Tuesday 11 December 2012

Spot the Difference

Left: A 1903 Edward VII penny, defaced by suffragettes.  © The Trustees of the British Museum
Right: Immortalising history.  In cake.

It's not often that I attempt a 'showstopper' cake - expectations are always high, and I don't really go for coloured frostings or those hard little silver balls that break your teeth.  But this was for charity.  And it's Christmas.  Plus, the tie-in with the Great British Bake Off was just too much to resist.

A colleague is running the London marathon this year, and has decided to raise some charitable dosh for Age UK, a very worthy recipient.  Her first fundraising effort was to organise a work bake-sale, tying (in a totally non-affiliated, non-copyright infringing kind of way) into the recent success of the televisual cake-stravaganza which is The Great British Bake Off.  And because we work at the British Museum, of course this became The Great British Museum Bake Off.

Staff were invited to enter three categories: the Signature Bake (tea-time favourites), the Technical Challenge (mince pies), and the Showstopper (a baked product inspired by the British Museum).

Sadly, my effort, a dense fudgey cake covered in chocolate ganache and inspired by A History of the World in 100 Objects was not a winner, but I thought I'd share it with you anyway.  It's based on an Edward VII penny from 1903 which was defaced by militant suffragettes fighting for the vote, a small but expressive gesture against the authorities.  It would have changed hands countless times, spreading its message.  It's a potent object, I love it.  And yesterday, I got to eat it too!

Thursday 8 November 2012

Playing with food

I'm particularly pleased about sharing this recipe with you because it's one which appears in a new publication!

An illustrator friend invited me to contribute a food column to her just-launched children's newspaper, The LOOP, a quirky broadsheet-style publication which will be released every couple of months.  It caters for 8-13 year olds with hungry minds (as well as stomachs), and won't shy away from asking big or difficult questions about art, politics and life.  And, happily for me, they also wanted a food element.

The trouble is, I'm not really used to cooking for children.  Many of my friends have restricted or specialist diets - give me a nut-allergic, diabetic vegetarian to cook for and I'm excited by the possibilities - but up until now, I've had little experience of what children want.  However, if there's one thing that Junior Masterchef has taught me it's that children have the capability to be adventurous, accomplished cooks. 

I've started with a safe bet - cakes.  And I like the idea of making an unfamiliar subject more understandable, perhaps introducing a new ingredient or technique in each issue.  So this week, tamarind. 

This is a simple recipe which doesn't involve any knives but might need supervision of the oven.  If you don't have a child to help you, try substituting with a friend or partner.


Makes 12 cupcakes

Remember to ask your parents for help when using kitchen equipment like the oven, and maybe give them a cake afterwards to say thank you!


To make the cakes~
125g room temperature butter
125g caster sugar
125g self-raising flour
2 large eggs
5 tablespoons tamarind paste (or you can use lemon juice if you can’t find tamarind)
3 tablespoons milk

To make the creamy topping~
70g room temperature butter
4 tablespoons honey
5 tablespoons cream cheese
175ml double cream

To decorate the cakes~
30g flaked almonds


1) Preheat the oven to 400f/200c/gas mark 6.

2) Put the butter and sugar in a large bowl and whisk until they have turned paler. Now crack in the eggs - be careful not to get any eggshells in - and whisk the mixture until it is smooth. Sift in the flour and fold through, then stir in the tamarind paste and the milk.

3) Now put 12 paper muffin cases into the spaces in a cupcake tin, and divide the cake mixture between the paper cases.  Try and an equal amount in each one if you can so that they all finish baking at the same time.

4) Get an adult to help you put the cakes in the oven, then bake them for 15 minutes until they are golden on top and they have risen. You can test if they are done by poking a toothpick in the middle - if it comes out without any wet cake mixture on it, then they are done.  Take the cakes out of the oven, and leave them to cool.

5) Before you switch off the oven, spread the flaked almonds out on a baking tray, and bake them for 3 minutes, or until they have turned light brown. Then leave them to cool while you make the creamy topping.

6) Put the butter into a clean, large bowl and stir it with a spoon until it is very smooth. Add the cream cheese and the honey and stir until the mixture is smooth again. Pour in the cream, and get a parent to help you use an electric hand whisk to beat the mixture until it has gone thick and spreadable.

7) Spread some topping over the top of each cake with a knife, then finish by sprinkling over the almonds.

Try not to eat them all at once!

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Fish fingers and salty air

What better way to spend a day than messing about on the sea with er, a fishing rod and a dozen men? 

I've been a bit preoccupied by the onset of Autumn and the incredible spectrum of mushrooms that have popped up over the last few weeks. Too busy to blog about my fishing trip I'm afraid, until now.

I grew up in Brighton so the concept of fishing isn't alien to me, it had just never occurred to me that I might try it. Until I was gently coerced into going on a mackerel fishing trip with my partner that is. See, this is what happens when I let him organise our weekends. 

And so I came to be on a tiny boat in Brighton, bobbing around a mile off the Sussex coast, the sole female and wearing quite unsuitable footwear. Ballet pumps had seemed a reasonable choice that morning, but then I wasn't expecting to be sluiced down with fish water by the afternoon. 

Good points: It was a beautifully clear, sunny day, with barely a whisper of movement on the water. No seasickness then. And we caught some fish. And then some more. And more, and more and more until our bucket was so full we couldn't land any more. Fifty two sparkling eyed young mackerel simply leapt onto our hooks that day, an astonishing catch. 

Bad points: I mentioned the shoes, right? Also, when a fisherman shows you how to get a wriggling, desperate-eyed fish off the hook it looks easy. Trust me when I say it isn't. 

After ninety minutes we had a unfeasibly large bucket fish, and a warm glow of satisfaction from catching line caught mackerel, which should earn me back the foodie brownie points which I recently squandered in a flurry of Vietnamese cooking that cost me dearly in food-miles (why can't they grow lemongrass and galangal in London eh?). 

Those spanking fresh little beauties were a revelation in taste, totally different from what I had come to assume was a 'true' mackerel flavour. Much lighter, less pungent and oily than the more mature fish. We ate the first couple very simply grilled with salt and pepper in soft white buns, with a lightly pickled cucumber salad on the side. Total heaven. The mild flesh also lends well to dishes that I would normally reserve for white fish. The South Indian curry we made for dinner was delicious, using meaty chunks of mackerel to soak up the fragrant spiced sauce. 

If you're interested in trying your hand, pack some wellies or sturdy shoes (and may I suggest a cloth for your fingers, you will end up with fish fingers) and give Watertours a call. They carry on until November, so you have precious weeks left before they pack up again until the Spring.

Thursday 20 September 2012

Sloe gin summer puddings

Nothing says summer like a sharp-and-sweet fruit pudding so these are something of a last hurrah for the Indian summer that graced our fair city last week, fading so quickly now as the days get shorter. Someone (not me) has switched on the heating in our house, and I have finally been forced to rootle out my leather gloves for that first icy hour on the way to work. 

I made these puds with the last of the blackberries from the back garden, now wilting on the branch and only good for the birds. They’re very forgiving, happy to have pretty much any mix of red berries thrown in according to taste, as long as there’s a good heft of raspberries and sharp blackcurrants.  A certain level of acidity is needed to stop the mixture from becoming cloying, and to act as a foil to the indulgent cream. Cook it while you can, and say goodbye to the summer.  

Makes 6
I know a large pudding is more traditional but I just couldn't resist these tiny versions, they're no extra bother to make and turn out nicely on a plate.

800g mixed berries and currants (I used 200g strawberries, 200g raspberries, 150g blackcurrants, 100g blackberries, 150g redcurrants)
8 slices of fresh white bread, no thicker than 8-10mm
3 tbsp sloe gin and 1 tbsp orange juice or water
40g sugar (3 tbsp)
1 tsp vegetable oil
a small jug of thick cream to serve
Six 8x5cm individual pudding tins

1) Strip the redcurrants and blackcurrants from their stems and place in a saucepan with the rest of the fruit, sugar and sloe gin. Pop on a lid and bring the fruit up to a gentle simmer. Allow to bubble for a few minutes, until the fruit has released its juice but still has some shape. Separate the fruit from the juice using a sieve, and set aside to cool.

2) Use the oil to rub inside each pudding mould - it helps the puddings release later. Cut the crusts from the bread and cut out a round to fit in the bottom of each tin. Soak each piece in the juice and press into the pudding tin. Next build up the sides by cutting strips of bread to line the tin, again soaking each one in juice before pressing into the tin. Once all the tins are completely lined, spoon in the fruit mixture, then seal each pudding with a juice-soaked round to close it.

3) Wrap each pudding in a thorough sheet of cling film, then weight each one down (a small tin can/jam jar will do) to help compress the filling. Chill for at least a few hours, or preferably overnight, before serving. If you find the puddings are reluctant to release from their tins, run a knife around the rim first. Serve with indecent lashings of cream.

Saturday 1 September 2012

Salted cod scotch eggs with smoked paprika and fennel

Apologies for the lengthy silence, I've been on holiday for the last couple of weeks. I did think about my poor blog languishing in the shadows but frankly I was just having too much fun to bother with the boring old interweb.

This was my first attempt at staycationing - instead of venturing abroad, we decided to explore all the wonders on offer pretty much on our doorstep in London. There's an awe inspiring amount to do in our wonderful capital, and I finally got to tick off a few things from my mental list of London-to-dos.

Near the top of the list was taking advantage of the decent weather; a few hours of daily sun for a couple of weeks is a rare commodity right now. And sun means one thing to me - picnics. I love a good spread out in the open air. We ate these on a row boat, bobbing around next to the picturesque bridges on the Thames at Richmond. Fresh air really does make food taste better.

Makes 10
350g boneless, skinless salted cod
2 bay leaves
5 peppercorns
12 medium eggs
200g undyed smoked haddock
2 tbsp olive oil
300g arborio rice
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ tsp black pepper
1½ tsp whole fennel seeds
1 litre weak vegetable stock
2½ cups panko breadcrumbs
600ml vegetable oil
1) 24 hours before, submerge the salted cod in cold water, changing the water once during the day. The next day, put two bay leaves and five black peppercorns in a pan with a litre of boiling water, and add the cod. Reduce to a simmer and very gently cook for 5 minutes, or until just starting to flake apart. Drain and remove the bay leaves and peppercorns, leave to cool, and then flake into small pieces.
2) Place 10 of the eggs in a pan of cold water and bring to the boil, then simmer for 5 minutes. Run under cold water to stop them cooking, then carefully peel them and set aside. Grill the haddock under a medium heat for about 8 minutes, or until tender and just cooked through. Leave to cool, and then flake into small pieces.
3) Next heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the onion. Cook on a low heat until translucent, about 8 minutes, then add the butter, rice, and garlic. Continue cooking for another 2 minutes, then add the paprika, pepper, cayenne and fennel and half of the stock. Allow to simmer until the stock has been absorbed, stirring occasionally, then add the other half of the stock and continue to cook until it has absorbed all the liquid. When the rice is cooked through, the mixture should be very thick. Stir through the cod and haddock, check if the mixture needs any salt, then divide into 10 blobs.
4) Make a 20x20cm piece of triple thickness clingfilm, then put a blob in the middle of the clingfilm. Flatten the blob slightly, and make a dent in the centre with a spoon, then place an egg in the dent. Use the clingfilm to shape the rice around the egg until nice and round. Repeat with the other eggs.
5) Whisk the remaining eggs in a small bowl, and roll each rice ball first in the egg, then in the breadcrumbs. Make sure each one is really well covered. Dip again into the egg, then breadcrumbs, to double coat. Heat the vegetable oil in a small saucepan to 190c. Cook the eggs one or two at a time for about 3-4 minutes, until golden brown. Drain on kitchen towel and repeat with the other eggs.

Sunday 22 July 2012

Give peas a chance

A tiny triumph in the garden...

Despite the wind and rain, nature has battled through. Last week saw my first mange tout of the season - Carouby de Maussane - a large podded variety with beautiful violet flowers, which I can now enjoy tossed into soups and stir fries. Many of them don't even make it into the kitchen - the peas are so sweet plucked straight from the vine. Either way, they're a simple luxury which I am quite besotted with.

Monday 25 June 2012

DIY wasabi crisps

The horror! The Japan Centre no longer stocks my favourite wasabi rice crackers. Sob. I am quite bereft, and no amount of googling has turned up another supplier.

So, I've resorted to making my own eye watering snacks, which almost make up for the loss. Made with seasonal spring greens, these are packed with vitamins and only contain two teaspoons of oil, so I can graze on them through the day, guilt free.

The oven temperature for this may seem long and low, but persevere - think of it more as dehydrating than cooking. You're aiming for unsinged, crisp wafers, so plenty of patience is required.


150g spring greens or kale (weight after removing the tough central stalks) about 4 well-packed cups
2 tsp vegetable oil
2 tsp soy sauce
4 tsp powdered wasabi

1) Cut the spring greens into large crisps, about 5x8cm pieces, then wash and thoroughly dry them with a tea towel.

2) Toss the greens in a large bowl with the rest of the ingredients, except one teaspoon of the wasabi powder, then use your hands to make sure that all the leaves are evenly covered with the oil.

3) Spread out evenly in a large roasting tin and bake at 275f / 140c / gas mark 1 for about 90 minutes, stirring through every 20 minutes to ensure they all dry out evenly. Try to keep the leaves flat if possible, so they don't clump together. If they fold over each other you will find that some will not be as crisp as others.

4) When all the leaves are crisp and dried through, allow them to cool before tossing through the remaining wasabi powder, and store in an airtight box.

Sunday 10 June 2012

Chicken of the woods with HRH wild garlic

Apologies for the deadly silence of late, I've been caught in a frenzy of what-to-wear? brought on by those summer events that demand something shiny and new.  Does it really take that long to pull together a few outfits for a couple of weddings and a festival you may very sensibly ask... Yes, if like me you are stricken with the indecisive gene.  Plus, the weather hasn't been very forgiving recently so my summer frocks need buddying up with something more sensible for the foreseeable future.  Anyway, crisis over, frocks found, and the world has been put to rights again.

Back when I still had free time, I was foraging again with the boy and struck gold - mushroom gold!  Chicken of the woods is supposedly quite common in the UK but had previously eluded me.  If you've not seen it before, it's a bracket fungus that grows off deciduous trees like oak in clustered plates, in the most incredible vibrant sulphur yellow that just shines out from the tree when you spot it.  It is like finding treasure!

I'm afraid I was too eager to tuck into our bounty so totally forgot to take a good picture of it before we chopped it up, but you can see the brilliant colours and marbling in the first photo above.  Beautiful.

Since it was our first time eating COTW we cooked it very simply, in butter with a little sea salt, until it was crispy at the edges and had turned an even deeper shade of orange.  And oh. My. God.  It was ridiculously delicious.  I wasn't sure if the name would ring true, but it really does taste like chicken, in the sense that it's rich, deeply flavoured and firm textured.  It's like the chicken that I remember from when I was little.  Essence of chicken.  Partnered with a poached egg and some pan fried wild garlic (foraged also, from the grounds of a Royal Palace no less!) and spinach, it made the perfect toast topping to start the day.

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