Sunday, 30 October 2011

Fig and feta tart with pomegranate molasses and thyme

Figs and feta are a classic combo. Salty, tangy cheese is the perfect foil to the almost jammy sweetness of the figs after they've melted a little in the heat of the oven.

I meant to make itsy-bitsy versions of this as canapes for a dinner I threw last night, but time got away from me. Very annoying as I know these flavours are a favourite of a friend who was there. So today it was resurrected as a voluptuous dish for Sunday lunch. I can live with that.

Serves 6 for lunch

375 puff pastry
1 tbsp olive oil
8 ripe figs
160g feta, crumbled
2 tbsp hemp seeds
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
10 sprigs of fresh thyme
black pepper

1) Roll out the pastry into a 5mm thick rectangle measuring roughly 9" x 14", then trim the edges with a sharp knife to neaten. Brush all over with the olive oil, then score a line 8mm in from the edges to create a border. Don't cut all the way through when you do this though, just about halfway. Transfer the pastry onto an oiled and floured baking tray.

2) Cut a deep cross into the figs from the stem down, leaving a part of the flesh attached at the bottom. Press out with your fingers to splay the quarters out, then arrange over the pastry.

3) Brush the figs with the pomegranate molasses, then scatter over the feta and half of the thyme. Season with black pepper and pop into the oven at 400f/200c/gas mark 6 for 10 minutes. At this point, scatter over the hemp seeds, then bake for a further 15-20 minutes, until golden and crisp. Serve warm with a leafy salad.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Going conkers for chestnuts

I've been humming Christmas songs to myself all week, which I guess means the festive season has well and truly started. Selfridges opened their Christmas shop in August this year, so I figure that I am now fashionably late to the party.

Thanks to Amber for bringing this wonderful, but not entirely necessary, chestnut roasting pan by Hunter Gatherer to my attention.

Not since the woolley stocking has an object so captivated my seasonal imagination: can't you just picture yourself sitting in front of a roaring log fire with the scent of roasting chestnuts filling the room...? Bliss.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The early bird catches the noisette

We had another early morning trip to Billingsgate market this weekend - up at 5am and eyeing up fish by 7. Despite a considerable amount of grumbling (me), we found the energy to get to London Bridge on the way home for some much-needed caffeine at Monmouth Coffee on Maltby Street and to pick up some rainbow chard at Borough Market. Aren't the colours just beautiful?!

My bleary-eyed friend was keen to flex his filleting muscles so we chose a huge whole salmon, to be separated later into a large side for gravadlax, a few greedy-sized fillets, and noisettes, which I used here.

The salmon noisette is a cut which comes from another era, when things were done with care and attention, probably whilst wearing a pinny...and when there weren't so many pleasant distractions like the internet. It's not a quick job, so if you try it, leave yourself plenty of time. The Leith's Fish Bible is excellent for a whole range of basic fishmongery, and it's their instructions that we followed to make these tidy parcels. All you need is a huge fish, the sharpest of knives, a ball of string and a steady hand...


Serves 2

2 x 250g salmon noisettes (or fillets)
2 spring onions, sliced at an angle
1 tsp fresh ginger, sliced into fine matchsticks
1 fresh red chilli, finely sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp soy sauce
½ tsp sesame oil
300g rainbow chard
Steamed jasmine rice, to serve

1) First prep the rainbow chard by washing, then trimming the ends and cutting the chard into short lengths. Place in a saucepan which has a lid, with two tablespoons of water. Set aside to cook later.

2) Now lay out two 40cm square sheets of greaseproof paper and place a piece of salmon onto each. Divide all the other ingredientsequally between the fish and scatter over, then fold the paper over to completely seal in the fish and fasten with string. Bake at 400f/200c/gas mark 6 for 10-12 minutes (the longer time if your fish is a thick piece, or shorter if thin).

3) Five minutes before the fish is cooked, steam the chard over a medium heat until tender, season lightly and serve with the fish and rice.

Friday, 21 October 2011


Sweet crocheted apple jackets by Mollie Makes to celebrate National Apple Day! If only I had the time (and the skill...and the patience...)

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Eat drink and be merry

Image courtesy: Bompas & Parr

Like playing with your food? The Experimental Food Society is having its annual Society Spectacular this weekend. The schedule is frustratingly fuzzy but the two day event promises to feature dining conceptualists, cake sculptors, food landscape artists and food magicians culminating in a banquet finale.

Exhibitors include the jellymongers extraordinaire Bompas & Parr, whose work has raised the former kiddy party ingredient up to near mystical status, crossing the food/art barrier. To top it all off, there's a Bacchanalian nosh-up to close the event on Sunday night.

I've developed an unusually strong interest in camels recently - Camel Conference at SOAS anybody? (it's a work thing), so I'm looking forward to the screening of Hot Chocolate for Bedouins, following one woman's quest to make the supposedly impossible camel-milk cheese (a bit like brie, apparently). Might be tricky convincing someone to join me for that one though...


Experimental Food Society Spectacular: Exhibition, Friday 21st October 13:00-18:00 & Saturday 22nd October 11:00-18:00
Location: The Truman Brewery, Dray Walk Gallery, Shop 14 and F Block B4
91 Brick Lane, London E1 6QL.

Experimental Food Society Spectacular: Banquet, Sunday 23rd October 19:00-23:00
Location: The Folly, 41 Gracechurch Street, London, EC3V 0BT

Monday, 17 October 2011

Guilty pleasures

I've had a cook's blowtorch lurking at the back of my cupboard since my last birthday. Every now and then I feel a pang of remorse as I remember that I should really have tried using it a long, long time ago. What a bad person I must be to have ignored it for so long. Tut.

Well this week I made amends, and in glorious Italian style! These little beauties were dreamt up purely as an excuse to try out my new(ish) toy, and although it does take some practice to get the hang of directing the flame, it is deeply satisfying to produce a rich, burnished finish on the meringue. And as a wonderful by-product, the kitchen smells like honeycomb.

For any newbies to Italian meringue, it involves all the same ingredients as a French meringue, but the sugar is made into a hot syrup which cooks the egg whites without the need to bake it. Magic.

Makes a dozen cakes

~for the lemon cakes:
150g soft butter
150g caster sugar
175g self-raising flour
½ tsp baking powder
3 medium eggs
1 lemon, rind removed with a peeler and flesh juiced
4 tbsp milk
6 tbsp lemon curd

~for the Italian meringue:
120g egg whites (about 4 large egg whites)
210g caster sugar
a small pinch of cream of tartar
75ml water
a sugar thermometer
a culinary blowtorch (optional)

1) First makes the cakes by creaming the butter and sugar together with a hand whisk, until light and creamy. Whisk in the eggs one by one, stir in the milk, and stir in the sifted flour and baking powder. 

2) Chop the lemon rind very finely and add to the mixture with the lemon juice, stirring in well.  Divide between 12 cupcakes cases, and bake at 350f/180c/gas mark 4 for 20-25 minutes, checking to see if a toothpick comes out clean after 20 minutes.  Leave to cool, then scoop out a heaped teaspoon from the top of each cake, and fill with half a tablespoon of the lemon curd.

3) To make the meringue, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks, then set aside for a moment. Stir the sugar into the water to dissolve, then heat in a small saucepan until it reaches soft ball stage (120c). Now pour the syrup into the egg whites in a thin, constant stream, whisking the eggs whites at the same time.  It's helpful to have someone else to pour in the syrup while you whisk.  Keep whisking until all of the syrup is incorporated, then whisk for a further two minutes. Spoon the meringue into a piping bag with a wide, round nozzle, and pipe onto the cakes. Use a blowtorch to lightly brown the meringue, carefully avoiding the paper cases.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Lunchbox lover

A vibrant, healthy salad that you can pile high on the lunch plate without a trace of guilt.

At this time of year, warm salads have the right transitional feel for the will-it won't-it weather. I'm a sucker for the seductive, silky texture that butternut squash takes on after slow roasting, and it makes for a lively mouthful when combined with the crunchy cashews and slippery cous cous here.

I probably overuse this combination of herbs and spices - it works equally well sprinkled over potato wedges - but I just can't resist the herby heat it lends the whole shebang.

Serves 4 for lunch

150g Israeli (giant) wholewheat cous cous
10g butter
400ml vegetable stock
a 2lb butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
2 tbsp olive oil
100g cashew nuts
1 tsp chilli flakes
2 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp dried rosemary
80g rocket (arugula)
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper

1) Stir together the butternut squash in the olive oil, fennel seeds, chilli, rosemary, salt and pepper, and roast in a deep tray for 30 minutes at 400f/200c/gas mark 6. At this point, add the cashews, toss them around in the oil a bit, then roast for another 10 minutes, then leave to cool.

2) Melt the butter in a medium sized pan, add the cous cous and toast until golden, stirring frequently. Add 350ml of the stock and leave to simmer with a lid on for 5 minutes, until it has absorbed all the liquid and is just soft through. Add more of the stock if it dries out too quickly.

3) Toss the roasted squash, cashews, cous cous and rocket leaves together while still warm.

Prepare ahead: The rocket and cashews tend to lose their crunch if added too early so if this is going in your lunchbox, roast the cashews separately and pack them aside from the main bit and then toss together just before eating.  Try adding feta cheese as well for extra substance.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Ferran Adrià’s weekend food

I have to admit to being rather intrigued by the recipe for a crisp omelette in yesterday's Times magazine by Ferran Adrià (head chef of the legendary El Bulli restaurant in Spain). I had a bit of a food snob reaction to it at first - snack food cooked into an omelette, yeurgh! But the more I think about it the more rational it seems - a lighthearted play on the traditional Spanish omelette of onions and potato perhaps?

I'll have to try it. If you fancy a go, the recipe (though not from the Times, they are quite militant about retaining intellectual rights online!) can be found here on the Food and Wine website.

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