A week or so ago, I was standing in our office kitchen at breakfast time waiting for the toaster to beep. This story requires you to be familiar with the concept of a Danish toaster, so we’ll get that vital detail out of the way first. The Danes, being the edgy, thinking-outside-the-box, design-conscious folk that they are, have quite literally turned the concept of the toaster on its head. They have horizontalised the toaster. Where us plebs in England drop our flaccid sliced Hovis into a fiery, gaping maw, where it sits clamped between metallic jaws and undergoes a thrilling gamble of a transformation that could either result in charcoal or warm dough, but never the sweet Goldilocks stage in between, and which requires you to either interrupt the whole process to check on its progress or to stick your face into the mouth of the beast and risk singed nasal hair, and which is really only appropriate for bread the precise thickness of a pre-sliced loaf or, at the very most, a crumpet – heaven forbid you should try and insert your wedge of artisanal sourdough or pain au chocolat into its tantalizingly precise orifice – the Danes have realized the many potential perils of this situation. (Not least, the possibility of dropping your house keys into the slot and causing a minor explosion, as my mother once managed to do in a feat of ineptitude that still astounds and perplexes me).Read More
There are some things that, in my mind, have zero place in tea. Just like some people have an entirely irrational aversion to raisins in muesli, or olives in salad, I absolutely refuse to entertain certain rogue ingredients in my morning (/afternoon/evening) brew. Liquorice is the main culprit here: I can detect its sickly-sweet aroma simply from the vapour of the tea before it even touches my lips. Not that I’d let it, because then there’s a disgusting syrupy aftertaste that ruins the entire point of a cup of tea, which is to be bracing and relaxing all at the same time. It’s not candy, or medicine.Read More
Apologies for the large gap between blog posts recently. I’m hoping things will settle down to greater regularity in the near future. In the meantime, though, as very meagre compensation, here is something that is not a real recipe but more of a suggestion for how to eat the season’s figs for breakfast. This bowlful looks lusciously like something you might be served at a fancy restaurant for brunch, and I did actually have one of those moments when I sat down with it for breakfast the other day and thought ‘instagram this and everyone will ridicule you’. But in the spirit of not giving a damn, here’s how: put some thick Greek yoghurt (not low fat) in a sieve lined with muslin or a clean J-cloth, and suspend it over a bowl in the fridge overnight to drain. You’ll be left with labneh, a thick cream cheese. Spoon some of this into a bowl. Quarter some figs and roast them for 15-20 minutes in the oven with a drizzle of honey. Spoon the figs and their juices onto the labneh. Sprinkle with a few lemon thyme, lemon verbena or basil leaves (or any of your favourite herbs, really), a drizzle of pomegranate molasses or date syrup (or a little more honey) and a handful of toasted pistachio nuts, walnuts or almonds. Eat with warm flatbread or pitta. It’s a touch of Middle Eastern sunshine to brighten up the darkening days of autumn.Read More
Not content with the simple pleasure offered by a biscuit and a cup of tea, I have been experimenting with a very British method of gilding the lily: baking tea into the biscuit itself. It’s hardly an unprecedented move: just think of the humble Rich Tea biscuit, beloved by millions for its milky blandness and its perfectly calibrated texture, designed for dunking into a soul-soothing cuppa in the middle of the afternoon. I’m not sure if there is actually any tea to be found in the Rich Tea, but I’ve also come across excellent versions of Earl Grey shortbread, where crumbly butteriness blends perfectly with the refreshing snap of bergamot. Shortbread is the ideal foil for assertive tea flavours; comforting, rich, dangerously moreish, it can take a heavy-handed scattering of tea leaves through the mix.Read More
I have made many a crumble in my life. I would count myself as something of a crumble connoisseur. I cut my teeth on the classics – apple, rhubarb – before graduating into a wild, wonderful world of pineapple, coconut and black pepper, or pear, chocolate and raspberry, or fig, blood orange and hazelnut, even venturing occasionally into savoury variations (tomato, rosemary and cheddar; butternut squash, sage and blue cheese). There is very little that I will not try to crumble, and there is very little that isn’t improved by being smothered in a blanket of butter, sugar and flour, rubbed together into an irresistible nubbly sweetness.Read More
I debated long and hard over what to call these. When I put a picture of them up on instagram the other day, my finger hovered over the keyboard as I found myself weighing up the merits of ‘cinnamon rolls’ versus ‘cinnamon buns’. Were I actually Danish, rather than simply pretending by living in Denmark, being relatively tall, cycling everywhere and knowing how to say ‘I’m dog-hungry, give me a big pastry now’ in Danish, I would simply call them kanelsnegler (cinnamon snails) and be done with it, but I’m not so there was pause for thought. (And even this appears to be hotly contested in Denmark, because alongside the kanelsnegl there also exist the kanelsnurre and even the kanelting, literally ‘cinnamon thing’, which definitely suggests someone somewhere is sick of the entire debate).Read More
I never thought I’d be one of those expats who pines for tastes of home and can be found looking shifty around the security gates at airports, nervously anticipating the moment they are forced to unveil to the bemused staff their suitcase, tightly packed with jars of Marmite and cylinders of Digestive biscuits. Then again, I don’t like Marmite, I haven’t eaten a Digestive biscuit in years, and the usual suspects hardly register on my radar of desire either: baked beans I consider an atrocity, Yorkshire tea is unpleasantly bitter, and Branston pickle is a surefire way to ruin almost any food.Read More
While piles of crisp, eddying golden leaves and a nip in the morning air are sure signs that autumn is in full swing, I tend to feel the seasons more through their food. Nothing for me is more autumnal than the sight of pumpkins, in all shapes, sizes and colours, lined up at the farmers market, or russet apples piled in abundance in the grocery stores. At this time of year, my appetite shifts towards hearty, bolstering foods in varying shades of gold, green and red; porridge becomes a staple breakfast and my love of baking shifts up a gear or two. Here in Denmark, we are blessed with fabulous bakeries on every corner, and one thing I particularly love about this little Scandinavian corner of Europe is the dark, flavoursome nature of the breads on offer, which are often punctuated by crunchy seeds and dense with nutty wholegrain flours.Read More
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. So the saying goes. What about when life gives you one of the strongest El Niños on record, floods the city in which you live and numerous others across your country, veils the sun in a shroud of grey fug so thick that it takes three months to emerge again, smothers your house in a perpetual coat of damp that sees a bloom of bright algae spread like a butterfly across your kitchen window, has you hiding under your duvet for a good forty-five minutes every morning willing the sun to rise properly, none of this pallid half-light please, and bestows upon you a case of seasonal affective disorder so violent that no number of light boxes, sunrise clocks, daytime walks or Vitamin D pills can encourage it to dissipate and leave you feeling like a normal human being again?Read More
A friend of mine once asked me what ingredient I cook with the most (staples like salt and oil aside). I answered limes, but on reflection it could equally be raspberries. Having said that, I don’t tend to ‘cook with’ raspberries much: I prefer to eat them unadulterated, scattered over porridge or granola or with cubes of golden papaya or juicy ripe mango for dessert when I can’t quite justify eating loads of chocolate or crumble. I occasionally bake them into cakes: I love the way baking intensifies their sharp, almost grassy flavour, and the way they stew their rosy juice through the buttery crumb, perfuming it with that heady scent of summer. Recently, though, I’ve been thinking about the savoury uses of raspberries.Read More
I was teaching a student the other day when he asked me to explain the term ‘idiolect’. As with so many definitions, this is something that benefits from the giving of an example. I was plunged into a moment of introspective self-analysis, rapidly mentally running through the lexicon I use on a daily basis, the words to which I attribute non-standard uses or meanings and which therefore constitute my own, distinct, idiolect. I hit, suddenly, upon the word ‘insane’. “You see, when I use the word insane,” I explained to my student, “I use it to mean amazing; ridiculously good; incredible.”
The other night, I found myself murmuring, through a mouthful of pecan nuts, “Oh my god these are insane.”Read More
Rejoice: here is a recipe that uses egg whites. Are you the kind of person who keeps egg whites stashed in bags in your freezer after making ice cream because you can't bear to see them go to waste? Are you the kind of person who once took home a kilner jar of thirty egg whites from the restaurant where she worked because the chef was otherwise going to throw them in the bin after a furious bout of pasta-making? Are you the kind of person who is horrified by Nigella Lawson's admission that she sometimes separates eggs directly over the sink so as to avoid the conundrum posed by the leftover whites? If you're not, you're probably on the wrong blog and we have nothing in common. If you are, read on. You'll be delighted.Read More
You can keep your chutney. Cheese, for me, is best enjoyed paired with a lusciously ripe piece of sweet fruit to complement its mouth-coating richness and dense, fudgy texture. The exact fruit will depend on the cheese: toffee-scented dates, for example, are best paired with a fairly fresh, tangy cheese like goat’s or feta; stronger, sharper, crumblier cheddars go better with crisp apples or grapes. Having said this, an excellent all-round fruit for pairing with cheese is the pear. Crisp and glassy or soft and yielding in texture, tangy and grassy or delectably syrupy depending on ripeness and variety, there’s a pear to partner almost any cheese you can think of.Read More
One of my life’s great woes is that I am constantly hungry. You could see this as a blessing; my food writing career requires that I be always ready to sample whatever tasty treat should come my way. However, more often than not it’s something of a curse, given the fact that I am completely unable to function when hungry. I genuinely cannot comprehend those people – you know the type; you may even be one of them – who can breeze empty-stomached through a whole day and then remark, astonished, by evening that they haven’t eaten anything all day and gosh, how silly, they probably should have something then really shouldn’t they, but they’re just not that hungry!!!!
Sorry, but I hate these people.Read More
For me, mornings are the worst part of winter. I normally count myself as a guaranteed lark, reveling in the early hours of the day, but those early hours in the colder months of the year barely deserve the label ‘morning’. Mornings mean sunshine, beams streaming through the window and the promise of productivity and good things to come. Mornings don’t mean opening your eyes in darkness; the hazy, nauseating orange glow of streetlamps replacing real rays; the rasp of cold, clammy air against your skin as you tentatively reach an arm outside the duvet to check the time and remind yourself that no, it isn’t a mistake, it genuinely is time to get up despite the dark and the cold and the feeling that you might be turning into a hibernating mammal. Mornings shouldn’t mean having to shiveringly shroud yourself in a dressing gown to make the briefest of journeys between bedroom and bathroom, or turning all the lights on in the kitchen just so you can find the all-important switch on the kettle.Read More
There are some fruits that people are, generally speaking, fairly comfortable encountering in a savoury dish. Few people would bat an eyelid at a sliver of apple turning up alongside their roast pork, either in sauce form or maybe – outré prospect as it is – in thick wedges, roasted alongside the meat to soak up its delicious juices. Although a subject of mockery, ham and pineapple is a pretty established combination by now, whether it’s performing the ludicrous feat of turning your margherita into a ‘tropicana’, or in the form of a lurid golden ring of fruity goodness perched atop a fat pink slab of salty gammon.Read More
Everything turns orange in the world of food media around this time of year. You can’t look at a recipe without finding that pumpkin has been sneaked in there somewhere. Sweet or savoury, breakfast or dinner, between the months of September and December it’s almost guaranteed to contain the golden vegetable, especially if it’s come from anywhere near America (in which case it will almost definitely also include cinnamon).Read More
In my mind, there are two types of plums. The first are those that appear year-round in supermarkets, often in plastic punnets with a label saying 'Ripen at home'. They are imported, usually from South Africa. They are often nearly perfectly spherical, firm and glossy-skinned, and come in three different colour varieties: bright greenish-yellow, slightly translucent; dark black-purple, with a matt white bloom misting the surface; or vivid uniform magenta. These are perfectly fine - they are very reliable, delivering without fail a pleasantly tart crunch when slightly underripe and something slightly more sweet when ready. They also cook well, holding their shape under the pressure of heat.Read More
I hoard egg whites. It’s almost a sickness. I am physically incapable of throwing them away. It’s part of my general ‘physically incapable of throwing any form of food away’ neurosis. Sometimes, when there are leftovers after a meal, but an annoying amount that I either won’t eat or won’t turn into another meal, I have to enlist one of my dinner guests to tip them into the bin, such is my incapability of transferring food from plate to rubbish.
I think it’s Nigella who writes in one of her books that she now breaks eggs directly into the sink when she just needs the yolks. Sort of the egg-separating equivalent of ripping off a plaster really quickly – there’s a momentary pang as you watch the yellow, viscous substance slide quiveringly down the plughole, but there’s nothing you can do to prevent it. It’s a question of active agency, I think: somehow doing it that way seems like an accident, not your fault – as opposed to the reckless, pre-meditated crime of physically tipping a bowl of egg whites into the bin or sink.
I can’t even manage this, though. It’s ludicrous, I realise, since eggs cost all of about 30p each and are in plentiful supply. A few lost whites do not constitute a major crime against food conservation. I should probably see some kind of specialist about this - often inhibiting - reluctance to discard anything remotely edible.
Nothing sends me into more of a panic than a recipe that calls for egg yolks. Just the yolks. Those brilliant glossy globules of marigold goo, resplendently isolated from the slightly creepy alien-esque ephemera that suspends them delicately inside their protective shell. Curds, pastry, ice cream, pasta: you are not my friends. Much as I love your delicious end results, you are responsible for a sizeable chunk of unavailable freezer space.
Egg whites freeze well, you see. This is either a blessing or a curse. The former because it means you don’t end up wasting those whites if you don’t have an immediate use for them. The latter because they sit in the freezer, nagging you to use them, taking up space that could be occupied by more immediately useful items.
When you have four sets of four egg whites in your freezer (just put them in plastic bags, labelled with the number of whites, and freeze…not that I’m encouraging this practice…), you realise it is time to act. Or at least, I did. It may be OK if egg whites are the only thing hogging your freezer space, but I also have an unfortunate habit of hoarding most fruits known to man, and also, currently, rather a large quantity of meat.
The last time I made macaroons was also out of a desire to put egg whites to good use. Unfortunately, this time there were thirty of them. I am not even joking. This was when I worked in a restaurant as a waitress, and the chef had made a large quantity of pasta for lunch service. By ‘large’, I mean he used thirty egg yolks. Apparently also unable to crack them into the sink, he had put the whites into a large kilner jar, which I insisted on taking home to ‘put to good use’.
I will say it now: there is no ‘good use’ for thirty egg whites. Three, maybe. Even thirteen, perhaps – three pavlovas and you’re done. But thirty? Good luck with that. I think I had to get my mum to throw the rest away, after I’d made about a hundred macaroons. Most recipes, you see, don’t use just egg whites. Mousse, for example, usually puts some yolks in there too for richness. Meringue pie has yolks in the fruit filling. Many cakes lightened with egg whites also incorporate the yolks along with the sugar. Pretty much the only options available to you are macaroons and meringues.
Also, incidentally: thirty egg whites in a kilner jar are not a pretty sight. It looks like something a mad scientist might have on a shelf in his eerie laboratory, or an artificial womb used to birth an alien life form. There are viscous strands of jellyfish-like white tentacles suspended within the yellowish mass, and the whole thing moves with an unpleasant quivering wobble that reminds me of the by-products of liposuction.
Macaroons are not to be confused with macarons, those overly fancy French creations that send baking bloggers into a total frenzy of violent perfectionism over ‘feet’ and ‘shells’ and the like. Macaroons are probably the easiest baked goods you will ever make. You whisk some egg whites (but not even in an energetic way – just lightly with a hand whisk until they’re a bit frothy), add some sugar and ground almonds (or desiccated coconut), shape into balls and bake. From start to finish, about 15 minutes.
Here, I have put a Middle Eastern twist on traditional macaroons by adding cardamom. Combined with the ground almonds, you end up with a macaroon that tastes like the filling of baklava. Add a crunchy, toasty pistachio nut on top, and the overall effect is deliciously and seductively reminiscent of those wonderful cardamom-scented, nut-rich Middle Eastern pastries that I love so much. I think finely chopping the pistachios and rolling the macaroons in them before baking would also be an excellent idea, but this keeps it super-simple.
For such a simple recipe, these really pack a punch in terms of flavour and texture. They have the most wonderful gooey centres, with a nice gentle crunch on the outside, and fill your tastebuds with sweet, fragrant cardamom and almond. They’re perfect with an afternoon cup of tea, or served alongside desserts like mousse or ice cream, and look a lot more complicated and impressive than they in fact are. The recipe is also easy to scale up, as you just mix everything in a bowl, so you can make a big batch and give them to grateful friends/neighbours/colleagues/family.
And, let’s not forget, they’re a great way to use up (some of) those egg whites that, if you’re anything like me, are haunting you and your freezer right now.
Pistachio and cardamom macaroons (makes about 30, so easily multiplied):
- 2 egg whites
- 230g ground almonds
- 140g caster sugar
- 10 cardamom pods, husks removed and seeds ground to a powder
- Pistachio nuts, to decorate
- Icing sugar, to dust
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Line a large baking sheet with non-stick baking parchment or silicon.
In a large bowl, lightly beat the egg whites with a whisk until just starting to turn bubbly. Add the almonds, sugar and crushed cardamom, then mix together with a spoon until firm but sticky. Roll into small balls, about the size of a walnut, with your hands or using a teaspoon. Arrange, evenly spaced, on the baking sheet.
Using a fork, press down slightly on the top of each macaroon to flatten it. Press a pistachio nut into the centre of each. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until lightly golden brown but still a little squidgy. Allow to cool before dusting with icing sugar.
So often cheesecakes can be overly sugary, overly creamy and just a little bit much. This version might make you rethink your conception of a cheesecake. There's no biscuit base, but instead there's a beautifully light and fluffy ricotta filling, studded with all the flavours of Sicilian desserts: sherry-soaked raisins, emerald pistachios, vibrant candied peel and citrus zest. On top, a gorgeous burst of blood orange colour and a scattering of more pistachios. It's light, fresh, fluffy and really very good. For the recipe, head over to my latest post for the Appliances Online lifestyle blog, here!