Friday, 31 December 2010

Last supper

Another year gone, sob! Where did 2010 go I ask you? Perhaps down the back of the sofa, not to be seen for months then discovered, liberally spattered with fluff.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining and the passing of 2010 brings an excuse for a celebration. And with it, the ever troubling question: what to do for New Year's Eve..?

This year will be my first ever as host. I will be defying the cold snap by turning up the heating full whack and building a vast bonfire in our even vaster garden, toasting marshmallows, eating finger food and merrily wiling away the evening with my nearest and dearest (minus you darling, get well soon xxx).

And to eat? Of course my first thought was to faithfully reproduce this lush feast by Adriaen van Utrecht, complete with parrot and monkey. But nobody likes a show off, so here is my alternate, slightly less demanding menu for the night that will allow me to enjoy the evening with minimum histrionics:

~ nibbly nuts roasted with chilli, rosemary and fennel seeds
~ warm salad of roasted butternut squash and toasted seeds with rocket
~ penang laksa salad – rice noodles, prawns, tuna, tamarind juice, lime, mint, spring onion, garlic, ginger, chilli, raw bean sprouts, lemon grass and pineapple
~ thai fishcakes with chilli and lime dipping sauce
~ baked filo parcels filled with pea, mint, and feta
~ warm crusty bread and cheese
~ veg sticks with homemade hummus and dukkah dip
~ a flourless chocolate, almond and orange cake topped with softly whipped cream and chocolate curls
~ an elegantly piled Dutch still life of red grapes, figs, red apples and pomegranates

Wherever you are, and whatever you're doing - happy new year!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Chocolate chilli wraps with sour cream and spicy salsa

Ok, perhaps the name of this dish makes it sound more chocotastic than it really is, but I'd urge you to try it anyway.

I haven't done much savoury cooking with chocolate but this has totally converted me - it adds a depth of flavour that isn't overtly sweet but has a certain mysterious richness. It does feel strange adding chocolate to a main course though...we're through the looking glass here, people.

Serves 4

~for the salsa
1 spring onion
330g cherry tomatoes
the zest of a lime
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
1 fresh red chilli, seeds removed

~for the chilli bean
300g quorn (or other veg) mince
1 can red kidney beans
1 red pepper, finely diced
1 stick celery, finely diced
4 spring onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 fresh red chilli, seeds removed, finely chopped
1 dried red chilli, seeds removed, crumbled
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cinnamon
15g dark chocolate
300ml vegetable stock
300g passata or creamed tomatoes

sour cream, grated cheddar, additional coriander and tortilla wraps, to serve

1) To make the salsa, finely chop all the ingredients together and set to one side while you make the chili bean filling.

2) Gently fry the spring onions, garlic, and chilli in a frying pan for a couple of minutes, then add the spices.  Fry for a further minute, then add the mince, celery and red pepper and cook for another minute or two before adding the tomatoes, passata, stock, dark chocolate and beans.  Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the mixture has reduced with a thick sauce.

3) To serve, spoon some of the chilli bean mixture onto a warmed wrap with a little salsa, sour cream, coriander and grated cheddar, then simply roll and eat.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

A billion Bill's please

Finally! My most favourite home-town caff has opened a branch in London, and in a great spot: St Martin's Courtyard just off Long Acre in Covent Garden, a road which is shop rich but cafe poor.

Bill's is a bit of an institution in Brighton for it's huge plates of colourful Aussie-style food. A typical lunch time meal might include a goat's cheese tartlet with herb leaf and tomato/basil salad, or a couscous and feta salad with spelt. Everything tastes fresh and somehow rather life affirming, as if every bite is taking your digestive system to a happier place (in a good way- there are no wholegrain hair shirts on the menu here).

The food is carefully presented throughout but I'd recommend leaving room for one of the showstopping cakes on offer, studded with flowers or draped theatrically with fruit. The attached deli stocks a range of beautifully displayed fruit, vegetables and groceries which act as a sort of staging ground for the orgy of consumption in the cafe.

I used to live around the corner from the Brighton store and buy the more affordable fruit and vegetables on my twice-weekly dash home from the swimming pool. The staff were universally sweet and friendly but must have thought I had some terribly scalp condition as my hair was always slicked back with deep conditioner. Needless to say I will be making more of an effort for my first visit to the London branch!

Monday, 27 December 2010

Gift worthy truffles #3: boozy dark chocolate with rum

..because a truffle is for life, not just for Christmas.

Makes about 25

300g dark chocolate
280ml double cream
7 tbsp dark rum
25g butter
200g milk chocolate

1) Place all the ingredients except the milk chocolate in a bowl over a bain marie until melted, mix well then leave to cool. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours.

2) Now scoop out balls with a ½ teaspoon measure, rolling between your hands to smooth, then place on a greaseproof paper covered tray. You may find it helps to keep a cup of boiling water to hand which you periodically dip the scoop into, drying it first on a tissue.

3) Refrigerate the balls for a further hour then melt the milk chocolate and, holding the truffle balls on a toothpick, quickly dip each one in, shake off the excess, then leave to dry on greaseproof paper. To decorate, either sprinkle the tops with caster sugar while they are still wet, or wait until dry and drizzle with more melted chocolate.

Friday, 24 December 2010

A very merry Christmas to one and all

A marvellously stark but monumental Christmas tree by Giorgio Sadotti, for Tate Britain

I think I'm finished! The gifts have been carefully selected, purchased and wrapped, my house in London cleaned to sparkling, and my bags neatly packed. I'll be spending the festive season on the south coast in Brighton, with sharp sea breezes and the remnants of a foot of snow as my constant companions (oh, plus some lovely friends and family of course).

Whether I like it or not, Christmas always makes me reflect on the happenings, achievements and mishaps of the past year. I'm glad to say that, although it's been one of my more eventful years, it's also been filled with more happiness and contentment than many before it. It's not been a fair weather year, but then again I've made some strangers into wonderful new friends, worked in inspiring places and been surprised a number of times by the warmth and generosity of random Londoners. And I'd rather have an interesting but challenging year than a dull one.

So a very merry Christmas to one and all - wishing you a relaxing, happy holiday and a bright new year ahead. I think Dorothy Parker, the poet heroine of my agonised teenage years, sums up my feelings about 2010 rather well, and far more eloquently than I ever could:

This level reach of blue is not my sea;
here are sweet waters, pretty in the sun,
whose quiet ripples meet obediently
a marked and measured line, one after one.
This is no sea of mine. that humbly laves
untroubled sands, spread glittering and warm.
I have a need of wilder, crueler waves;
they sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Gift worthy truffles #2: milk chocolate with lashings of brandy

Mmmm more truffles.

There's something very satisfying about biting into a pure, white chocolate shell and finding a dark ganache inside. 

Boozy chocolates really are my favourite, and guzzling a dozen or so of these is a socially acceptable and deeply satisfying way of getting ever so slightly tipsy at lunchtime.

Makes about 20

215g milk chocolate
140ml double cream
3 tbsp brandy
15g butter
150g white chocolate

1) Place all the ingredients except the white chocolate in a bowl over a bain marie until melted, mix well then leave to cool. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours.

2) Now scoop out balls with a ½ teaspoon measure, rolling between your hands to smooth, then place on a greaseproof paper covered tray. You may find it helps to keep a cup of boiling water to hand which you periodically dip the scoop into, drying it first on a tissue.

3) Refrigerate the balls for a further hour then melt the white chocolate and, holding the truffle balls on a toothpick, quickly dip each one in, shake off the excess, then leave to dry on greaseproof paper. To decorate, either sprinkle the tops with caster sugar while they are still wet, or wait until dry and drizzle with more melted chocolate.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Smoked mackerel pate with horseradish

Part of my masterplan to eat more oily fish, thus making me a healthier, happier, shinier person in general.

I often find it a chore eating mackerel as it has such a strong flavour but this can be smoothed and refined with the addition of cream.  Lemon and horseradish add piquancy and perk up the whole thing no end.

Serves 4

220g smoked mackerel, skin removed
125ml double cream
3 tbsp low-fat cream cheese
1 tbsp horseradish sauce
the zest of a lemon and 2 tsp of the juice
50g unsalted butter
a few chives, finely chopped
fresh black pepper

1) Blend the cream cheese with the lemon zest and juice and horseradish, then flake the mackerel into pieces and stir in.  Whip the double cream to soft peaks, then fold into the pate with some black pepper (but no salt).

2) Clarify the butter by melting it, then pouring off only the clear liquid, leaving behind the whey solids.  Spoon the pate into small pots, smooth over the tops, then pour on a thin layer of the clear butter and sprinkle on a few chives.

Serve with crispbread or dark rye and a refreshing cucumber salad.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Unhampered desire

I usually drool over one of the many hampers offered by Harrods at this time of year; gaudy the shop may be, but by golly they give good hamper. This year however, they have been thoroughly trounced by the simply incredible Alice in Wonderland offerings from Sketch.

There are five on offer - all lovely- but this little beauty has stolen my heart.  It has the legs-akimbo Blaue Blume tea set by Tina Tsang! And Valrhona chocolate mice! And a spanking ruler from Coco de Mer! Ok, I could live without the last thing but it is a damn fine hamper, with that rare thing in the world of hampers, a sense of humour. And all wrapped up in a bird cage filled with elephants. I just love it beyond reason.

Order by Monday 22nd December for fun and games around the Christmas tree.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Gift worthy truffles #1: white chocolate and cointreau

A three-parter of delicious, booze laden truffles. You really can't make too many of these as a surprising amount go missing at the 'testing' stage.  Best of all, it's a totally fool-proof recipe that I make year after year with good results.

These will be packed into chic little jars and tied with ribbon and hand-made labels before they make their way towards my friends and family.  I may save one for myself as I rather love the moment of breaking into a special package of chocs...

White chocolate truffles with Cointreau
Makes 35-40

300g white chocolate
100ml double cream
3½ tbsp Cointreau
25g butter
200g dark chocolate

1) Place all the ingredients except the dark chocolate in a bowl over a bain marie until melted, mix well then leave to cool. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours.

2) Now scoop out balls with a ½ teaspoon measure, rolling between your hands to smooth, then place on a greaseproof paper covered tray. You may find it helps to keep a cup of boiling water to hand which you periodically dip the scoop into, drying it first on a tissue.

3) Refrigerate the balls for a further hour, then melt the dark chocolate and, holding the truffle balls on a toothpick, quickly dip each one into the melted chocolate, shake off the excess, then leave to dry on greaseproof paper. To decorate, either sprinkle the tops with caster sugar while they are still wet, or wait until dry and drizzle with more melted chocolate.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

A scandinavian life saver

Though I usually treat this time of the year as one long excuse to pamper myself with a bit of culinary luxury, there is a point at which it all becomes a bit much. Which is where gravadlax comes in.

This is now something of an institution for me at Christmas. While the rest of the family tuck into a Tudor-style feast of roasted meats, gravadlax has become my go-to dish for satisfying those protein urges that take hold after the consumption of a scandalous amount of chocolate.

It's a treat but without being too heavy, too rich, too filling, or too creamy. Eaten with some austere dark rye bread it can pull you back from the brink of overindulgence in the blink of an eye. In short it's a life saver.

Gravadlax with vodka and lime and a mustard sauce

Serves 4 as a starter

A large salmon fillet (about 500g)
60g golden caster sugar
100g coarse rock or flaked salt
2 tsp ground black pepper
6 tsp vodka
the zest of a 2 lemons and 2 limes
a large handful of chopped dill (about 40g)

~for the mustard sauce

1 tbsp white wine vinegar
5 tbsp vegetable oil
4 tsp dijon mustard
2 tsp english mustard
1 tbsp water
2 tsp chopped dill
½ tsp caster sugar and a pinch of salt

1) Wash and dry the salmon, making sure that there are no bones. Now set aside two tablespoons of the dill, then mix together all the other ingredients and slather over the salmon. Give it a little massage to work it in properly.

2) Wrap the salmon as tightly as you can in several layers of cling film, then place in a shallow dish and leave something heavy on top to weight it down. I used a small plate with a few cans balanced on top. Leave for 2-3 days in the fridge.

3) Unwrap the salmon and discard the juices. Scrape off the marinade, rinse under a cold tap then dry thoroughly and scatter over the reserved dill. To make the sauce simply whisk together all the sauce ingredients. Slice the salmon as thinly as you can and eat with dark rye bread or plain boiled potatoes.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Meringue morsels

These light as a cloud bite-sized meringues are filled with cream and a sharp cranberry sauce.

I went to a bring-a-dish Christmas party last night with some ex-work colleagues (I was rather charmed to have been invited so felt doubly obliged to take an extra-special contribution). I said I'd take quiche. Then saw three other emails saying they would also take quiche. Oh dear.

I didn't have much time to cook so I needed something that I could prep ahead and just put together on the day. These were the solution, sturdy enough to withstand the journey across London (sans cream) and easily sandwiched together with the decadent fillings on site. The meringues are happy to be baked the day before then left somewhere cool and dry until needed.

A word of warning: once the filling has been added, don't hang around too long before eating them or the fillings will start to make the meringues go soggy.  

Makes about 50

3 medium egg whites
130g golden caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
150ml double cream

~for the sauce
125g cranberries
2 tbsp caster sugar
juice of half a small lemon
kumquats, for decoration (optional)

1) Place the cranberries, lemon juice and sugar in a pan and cook with a lid on over a medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the berries are soft, stir the mixture well until pulpy then push through a sieve. Preheat the oven to 300f/150c/gas mark 1.

2) Place the egg whites in a very clean bowl and whisk to firm peaks, then whisk in the sugar a spoon at a time. Keep whisking until the mixture is glossy, then spoon into a piping bag with a small star nozzle. Pipe into flattish 2.5cm circles on baking sheets covered with greaseproof paper. You may find it easier to draw pencil circles onto the paper first as a guide.  Bake for 20 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave them to cool completely inside.

3) Sandwich each pair of meringues with a little cranberry sauce and some whipped double cream.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Violet cakes

Images: Tommy, Jason Lowe and Elsa Quarsell

The sweeter side of life is alive and kicking and lives on Wilton Way in Hackney.

Wilton Way was already my favourite lunch street in East London by virtue of hosting the caffeine haven that is Wilton's.  Now with the uber-cute Violet cake shop a little further down the road I am seriously considering a permanent move eastwards....or at the very least, renting a chair on the shop floor.

I've spotted the Violet stall at Broadway Market before, but at some point over the past year a small, unassuming shop popped up to sell their pretty cakes throughout the week.  It's a lovely place, kind of how you'd like your own kitchen to look, and has a warm, buzzy feeling from all the sugared-up customers.

I plan to spend some quality time exploring their range further, but for now I can say that the Salted Caramel mini cupcakes are quite delicious, and just the prettiest little things you can lay your hands on for a miserly ninety pence.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Dukkah and Weck

My two new obsessions. Dukkah is a delicious North African spice and nut mix often used with olive oil as a dipping condiment. It has a natural affinity with chick peas so is a good partner to hummus or scattered over a warm chickpea and wilted spinach salad.

Is it possible to covet a jar? Weck make the most charming range of jars but they're infuriatingly difficult to get hold of in the UK. Each neatly proportioned vessel comes with a rubber seal, neatly-fitted glass lid and clips to seal. I can't pretend to understand why I find them so alluring; perhaps it's something to do with the element of do-it-yourself in the closure clips.  I love a bit of technical detailing.

After much searching I am now the owner of five small - but perfectly formed - jars which I am selflessly gifting away this Chistmas, filled to the brim with home-made dukkah or truffles.  Merry Christmas!


½ cup hazelnuts
¼ cup whole almonds
¼ cup coriander seed
¼ cup black or white sesame
2½ tbsp whole cumin
1½ tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp dried mint
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1½ tsp sea salt flakes

1) Toast the nuts together in a dry frying pan then decant into a bowl. Next toast all the other ingredients except the mint and salt in the same pan until they smell nutty and cooked, then leave to cool with nuts, mint and salt. Now grind the ingredients to a rough powder - it shouldn't be smooth though. You can also use a spice grinder to do this but be careful not to overprocess the mixture.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Not in the nick of time

Yesterday's Observer Food Monthly had some lovely, light alternatives to the usual Christmas puddings, including this one for quince.

It's a classic, elegant dish by Nigel Slater, celebrating the pure flavours of good quality ingredients.  I'd love to try it but I ate all my quinces back in October.

Too late Nigel, too late...

Nigel Slater's belated poached quinces with goat's cheese

I like the sweet fruitiness of the baked quince with the goat's cheese. It is a short step on from the traditional marriage of quince paste and cheese. The baked fruit is good on its own, too.

Serves 4

honey 4 generous tbsp
water 500ml
smallish quinces 4
lemon a half
quince, medlar, apple or redcurrant jelly 6 tbsp
goat's cheese 8 slices

Put the honey and water into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Peel and halve the quinces and rub them with lemon to stop them browning. (Quinces discolour even quicker than pears.)

Lower the quinces into the syrup and let them simmer till tender. They may be ready in 25 minutes or may take up to 40, depending how hard they are. They need to be tender, even though they are going to be cooked again.

Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4. Lift the quinces out of the syrup and put them in a shallow baking dish or roasting tin. Measure out 100ml of the cooking liquid and add to the quinces. Add the fruit jelly and bake for about 30 minutes, basting occasionally to make sure the fruit and its jelly are not overcooking, until the fruit is very soft. Ideally, there will be a little sticky jelly or syrup in the bottom of the dish. Remove from the oven and cool.

Serve the quinces with the slices of goat's cheese and any syrup or jelly from the baking dish.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Mincemeat and bakewell sitting in a tree

A mince pie for those who prefer to be tickled under the chin by their mincemeat, not slapped in the face.

These are frankenstein tarts, the result of stitching together the still breathing cadavers of the almondy-top from a bakewell tart and the mincemeat from a traditional pie. Luckily the result is more Robert de Niro than Boris Karloff.

Lemon frangipane mince tarts

Makes 8 individual tarts

~for the pastry
110g cold butter, diced
175g plain flour
50g caster sugar
a pinch of salt
the grated rind of a lemon

~for the filling
80g room temperature butter
80g caster sugar
80g ground almonds
2 medium eggs
the grated rind of a lemon
50g flaked almonds
125g coarsely grated bramley apple
200g mincemeat

1) Place the apple and mincemeat in a saucepan and heat over a low heat until the mincemeat has melted and coated the apple. Leave to cool.

2) To make the pastry: put the flour, cold butter, sugar, salt and lemon rind into a large bowl and rub gently together with your finger tips until it resembles breadcrumbs, then add enough cold water to bring it together into a dough (about 2 tablespoons). Roll it out to 2-3mm and use to line eight loose bottomed tart tins, trimming the excess.

3) Divide the mincemeat mixture between the tarts, using a spoon to level the mixture. Now whisk the sugar and ground almonds until light and creamy, then whisk in the eggs and then fold in the lemon zest and almonds. Spoon on top of the mincemeat, level with a knife and then scatter over the flaked almonds.

4) Bake at 375f/190c/gas mark 5 for 30 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Eat with a cool, sharp dollop of creme fraiche.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Salivatingly good subscriptions

I can't imagine that one of these would not be met with joy under the tree on Christmas day, and they're all new/obscure enough to make it unlikely that even the most hardened foodie will have a subscription already.  I've heard great things about Fire & Knives, a quarterly magazine with the air of a food fanzine.  It's intelligently written, has ace design and graphics, and best of all it's edited by London food bloggers Rejina at Gastrogeek and Oliver Thring.

Gastronomica combines my own interests in food, culture and delicious (and sometimes disturbing) visuals so well that I can't quite believe I didn't hear about it until now.  The photography is just stunning.  It's nice to see there's room in the world for some quality art/food crossover.

I was a bit shocked to pick up a copy of Martha Stewart's Holiday Cookies and find that it's actually rather good.  I'm not quite ready to adopt the full Martha lifestyle yet but her biscuits look delicious and pleasingly straightforward.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

A souped up supper

Borscht is an Eastern European beetroot soup which incorporates a fickle range of seasonal root vegetables, according to what's available.  I ate a lot of borscht travelling in Ukraine and Russia as it's often the sole vegetarian option on an otherwise meat-filled menu, so it's a testament to the deliciousness of this soup that I still like to eat it.

Beetroot and cabbage are the only regulars in this whimsical mix, both of which are uber-healthy and mercifully affordable at this time of year.  But the prosaic ingredients belie the unusual flavours of this dish, with the sweetness of the broth tempered by the sourness of the cream and lemon, and all scented with the heady fragrance of fresh dill.  It's good with a hunk of crusty sourdough bread to turn crimson as you dunk it in.

Borscht with sour cream and dill

Serves 4

2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 onion, finely sliced
500g cooked beetroot, diced
2 small carrots, finely diced
¼ red cabbage, diced
2 sticks celery, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1300ml vegetable stock
a bay leaf
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lemon
sour cream
chopped fresh dill
salt and pepper

1) Heat the olive oil in a large pan and sautée the onions for a couple of minutes over a medium heat. Add the garlic and fry for another minutes or two before adding the beetroot, carrots, cabbage, celery, tomatoes, stock and bay leaf. Leave to simmer for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through.

2) Season the soup to taste, and serve with a healthy dollop of sour cream and a scattering of fragrant chopped dill.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Just the two of us

I have to admit that only half of my ruminations over the internet are for other people's gifts.  A sizeable part of my activities are done with me in mind - but I'm feeling rather divided over my Christmas wish list.

~  Should I plump for the beautiful Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine, with its complex, artful dishes or David Thompson's Thai Street Food, which I actually stand a chance of cooking from?

Lip Tease or Drip Tease? Both would be lovely to sup my morning coffee from.  I'm leaning slightly towards the gilded lip...

~  I love old-fashioned florals so it's difficult to choose between rose or violet dark chocs from Rococo.

At least Rob Ryan's His 'n' Her Mugs give no room for equivocation - they're a perfect pair.  Ryan always manages to weave touching messages into his work that should be a little nauseating but somehow melt your heart instead.  And it's sweet that these two only spell out their message when they're together; what better way to tell a loved one that without you, I'm nothing?

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Lunch on the run

I've been ramping up the Christmas shopping this past week so quick grab-and-run dishes are the order of the day.

I unsuspectingly went to Oxford Street on Saturday and found that one half was magical with lights and twinkly Christmas displays while the other half was a scene from a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Truly frightening and heart warming, all at once.

This is a sort of Egyptian take on a classic English pasty, a self-contained parcel of tasty veggies and feta all wrapped up in flaky pastry with a sprinkling of spice to warm the cockles.

Sweet potato, feta and rocket puffs

Makes 9

450g sweet potato
200g feta
50g rocket, finely chopped
3 tsp dukkah (optional)
1 egg, whisked
500g pre-made puff pastry

1) Bake the sweet potatoes in a moderate oven (about 400f/300c/gas mark 6) until soft, then scoop the orange flesh into a bowl.  Crumble in the feta and stir in with the rocket and a little freshly ground black pepper (and dukkah, if using).

2) Roll out the pastry into a 45cm x 45cm square, then divide into nine equal squares.  Divide the sweet potato mixture into nine balls, then place a ball on each of the pastry squares.  Squash the ball down a little, towards one corner of the square, then brush some of the eggwash all over the rest of the pastry, and fold one corner over to meet the opposite corner.  Press down the edges with a fork to seal, make a slit or two on top of each and brush the tops with more eggwash.

3) Bake at 400f/200f/gas mark 6 for 20 minutes, until golden brown.

Monday, 6 December 2010

A superfood supper

This is what I’d call a properly healthy dinner, covering all the nutritional bases and tasty to boot.  It’s high in fibre and has slow release carbs and good fats.  I like to sprinkle over some hazelnut-rich dukkah to add a complex spiciness and an element of crunch to the mix.

Sweet potatoes are having a bit of a moment right now as the wholesome option over the poor maligned white spud.  All I know is that they taste delicious and bring a sunny splash of much-needed colour to my plate, and that’s good enough for me.

Baked sweet potatoes with hummus and dukkah
Serves 2

2 large sweet potatoes
3 tsp olive oil
1 large red onion
2 tbsp dukkah
green salad, to serve

~for the hummus
1 can of chickpeas, with 3 tbsp of the juice
the juice of ½ lemon
1 pinch of salt
½ clove garlic, finely grated
1 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1) Peel the onions and cut each into 8 wedges, leaving most of the base stem intact (this prevents the wedges falling apart while cooking).  Score a deep cut lengthways across each sweet potato, then drizzle the oil and salt over the veg and toss to cover. 

2) Bake the sweet potatoes at 400f/200c/gas mark 6 for about 40 minutes (depending on the size of your potato) or until soft in the centre.  Add the onions to the oven for the last 20 minutes of cooking, or when the centre of the potatoes are still firm but the outside has softened.

3) To make the hummus: blend all the ingredients together until smooth and creamy then season to taste.  Serve the sweet potatoes and roasted onion with a big dollop of hummus and salad on the side, and topped with a sprinkling of sweet chilli sauce and dukkah. 

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Soft vanilla fudge

Be warned, I made a batch of this and - after eating all the spare pieces - broke into an already bagged and be-ribboned parcel that I had intended to give away as a hostess gift this week.

Vanilla fudge
Makes about 30 pieces

300ml whole milk
150 ml double cream
475g caster sugar
150g butter
3 tsp vanilla extract
a large pinch of salt

1) Place all the ingredients except the vanilla into a large heavy bottomed pan, and add a sugar thermometer. Bring everything to the boil, stirring constantly, then allow to bubble for about 15-20 minutes, until the mixture reaches 115c.

2) Remove from the heat and carefully whisk use an electric hand whisk to beat the mixture until it thickens to a heavy cake batter consistency and has lost its glossiness.  Whisk in the vanilla extract.

3) Pour into an oiled loose bottomed cake tin and allow to cool at room temperature for several hours until set. Cut or break into small pieces and try not to eat it all yourself before anyone else can get to it.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Garden's last gasp

I'm rather glad that I took the time to collect seeds from my expiring rocket plants last week.

They now seem to be rocking the snow-afro look, and while I appreciate a new 'do as much as the next person, I am interpreting this as the death rattle for all my summer planting. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu...

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Sticky ginger and chocolate cake

I have very good memories of eating warm McVitie's Jamaica Ginger Cake with custard when I was little, and this recipe is based on recapturing that particular dense, sticky texture and subtle spicing.

There's something a bit school dinners about this type of comforting, slightly stodgy cake which I'm rather fond of. It's something I actively seek out when it's cold and inhospitable outside. We had 4 inches of snow in London yesterday - it's time to bring out the big guns!

(custard optional)

150ml cold water
80g butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
265g granulated sugar
100g dark chocolate, melted
160g plain flour
4 tsp ground ginger
¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
80ml plain yoghurt

1) Whisk together the butter, sugar and eggs until light and fluffy. Stir in the melted chocolate, water and yoghurt, then fold the flour, bicarb, baking powder, ground ginger and salt.

2) Pour into a greased and lined 25cm square springform tin, and bake at 350f/180c/gas mark 4 for 40-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out with only a few crumbs attached.

3) Leave to cool and dust with icing sugar before cutting into squares. Serve with a chat and a nice strong cup of tea.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Keeping cosy in the cold

Hand made tea cosy by Arounna Khounnoraj, £35 from Leaf Shop
Hand knitted tea cosy by Paul Smith, £45
Tea cosy by Posh Pinnies, £25
Moose tea cosy by Nordic Elements, £49.95
Bird fabric tea cosy by Kalla, £23.73 from Etsy
Toile tea cosy from the Highgrove Shop, £12.95
Silk screen printed tea cosy by Lucie Pritchard, £30 
Owl tea cosy by Samantha Stas, from, £25

Yes, I am a walking cliche when it comes to tea. Really, nothing quite hits the spot like a nice cup of tea and a sit down, especially when it's rotten outside (or even snowy and magical but blooming cold).

I'm not sure if exploring the world of tea cosies under the pretence of looking for Christmas presents counts as geek chic or just geek. Either way, there are some very stylish bobbles out there for keeping your cuppa warm.
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