Friday, June 30, 2006

Lemons baked well

It seems I've been having an obsession with lemons of late, and any attempts to hide the infatuation have been feeble. At least I'm not the only one.

When Andrew decided to have a one-off food blog event in response to the Independent's report about the decline of popularity of the Bakewell Tart, I knew I had to be involved. Not only had I never made a Bakewell before, I had never actually tasted one. The Bakewell Tarts found on the High Street bakeries had never tempted me with their sickly sweet icing yet various food programmes about the Bakewell had intrigued me. It is a well known fact that the original Bakewell recipe is a highly guarded secret and I would imagine that Andrew's recipe is probably the one closest to it.

What I'm particularly concerned about is how the original Bakewell Pudding has evolved and been interpretated across the decades. When did almonds become involved? Was the icing added to appeal to a sugar loving generation to increase market sales? And, in this ever increasing health conscious society, what can we do to keep it and its ingredients alive?

While researching this, I came across Delia's recipe for the Lancaster Lemon Tart which was tagged as being a first cousin of the Bakewell Tart. This doesn't really suprise me, with Lancashire being only a county over from Derbyshire. To be honest, I think Delia made this one up, as I couldn't find any other reference to it, apart from her cookbook. But I thought it was a nice varient and it gave me a brilliant opportunity to try out Clotilde's Almond and Lemon Curd. I definately recommend the curd recipe - it was simple and oh, so tasty, and the Tart was a great way to show it off. It's so tasty, infact, I think I'm going to have piece right now along with that other great English tradition - Pimm's.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A quick clafoutis

What's a girl to do when plums are £1 for 2lbs at the market? Why, she buys them of course, along with a handful of Lancashire asparagus, 6 figs, a bunch of bananas and some fresh garlic.

After gorging on a few of the plums, she leaves them to rest for a couple of days while she does other things, only to come back to find them a little squishy. On a whim, while her best friend prepares a gorgeous baked cod and asparagus tray, she halves each plum over the sink, tears out the stone and places them on a little tart tray and leafs through her cookery scrap book. She finds the recipe - an easy clafoutis that she had long ago written in her book with multicoloured pens. The batter is prepared within 5 minutes, poured over the juicy plums and set in the oven to cook. Forty-five minutes seems to long, 30 just right.

A dollop of creme fraiche served with the slice is so irresistible that seconds are contemplated and contemplations are acted upon. Now, what to do with the figs...

1 cup of self-raising flour
3 eggs
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 cup reduced-fat milk
1 tablespoon icing sugar, sifted

Arrange your fruit of desire, cut sides down, in a lightly greased 25cm flan dish. Sift flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre. Break eggs into well, add caster sugar and milk. Mix to form a smooth batter. Pour batter over plums. Bake in a moderate oven (180 celcius, 350 fahrenheit) for 45 minutes (although I thought this a bit too long) or until firm and golden. Serve hot or cold, sprinkled with icing sugar.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Lemon Posset

So how do you enter an icecream event when you're not that partial to ice cream, have a freezer the size of a shoe box and no icecream maker? Hmmmm, I thought, a case for a different creamy dessert. I know I could've opted to showcase a favourite icecream, or purchase icecream to create a magnificent icecream dessert, but as mentioned before, I'm not that partial. I do like the odd lick or spoonful here and there, especially during the first hopes of Summer and when I'm ready for Winter to be dead and gone, but I don't really go out of my way. So hopefully Sam will accept my entry.

I happened upon this recipe while reading the current Olive magazine. By Paul Merrett, it's a simple dessert featuring only 3 ingredients. It struck me when I first glanced at the page. What's a Posset? I thought, Why have I never heard of this dessert before? So simple, so elegant, so right for Summer.

Wiki told me some very interesting information. For example, eggnog is part of the posset family, who knew? Traditionally, a hot creamy drink for the invalid, it's created using wine, ale or other liqueur. How came it to be a cold, creamy dessert? I just don't know. Using lemon instead of alcohol to set the cream, I couldn't think of a better way to end a Summer Feast.

Lemon Posset

568ml double cream
140g sugar
5 lemons - zested and juiced

Place cream in a heavy saucepan with the sugar. Bring to the boil slowly, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer for 4 minutes until the cream rises to the top edge of the pan. Add the zest and juice and remove from heat. Use less or more lemon juice depending on personal preferences. Cool down for 15 minutes and pour into little serving dishes. At this point, add some little berries or other delicious fruit that might go with lemons to give it a little twist. Chill overnight, then serve.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A beetroot & lemon risotto

I didn't learn how to make risotto in the traditional manor. I've never followed a risotto recipe, and no member of my family ever taught me (as far as I can remember). Yet, not one risotto that I've ever made has gone wrong. I've collectively followed the advice of various celebrity chefs, and generally just followed their processes. I follow two rules: Never stop stirring and always add the liquid a little at a time. I've never made two risottos alike and I really enjoy experimenting with them. I loved this beetroot risotto. With the beets fresh out of our organic box, not only was it my favourite colour, but it was simply delicious and the process of creating it was like a piece of art - making sure all the flavours matched. Towards the end of cooking, it tasted slightly bland and I felt it needed to be kicked up a notch. Lemon was the solution. In went the juice of half a lemon, but it still wasn't quite there, so in went the other half. Perfect!

I didn't do any precise measurements, but it's a basic risotto recipe with enough rice to serve six. For a really rough guide it probably works out to about 2 cups of rice to 1 litre of stock - but don't quote me on this. This is how my recipe goes:

Cover the bottom of a pan with olive oil and then some. Add one chopped onion and some squashed garlic and heat on medium until the onion becomes translucent. Add about that much arborio rice and heat the rice through until the rice is well coated in oil. Add a splash of very hot vegetable stock and stir until it has been absorbed into the rice. Add 2 diced fresh-of-the-farm beets and stir through until the mix has turned pink. Add a glug of stock and stir until it has been absorbed. Season with lots of pepper and a little salt. Continue this process, glug-stir-absorb until the rice is cooked through. Add one lemon's worth of juice but beware of the pips. Absorb the lemon juice into the rice. Add a dab of butter and stir through until melted (I didn't do this as butter and I are having an argument at the moment). Serve.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Taste of London 2006 - The write up

It was all that I had anticipated. Nothing more, nothing less. The atmosphere was pleasant and it wasn't overcrowded. The weather continued to shine down on us and was absolutely brilliant. We headed over early and queued up early under the leafy trees of Regent's Park. Here's what I thought:

Salad of smoked duck, with baby beetroot, walnuts & pickled shallots

This starter from Pearl was the only real discription that jumped out at me from the start. So as soon as we walked into the grounds we made a beeline for the Pearl kitchen. We were very close to the front of the queue so I think my order at Pearl was probably one of the first that they produced that day. With the first bite, my palette was slightly confused, as I was expecting a warm slice of duck, instead of the fridge cool that hit my mouth. But don't get me wrong. The salad was a good fresh start to the day. It whetted my appetite and I was ready for some more.

Spice encrusted tuna, Israeli cous cous, chermoula dressing

This was Dan's first choice. He had wanted to try Israeli cous cous for quite some time now, and although I'd never heard of it before I was indeed curious. Israeli cous cous is a cous cous for giants with each grain being only slightly smaller than a petit pois. It's prepared and seasoned in the same way as regular cous cous, however the texture is really quite soft and rolling, rather than soft and grainy, like regular cous cous. Bank flavoured theirs with flat leaf parsley, diced peppers and perhaps a little too much olive oil. The tuna was served as sashimi and the spice that encrusted it was a welcome texture.

Szechuan tiger prawns with Thai basil & blackened beans

I'm afraid that we gobbled this down before we even had a chance to take a photo of it. Oh, it was tasty. I'm so glad that Dan came to his senses and went to Cocoon, which was situated right next door to Hush where he was going to order a char-grilled free range chicken breast marinated in olive oil, garlic & rosmary, served on a ciabatta with wild rocket and pesto. I mean, you don't come to a fancy food festival and eat a chicken sarni even if the name does make it sound posh. Anyway, I think our chicken sarni that we had for dinner on Monday night would have been 10 times better. The prawns were large and fresh and sculpted in a way that bamboozled me. The plate was just spicy enough to warrant a cocktail, so we headed for Specialty Drinks where Dan enjoyed a Mojito made with 23 year old rum and I had a refreshing Campari, Lime & Tonic.

Rare breed beef off the barbie, hand cut chips, horseradish

John Torode's Smiths of Smithfields' main certainly did not disappoint, and this had to be my pick of what we had at the show. The picture certainly does not do this tasty morsel justice. I was glad that the horseradish sauce was not too strong, as it allowed the flavour of the beef to shine through. Hacking into it with a wooden fork, I was even tempted by the half inch of fat hanging off the edge (but not that tempted). After not having red meat for about a month, this was certainly the ultimate dish to break the fast. Oh, and the chips propping up the steak were pretty good too.

Valrhona hot chocolate fondue, marshmallows, biscotti & strawberry kebabs

We had to try at least one of Gordon Ramsey's dishes and after a glass of Pimm's each, we decided to have dessert at Boxwood. Now desserts aren't exactly Gordon's strong point, but this little plate of delectables went down a treat and gave us a nice midafternoon sugar rush. It was an excellent way to end our little tasting menu.

We were contented and full by the time we were ready to move. I was just so happy that within 2 hours, I was home and full and relaxing in front of the Back to the Future Triology.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Taste of London 2006

Forgive me. I'm a little bit excited. No, a lot excited. In 48 hours, I will have the opportunity to eat at 40, yes 40 of London's restaurants at the Taste of London food festival. After our successful visit to the less prestigious Tastes of Anglia, Dan and I are very much anticipated to find out exactly what delicacies are in store for us... So much so, that I think I'm going to print out the menu to highlight and colour code all the things that interest me most. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A steak in every Guinness...

I couldn't have asked for better weather. The Emerald Isle is not well known for perfect weather, and it might only come round one week per year. Thankfully, that was the week that we went to Northern Ireland.

It's been just under 14 months since I was last able to visit Northern Ireland and so a visit was definately overdue. It's even more important to keep up frequent visits, as my Granny is now in her 92nd year and although she's still going strong, I want to try and visit her as much as possible. It was especially exciting, as I was able to introduce Dan to everyone, and meet my new baby cousin Lucy who is 8 months old and an absolute doll.

On Saturday, after a lunch of formalities at Granny's house and Granny's successes to force feed Dan with real Irish butter, we took a trip to the Giant's Causeway. Situated just outside the town of Bushmills, we were hoping to pop into the famous distillery but unfortunately, they were closed for the day. Ah well, there's always next time.

Full of sea breeze and hunger, we trekked off to the small seaside village of Portrush where we partook an early dinner at 55 North. Needless to say, the food was of very high standard and my grilled goats cheese salad was done to perfection. If only I could say the same for the standard of service.

But let's not dwell on that. We headed back for a lovely evening at The Clarendon where Dan was able to taste a real Guinness poured in Ireland. He reported back that it didn't taste any different from those we get in England, and if anyone says otherwise, it's just all in the head.

Bacon baps were on the table for breakfast and the old red sauce brown sauce debate was the hot topic. Kelley (my cousin) was outvoted 4.5 to 1.5 in favour of red sauce with Deborah (Kelley's sister) sitting on the fence.

All in all, an amazing weekend full of promises to return the visit. See you on the 22nd, Kelley!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Il prosciutto di Limoncello

Growing up in a major Italian community in Australia, I've been influenced by Italian food for a very long time. Even before Nutella became commercially available on the Australian market, my Grade 2 Italian teacher was serving it to me and my classmates on little triangles of super white sandwich bread.

In my 8th year Italian High School class I was first introduced to prosciutto. We were told that it was best served with slices of fresh melon and eaten in one mouthful. The idea of fruit and meat all at once was relatively foreign for us Aussie country kids - used to a meat and two veg diet, and at first we were put off by the idea. But, as I'm quite fond of food, I took the challenge and the first bite.

From that moment, prosciutto and me, well, we were best friends. Listed as one of my favourite foods, I really don't know what I would do without it. By my late teens, prosciutto was relatively easy to come by in Australian supermarkets, and at the slightest hint of a craving, it wouldn't be long before I was savouring the taste of the freshly cut ham.

Alas, my Italian is no longer as strong as my love for Italian food. When I moved to England, I fully expected that the prosciutto that I was used to would be easily available but unfortunately, Northampton didn't deliver. For almost a whole year I had to resign myself to prepackaged supermarket prosciutto that cost £4.00 per 50 grams and tasted like 1 month old cured shoe leather. When I decided to move, I have to admit that one of the charms that attracted me to Cambridge was the neighbourhood that I was moving into. Close to the city centre and on the "wrong" side of the tracks, the area stems off a main aterial road (Mill Road) which is rich in multicultural shops and restaurants.

My favourite of these is a small Italian delicatessen called Limoncello's. Manned on a week day basis by a Milanese named Teo, the shop offers fresh, locally baked bread called Cambridge and Peterborough bread, shipped in fresh pesto, olives, cheese and an abundance of meats. This is where I find my prosciutto. Teo cuts it perfectly every time; skimming it gently across the blade of the meat slicer, the feather light slices fall onto the paper. They are wafer thin and are best eaten by themselves, completely unadulterated.

Limoncello Delicatessen
212 Mill Road

Friday, June 02, 2006

Me and My Coffee

I can't remember a time that I was indifferent to coffee. As a child, it was as elusive as wine - something for the grownups. As a teen, I thought it was horrid and linked it to pretentious people. And now, I am one of them, a coffee convert and forever follower. The way to my heart is over a cappucino.

I adore coffee in all forms except one. Instant. Is instant really coffee? Or is it coffee (bitter and sour) flavoured caffine granules? Of course the marketing people at Nescafe will tell you that it is made of real coffee beans - but what sort of torture have these poor little beans been put through? I shudder to think.

I often day dream of the day when I own a little deli-cum-cafe with its own special industrial espresso machine. The day I can lovingly press the freshly ground coffee into the filter and froth the milk to thick creaminess, will be the day that I'm happy ever after.

Search Daydream delicious...