eyed, to come over and take your order instantly so that the kitchen can quicken the transition of your food from plate to mouth. These moments should be cherished, as they help to prevent that cursed state, the bane of many a food-lover’s life: menu indecision. It’s rare that I hand my menu over to the waitress feeling wholly confident that I’ve made the right choice; anything that can facilitate this state of total wellbeing is truly a blessing.Read More
Thick, fluffy, stacked American pancakes are all very well and good, as are delicate, lacy, paper-thin French crepes, but sometimes you want something in between. I’m sure a Frenchman would be horrified at the thick, flat pancakes I’m showcasing here – there’s nothing remotely delicate or refined about them – but I love the texture of a thicker, squidgier crepe-style pancake, perfect for folding around a delicious filling. They’re more satisfying, and easier to make, than a true crepe, and stand up to an assertive application of syrup, honey, compote, or whatever you choose to throw at them. I first tried pancakes like these in south-east Asia, and this recipe is an homage to the many glorious breakfasts I ate in Bali, Vietnam and Thailand.Read More
There are lots of food-related topics that I just love to get on my high horse about. Even as I write this, I feel a thrill of mingled anticipation and indignation at the prospect of listing some of them. Here goes. Packs of pre-sliced onions and carrots. That hotdog stuffed-crust pizza. People who cook rice by boiling it like pasta. People who refuse to eat fish with heads on, or shudder at the thought of cooking 'cute' little rabbits yet happily tuck into battery chicken or pork. Cereal bars that pretend to be healthy but in fact are actually cardboard dipped in sugar. Turkey ham. Kale smoothies. Use of the word 'detox'. The utter ludicrousness of a pre-packaged soft-boiled egg.Read More
There are many benefits to cooking with coconut oil. It’s full of good fats, nutritious, it can replace dairy in many recipes, it has a pleasant slightly sweet coconut flavour…but, if I’m perfectly honest with you, one of the main reasons I love this new trendy ingredient is because you can melt it in the microwave without it exploding everywhere, as butter has a tendency to do. Who hasn’t felt their heart sink as that sickening ‘pop’ breaks the monotony of the whirring, grinding microwave, knowing the next few minutes will be spent painstakingly wiping a greasy yellow film off the hot plastic, the air heavy with the slightly sickly scent of warm animal fat? Who hasn’t opted for the microwave to melt their butter, out of laziness and not wishing to wash up a pan, only to end up spending those valuable saved minutes scraping away smears of grease? (You can, of course, avoid this problem by covering your bowl or jug with cling film while microwaving, but for some reason I take the chance every time…I think I just like to live on the edge).Read More
1. Apricots. Although you can buy these almost year-round in the supermarket, the fruits that start to emerge on the shelves in late May have something special about them. They're plumper, softer, promising jammy ripeness and mild sweetness, and they seem to glow more brightly orange than the pale, bullet-hard, woolly varieties that grace the shops in winter. I think there are few things more beautiful than a downy, ripe apricot, its honeyed skin blushed and dappled with sienna, glowing like a beacon in the hand. In summer, I like to pile them into a pale blue or white bowl and marvel at their beauty on the worktop. Briefly, anyway, before I get to work turning them into luscious desserts like this apricot and almond custard tart. For the next few months I reckon I'll eat at least a punnet of these beautiful fruits every week, either in desserts or baked with honey and cardamom into a luscious marigold compote to spoon over hot porridge and scatter with blackberries or blueberries.Read More
If it wasn’t the kilo of Parmesan cheese, it was probably the plastic bag full of dates, welded into a rugged block with crystalline syrup, from a market in Aleppo. Or perhaps it was the log of palm sugar wrapped in dried banana leaves, which I’d cradled while still warm after watching it made before my eyes in a Javanese village. Maybe the Balinese coconut syrup, darker than maple, its bottle festooned with palm trees and bearing a curious resemblance to tanning oil. If not that, it was surely the bundle of white asparagus, albino stalks tied together like a quiver of arrows, brought home from a market in the tiny town of Chablis.Read More
A couple of months ago, my boyfriend and I visited Oxford. It’s only the second time I’ve been back since finishing my Masters in 2011. The entire weekend was a glorious succession of sunshine, revisiting old haunts, catching up with friends, aching nostalgia, beautiful scenery and incredible food. While I diligently tried to return to as many of my favourite restaurants as possible, I also decided to try somewhere new. I’d read rave reviews on the internet of a place simply termed ‘Oli’s Thai’, and so we found ourselves tucked into this tiny restaurant on a sunny Saturday afternoon experiencing some of the best south east Asian food I’ve ever eaten…including that in south east Asia itself.Read More
Before I even go into the wild and wonderful merits of this beautiful dish, let’s just revel for a second in the fact that it’s called ‘amok’. Apparently this is simply a Cambodian term for cooking a curry in banana leaves, but I don’t think we use the word ‘amok’ enough in English and so let’s take a moment and think about how we can incorporate it more into our lives.
Good. Now you’ve done that, let me tell you about the beautiful amok.Read More
Mango and coconut is such an evocative combination. For me personally, it conjures up two delicious holiday memories. The first: setting foot outside a hotel in Saigon for my very first experience of Vietnam, walking fifty yards down a street pervaded by the kind of chaos you only get in south east Asian capitals to find a little stall down a side alley serving up the most magnificent smoothies. Forget smoothie, actually – this was a meal in a cup: ambrosial marigold mango pureed with glorious ice, thick coconut cream and scattered with the glistening pulp of a passion fruit. With my hair and clothes already sticking to my damp, humid skin, this was like nectar.Read More
While I usually deplore the ‘food as fuel’ mentality, the mindless consumption of edible goods simply as an aid to increased productivity regardless of their nature, I have to say that I do sometimes treat the poor banana with such an attitude. Wolfed down between coming home from work and heading to the gym, practically inhaled as a pre-swim morning snack or gulped greedily every time I feel that familiar blood sugar slump, I rarely pay much attention to this humble fruit, carelessly exploiting it for its filling, sugar-rich, workout-boosting nature and ease of eating.Read More
I’ve had a box of cereal bars in my cupboard for over six months. It was a box of six when I bought it; six months on, five remain. The other day I looked at the sell-by date and had to throw them out, as they’d expired two months ago. Why had I purchased a box of cereal bars and only eaten one? The answer lies not, as you may think, in simple forgetfulness, or a discovered dislike for the variety I had purchased.Read More
The moments you remember most fondly from travelling are often not quite those you’d expect to recall or to take such a place in your heart. I have many wonderful memories from my recent trip to south east Asia: spotting an orang utan in the wild in the heart of the Borneo jungle; immersing myself in the sights, sounds and scents of one of Penang’s biggest hawker markets; snorkelling in turquoise waters off the coast of Sabah; walking through lush rice terraces in Java surrounded by papaya trees. And yet one of the moments I remember best, and that fills me most with a tranquil sense of happiness, is one that is comparatively trivial.Read More
I've recently discovered the joy that is the blondie. Before that, my 'special occasion' baking repertoire was firmly dominated by the brownie. Birthdays, Christmases, thank yous, thinking of yous, I love yous, et cetera - there are few occasions that don't benefit from a small foil-wrapped bundle of brownies, slightly still warm and gooey from the oven. Since I made these salted caramel and cacao nib brownies a few months ago, they've been my go-to recipe for any occasion that demands ridiculously indulgent sugar-butter-chocolate goodness.
Brownies seem to be the kind of thing people don't really make at home, perhaps eating them only in restaurants. This is due at least in part, I suspect, to the fact that once you've seen just how much butter and sugar go into them, you can't bear to eat the homemade variety - at least in a restaurant you can remain in blissful denial. Regardless, they've always gone down a treat, and I can never resist nibbling the bits left in the tin when I've made a batch for someone else.
However, a couple of months ago I stumbled across a raspberry and white chocolate blondie recipe online. I forget why I had a need to make blondies, but I think they were for a friend. I had immense fun browning a pan of butter, stirring in shards of glossy white chocolate, folding in brown sugar, eggs and raspberries, and baking the lot to golden perfection. They were ridiculously delicious, the kind of delicious that only comes from pairing toasty brown butter with caramel-sweet white chocolate and lifting the lot with the tang of juicy raspberries. (You can find my tweaked recipe - I added pistachios - here).
Blondies have a different type of allure to brownies. Where brownies are dark, decadent and mysterious, rich and indulgent-looking, often almost bittersweet with dark cocoa, blondies are the other end of the spectrum. They have none of that mystique, instead appearing more homely and cakey. They are often more cake-like in texture, too, with less of that smooth truffley mouthfeel you get from a good gooey brownie. Importantly, they have gorgeous notes of butter and caramel from the inclusion of white chocolate; the butter flavour of an ordinary brownie tends to get hidden by chocolate, which dominates and overwhelms (often in a good way, of course).
I've never really cooked with white chocolate until I jumped on the blondie bandwagon. I don't really eat it, finding it a bit overly sweet and a tad greasy. But cooked and melted, something magic happens to white chocolate. It has the most irresistible moreish sweetness, possessing a delightful gooey, slightly grainy texture, with notes of butterscotch and caramel. I love its texture and flavour, especially combined with brown butter.
A lot of people who tried this recipe looked nonplussed when I listed one of its key components as brown butter. Brown butter is basically what happens when you heat butter so that the milk solids separate out from the fat and brown (almost burn), resulting in the most incredible toasty, biscuity aroma. You end up with a dark golden liquid, flecked with deliciously aromatic toasted nuggets.
Once you start browning butter for recipes, it's quite hard to stop - why would you not go that extra mile and add delicious digestive-biscuit-esque flavour to your baked goods?
Inspired by recent blondie baking adventures, and by this recent recipe on one of my favourite baking blogs, I decided to have a go at making a sort of cross between banana bread and blondies. Banana bread because most of the moisture is provided by mashed ripe bananas and a little milk, rather than loads of butter; blondies because the resulting baked good is studded with gooey chunks of sweet white chocolate and enriched with a little browned butter. I used muscovado sugar for its delicious butterscotch flavour, and decided to sprinkle some flaked coconut on top, because why not? They are enriched with a little vanilla, and I used spelt flour for a lovely nutty flavour to accompany the coconut.
White chocolate, brown butter, caramel-scented sugar, sweet bananas, and nutty coconut. You can see why this made sense in my head. They were always going to be good.
If you're a fan of banana bread, you'll love these. Banana bread but in handy sliceable squares, they have a fabulous combination of decadent flavours and textures. A subtle biscuity note from the brown butter; the sweet perfume of ripe bananas; a hint of vanilla; the caramel notes of brown sugars; gooey chunks of sweet white chocolate; and finally, the irresistible crunch and flavour of toasted coconut. They're not quite as rich and gooey as sickly sweet blondies, which I think is definitely a good thing.
They're everything a baked good should be, just a little bit more special.
Banana blondies with white chocolate and toasted coconut (makes 16):
- 60g unsalted butter
- 75g light muscovado sugar
- 50g dark muscovado sugar
- 1 large egg
- 2 ripe bananas
- 2 tbsp whole milk
- 1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
- A generous pinch of salt
- 150g spelt flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 100g white chocolate chips/chopped white chocolate
- A small handful of flaked coconut
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line an 8-inch square cake tin.
In a wide saucepan, heat the butter over a medium heat until the white solids separate from the yellow liquid. Keep it on the heat, swirling it round the pan occasionally, until brown flecks start to form in the butter and it smells biscuity (for an excellent tutorial on browning butter, see here). Set aside to cool.
Using an electric whisk, beat the sugars with the egg until pale and creamy. In a separate bowl, mash the bananas with the milk, vanilla and salt. Mix these into the eggs and sugar along with the browned butter. Sift in the flour and baking powder, and mix gently to incorporate. Finally, fold in the white chocolate.
Pour into the prepared tin, then scatter over the coconut. Bake for 25 minutes, until firm and golden (lower the heat slightly if the coconut starts to burn). Leave to cool, then enjoy.