Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Make toast, not war

I love a bit of punning kitschenalia so this tiny war drama by Reiko Kaneko at SCP is right up my street.

His Egg Soldier Cup is perfect for playing with your food on a Sunday morning.  Get a pair and you can make the customary fight over the last piece of toast just that little bit more interesting...

Monday, 29 November 2010

Ultimate roasted pepper and spinach lasagne

A supper for six which can quite easily be polished off by two hungry people if the weather is cold enough.  The roasted peppers make this dish sweet and succulent and very very moreish.

Serves 6

4 red or orange peppers, deseeded and cut into wedges
1 onion, peeled and cut into thin wedges
2 tbsp olive oil

a dozen dried lasagne sheets
125g grated cheddar

~for the sauce
4 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 cans of plum tomatoes (400g x3), chopped
2 anchovy fillets, finely chopped (or omit for a vegetarian version)
1 tbsp olive oil

~for the spinach layer
300g baby leaf spinach
250g ricotta
20g grated parmesan
a grate of nutmeg

~for the white sauce
1 pint whole milk
25g butter
25g plain flour
1 bay leaf
15g grated parmesan
a good grating of nutmeg

1) Roast the peppers and onions in the olive oil at 400f/200c/gas mark 6 until meltingly soft and a little singed at the edge, about 40 minutes. Now gently fry the shallots in the olive oil until softened, then add the garlic and anchovies and cook for a few minutes more before adding the tomatoes. Simmer gently for 20 minutes then season to taste.

2) Wash the spinach and cook in a large pan with the lid on with a tablespoon of water for 4 minutes, then cool. Stir the ricotta, parmesan and nutmeg together in a bowl, then add the spinach and season.

3) Place all the white sauce ingredients in a pan, and slowly bring to a simmer, whisking all the time.

4) Now assemble the lasagne by first placing a layer of roasted peppers in a large deep dish with some tomato sauce/ then a layer of pasta/ then a layer of the spinach mixture / pasta / peppers and tomato sauce / pasta / white sauce and then finish with the grated cheddar. Bake on an oven tray for 40-50 minutes at 375f/190c/gas mark 5, or until the cheese is golden. Serve with a crisp green salad.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Belle of the ball

What better way to beat the freezing weather than by indulging in some truly luscious chocs?

I've been a fan of L’artisan du Chocolat's luxurious offerings since receiving a gift box at work (that was a good day) a few years ago.  I love their ganache-filled Couture Collection, distinguished by unusual flavours such as black cardamom, chestnut tree honey and tobacco, and finished in sweet and chic Japanese-inspired packaging. 

My chocolates of choice today are these beautiful salted liquid caramels, primped and preened for Chistmas 2010 in pearlescent shades.  I picked them up yesterday with frozen, greedy fingers at Borough Market and for the briefest of moments, I forgot to complain about the cold.  Each is filled with oozy caramel seasoned with Noirmoutier island’s grey salt, and for the pleasure they bring, is worth its weight in gold.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Tea for three

What do you feed to a highly pregnant friend at teatime?

Something nostalgic and indulgent, something that stirs up memories of simple childhood days, before we knew about pregnancy yoga and buggy envy. Something like...

Blueberry trifle with violets

Serves 2, one to be pregnant

250g blueberries
4 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp water and the juice of half a lemon
2 thin slices of madeira sponge
200ml double cream
1 tsp of caster sugar
a dash of vanilla extract
200ml cold custard (add a drop of almond extract if you have some)
1 tbsp toasted flaked almonds
1 tsp crystallised violets, or a little orange zest

1) Put the blueberries, sugar, water and juice into a small pan and simmer for 5 minutes over a medium heat. Leave to one side to cool.

2) Cut the madeira cake into 1cm cubes and place into the bottom of two or three glasses or deep bowls, then spoon over the blueberry compote. Cover the blueberries with custard, then whip the cream into soft, billowy peaks with a teaspoon of sugar and the vanilla. Layer loosely over the custard.

3) Finish by scattering with the toasted almonds and violets.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Cauliflower, cumin and almond bake

There are days when my larder only seems to contain left overs. This supper is essentially a middle-eastern take on cauliflower cheese, enlivened with a pinch of warming cumin and almonds.

More importantly, it's a good way of using up all the left over niblets of cheese gathering at the back of my fridge.

Serves 2

600g cauliflower
25g butter
25g plain flour
1 pint milk (560ml)and a splash of double cream
150g grated hard cheese (cheddar, gruyere, red leicester, or a mixture)
1 tbsp dijon mustard
20g breadcrumbs
a large pinch of ground cumin
30g whole, unblanched almonds, roughly crushed

1) Cut the cauliflower into large florets, then blanch until it is barely cooked and still a little firm. Place into a shallow oven dish.

2) Melt the butter in a small pan and stir in the flour over a low heat. Stirring all the time, gradually add the milk drop by drop until it is all incorporated, then add the splash of cream, the grated cheese and the mustard. Stir until smooth, then pour over the cauliflower.

3) Mix the cumin in with the breadcrumbs and scatter over the cheese sauce, then top with the crushed almonds. Place on a tray and bake at the bottom of the oven for 25-30 minutes at 375f/190c/gas mark 5 or until bubbling at the edges and the breadcrumbs are golden.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Free as a bird

I saw this window of roasted ducks in China Town last night - is it just me or is there an escape attempt happening..?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Kippered bubble and squeak

Bubble and squeak is a fantastic way of using up any leftover greens from the night before. I think of it mostly as a breakfast dish, as it's so often served with the delicate wobble of a poached egg on top.

As part of my resolution to eat more oily, sustainable fish I tried this with grilled kippers. It's a delicious combination, the smokiness of the fish enlivening the potato and greens, and the saltiness seasoning the egg. 

To be tried on a morning when something more substantial is needed to face the day.

Bubble and squeak with kipper and poached egg
Serves 2

1 cup mashed potato
1 cup cooked, shredded cabbage/kale/peas/broccoli/brussel sprouts - or a combination of any or all
2 spring onions, finely chopped
2 large eggs
1 undyed kipper

10g butter
1½ tbsp vegetable oil

1) Stir together the potato, greens and spring onion and then season to taste. You won't need too much as the kipper will add saltiness later on. Now scoop the mixture up with a ¼ cup measure, if you have one, and form into patties. If you don't, just form the mixture into eight cakes of equal size.

2) Melt the butter with the oil in a frying pan, then shallow fry the cakes for about 5 minutes on each side over a medium heat, or until each side has a thin golden crust.

3) While you're frying, grill the kipper and poach the eggs. Serve the bubble and squeak with half a kipper each and topped with a poached egg.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Tiffany Tuck Shop

My thighs ache, my nose is pink and my fingers are still a little numb but I still love my annual ice skate!

Like last year, I chose the spectacular setting of Somerset House on the Strand as the scene of my humiliation. I'm not an accomplished skater at all. Oh no. But this year I did at least avoid any sudden collisions with the ice or fellow twirlers, and as always it was wonderfully festive.  The rink opened tonight so everything still has a dewy newness to it.

If I was better on the ice I might have attempted a lap holding one of the retro sweeties on offer at the Tiffany Tuck Shop, which has taken up a permanent, tempting residence to one side of the rink.  It's pure Wonkaland in there.

Twenty thousand leagues under the sea

Anthropologie are having a good season for homewares.  I've fallen head over heels and straight into the many arms of this Inked Octi Apron.  It's a total beauty and almost too stylish to keep in the kitchen.

And while I'm dipping my toe in the sea, I have to admit that I was sorely tempted by the tea towel versions of these lobster napkins from Thornback & Peel when I saw them artfully draped in Brighton-based boutique Abode yesterday.

Who says pescatarians can't dress the part too?

Monday, 22 November 2010

Handsome beast

It's nice to see kitchenalia that veers away from the standard utilitarian designs.  These bone china Enchanted Buck Measuring Cups from Anthropologie have a nicely surreal edge to them, perfect for rutting their way out of a stocking on Christmas day.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Sweet dreams are made of this

I plan to give a lot of homemade presents this year, so now is the time to dust off the recipe book and test run some sweet treats (that's my excuse anyway and I'm sticking to it).

This is a medium soft fudge, not as sloppy as some, but still with a nice 'give' as you sink your teeth into it.  The chocolate comes through strongly too, so it's a good one for chocoholics.

Dark chocolate fudge

550ml double cream
550g golden caster sugar
75g golden syrup
150g melted dark chocolate
a pinch of salt
(..and a sugar thermometer)

1) Pour the cream into a large pan with the sugar and golden syrup and add the sugar thermometer to the pan. Bring the mixture to the boil, then keep it bubbling over at a fairly rapid pace until it reaches 118c, then remove from the heat and stir in the melted chocolate.

2) Now you need to cool the fudge whilst keeping it moving to give it a really melting texture - the easiest way to do this is to use an electric hand whisk to beat it, but you can also do it by hand but it will take ten minutes or so... Beat the mixture until it reaches the consistency of glossy cake mixture, then pour into a lightly greased metal container (a loose bottomed cake tin is good) about 25cmx25cm, and allow to cool for several hours before turning out and cutting into small pieces.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

A classic chocolate pud

There's no point messing with the classics. Well maybe just a little.

Chocolate profiteroles with vanilla chestnut cream

Makes about 3 dozen

~for the pastry
65g plain flour, sieved
50g butter
150ml water
2 medium eggs

~for the chantilly cream filling
150ml double cream
½ tsp vanilla extract (or the seeds from one vanilla pod)
1 tbsp icing sugar

~for the vanilla chestnut cream filling
220g unsweetened chestnut puree
4 tbsp whole milk or cream
3 tbsp icing sugar
½ tsp vanilla essence
1 tbsp melted dark chocolate

~for the chocolate sauce
100g dark chocolate
2 tbsp water

1) First make the choux pastry: heat the butter and water in a large pan to boiling point. Remove from the heat and, using an electric hand whisk, combine all the flour into the liquid. When smooth, whisk in the eggs one by one, until you have a creamy, glossy and rather thick batter. Place teaspoonfuls onto dampened greaseproof paper laid out on baking sheets, leaving plenty of room between each one. Bake for 15-17 minutes at 425f/220c/gas mark 7, until golden and risen then remove from the oven and poke a small hole in each profiterole to let out the steam. Return to the oven at 375f/190c/gas mark 5 for another 5 minutes, then set aside to cool.

2) For the chestnut cream, whisk the chestnut puree, milk, chocolate, sugar and vanilla together, then push through a fine sieve to remove any lumps and spoon into a piping bag. Now whisk the double cream, icing sugar and vanilla together for the chantilly cream until it reaches soft, floppy peaks, then spoon into another piping bag.

3) Just before serving the profiteroles, melt the chocolate and water over a bain marie, and pipe each choux pastry with half cream and half chestnut puree. Serve with a thick dousing of the rich chocolate sauce.

Friday, 19 November 2010

The ginger fox...speaks!

There are lots of things I miss about living in Brighton but none more than the wonderful Ginger Fox restaurant.  I have some good memories of roaming around the Sussex countryside and ending up at their door ravenous and cranky, only to be fed delicious modern British food that made the world seem a nicer place again.

They're a good option for any fellow pescatarian/veggies out there - the current menu has 4 meat dishes, 2 fish and 2 vegetarian (one of which looks vegan), the kind of balance I like to see!

Anyway, I've only just heard about head chef Ben Mckellar's blog which promises to have delicious recipes from the restaurant like Salt Cod Croquettes with Wild Garlic and Aioli. Until I can plan my next visit I'm enjoying eating vicariously through the blog. Well, if the mountain won't come to Mohammed...

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Toad in the hole with caramelised onion and apple gravy

Perfectly crisp, golden yorkshire pudding wrapped around a herby sausage can only be bettered with a smudge of hot English mustard and a dollop of onion gravy.  My conscience makes me add some red cabbage steamed in cider for some healthy crunch on the side.

I like finely grated apple in my onion gravy to sweeten it up and balance out the mustard but you could replace this with a teaspoon of sugar if you prefer.

An alternative is to make this in one big pan, but I think it's nice having lots of little individual puds that emerge, quadrupled in size, like magic from the oven.

Toad in the hole with onion gravy and red cabbage
Serves 2

6 vegetarian lincolnshire sausages
2 tsp vegetable oil

~for the yorkshire pudding batter
2 eggs
85g plain flour
240ml semi skimmed milk
¼ tsp salt
vegetable oil

~for the gravy
2 medium onions, finely sliced
3 fat cloves of garlic, sliced
a knob of butter and 2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
½ tsp worcestershire sauce
400ml vegetable stock
1½ tbsp cornflour
½ peeled eating apple, finely grated

~for the cabbage
350g red cabbage, washed and finely sliced
10g butter
50ml dry cider

1) Shallow fry the sausages in the oil for a couple of minutes until they are coloured on all sides. Allow to cool and cut each one in half.

2) Fry the onions in the oil and butter over a low heat until a dark amber colour, about 20 minutes. Add the garlic and fry for another couple of minutes, then add the apple, wholegrain mustard, worcestershire sauce, stock and cornflour. Allow
this to bubble on a low heat for 5 minutes.

3) Mix the flour and salt with the eggs, then slowly incorporate the milk until you have a smooth batter. Now add 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil to each compartment of a muffin tin, rubbing a little around the sides to oil them. Now place on a baking tray and heat in the oven at 475f/240c/gas mark 9 until smoking hot, about 10-12 minutes. Now carefully add two sausage halves to each muffin holder and then spoon in the batter. Work quickly, as you need the oil to stay very hot. Bake in the centre of the oven for 12-15 minutes until the puddings have risen right up and the tops are golden.

4) While the puddings are in the oven, melt the butter in a saucepan then saute the cabbage for a few minutes before adding the cider. Allow most of the liquid to evaporate then pop on the lid and steam until tender. Season to taste, and serve with the puddings and gravy with a dollop of hot English mustard on the side.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Foxy lady

The urban foxes that rule our neighbourhood have been waking me up on a nightly basis with their atonal howling. Deeply irritating, but I still can't bring myself to dislike them! Bless their furry hearts x

This tea towel is part of the new H&M homeware range, and mixes three of my favourite things: a bushy-tailed squirrel, a cheeky fox and a proper old-fashioned glass bauble.  Lovely.

Dark chocolate orange bread & butter pudding

I'm a big fan of brioche in bread and butter pudding for the simple, lazy reason that it saves buttering the bread. Chocolate and orange are a classic pairing (as confirmed by my new Flavour Thesaurus!), introduced here in the form of marmalade and clementine zest.

This would make a nice alternative to the ubiquitous Christmas pudding, divinely chocolately and seasonally orangey but without the leaden heaviness of the usual dried fruit bonanza...38 days and counting!

Serves 2 or 3

230ml whole milk
1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk
30g golden caster sugar
80g brioche
15g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1 tbsp orange marmalade
the zest of a clementine

1) Spread the brioche lightly with marmalade, cut into 1" cubes, then place into a 1 pint (500ml) pie dish with the chopped chocolate.

2) Whisk together the milk, eggs, sugar and zest and pour over the brioche, dunking the bits so that they all get soaked. There should be a few bits of bread poking out of the liquid that will become nice and toasty as they cook.

3) Bake at 350f/180c/gas mark 4 for 45 minutes, until the top is lightly golden and crusty.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Something for the weekend

Susan Philipsz The Lost Reflection, 2007

...if you decide to have a cup of tea and a sit down at Monmouth Coffee one weekend, please please please go and see Susan Philipsz' Surround Me:A Song Cycle for the City of London underneath London Bridge, every weekend from now until 2nd January 2011.  It's only a couple of minutes away and I guarantee you won't regret making the effort.

Philipsz has been nominated for this year's Turner prize for Lowlands, a project installed under three bridges beside the River Clyde in Glasgow. I saw a similar work by the artist at the Sculpture Projects Muenster exhibition in 2007.

At first glance she might seem a one-trick-pony, many works using the artist's unaccompanied voice, but her outdoor work is beautifully tailored to each site. The lovely, imperfectly lilting melody wrings a melancholy history from the dark underbelly of the bridge. It's a deeply affecting piece that feels somewhat like listening to an aural memorial, providing a moment of personal reflection amidst the hubbub of central London.

Coffee crush

I've had a bit of a crush on Monmouth Coffee for a while now.

The Borough Market cafe exudes that that warm, buzzy feeling that you only get when people have joined together in a caffeine-fuelled moment of deep satisfaction.  One my occasional pleasures is to step out from the maelstrom that is the food market on a Saturday and, if I'm lucky, find a seat near the window to watch the circus go by.

The coffee is uniformly fantastic and they leave out a vast, stylish sandcastle of soft brown sugar which I take great pleasure in attacking with a spoon (or as I like to think of it, a tiny spade). 

Coffee can be a bit of an ethical minefield so it's reassuring that the company is very involved with production and they take considerable pride in having a relationship with their growers and exporters.  The staff really seem to appreciate the sourcing, and are truly knowledgable about all the options on offer, but frankly, I'm a girl of habit and I always get a latte. 

So if you want a cup of sustainable, fair and equal trade coffee in a warm, welcoming environment, then look no further.  Just don't take my seat.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Crispy popcorn tofu with green beans

I went to a fantastic spicy Szechuan restaurant this week where every dish came lavishly garnished with fresh and dried chillies and szechuan pepper - a really mind blowing meal!

I don't subscribe to the school of thought where hotter=better, but the chilli was so flavoursome and moreish that I (predictably) ate more than was sensible. Proof that although I am growing older, I am sadly not growing any wiser.

Serves 2:

~for the tofu:
200g cotton (not smooth) tofu
150ml vegetable stock with 2 tsp soya sauce added
3 tbsp cornflour
3 tbsp rice flour
1 tsp salt (you can also optionally add 1 tsp ground black pepper, and 1 tsp szechuan pepper)
250ml vegetable oil (for frying)

~to serve:
½ cup sweet chilli sauce
300g trimmed green beans
1 spring onion, finely sliced
a small bunch of fresh coriander
50g toasted cashew nuts or peanuts
steamed Jasmine or basmati rice

1) Put the rice on to cook - it will always be fluffier if you give it a few minutes to sit quietly after cooking.  Gently squeeze all the moisture out of the tofu, then cut into 1" cubes.  Place the tofu in a shallow dish with the stock and allow it to steep for five minutes, then remove the tofu, shaking off any excess moisture.  Now mix the rice flour, corn flour and salt in a bowl, and toss the tofu pieces in the flour.

2) Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan then fry the tofu for about three minutes, until golden brown on all sides.  Drain on kitchen paper and repeat in batches until all the tofu has been cooked.

3) Steam the beans until barely cooked, they should still be a little bit crunchy.  Plate up the rice, then top with the beans and tofu and scatter over some toasted nuts and spring onion.  Finish by spooning over the sweet chilli sauce.

Sweet and sticky chilli sauce

Good for dipping pretty much anything deep fried and savoury into.

Makes 500ml

1 cup sugar
1½ cups water
½ cup rice vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
2 tbsp fish sauce
100g of mild red chillies
½ tsp sweet paprika
½ tbsp salt
the grated rind and juice of a lime
4 cloves garlic, finely grated
1 tbsp ginger, finely grated
4 tsp cornflour, mixed with 3 tsp cold water

1) Mix together all the sauce ingredients, except the cornflour, in a small pan. Bring to the boil and allow to bubble vigorously for ten minutes, then add the cornflour liquid and briskly stir in. Cook for another minute, then decant to a sterilised kilner jar.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

The end of innocence

Perhaps it was always there, but I've only just noticed an absolutely filthy undercurrent to Jamie's 30 minute meals.

A typical scenario: it's a few minutes into episode 9 and our Jamie is merrily whipping up a feast of Asian-style salmon when he suddenly drifts off into what I can only imagine is his secret happy place:

"So what I'm gonna do - just start with the salmon - is just pinch the salmon like this, almost like you're pinching someone's bum. It's been a long time since I pinched anyone's bum, but the memories are good [gestures at camera with a fearsome looking knife to make his point].

Oh Jamie, you were so fresh faced and innocent when we first met you...

Another scene:  [dressing an asian salad]
"..and then my nuts.  Get those beautiful nuts - what more do you want in your mouth?"

I have a friend with a soft spot for Jamie's rather particular boyish charms, but it's all getting a bit too Carry On Cooking for me. Stick to the food please Jamie, and leave the sex to Nigella.

...for my birthday

I got the wonderful Flavour Thesaurus! It's a marvellous compilation of food pairings by Niki Segnit, a self-confessed home cook who took on the Sisyphean task of documenting what-goes-with-what.

It's a lovely book to read - nice paper stock and well designed, and is suprisingly easy to dip in and out of. The scope of the book is international so you find out that the pairing of cucumber and rose is a distinctly Scottish/English quirk, and that although goats cheese and fresh coriander may sound strange to our ears, it is ubiquitous in Mexico.

The beauty of the book is just that - she covers classic pairings like say, cheese and apple, but also explores the further reaches of the culinary imagination.  I'd never thought to pair oily fish and anise before, but after reading about Heston Blumenthal's experiments with salmon and liquorice I'm starting to wonder if it might be worth a try...

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Rye, oat and fennel seed crisp breads

Crisp breads are very quick and easy to make, and have a gentle oven toasted flavour far nicer than the shop bought type. 

These make a nice partner to the smoky aubergine dip but the hint of aniseed that comes from the fennel seeds also buddies up well with hard cheeses.  I quite like the Scandinavian slant that comes from the fennel, but you can swap it for sesame, pumpkin or poppy seeds if you prefer.

Makes 16

½ cup plain flour
½ cup rye flour
¼ cup oat bran
¼ tsp salt
1 tbsp caster sugar
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup warm water

½ tsp fennel seeds
Sea salt for sprinkling

1) Simply place all the dry ingredients except the fennel seeds together in a bowl, then stir in the olive oil.  Add enough of the warm water to make a firm, pliable but non-sticky dough.  Add more plain flour if the mixture seems at all sticky.

2) Divide the dough into two equal parts and roll each into a ball.  Roll out each ball into a roughly 20cm circle, using a lightly oiled rolling pin and work surface.   Transfer each circle to a baking sheet, sprinkle with the fennel seeds and a pinch of sea salt and use the rolling pin to lightly press them into the surface of the dough. 

3) Use a knife to score the surface of each circle into 8 wedges, without cutting through the dough, and bake at 350f/180c/gas mark 4 for 30 minutes or until the mixture is firm in the centre and lightly toasted around the edges.  Leave to cool, then snap into pieces and store in an airtight box.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Smoky aubergine and pomegranate dip

There's a rather sensuous quality to making this dish; I defy you not to enjoy smoothing vegetable oil over the deep, purple skin of a plump aubergine!

Served slightly warm or cold it makes a tasty lunchbox filler or crudité dip, and has a slightly smoky flavour from the fierce cooking of the aubergine.

1 large aubergine
½ tsp vegetable oil
½ a small spring onion, very finely chopped
the juice of ½ lemon
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup black olives
the seeds of half a pomegranate

1) Fork the aubergine all over (to prevent it exploding) and rub the vegetable oil all over. Place under a grill on a very high heat and cook for 5 minutes on each side, or until the skin is slightly charred in areas, and a knife penetrates the flesh easily. Leave to cool.

2) Chop the aubergine flesh to a consistent mixture, then stir in the olive oil, spring onion, and lemon juice. Destone and finely chop the olives, and add to the mixture. Check for seasoning - you may not need any additional salt depending on how salty your olives are. Finally, stir in most of the pomegranate seeds, leaving a few to decorate the top of the dish.

Serve with something crisp to scoop the silky pulp into greedy waiting mouths.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Sugar and spice

Some foods just make you happy.

Egg custard tarts inhabit a place in my memory from when I spent sepia-tinted days playing camping in the garden and chasing the neighbour's dog. Just the thought of them makes me feel grounded and safe. Silly I know.

Inevitably, my suitcase was groaning under the weight of spices, pastries and exotic oils on the way back from Morocco. Huge, beautiful pomegranates, argan oil, syrup-soaked pastries and more olives than strictly sensible all found their way home with me.

But pride of place goes to the small bag of saffron threads that I haggled long and hard for in the spice souq. Used in these tarts, it stains the custard a vivid daffodil yellow - to my mind, the exact colour of sunshine in the summer of 1984...

Saffron custard tarts
Makes 8

~ for the pastry
225g plain flour
a pinch of salt
150g cold butter, cut into small cubes
40g caster sugar
2 egg yolks

~ for the custard
6 egg yolks
300ml double cream
45g caster sugar
a large pinch of saffron

~for the caramel
75g caster sugar
3 tbsp water

1) Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Now add the egg yolks and stir together to form a dough. Add a little milk if it seems too dry. Chill for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, butter and flour eight individual tart tins, then roll out the pastry to 2 or 3mm and use to line the tins. Leave some pastry overhanging the edges. Chill for another 30 minutes, then bake at 375f/190c/gas mark 5 for 15 minutes. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then trim the pastry down to the level of the tart rim with a sharp knife.

2) To make the custard ~ Pour 2 tsp of boiling water over the saffron threads, and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Now whisk together the egg yolks and sugar, then add the cream and saffron water, threads and all. Transfer the lot to a saucepan and very gently heat it until luke warm, stirring with a spoon throughout. Pour through a sieve into a jug, then use to fill the tart cases. Place on a baking tray and bake at 300f/150c/gas mark 2 for 30 minutes, or until the centre no longer has any wibble.

3) To make the caramel ~ Heat the water and sugar in a pan, without stirring, until the sugar has fully dissolved and turned a rich, dark brown. It will smell on the verge of burning. Very, very carefully, spoon over the tarts, using the back of the spoon to quickly spread it over the surface to create a thin layer.

Delicious warm or cold, you can also grate a little nutmeg over each tart if you fancy something more familiar.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Water water everywhere

...nor any drop to drink

These hie-hie glasses are made by Japanese design company Nendo.  Products in their 100 Edition Project straddle the divide between one-off craft pieces and mass produced objects - with just 100 of every design made, we are offered the opportunity to own 1% of each design.

High concepts aside, I like that these drop-design frosted glasses are trapped in an eternal battle with condensation.

Crispy sea bass with couscous and olives

Cooking with olives is not something we often do in the UK so the tangy green olives in this feel rather exotic, but work well to punctuate and lift the rich flavours of the roasted vegetables and lightly spiced sea bass.

I used Moroccan smen (a type of clarified, fermented sheeps butter) that I definitely did not sneak back into the country, oh no. Having just looked it up, that would have been illegal, apparently.

Butter would do just as well, but it is important to add one or the other as it adds a richness to the dish that stops the cous cous being just another starchy chore.

Serves 2

2 sea bass fillets, about 125g each
1 tsp Moroccan spice for fish (or a mixture of turmeric, ginger, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, black pepper, cumin, coriander, and paprika)
150g baby plum tomatoes
1 aubergine, cut into 1" cubes
100g banana shallots, peeled and quartered length ways
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp smoked chilli flakes
3 tbsp olive oil
 1 cup cous cous
1 cup boiling water
½ cup green olives
a small bunch of fresh oregano and parsley, chopped
2 tbsp smen, ghee or salted butter

1) Toss the aubergine, shallots and tomatoes in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large roasting tin and scatter over the smoked chilli and cumin. Season lightly with salt, and bake at 425f/220c/gas mark 7 for about 30 mins, or until the vegetables are lightly browned and soft.

2) 10 minutes before the vegetables are done: Melt the smen or butter in a small pan that has a tight fitting lid, then turn off the heat and stir in the cous cous and a tiny pinch of salt, making sure every grain has been coated with the oil. Now add the boiling water, give the pan a quick shake, then clamp on the lid and leave to sit for 10 minutes.

3) 5 minutes before the vegetables are done: Score the fish skin lightly to prevent it curling when it cooks, then add the remaining olive oil to the sea bass fillets and rub in the fish spice and a little salt. Heat up a non stick frying pan until smoking hot, then add the fish, skin side down. Allow the fish to sizzle for 2-3 minutes, then turn over and turn off the heat.

4) Fluff up the cous cous with a fork (never a spoon or it will go claggy) then stir the olives and herbs into the vegetables, pile them onto the cous cous and top with the fish.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Stir crazy

Ok, I admit these sweet little wooden spoons may not be terribly useful (although we did spot the larger ones being used as soup spoons in a food stall in Marrakech) but their simplicity is rather beautiful. They are probably bound to collect dust in a drawer somewhere but for the moment I love them intensely!

I'm hoping that the smaller ones might match up with standard ½ and full teaspoon measurements so I can use them for something more purposeful than sitting around looking lovely.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Coming back down to earth...with a thump

Ouch! Despite the flight taking a measly 3 and a bit hours, I feel horribly jetlagged today. Or maybe it's just post-holiday blues. I do miss those clear blue skies...

I have a whole suitcase of exciting foodstuffs just waiting to be tried and tested but frankly, I'm not in the mood today. I want everything to be simple and easy until I feel right again. Sometimes a sandwich, raised above the ordinary by the addition of a precious ingredient, is all I need.

Moroccan argan oil is made from the nuts of the argan tree, rich in vitamin E, and with a nutty flavour and scent. It's USP: the oil is made with nuts that have been nibbled from the tree by goats, then collected and hand pressed to make a precious oil. Extra virgin olive oil would make a decent replacement here.

Avocado, smoked paprika and black olives on toasted khobz bread

Serves 2

1 khobz flatbread, or other small flatbread that can be split into two flat halves
1 ripe avocado
a small handful of black olives
a pinch of smoked paprika (or unsmoked paprika, or chilli flakes)
a little argan or olive oil

1) Split the bread into two and toast until golden. Halve the avocado, remove the stone and scoop the flesh into a bowl with a tiny pinch of salt. Mash until roughly blended. I like it to have a bit of texture.

2) Spoon the avocado onto the toast, break up the olives and scatter over. Sprinkle over a little paprika or chilli and drizzle over a teaspoon of oil to finish.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Home sweet home

Back home and happily tucked up again in the cold, smoggy bosom of London. 

It was a real whirlwind of a week, with many pleasant memories (new and delicious foods, great weather and the constant entertainment of street performers in the Djemaa el Fna) and only a few less welcome ones (uninvited bottom pinching and the unrelenting sales patter of the souqs).

Away from home it seems easy to notice the ways in which we're different from other countries, so it was nice to find that the English and Morrocans share the love of a Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down.  We may prefer ours with a splash of milk and a chocolate digestive instead of packed with fresh mint and served with a delicate Kaab el Ghazal cookie, but the sentiment remains the same.

It's nice to be back.
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