Saturday, 24 September 2011

Golden oldie

This makes a delectable slice, full of those lovely moist, sticky bits that you only get with a fruit based cake. But I can't pretend that this is the most revolutionary recipe in the world - a friend told me today that banana cake was her favourite because "it's so comforting, like mum used to make". I think that's the point actually. Eating banana cake is like being a kid again, the food equivalent of being wrapped up in a warm, fluffy towel as your mum dries your hair. Supremely comforting.

The bananas need to be truly ripe for this cake, on the verge of corruption into a fruit fly's dinner - spotted and fragrant. I recommend taking them into work on a Monday morning with every good intention of eating them, then slinking guiltily home to make this cake on a Friday evening. Worked for me.


200g golden caster sugar
50g soft brown sugar
300g ripe banana (about 3 smallish ones), cut into 1cm chunks
2 tsp vanilla extract
150g plus 2 tbsp soft butter
3 medium eggs
175g plain flour
50g rye flour (wholemeal would do)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ of a whole nutmeg, finely grated
a very small pinch of ground cloves
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

1) Mix the two sugars together then place 150g into a saucepan with 25ml of cold water, and slowly heat up until the mixture is bubbling and starts to turn a darker colour. Add the bananas, and cook, stirring frequently, until the bananas have broken down and there are no large pieces left. This should take about 5 minutes. Once cooked, stir in the 2 tablespoons of butter and the vanilla, and set aside to cool.

2) Butter a 1lb loaf tin (size approx:25x11x6cm) and line the base with greaseproof paper.

3) Beat the remaining sugar and butter together until they have turned light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Then whisk in the eggs one by one, and stir in the cooled banana mixture. Sieve the flours, spices, baking powder and bicarbonate together, and fold gently but thoroughly into the egg mixture.

4) Spoon into the loaf tin and bake at 350f/180c/gas mark 4 for 50-60 minutes, until a metal skewer can be inserted and comes out clean. You may need to cover the top with tin foil after about 35 minutes to prevent it colouring too much.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Eat me drink me

I felt equal parts disturbed and fascinated to see this perfect replica of a baby at the V&A's new show, The Power of Making.

Made from cake, marzipan and icing by Sussex maker Michelle Wibowo, it is a captivating object of craft that strangely repels and attracts in equal measures.

It reminded me of the pink lipstick-smudged aunts who insisted on kissing both my cheeks when I was a little girl, because "you're so pretty I could eat you all up!".

Monday, 19 September 2011

Prawn, fennel and feta fritters with spicy tomato sauce

In the last two weeks, I've swung from craving hot, stodgy comfort foods (on the cold, drizzly wind-swept days) to thirst-quenching, al-fresco meals (in those strange moments when the clouds part, a choir sings and the sun blazes out for a few precious hours). Frankly, I'm exhausted with all this "is it Summer or is it Autumn?" menu planning, so I'm just gonna eat whatever I like. No more eating with the seasons until they make up their mind.

These fritters are nicely crisp and packed with umami moreishness, so satisfy my winter-cravings, but can be lightened up and served with a summery salad on the side if you like. Dual-personality food cravings fixed!

I used some of my treasured Black Russian tomatoes for the sauce to accompany this dish - if you don't grow your own, try to find properly ripe specimens or the sauce won't pack the required sun-filled punch.

Serves 4 as a starter

~for the fritters
1 bulb fennel (about 200g in weight), halved lengthways then very finely sliced
1 tsp olive oil
225g raw prawns
100g feta cubes, crumbled
2 tbsp rice flour
3 tbsp corn flour
2 eggs
½ tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp finely chopped chives
Vegetable oil for shallow frying

~for the sauce
325g fresh tomatoes, diced
8 tbsp passata
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped, seeds included
salt and pepper
1 tbsp olive oil

1) Take the finely sliced fennel and sautee in 1 teaspoon of olive oil for five minutes, until softened through.

2) Now make the tomato sauce by heating the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, then gently frying the garlic and chilli for a minute until the garlic is just starting to turn golden. Add the tomatoes, passata and 100g of the cooked fennel and allow to simmer for twenty minutes, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

3) To make the fritters, stir together the feta, raw prawns, rice and corn flour, egg yolks and remaining fennel. Whisk the egg whites until they reach stiff peaks, then gently fold into the prawn mixture with the chives and fennel seeds.

4) Fill a non-stick frying pan 0.5cm deep with vegetable oil, and heat over a medium heat. Cook heaped tablespoons of the mixture for 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown, then flip over and repeat on the other side. Drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately with the tomato sauce.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Warm green salad

The last remnants of summer in a bowl. This is the lean, green embodiment of the best of the vegetable patch - not mine though sadly, that moment has passed. Although the days are getting cooler and the mornings have a distinct nip in the air, my local shops and markets are still packed with crisp beans and leaves just crying out to be gently coaxed into a warm salad.

This dish has a sharp edge from the lemon and capers, so buddies up well with pan-fried fish, perhaps some crisp skinned sea bass or a silky piece of salmon. I've been eating it with a creamy scoop of potato dauphinoise on the side, made with some of the waxy Duke of York potatoes that I dug up a few weeks ago and now live in a dark cupboard under the stairs.


125g sugarsnap peas
125g green beans
1 large courgette, cut into 5mm slices
50g watercress

~for the salsa verde:
5 tbsp flat-leaf parsley leaves
3 tbsp mint leaves
6 preserved anchovy fillets
3 tbsp capers
1 fat clove of garlic
1 tbsp dijon mustard
the juice of ½ lemon
120ml/4fl oz of extra virgin olive oil

1) Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a deep frying pan and saute the courgette and green beans for a few minutes before adding the sugarsnap peas. Continue to cook for a couple of minutes longer, then add a few tablespoons of water, and pop on a lid to allow the vegetables to steam. Cook until the courgettes are cooked through, about five minutes. Now set them aside while you make the sauce.

2) Very finely chop the parsley, mint, capers, anchovies and garlic until they almost form a paste, then place in a bowl and stir in the mustard, lemon juice and olive oil. Taste, and add seasoning if necessary but the anchovies will be salty so you may not need to.

3) Now gently toss the warm, cooked vegetables with the watercress and sauce, and serve immediately.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Chocolate and almond brioche buns

These were supposed to be for a girlie Sunday breakfast, but my brunch buddy got horribly drunk the night before and we were forced to resort to a full English as an emergency measure. One plate of eggs, bacon, sausage, beans and grilled tomato later, and she was considerably perkier. And we still managed to finish a couple of these in the afternoon. Result.

Makes 16 small buns

~for the marzipan
80g caster sugar
80g icing sugar , plus extra for dusting
125g ground almonds
grated zest of 1 lemon or 1 orange
1 egg

~for the brioche
400g white bread flour
50g golden caster sugar
1 packet fast action yeast (7g)
1 tsp fine grain salt
4 eggs,and 3 egg yolks
250g room-temperature butter

plus, 16 small cubes of dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), about 75g altogether
1 tablespoon of flaked almonds (optional)
and a beaten egg to glaze
16 pieces of greaseproof paper, each 12cm square

1) Warm the milk until it is lukewarm - not too hot - then stir in the yeast and a heaped tablespoon of the flour. Leave the mixture for half an hour until it is bubbling to activate the yeast.

2) Stir the eggs, salt and sugar into the yeast mixture, then stir in the rest of the flour. It will be wet, but don't worry, it is right! Now leave it for another half hour, then find a nice clean surface to knead in the soft butter.

3) Pop the dough onto the surface, and use your hands to spread in small amounts (about 1 tablespoon). You will need to spread the butter over the dough then fold it in repeatedly, stretching the dough as you go. Add more butter when the first bit has been amalgamated into the dough. Continue to add the butter, spreading and then gathering the dough over and over, until all the butter is incorporated. This should take about ten minutes, and the dough should have a little bit of spring-back when you press a finger into its surface. It won't be as springy as normal bread dough though. Chill for a few hours.

4) Meanwhile, make the marzipan by sifting the two sugars and ground almonds together, then stirring in the orange zest and egg. Roll into 16 equal balls and set aside. Now take the dough and separate into 16 evenly sized balls (weigh them if you need to), poking a ball of marzipan and a piece of chocolate inside each.

5) Tuck the paper squares firmly into deep muffin tins, folding them to fit where necessary, then drop one brioche bun into each. Leave to rise until doubled in size (about an hour in a warm room), then brush each one carefully (so as not to spoil the rise) with a liberal amount of beatan egg and sprinkle with flaked almonds. Bake at 375f/190c/gas mark 5 for 18-20 minutes on the bottom shelf of the oven, until golden.

Prepare ahead: If you don't want to eat all of these in one go, you can freeze them after step 4. They will need a longer rise when you take them out of the freezer, so pop them into the paper cases the night before you want them and they will be risen by the morning.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Barley risotto with mushrooms, leeks and roasted garlic

Autumn is here. The first signs came with the sweet scent of mulching leaves and the golden early morning sun last week. A couple of the smaller, over ripe tomatoes have started to rot on the vine, and we’ve just switched the central heating back on.

The summer had its last hurrah over the weekend, one last splash of hazy warmth before the rain sets in proper. I was overjoyed to see my huge and beautiful Black Russian tomatoes take on a deep burgundy hue as they sunbathed. In my mind they had already been consigned to a batch of green tomato chutney.

I’m craving something more comforting than the leaf salads that have been my suppers over the last few months, and this pearl barley risotto neatly fits the bill. Not quite the stodge of a pile of mashed potato but warming none the less. The barley gives this a more toothsome bite than rice and doesn’t demand that you spend hours ladling and stirring – the liquid can all be added at once. A lazy risotto then, but still delicious.

Serves 2

2 whole heads of garlic, cloves separated, skin on
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
15g butter
1 tsp picked fresh thyme
½ small leek (white part only), finely chopped
150g mixed mushrooms (perhaps shitake, enoki, chanterelles or porcini), sliced
200g pearl barley, well rinsed in cold water and drained
800ml vegetable stock
2 tbsp mascarpone
25g parmesan, grated
Freshly ground black pepper
To decorate: micro leaf garlic chives (optional)

1) Toss the garlic cloves in a tablespoon of the olive oil and place in a shallow ovenproof dish. Bake for 25 minutes at 375f/190c/gas mark 5, then leave to cool. Slip each clove out of its papery sleeve and roughly chop.

2) Meanwhile, take two more tablespoons of the oil and fry the mushrooms in a large frying pan until golden brown, then set aside.

3) Using the same pan, heat the butter and the last of the oil and fry the leeks over a medium heat until they are soft and translucent. Add the pearl barley, thyme, garlic and stock, and leave to simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until the barley is soft but still has a little bite in the centre. If the pan runs dry, add a little more water. Once cooked, stir in the mushrooms, parmesan and mascarpone, and season with a little black pepper.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Blooming marvellous

Something for the weekend. This Saturday will see edible gardens across the capital opening their doors for chance to taste the local produce, learn about urban food growing, or just to have a general nosey about. I'm intrigued by the Floating Allotment in Hackney...

If you're feeling particularly energetic there will be a free guided cycling tour of some of the sites in the North/East of London. The forecast for this weekend: a (relatively) scorching 26 degrees!

Capital Growth Edible Gardens Day
3rd September, 2011
Various locations around London
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