A Desert Island Dish

If I had to decide on one final meal to have on this earth it would, without question, be my mother’s roast beef, roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings and home-made gravy. No Michelin starred dining, molecular gastronomy or fancy fusion. Quite simply a hearty and honest home cooked meal, cooked with good British beef, roasted to succulent pink perfection, served alongside golden crusted, fluffy centred roast potatoes and crispy Yorkshire puddings, all softened with a rich, dark and meaty gravy. This is my idea of real unadulterated celestial cuisine.

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In an attempt to recreate this heart warming memory, influenced by my own personality and style, I decided to cook up a feast on Sunday afternoon to celebrate, in my view, the best of British in its entirety. To guarantee I had the best fundamental elements to recreate this magnanimous meal, I made a trip to a renowned butcher in Balham to ensure we had the finest quality, organic beef. A cliché I know, but supermarket meat will just not cut it here. The reasons why TV chefs, food writers and cooks harp on about sourcing organic, free range, grass-fed and every other superior characteristic imaginable for meat are plentiful and widely substantiated. Supermarkets have a tendency to sell bright red beef, pumped with water (and who knows what else) to increase the weight, “juicy” looking factor and therefore profit margin. A joint of beef or fabulous steak should not be bright red. It just shouldn’t. Good quality meat which has been hung (or “dry aged”) should be dark red and almost matte in colour, the antithesis of the shiny blood-red beef available on our supermarket shelves. Although provenance is important when buying, trust is equally as crucial when purchasing a joint of meat. Trust in a butcher to sell you a competitively priced, high standard of dry-aged beef, dark in colour with generous marbling, no additives and no hidden agendas.Trust in their knowledge and honesty and trust that your meat will actually taste of meat. No flavourless, rubbery meat which exudes water the instant it hits a hot pan and turns an unpalatable grey colour.

My experience at Chadwick’s not only ensured I had the perfect sized joint for my hungry party of 5, but accurate cooking times and tips for the best roast possible. Something you are unlikely to find on supermarket packaging, often way off the mark in terms of cooking guidelines (in my experience leading to overcooked, flavourless and dry joints of meat).

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I was lucky enough to have a rib of beef cut to my exact size from this mammoth piece of meat.

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A fantastic range of homemade dishes, minced steak, black pudding, pork chops, pork belly, pork loin, bacon, steaks, beef joints, lamb, oxtail, stocks, sausages, kebabs, kievs…, I could go on for a while.

Ever since watching Nigella celebrate a family Christmas with an impressively over sized rib of beef, it has been something I have wanted to try. Granted, this is not a frugal cut of meat but it is a celebratory feast. It might not be Christmas but I need no more excuse than the end of February’s dreary weather and a hint of Spring to enter into foodie festivities. To serve the five of us, generously, I was assured that my 1.8 kilo joint (of bone in rib of beef) would be more than adequate, and that it was, even with a small portion of leftovers. To emulate my desert island dish in my own personal style I served the roasted rib of beef alongside crispy roast potatoes, cooked with hot duck fat, rosemary and garlic, creamy cauliflower cheese, rich meaty gravy and some simple chunky carrots and peas (no roasted veggies due to lack of oven space!).

As per my mother’s cognizant advice, I used the beef fat (dripping) to cook my Yorkshire puddings and made sure to reserve the precious meat juices to enrich my gravy. Previous experience has taught me that cookery shows, chefs, writers and books proffer duck or goose fat for the crispest and most delightful roast potatoes for good reason. Duck (or goose) fat has an extremely high smoking point, or in other words, you can heat it to a very high temperature before it burns. Ideal for roast potatoes which need to hit searing hot fat to perfectly crisp up the edges whilst guaranteeing a soft and fluffy centre. Ideally you should preheat the fat in an excruciatingly hot oven for around 10 – 15 minutes before adding the par boiled potatoes. This hot, hot, hot, fat and a roughed up, par boiled potato, are the two main keys to success. By steam drying and “roughing up” the edges of your potatoes you are giving yourself the best possible fighting chance of a perfect roast potato. To take one more fail safe step you could also sprinkle a tablespoon of polenta over your par boiled potatoes to help form a crisp golden shell (thank you Nigella for this little tip).

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Here is the magnificent joint weighing in at 1.8kg to comfortably feed 5, unashamedly greedy, people..

Roast Rib of Beef and Trimmings
Serves 5, amply

1.8kg Rib of Beef (Côte de Bœuf)
2 large onions
5 carrots
500 ml homemade beef stock (or made from a cube)
5 anchovy fillets, plus the oil from the tin
salt and pepper
olive oil
550g King Edward potatoes
3/4 jar of duck fat
2 sprigs of rosemary
5 large garlic cloves
400g peas

Cauliflower Cheese

1 cauliflower
500ml milk
4 tbsp plain flour
50g unsalted butter
1 tsp grated nutmeg
150g grated mature cheddar cheese (plus 50g for topping)
4 tbsp fresh white breadcrumbs

Yorkshire Puddings
Makes 12

2 large eggs
100ml semi skimmed milk
100ml plain flour
salt and pepper

An hour before you are ready to start cooking the beef, remove it from the fridge, take it out of the packaging and place on a plate to bring up to room temperature. If you have a time in mind to sit down and eat with your friends, I find that it’s helpful to work backwards from this point with a cooking “itinerary”. As a self-proclaimed list lover there is no way I would embark on this kind of multi faceted roast without such a plan, but for those of you who are list averse please let me persuade you to humour me and try it just this one time, I promise you won’t go back to free styling after this. Write down your final “sit down” time and work backwards with your resting time (20 – 30 minutes), your cooking time (12 minutes per 500g for rare, 15 minutes for medium, and 20 minutes for well done, all at 170°C Fan) and browning time (20 minutes at 200°C Fan). Set your “preheat the oven time” to roughly 15 minutes before your start time. This will give you just enough time to sear and coat the beef in your flavoured rub before it goes into the oven.

Preheat your oven to 200°C Fan/220°C Non Fan. Chop the unpeeled onions into 1cm rings. It is extremely important not to peel the onion. Although I needn’t promote extreme laziness on a Sunday afternoon, the skin of the onion actually adds a lot of flavour and dark brown colour to the pan juices which form the base of your gravy. Peel and top and tail your carrots. Toss the onion and carrot peelings/tips in a tablespoon of olive oil and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Use these to create a sort or trivet in your roasting tin for your joint. Chop the carrots into your desired style and place in a pan of cold water.

To make the rub, finely chop your anchovies and grind some black pepper over them. Using the flat edge of your knife, smear the pepper into the chopped up anchovies to create a rough paste. Now, anchovy haters, please do not turn away in disgust at the though of rubbing these tiny little fish all over your beautiful joint of meat. I do not like anchovies straight out of the tin, you will find me picking them off my Caesar salad with the best of you but please trust me here and use them. They will not turn your beef fishy in any way whatsoever, in fact they melt into a tantalising salty river of flavour running all over the beef, enhancing the “meaty”-ness of the dish in ways I cannot explain.

Place a heavy based frying pan on a high heat. Pour a generous tablespoon of olive oil into the palm of your hand and gently massage all over the beef. Season generously with salt and pepper. Pour all of the oil from the tin of anchovies into the hot frying pan and place the joint, fat side down, into the pan. Hold the joint, pressing down firmly to help the fat render, for around one minute or until the fat turns gloriously golden. Rock the joint making sure that all of the fat makes contact with the hot pan to maximise colour on all sides and to facilitate the rendering process. Carefully flip the joint over to brown on both sides for around one minute or until a luscious brown crust has formed.

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Once the meat has been seared, place it on to your vegetable trivet. Quickly smear the meat with your anchovy paste and place straight into the hot oven for 20 minutes. Subsequently, turn the oven down to 170°C Fan/180°C Non Fan and cook for your further allotted time.

Whilst the meat is cooking prepare your Yorkshire pudding batter and leave to rest. I am not actually a protagonist of the “rest your batter” persuasion. I am however, fairly certain that getting any job out of the way, which can be done in advance, greatly decreases levels of stress and increases well-being. This batter is incredibly simple and satisfying to make. Mix your flour with a pinch of salt and pepper in a mixing bowl, making a well in the centre. In the jug you have used to measure your milk, whisk in the two eggs. Slowly pour this mixture into your flower, whisking constantly. Whisk until you have a smooth and lump free batter then step away and forget about it.

The cauliflower cheese can also be made in advance so feel free to get this out of the way whenever suits you during the day. Cut off the outer leaves and snap, or cut, the cauliflower into large florets. Cut the stalk into large chunks and boil this with the florets for five minutes in salted water. Drain and place in a large oven proof dish. Put the pan back on the heat and melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and cook this light brown paste for around one minute on a medium heat. Pour in your milk, turn up the heat and whisk until the mixture has thickened. This will take around 2 – 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and whisk in the 150g of grated cheddar cheese until all the cheese has melted and you are left with a thick white sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir in the nutmeg. Immediately pour over the cooked cauliflower and sprinkle over the breadcrumbs. Lastly top with the remaining cheddar cheese and leave to one side. Once ready to cook, place in to the oven at 220°C for 20 minutes.

For the roast potatoes, peel and chop the potatoes and place in a pan of cold water. When ready to cook, put the duck fat in the oven at 200°C Fan/220°C Non Fan and turn the heat on to high under the potatoes, adding a pinch of salt to the pan. Bring the water up to the boil and cook for five minutes. Drain the potatoes and let them steam dry. Place them back in the pan and give them a good shake to fluff up the edges, this will ensure an even crispy outer shell and soft fluffy interior. Carefully remove the piping hot fat from the oven, tip in the potatoes, garlic cloves (unpeeled) and rosemary leaves (torn from their stems). Give everything a good stir to coat in the fat and quickly place back in the oven for 45 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring half way through.

Once the beef is cooked to your liking, remove from the oven and place the joint on a carving board and cover with foil. Immediately pour all the juices and fat from the tin into a jug and put the roasting tin and veg to one side. Skim the fat from the roasting juices and pour into each indent of your Yorkshire Pudding tray, if there isn’t quite enough, eek it out with a little sunflower or vegetable oil. Place the tray back into the oven and turn up the heat to 220°C Fan or as high as your non fan oven will go. After 10 minutes the oil will be spitting and viciously hot. Using a jug, pour the batter 3/4 of the way up into each indent and quickly place into the oven for 20 minutes. I also put my cauliflower cheese in at this time which you may wish to do depending on how many spare ovens you have! Both will take around 15 – 20 minutes and are ready when lusciously golden and crisp.

To make the all important gravy, put the roasting tin and all its contents onto a low heat on your hob. Sprinkle in two tablespoons of flour and stir into the vegetables and sticky meat residue. Once the flour has been absorbed pour in your beef stock and around 100ml of boiling water. Stir fairly vigorously to ensure all the flavour stuck to the bottom of the pan is released. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Strain into a small saucepan, pressing out every last drop of flavour from your roasting vegetables. Season to taste and leave on a low heat until ready to serve. Any juices on the carving board can also (in fact, must) be added to the pan before serving. 

Boil your carrots for ten minutes in salted, boiling water, adding the peas for the final five minutes. Drain and serve alongside your Yorkshire puddings, garlic and rosemary roast potatoes, cauliflower cheese, meaty gravy and thinly sliced roast beef.

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Crispy Yorkshires with their little spindly tails (lazy pouring on my part).

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Golden and crispy topped, creamy cauliflower cheese.

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Fantastic carving skills, with a little help from a friend. We like our beef rare….

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Rosemary and garlic scented, perfectly crisp roast potatoes.

photo 4.A delectable, delicious, Desert Island Dish.

A Winter Salad

I am not the kind of person who views salad as “the healthy option”. A “healthy salad” in my mind conjures up images of sad leaves, deprived of dressing, topped with dry grilled protein of some description and perhaps a slice of beetroot or two. When I choose a salad, especially in Winter or Spring, it’s because I want something lighter than our seasonal stews and casseroles but still with an air of comfort and warmth, soothing the soul with interesting flavours and textures. Of course, a salad can still be a highly nutritional option; lots of vitamins and minerals whilst low in saturated fat and sugar, but I cannot, will not, compromise on taste. A salad at this time of year needs to be bold, flavourful, packed with delicious ingredients and, for me, must have some form of warm element to induce the highest level of gratification. In my opinion, there is no point to eating a salad if you end up ravenous ten minutes later. There is no way of getting away from it, there needs to be an element of carbohydrate; hot sourdough croutons, sautéed in bacon fat, warm and waxy new potatoes, bright chunks of sweet, roasted butternut squash, or dainty flecks of orzo pasta, I don’t mind, you had me at carbohydrate.

In this instance I needed a meal which would restore a feeling of well-being after a day spent suppressing a migraine. It needed to be quick to create and wouldn’t leave me feeling overbearingly full. Don’t get me wrong, I am not removed from that feeling, we’ve all been there. Having eyes bigger than my appetite and a disturbing stubbornness to finishing everything on my plate, despite portion size, I regularly fall into that trap. Nonetheless, last night I wanted a lighter version of comfort food.

Smoked mackerel, to me, epitomizes warming and childlike comfort. Something about the smoky and soft flesh, so easy and tender to eat yet packed with flavour means a quick and tasty dish is never far away.Whether it is served simply warmed, flaked on to brown bread, thickly buttered with a spritz of lemon and cracked black pepper, or whipped into cream cheese for a quick pâté, comfort and restoration is never far away. 

My smoked mackerel salad took inspiration from a smoked mackerel pâté which a friend introduced me to. For the pâté, peppered smoked mackerel is flaked into bite size pieces and mixed into cream cheese along with freshly grated horseradish, a squeeze of lemon juice and a small dollop of Dijon mustard and seasoned with more pepper to taste. I like to mix the pâté until some of the mackerel is completely smooth and other pieces are still whole to give an interesting texture. Serve with hot brown toasts and a peppery rocket salad, glazed with a balsamic dressing. This is a great quick and easy lunch idea or fabulous as a starter.

For my recuperation I wanted to use this inspiration to cultivate a twist on another favourite of mine – potato salad. I’m not a mayonnaise fan but I relish the opportunity to explore different types of potato salad with French dressings or emulating our American friends using a creamy crème fraîche base. For this salad I decided on a whole grain mustard, crème fraîche dressing, blanketing warm new potatoes and peppery smoked mackerel, tossed with a variety of mixed leaves. The resulting dish was comforting, fresh, bursting with flavour and left me perfectly full. Ideal Friday night fodder alongside with a gin and tonic.

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Warm Mackerel and New Potato Salad

Ingredients
(serves two)
4 fillets of peppered mackerel
350g – 400g new potatoes (depending on how hungry you are)
150ml crème fraîche
2 level tsp of whole grain mustard
2 tbsp lemon juice
a bag of mixed leaves
black pepper (to taste)

Halve the new potatoes and cook in boiling salted water for 10 minutes, or until tender.

Whilst the potatoes are cooking mix the crème fraîche with 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of the mustard, season with black pepper and taste. Add more of the lemon and mustard until you are happy with the balance and set to one side. Tear the mixed leaves into bite size pieces (you should only need a fork to eat this) on to two plates or bowls.

Once the potatoes are cooked, drain thoroughly and place back in pan. Off the heat, pour your dressing over the potatoes and stir to coat, the residual heat will thin down your dressing perfectly. Flake in the peppered mackerel and mix carefully. Spoon the creamy potato and mackerel mixture onto the lettuce, gentle toss, season with more black pepper, if desired, and eat immediately.

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Mackerel is such a beautiful fish I couldn’t resist a picture here.

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I used a combination of lamb’s lettuce, frisée, radiccio and baby green oak but feel free to use spinach, rocket, watercress or your whatever you have to hand.

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Carefully folding the smoked mackerel into your creamy potato mixture will leave you with a delicately textured salad and is well worth the care.

The Big Brunch Debate

I am always happy to join a debate. In this instance the subject of much contention is a divisive one; the best choice for a Sunday brunch. In my opinion this meal has the propensity to be the highlight of any weekend, probably second only to a Sunday roast. Executed well, brunch can revive and restore us, bring us together and fuel us for an entire day. Brunch should be savoured, slowly and sociably. I am confident that embracing the full immersion into an indulgent Sunday brunch can bring great happiness and content to even the most debilitated and jaded morning afters.  I must confess now that I am not an aficionado of the full English breakfast, bringing with it too many elements and confusion, leading to a lack of cohesion and no area to focus your hunger on. For me, I like to address my attention to one or two core ingredients, usually reaching for bacon (back or streaky, always smoked) or sausages (hefty Cumberland or skinny chipolatas), occasionally both.

In this sense I suppose you could label me something of a purist. I like my main ingredients cooked well and served to excess, normally supplemented by some form of comforting carbohydrate vehicle. Whether that means American style thick and spongy pancakes, dripping in maple syrup and topped with gloriously salty, crisp streaky bacon, or my personal favourite, fat and juicy Cumberland sausages cooked to a caramel crusted golden brown, served in a warm and steamy, generously buttered baguette. Brunch should be taken seriously, this meal needs to be copious in both size and calorific content and above all else it should be comforting and restorative. Perhaps you will subsequently need a nap or a lie down, but what else did you have planned for Sunday morning?

This Sunday’s choice, inspired by Saturday night’s drunken brie purchase, consisted of a bacon and brie sandwich anointed with chipotle spiced ketchup. There is nothing new to the concept of salty bacon married with creamy, mild brie, yet, where I would usually reach for the cranberry sauce to sweeten my bacon and brie pairing, I decided to opt for the sweet and smoky chipotle chilli to enhance this savoury/creamy combination. The ketchup I used was a standard offering from my supermarket but please use any you can get your hands on or prefer. Chillies can in fact provide a sumptuous sweetness, whilst some may be hot, or verging on dangerously spicy, this sweet and spicy ketchup added a mouth-watering third element to my Sunday morning sandwich.

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This is barely a recipe, more of an assembly task at best, but I am happy to advise on the fundamentals.

I used smoked back bacon (three slices per portion).

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And a mild French brie, around four long slices should work.

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Sandwiched in-between two slices of buttered – please use real butter –  wholemeal bloomer (no crusty white loaf was available but this would be the preference).

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Grill the bacon on a high heat on both sides until the fat is crisp, golden and sizzling.

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Place the bacon on to your buttered and “ketchup’d” bread of choice and immediately top with brie to speed up the “oozing” process.

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 Slice, devour and enjoy alongside a steaming mug of tea.     

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Roux at the Landau

Bitter Chocolate Tart, Roux at the Landau

Warm bitter chocolate tart with blood orange salad and pistachio ice cream, Roux at the Landau.

Last Friday my boyfriend and I made a long overdue visit to Michel Roux Junior’s restaurant Roux at the Landau. Unashamedly I am a huge, self proclaimed, Michel Roux Jnr fan. He makes a refreshing change from some of the more irate and imperious chefs whose presence emanates across our TV screens, restaurants and cookery books. MRJ conducts himself with an air of humility and virtue, supplemented with his warm personality and great culinary skills, making him a joy to watch on anything from Masterchef to Food & Drink. It was therefore with great excitement and an elated appetite that I set off to enjoy the set menu “Du Jour” on a cold February evening.

Unusually, we found ourselves in the enviable position of longing to try every single one of the three options per course on the set menu. Often I am frustrated by the shortage of inspired choices on a set menu, generally steering you toward the cheapest lack lustre dishes from the A La Carte. Luckily Roux at the Landau did not penalise us for avoiding the pricey A La Carte option, instead, treating us to interesting and diverse choices throughout our evening. For that reason we ordered differently at every stage, allowing us to greedily explore the majority of the menu.

Menu Du Jour, Roux at the Landau

Upon arrival in the spacious and elegantly relaxed dining room, we were offered a chilled glass of champagne and a small, salty and beautifully savoury amuse bouche of crispy chorizo rolls with a perky little salad cream dressing. This pairing worked perfectly, tantalisingly tickling our taste buds in anticipation of the edible journey ahead.

Amuse Bouche, Roux at the Landau

Whilst happily devouring our delicious selection of home made breads and salted butter we chose our first courses; a “saucisson à la maison” potato salad and a seared, sesame crusted salmon with broccoli purée. Elegantly presented, our starters lived up to all expectations. The sesame salmon crust making way to a fragile and succulently pink centre, whilst the robust, intensely savoury, saucisson was carried perfectly by the creamy, waxy new potato salad.

Seared Salmon, Roux at the Landau

Saucisson A La Maison, Roux at the Landau

Main course choices of roasted pollack and saddle of lamb continued to supersede expectations. The crispy skinned pollack was perfectly balanced with a delicate brown shrimp and mussel sauce, whilst sweet saddle of lamb, beautifully blushing, was skilfully offset by a smokey tomato and olive dressing.

Roast Pollack, Roux at the Landau

Saddle of Lamb, Roux at the Landau

Desserts consisted of a vast cheese trolley and an exquisite bitter chocolate tart. A fantastically seasonal  “blood orange salad” accompanied the tart including an air dried, tart blood orange crisp, sat on a wonderfully creamy pistachio ice cream.

Bitter Chocolate Tart, Roux at the Landau

Cheese Trolley, Roux at the Landau

To round off our delightful evening of food, we were presented with a selection of petit fours; mango pastilles, creamy, coffee opera cakes and almond financiers. I can not emphasise how divine these were, a perfect end to a faultless evening of food.

Petit Fours, Roux at the Landau

When Only Chocolate Will Do

Today was a chocolate day. One of those days where, no matter what you distract yourself with or allow yourself to indulge in, you will always feel just short of satisfied. In these situations, it is wise to give in to temptation. Until you placate this hankering for something sweet, you will fail to lift the drab filter veiled over everything else you eat. Science has suggested that foods which are high in fat or sugar stimulate the brain’s pleasure centre, which in turn influences our mood. So I implore you to give into science, conduct this experiment and see if we can substantiate this theory.

Earlier in the week I had fraternised with the idea of salted caramel brownies in response to a suggestion from a friend for a Creme Egg brownie, which everyone seems to obsess over once the Christmas selection boxes have given way to all the echelons of Easter confectionary. However, my deep dislike for the sickly and synthetic fondant centre of Creme Eggs means I will never capitulate into this trend. With that in mind, a brownie with another kind of oozy, sweet filling seemed like a fitting compromise. One of my favourite food bloggers turned food writers The Smitten Kitchen has an alluring recipe for salted caramel brownies which I had enthusiastically decided to try; Salted Caramel Brownies, The Smitten Kitchen.

However, much to my delight, my copy of Delicious. magazine, which gazed up at me when I returned home after a stressful and draining week at work last night, also contained an enticing and seductive salted caramel brownie recipe. Fate, it seemed had intervened. The Delicious. recipe used a shortcut ingredient to create a gooey stream of caramel running through dark and fudgey chocolate brownies, one of my favourite little caramel/chocolate morsels; rolos. Now, I must confess that I am not new to the nuisances of rolo brownies. Many a Sunday afternoon in my difficult teenage years was devoted to sitting in front of the oven with my best friend watching a sumptuously thick, brown batter bake into a delectable slab of brownies.  However, over a decade ago, using salt in something sweet was a nonsensical idea. I was therefore looking forward to putting a modern(-ish) twist on a classic from my childhood.

This batter was relaxingly simple to make; no bain marie necessary, no panicking about butter coming to room temperature for creaming and limited washing up. Simply melt the chocolate and butter together in a small saucepan, fold into the whisked eggs and sugar, then carefully mix in the dry ingredients and rolos. Easy! In fact, the hardest part is waiting for the brownies to cool before cutting them into squares and lifting cake to face. I failed slightly here and compromised on cracked edges to my brownies in order satiate my chocolate cravings soon after I had removed the tray from the oven….

Delicious. Magazine’s Salted Rolo Brownies

200g unsalted butter (plus extra for greasing)

200g plain chocolate, broken into pieces (70% cocoa solids)

125g light muscovado sugar

125g caster sugar

4 medium free-range eggs, lightly beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

125g plain flour

1 tbsp cocoa

1/2 – 1 tsp sea salt (to taste)

126 g bag of rolos, half chopped and half left whole

Pre-heat the oven to 170°C/Fan 150°C/Gas 3.5.  Grease and line a 20cm baking tin so that the baking paper comes higher than the tin. The discerning among you will remember that I do not own a 20cm square baking tin, therefore in this instance I used my trusty brownie tin (32 x 20cm) and folded in one side of the baking paper, to make a seam, to stop the batter spreading the length of the tin.

Melt the 200g of butter and chocolate together in a small saucepan over a low heat, stirring occasionally. Take care not to over heat as the chocolate may seize. Allow to cool slightly.

In a mixing bowl whisk the eggs, sugars and vanilla until pale and fluffy. Fold in the cooled chocolate mixture.

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I took great delight in muddying the light, pale and airy eggs with a dark pool of rich, melted chocolate.

Sift in the flour and cocoa, then fold through sea salt to taste. I have to confess that I doubled the amount of salt, upping it to two teaspoons. I will readily admit that my taste buds require an unhealthy amount of salt to appreciate its impact on flavour, but feel free to use as little (or as much) as you like, I fear that I’ve already led you down the path of indulgence so why hold back now?

Mix in the chopped rolos.

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For me, rolos are a considerably under rated chocolate. An oldie, but a goodie, these little pots or caramel, encaptured in chocolate, ensure a speedy route to oozy and squidgy brownies. Resisting the temptation to eat half of your rolos is something I shan’t try to warn you against. Instead, my advice is to buy more than you need, that way you need not feel guilty for any misdemeanors which may occur whilst baking…

Pour the batter into your  prepared tin (or makeshift tin in my case) and press the whole rolos into the surface.

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The thick, dark batter needs to be spread evenly across the tin to ensure an even bake. Pressing in the rolos slightly will encourage the caramel to joyously seep into the centre of your brownies.

Bake for 25 – 30 mins. Now, the recipe led my astray here. I set my timer and instinct took over and told me to check after 22 minutes. I think I was two minutes too late and worried that I had passed the point of “gooey consistency”. To rectify this I put the tray straight into the fridge to impede any further cooking. This resulted in slightly squidgy brownies, helped along by the sticky caramel centred rolos. Nonetheless, next time I will be checking after 18 minutes. It is worth noting that all ovens are different so please do alter recipe timings based on the nuisances of your own oven.

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Ramshackle, slightly warm, gooey brownies. An excellent way to ease you into the weekend.

Softening the Sunday Blues

Yesterday, frustratingly, started off like most Sundays recently, in a delicate state; no loud noises or sudden movements. This was surprising given that I had smugly given up “drinking to excess” for January. As my friend reverently highlighted at the beginning of the month, “How will you define excess? The limit for the average woman is under two glasses of wine!”. This question of definition, it turns out, is pivotal to enabling one to give up doing something “to excess”. I had audaciously chosen to abstain from defining excess, instead relying on my will power to self-discipline and police this radical new way of socialising, thereby setting myself up to fail. Please do not misconstrue this to mean that, had an interpretation been decided upon, either in my mind or vociferously to friends, I would have effortlessly conformed to the new January rule. It is my deep felt and sincere opinion that giving something up (aside from smoking) is completely counterintuitive. To deny yourself something in its entirety only serves to compound your need for that one thing. I would rather live a life of moderation, allowing myself a little of everything, practicing a low-level of restraint, all the time, coupled with exercise and a healthy lifestyle, than starve myself of any fats, carbs, meat, dairy, sugar or alcohol. I.e. almost everything that can bring pleasure to our taste buds. Julia Child once wrote “Everything in moderation, including moderation itself”, which I like to remind myself of on a regular basis. I am, of course, conscious of the food and calories which I consume, but not to the point of obsession. How can one be truly interested in food; cooking, eating and everything it entails, whilst cutting down on all those areas which provide the finest taste sensations and combinations?

Bringing you back to my highly un-salubrious Sunday… Once I had emerged from the comfort of my bed, fuelled by cups of tea and an oversized Cumberland sausage sandwich, I was able to plan an afternoon of baking to gently ease myself out of the bleak cloud hanging over me. At times like this, I enjoy referring to a recent cookery magazine to lead me directly to something seasonal and exciting to experiment with in the kitchen. The issue of choice was Sainsbury’s Magazine, February 2014 (doubtlessly my favourite food magazine and a bargain in the current monthly food publication market) in which I found a Parsnip and Pecan TrayBake by Lorraine Pascale and a recipe for Char Siu Bao (fabulously sweet, salty and savoury barbecue pork dim sums). Yes, I know what you are thinking, an unlikely pair of recipes, bound by no similarities or connections whatsoever. However, it just so happened that I had been craving some kind of vegetable based cake all week and baking with parsnips would be a welcome twist on my favourite cake of all time – carrot with cream cheese frosting.  Happily, the second recipe presented a very timely opportunity for me to try out my new bamboo steamers. Having decided on these two recipes, I could already feel the joy and content, in anticipation of time spent alone in the kitchen, spreading through my weary and dehydrated self.

Coincidentally, and always rather excitingly (to me), I already had most of the ingredients for the cake at my disposal, thanks to the generous use of spices in my Christmas baking. I had to make a few minor adjustments to the recipe, deciding to use walnuts rather than pecans (at any rate, they are cheaper) and orange zest in the cream cheese frosting rather than stem ginger (my preference of the two as it happens). Nonetheless, I saw these as improvements and it is always rewarding to personalise recipes. Wholemeal flour was the one thing which I did not have, and is an ingredients I have never actually used. Now I have a bag I am excited to experiment with some wholemeal loaves and rolls – watch this space!

The recipe created a dense traybake which matched the spices very well, creating an envelope of warmth with each mouthful. The parsnips gave just the right level of sweetness, along with some dark brown sugar, and ensured a deliciously moist and moorish result.

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Don’t be alarmed, the parsnips will rebel against your grater, unless of course you choose to use a food processor, but frankly why bother for such a small amount? I rather enjoyed the satisfaction of some slight physical exertion on a Sunday afternoon.

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Yes, there is a large crack down the middle of the cake but I challenge you to bake this cake in the wrong sized cake tin and come out with any other result! Despite complacently having almost all of the cake ingredients in the cupboard, a 20cm square cake tin is not something I own or wished to purchase on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

I therefore opted for a slightly smaller, rectangular baking dish and used this natural cake aesthetic as an excuse to slather on an exuberantly thick layer of cream cheese frosting. Problem solved!

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The frosting should just start to edge over the sides, holding its shape in sumptuous curves around the cake

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Like so….

Adapted from Lorraine Pascale’s Parsnip and Pecan TrayBake – Sainsbury’s Magazine, February 2014

Parsnip and Walnut Traybake

Makes 16 small squares.

Make the cake up to 3 days ahead and ice when ready to serve. The uniced cake can also be frozen.

For the Parsnip and Walnut Cake

Spray oil or butter for greasing

225g parsnips (around 3 medium parsnips), peeled and coarsely grated

200g wholemeal flour

100g dark brown sugar

75g very soft unsalted butter

50ml sunflower oil

50g walnuts, roughly chopped

5 tbsp semi-skimmed milk

2 tbsp clear honey

2 medium eggs, plus 1 egg white

2 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp ground ginger

large pinch of ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

1 tsp vanilla extract

For the Orange Frosting

zest of 1 1/2 oranges

200g low fat Philadelphia cream cheese (at room temperature)

5 tbsp icing sugar (sifted)

1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Spray a little oil or lightly grease a 20cm square baking tin and line with baking paper (so the edges overhang the tin, making the cake easier to remove).
Put all of the ingredients for the sponge into a large bowl along with a large pinch of salt. Mix together until well combined. Spoon the mixture into the tin and smooth th top with the back of a spoon. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until the cake is springy to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Mix all the frosting ingredients in a bowl until smooth. Cover and chill until ready to use.
Remove the cooled cake from the tin and peel off the baking paper. Spread the frosting evenly over the cake and cut into squares.
Disappointingly, I am out of time so the char siu bao adventure will have to wait until my next post. I can promise it will be worth the wait!

Cooking at La Cucina Caldesi

I have spent some of my most enjoyable cookery moments at La Cucina Caldesi. Two years ago I was given a voucher to their “Three Course Italian” all day cookery course, led by Giancarlo Caldesi himself. An inspiration in the kitchen, he shared great technique and knowledge with us, deeply rooted in his Italian upbringing. Together, we gently stuffed and fried delicate courgette flowers and podded fresh peas, transforming them into a creamy topping for our crisp, garlic scented bruschetta. We massaged swathes of smooth, riced potatoes into flour creating dainty gnocchi dumplings to carry our rich pork and fennel ragu. Next we folded deepest, darkest melted chocolate into fluffy, cloud like, egg whites to form luxuriant fondants. Naturally, we followed this with a second dessert in the form of a velvety vanilla panna cotta, elevated with notes of basil and topped with a succulent strawberry and balsamic compote. Finally, and unsurprisingly, the fruits of our labour were devoured rapidly at the large, familial dining table over a glass of wine amongst the friends we had made throughout the day.

I imagine that even the most insipid reader among you should be able to recognise the pleasure and enjoyment I took from this experience. It would be superfluous to instil in you my delight at receiving another voucher for a Caldesi Cookery course on Christmas Day 2013. With great excitement and anticipation I ventured out to my” Italian Trattoria” class on Saturday 4th January.

I was lucky enough to be in the midst of some great personalities from all corners of the globe. A friendly family from Australia, their convivial cousins from New Zealand, a boyfriend from Scotland, arm in arm with his fabulously gregarious Canadian girlfriend and a lovely young woman from North Carolina, to name a few.

Words, and perhaps my iphone photographs, cannot aesthetically do justice to the food we produced under the guidance of Stefano Borella (STE-fano he will have you pronounce, not Stef-ANO). Nevertheless, I will happily, and somewhat smugly, share a glimpse into our evening.

Our menu read as follows;

Ravioli di zucca con burro e salvia

Pumpkin ravioli with butter and sage sauce

 

Salsicce con zuppa di lentichhie e castagne

Italian sausages with lentils and chestnut soup

 

Cavolo nero con pepperoncino e aglio

Sauteed cavolo nero with chilli and garlic

 

Budino di panettone con scrioppo di arancia e crema di Amaretto

Panettone pudding with orange syrup and Amaretto cream

I implore you to try the lentil and chestnut soup if nothing else (in fact you must also try the panettone pudding but we’ll come to that). This dense, almost stew like soup will envelope you in a warm, comforting cocoon of savouriness.  I took home a very generous portion for my lunch the next day and can say, with heartfelt honesty (from an inherent meat lover), that the lack of meat (all the sausages were finished that night – obviously) made me love it all the more for its herbivore, hubristic and bold attitude.

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Our little nuggets of golden ravioli were sweetened by crushed amaretti biscuits, balanced by the inherently savoury sage and butter sauce.

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Nothing goes to waste in an Italian kitchen. Offcuts of our delicately thin ravioli pasta were transformed into slightly thicker, meatier, tangles of tagliatelle.

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Crushed amaretti, cinnamon and freshly grated parmigianno regiano were folded into our smooth pumpkin puree.

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No January diets here! A generous amount of hot, foaming butter was used to sautee sage leaves and slick our little morsels of pumpkin ravioli.

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The finished dish; ravioli di zucca con burro e salvia

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Our plump Italian sausages were first fried for a gloriously golden and crisp crust, then finished off in the oven, with a ladleful of stock, producing a juicy and morish filling.

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My new favouite winter warmer; salsicce con zuppa di lentichhie e castagne

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Plenty of finely sliced garlic and chilli, sauted until aromatic and used to fry our cavolo nero.

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Last, but by absolutely no means least, our indulgently perfect panettone pudding. Served with Amaretto marscapone and a bitter-sweet orange syrup; Budino di panettone con scrioppo di arancia e crema di Amaretto.

Thankfully, the students leave with, not only a satiated appetite, but a list of all recipes and tips imparted upon us during the course.

All recipes are gratefully received from La Cucina Caldesi and are not my own. http://www.caldesi.com/caldesishop/index.php?page=courses&action=category&id=3 

Pumpkin ravioli with butter and sage sauce

Serves 6

1 quantity of fresh pasta

1 quantity of butter and sage sauce

For the stuffing;

  • 1 butternut Squash or Pumpkin (c.650g)
  • 1 tsp of syrup of Mustard Fruits (optional)
  • 10 amaretti biscuits
  • 2 tbsp of Parmesan, finely grated
  • freshly ground salt and pepper
  • a pinch of ground cinnamon

 

To make the stuffing, preheat the oven to 200°C, peel the squash and cut into 6 even sized pieces. Lay them onto a piece of silver foil and cook for around 1 ½ hours. Allow to cool, then remove from the foil and put through a ricer (or whizz in a food processor until smooth). Crush the amaretti biscuits until fine and mix these along with the syrup, if using, into the puree. Stir in the parmesan and cinnamon then season to taste.

Roll out the pasta a little at a time (keeping the rest wrapped in cling film to prevent drying out) to the thickness of 1mm (up to the last setting on your machine). Lightly dust the work surface with flour and lay the sheets of pasta down flat (taking care not to add excess flour to the upper side of the pasta).

Place heaped teaspoons of the stuffing onto the lengths of pasta, spacing them wide enough apart to allow for the shape you want to cut (without being wasteful). Aim for around 2cm between the mound of stuffing and the edge of the ravioli.

Fold the bottom half of the pasta sheet over the top half (horizontally) to cover the filling. Carefully press all of the air out around the ravioli. Use your chosen instrument to cut out the ravioli (a knife, glass or pastry wheel work well). Place the ravioli on a tray dusted with flour or semolina. Set aside until ready to use, but for no longer than an hour or they will stick. If you need to make them in advance you can either freeze them at this stage or par cook them and toss in oil.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the ravioli for 3-5 minutes or until the pasta is al dente. Drain and toss through your butter and sage sauce.

Serve immediately with grated parmesan. Sprinkle with a little more crushed amartettiand cinnamon if desired.

 

Butter and Sage Sauce

100g butter

10 sage leaves

Salt, to taste

Pepper, optional

Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the sage leaves along with the salt and pepper (if using). Fry for a couple of minutes. Add a spoonful of the pasta water and stir well.

 

Lentil and Chestnut Soup

Serves 6 as a starter or 4 as a main

150g chestnuts (vat packed or canned), reserve a few for garnishing

1 quantity of soffritto

1 bouquet garni

500g green lentils

200g chopped tomatoes

1.5 – 2 litres of veg stock (preferably homemade)

Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200°C

Cook the soffritto in the extra virgin olive oil on a low heat. Add the lentils, chestnuts and a bouquet garni.  After around 5 minutes add the tomatoes and stock, bring to a simmer and cook for 2 hours uncovered, stirring frequently.

Around 5 minutes before the soup is ready, pass a third of the soup through a passatutto (food mill) or sieve (or use a stick blender). Return the blended/sieved soup to the pan and bring back to the boil to thicken.

Divide the soup between bowls, scatter with a handful of chestnuts and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

 

Basic Soffritto Recipe

Also known as a battuto, this is the essential base for Italian stews and soups, and some sauces and ragu. The recipe varies by region, but most versions contain the “holy trinity” of carrot, celery and onion. In summer, make batches to freeze for the winter, some with or without garlic.

150g carrot (around 2 – 3)

150g celery (2 – 3 stalks)

150g onions (red or white)

150ml olive oil

2 garlic cloves (optional)

Salt and pepper

2 large sprigs of rosemary or thyme

2 bay leaves

Finely chop the vegetables or pulse in a processor  (the carrots will take longer than the celery and onions in a processor).

Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium-hot heat. Add the garlic if using, and season with salt and pepper. Fry for 1 minute before adding the remaining ingredients. Keep frying, stirring frequently for 15 – 20 minutes or until the vegetables have softened. Use straight away or freeze.

Freezing your soffritto

Divide the quantity into suitable containers, leftover yoghurt pots or ricotta pots work well. Once frozen, turn out into blocks and place them in a plastic bag in the freezer.

 

Cavolo Nero with Chilli and Garlic

1 head of black kale/cavolo nero

3 tbsp olive oil

2 garlic cloves peeled and finely sliced

1 red chilli finely sliced

Salt and pepper

Pull the green parts away from the hard stalks and wash them under cold water. Throw away the stalks.

Finely shred the leaves and put them in a steamer or salted boiling water for 5 – 7 minutes. Drain but reserve a few tablespoons of the cooking water.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan, when hot add the garlic, chilli and salt and pepper. Fry for a couple of minutes until they soften, take care not to burn them. Add the cooked cavolo nero and fry for around 5 minutes. To prevent sticking use the cooking water you kept to one side.

This also works well with spinach which does not need pre cooking.

 

Panettone Bread and Butter Pudding

Serves 8 – 12

1 large panettone (900g) cut into 5cm thick slices

568ml double cream

568ml full fat milk

2 vanilla pods slit lengthways, seeds scraped out

6 egg yolks

4 whole eggs

200g caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 150°C .

Place the panettone slices in a large baking dish, slightly overlapping if necessary. Pour the cream, milk and vanilla (seeds and pods) into a saucepan and gently heat.

In a bowl, add the whole eggs to the egg yolks and whisk in the sugar.

Once the cream mixture has heated through (do not allow to boil) whisk them into the bowl with your eggs. Remove the vanilla pods and pour over the panettone. Leave to soak in for ten minutes, then place into the oven for 30 minutes until golden and set.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.

 

Amaretto Cream

100ml mascarpone

100ml double cream

2 tbsp caster sugar

2 – 3 tbsp amaretto

Mix all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl using a hand whisk. Adjust the amount of Amaretto and sugar to taste. Keep chilled.

Variations

Use Grand Marnier, Cointreau or brandy instead of Amaretto.

Add a little lemon or orange zest or for a citrus punch

 

Orange Syrup

200ml orange juice

100g sugar

Zest of 1 orange

Place the ingredients together in a saucepan and boil until the liquid becomes a syrup. Allow 10-15 minutes for it to reduce adequately.

Leave to cool. It is ready to use when it has reached room temperature.. If it should thicken, simply reheat until it softens again to a liquid.

 

New Year, New Venture

Here it is, my New Year’s Resolution. Writing about food; my passion and fundamental obsession with all things edible.

A food blog seemed to me to be the most sensible way to channel this fascination. In essence, a way for me to indulge an infatuation with cooking, baking and eating without continuing to irritate my friends with my hedonistic and food obsessed Instagram account.

I suspect an inaugural blog post should offer some sort of explanation as to it’s origins, aims and expectations. To that effect, I am in my mid-twenties, a Cumbrian female living in South West London and working in the City. If I’d have previously owned a working laptop, I’m sure that I would have been able to start this food blog year’s ago. However, that always proved to be a handy excuse to belie my fear of airing personal feelings, views and opinions regarding food online. This stark exposure of not only my spelling and grammar skills, but my own opinions on food and cooking, meant that I was always grateful for a reason not to put my non-existent keyboard where my mouth was..

To me, food is, and always will be, an inherent and natural way to demonstrate love and affection towards my friends and family. Cooking a meal for someone, whether taking the time to braise and simmer a pan of their favourite warming stew, or researching and recreating a dish from a wonderful memory you share, shows that you care wholeheartedly enough to produce a plate of food that will evoke pleasure and satisfaction amongst those you cherish.

I want to write about how food can, and should, be something created with thought and emotion. In this era of the “TV Chef”, it is with ever growing importance that we should remember the “home cook”. People who cook three meals a day, 365 days a year to provide nourishment and sustenance for their families. To me, there is no greater evidence of love and affection than cooking a meal which your friends and family can relish and enjoy. Relaxing over a freshly prepared meal is one of the best and most comforting ways to celebrate the end of the working day.

Whilst my main propensity is to cook for groups of friends or loved ones, that is not to say that my everyday cooking takes on dinner party proportions in either size and cost. I, like most young professionals, have to find my way in the world of economical “one person dinners”; using half a lemon for a recipe and attempting to find a use for the remaining half (sliced and frozen for use in a gin and tonic), making leftovers exciting or reinvigorating the “packed lunch”. Within this blog I will therefore try and elaborate upon my solitary mid-week kitchen endeavours, whilst reveling in my experimental feasting during the weekends.

By regularly writing about cooking, eating and entertaining I hope to formalise my reverence of food and it’s place in our lives. Food, in my mind, is a fundamental aspect of our social history. Food can bring people together in the familial sense of a celebratory meal, or encourage the integration and fusion of cultures with the sharing of ingredients, recipes and restaurants. Food can anchor and formalise traditions, whilst also embracing innovation, change and modernity.

Personally, I find that my time in the kitchen allows me to withdraw from the woes and worries of working life (a “Kitchen Sanctuary” as it were), whilst actively doing something conducive with my time. If I can share this enjoyment with you,I hope to perhaps pass on the means in which to liberate ourselves from the pressures of modern life with interesting, wholesome and delicious results.