Sunday, 29 May 2011

Lemon curd

As sharp as it is sweet, this is a sunny way to start the day. Today it was slathered thickly over a slice of crusty white bread for breakfast, tomorrow it will coat the base of a lemon and raspberry cream tart.

This recipe makes three 1lb jars, which sounds a lot but it's incredibly versatile; try using it to sandwich together sponges or meringues, folded into cream and yoghurt to make a lemon fool, or layered with cream and limoncello soaked sponges for a citrussy trifle.


the juice and fine zest of 4 large unwaxed lemons
4 medium eggs and one extra egg yolk
220g butter, cut into small pieces
350g caster sugar
1½ tbsp cornflour

1) Set aside 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice, then whisk all the other ingredients together in a large bowl. Place the bowl over a simmering pan of water, whisking frequently until the mixture thickens to a custard consistency, about 10-15 minutes.

2) Discard the water and transfer the curd into the saucepan, then replace it onto the heat, whisking constantly, until it starts to simmer. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining lemon juice.

3) Pour the curd into sterilised jars and seal while it's still hot.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Little Miss Muffet

Ah, such a proud moment: my first baby steps into cheese making, at the behest of the boy who pokes me in the ribs until I give into his demands. And so the weekend of unexpected cheese making began...

This recipe makes a mild, slightly lemony soft cheese. It's the sort of thing that's just right for spreading over crisp crackers or if you're feeling adventurous, making into a fruity cheesecake (is it blackcurrant season yet?). It's very tasty, but I have to admit that at least half the pleasure came from the joy of making it.


2 litres of very fresh, organic whole milk (pasteurised)
the juice of 2 or 3 lemons
¼ tsp fine salt

~ herbs (dill/parsley/chives etc), wild garlic leaves, freshly ground black pepper to top the cheeses

1) Pour the milk into a large pan and heat until it reaches 185c, stirring constantly. Add the juice of two of the lemons and allow the curds (solid parts) and whey (clear liquid) to separate. If they don't, add the juice of the last lemon. Stir gently.

2) Lay a double layer of cheesecloth muslin over a sieve resting on a large bowl, then carefully ladle in the curds. You could now use it for cooking in sweet recipes - otherwise, transfer it into a bowl, sprinkle over the salt and stir into the curds. Wash the cloth, then wring out and scatter the cloth with the herbs/pepper/wild garlic before placing the cheese on top. Gather up the edges of the cloth and tie the cloth so the cheese is left in a ball inside.

4) Tie the cloth over a bowl and allow the cheese to drain for about 6 hours, or until it feels fairly firm.  Unwrap and eat.

Thursday, 26 May 2011


What do you get the girl who already has two of everything for her birthday?

Well if she's a huge fan of Yotam Ottolenghi, you take her to Nopi for a glammed up lunch.  If you are one of the few remaining people who hasn't yet heard of the lovely Mr O, he is currently the thinking vegetarian's favourite bit of chef. His recent appearance on Masterchef almost caused one of the semi-finalists to have an accident on national telly as she stared, agog and open mouthed, as he entered the room.

The man himself was present (I'm told he often is), slinking his way around the restaurant in a green cashmere sweater and keeping a reassuring eye on the kitchen. There is a genuinely lovely buzz about the place, perhaps partly due to the elegant, unpretentious decor which goes for a modern Middle-Eastern luxe vibe; blingy but not tacky.

We shared a selection from across the menu, of which the burrata with blood orange and coriander seeds (above) and softshell crab with green tea noodles and ponzu were the stand out favourites. If you go for pudding, my chocolate mousse with peanut brittle, mace and crème fraiche was a dense, intense chocolate lovers dream, but quite exhausted me in the process of eating it. My tablemate's doughnuts with plum wine anglaise, berry compote (above, note the tight grip on the plate..!) slipped down a treat. I hope she doesn't mind me recalling that some small moans of pleasure escaped as she ate.

Two of our group have already sworn to make a bi-monthly pilgrimage to Nopi. My wallet says no, but luckily my stomach usually makes the decisions.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

It's time

Maybe - just maybe - if we squeeze our eyes shut and wish really hard, throw away the woolly tights, tea cosys and central heating, we can make it Be Summer.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Slow burn

Apologies for my blogsilence of late - the weather was too sunny, the engagements too inviting, my bed too tempting. And the ginger fox ate my homework. Ho hum.

This zippy little salad went into my lunchbox a whole week ago and I can confirm after much arduous, thorough testing, that it was delicious. Don't be afraid to try this if you're a sensitive soul; the roasting draws out the chilli heat leaving silky, sweet peppers that spread a gentle warmth through your mouth.


3 small onions
6 large, medium hot chilli peppers
¼ cup white or red quinoa
2 tbsp olive oil
1 orange
salt and pepper

1) Slice the onions into 1cm wedges, and toss with the olive oil in a roasting tin. Pop into the oven for 15 minutes at 400f/200c/gas mark 6. Meanwhile, halve and deseed the chillies, then add to the onions and cook for a further 20 minutes. Check to make sure they don't catch too much - it's nice to have a few blackened edges but only a few.

2) Boil the quinoa in lightly salted water for 12-15 minutes, until al dente, then drain and stir through the roasted vegetables. Season with plenty of freshly ground black pepper, and a little salt. Squeeze over the juice of the orange just before serving.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Asparagus and pea frittata

I love asparagus and it's everywhere right now. It's such a big deal when the British asparagus season starts that people go a bit cuckoo for it - there was an entire stall devoted to the green stuff at Borough market yesterday, great mountains of it in tip-top condition, still squeaky with freshness.

On a side note, did you know there's a British asparagus season blog? Clearly this is a vegetable that attracts the more obsessive segments of society.

This frittata tastes really fresh and is super quick to make. It's a real no nonsense recipe that fed me for lunch today and will go into my lunchboxes until Tuesday. I'm very fussy at lunchtime, and I've been known to blithely ignore a carefully packed lunchbox if it didn't look tasty enough by 1pm. But I won't be having that problem this week.


a large bundle of thin stemmed asparagus
75g fresh or frozen peas
7 eggs, whisked with a little salt and lots of black pepper
4 spring onions, sliced
20g grated parmesan
1 small knob of butter
olive oil

1) Wash and dry the asparagus, then snap the ends off each one - there should be a natural breaking point which helpfully tells you where the woody part of the stem begins.

2) Wipe the base of a large frying pan with olive oil, then fry the asparagus for a minute before adding a few tablespoons of water, to steam the asparagus. Don't let this run dry while the asparagus are cooking. When the asparagus are just tender (try piercing the stems with a knife), remove them from the pan and arrange in the base of a lightly oiled 20cm silicon round cake tin.

3) Add another teaspoon of oil to the pan then gently fry the spring onions and peas for 3-5 minutes, until the onions have softened, then turn off the heat and add the eggs and parmesan, stirring through quickly. You just want to warm up the eggs, not cook them here.

4) Pour the mixture into the oiled tin, and bake at 400f/200c/gas mark 6 for 12 minutes, until puffed up and golden on top.

Good intentions

The road to hell is paved with..well madeleines, cupcakes and fondant potatoes, for me anyway.

I've been having a rather self indulgent month, not helped by our canteen at work, whose decent but uninspiring offerings seem a little less shiny than they did in those first few weeks. But they do good chips.

It's time for a new start: healthy food which actually tastes of something, can travel well on my commuter hell into Bloomsbury, and doesn't break the bank.

So, this is my lunch for Day 1 of Operation Good Intentions - an asparagus frittata with a salad of quinoa, roasted onions and chilli and with oranges for dressing.

Recipes to follow...

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Better with butter

I like a spud as much as the next girl (ok, that's a lie - I find them a bit monotonous) but these fondant potatoes were a complete revelation.

I had no idea you could make a potato melt in the mouth without decimating it in a casserole, or give them such an intense flavour. But then I've never used half a pound of butter in one savoury dish before.

The scent of these bubbling their buttery herby juices away on the hob is the savoury equivalent of catching a waft of those wickedly enticing caramelised nuts floating down Oxford sniff and you're lost.

They go with, well everything really. I love.

serves 6

1.5kg king edward potatoes
250g butter
3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
3 bay leaves
a sprig of thyme
5 fat garlic cloves
a dozen black peppercorns
500ml vegetable stock

1) Trim each potato into barrel shapes of the same size - flat ends with equal, gently curved edges. Or if you're short of time or patience, just peel them and cut into equal sized pieces, around 8cm in length.

2) Melt the butter in a large pan and add the garlic, herbs and peppercorns, then add the potatoes and fry over a low/medium heat until they are golden brown (around 8-10 minutes) then flip over and brown the other side.

3) Carefully add the stock to the pan, then reduce the heat to a low simmer and allow the potatoes to cook through until tender, testing with a skewer or the tip of a knife after 10 minutes. Try not to move them in the pan too much or they will break up.

4) Drain the liquid away and serve while still piping hot.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Madeleines: the new macaron?

From oven to mouth in ten minutes, these barely touched the plate.

I've just acquired a new toy - a madeleine tin. It's made of silicon, so very practical though not as alluring as some of the copper or steel beauties I've seen. This was the trial run, the first of many I expect.

You could easily use normal oranges in this recipe but I these blood oranges were calling out from our local grocer's window. I think the flavour of blood oranges is more pronounced compared to, well, orange oranges. A touch bitter, but fragrant and of course they have that stunning ruby red flesh. I couldn't resist.

I foresee chocolate / vanilla / pear versions of these coming soon...They're the perfect vehicle for all sorts of flavour combinations, and like macarons they can be paired up with something delicious sandwiched in between.


Makes 40 bite-sized cakes

100g icing sugar
125g butter
40g plain flour,sifted
40g ground almonds
the grated zest of 1 large blood orange, and 1 tbsp of the juice
100g egg whites (about 3 large whites)
2 tsp clear honey

1) Heat the butter in a small pan until it turns nut brown, then pour through muslin or kitchen paper to strain off the solids. Set aside.

2) Now sieve the flour, icing sugar and almonds together, then add the orange zest. Stir in the egg whites and honey, then the warm (not hot) butter and orange juice. Allow the mixture to sit in the refrigerator for half an hour with a piece of clingfilm resting on the surface to prevent it from forming a skin. Meanwhile, lightly oil two madeleine tins (or one tin that makes larger madeleines) then sprinkle with flour, tapping out any excess.

3) Carefully fill each mold 2/3 to 3/4 full. You can either do this with a couple of spoons and a very steady hand, but I used a piping bag as it's neater and I'm obsessive! Pop back in the fridge for another 20 minutes, then bake at 170c/325f/gas mark 3 for 13 minutes (small size). If you find that you only fill 20 molds instead of 40 (the madeleine tins vary in size) then bake for 16-18 minutes, but check with a toothpick to make sure they don't overcook.

4) Leave to cool for a few minutes in the tin before turning out. Serve with a large pot of earl grey tea, with a couple of friends to help you finish the pile.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Let them eat cupcakes

My Martha Stewart moment of the week: scampering across the road through the Royal Wedding Street Party to let myself into a friend's house to borrow half a pound of butter, be-aproned and carrying a cake stand. I wasn't wearing my fantasy 1950s outfit, but I might as well have been.

makes 12

200g golden caster sugar
200g butter
4 medium eggs
200g self-raising flour
¾ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp instant coffee, mixed with 1 tbsp boiling water
4 tbsp milk

~for the coffee butter cream
130g soft butter
250g icing sugar
1 tbsp instant coffee, mixed with 1 tbsp boiling water

~for the walnut crunch
100g walnut pieces
80g golden caster sugar

1) First makes the cakes by creaming the butter and sugar until light and creamy, then beat in the eggs, one by one. Sift in the flour and baking powder, stir in gently, then add the coffee. The mixture should drop easily off the end of a spoon- if it doesn't, add the milk.

2) Use paper muffin cases to line two muffin tins and divide the mixture between them. Bake for 13-15 minutes at 400f/200c/gas mark 6, or until a skewer can be inserted and comes out clean. Leave to cool while you make the butter cream icing.

3) To make the icing, cream the butter, icing sugar and coffee together for a few minutes until smooth and creamy, then either pipe onto the cakes or smooth over with a knife.

4) Now place the remaining sugar into a frying pan over a medium heat until it melts and turns a golden caramel colour. Resist the urge to stir as it will make the caramel crystallise! Now add the walnuts, stir well and turn out onto a silicone baking sheet (or an oiled metal baking sheet) and use a knife to divide into twelve equal blobs. Allow to cool then use to decorate the cupcakes.
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