Friday, 24 February 2012

Cubeb pepper & orange shortbread

A new ingredient to play with! Cubeb peppercorns. I discovered them at the ever tempting Spice Mountain stall at Borough Market. They have every spice you could ever dream of, including a dozen peppers, all calling out to be tested.

This one proved irresistable. It's a rare Indonesian spice which has a warming, allspice-y flavour, with the mouthwatering quality of szechuan pepper. There's a touch of something medicinal in there too, but not unpleasantly so.

I thought the spicy bitterness would be tasty if paired up with some sugar to mellow the pungency, and so these cookies were born. Blended with the zest of an orange and some plain old black pepper, these were a deliciously crumbly biscuit, dense with butter but melt in the mouth.

They were also suprisingly sturdy - a batch came with me on a research trip for work - well wrapped, they survived all the way to Warwick, before being demolished for elevenses.

Makes 9

130g room temperature butter
55g caster sugar
a large pinch of salt
125g plain flour
50g fine semolina
¼ tsp ground black pepper
¼ tsp ground cubeb pepper (or ground allspice)
the grated rind of an orange

plus, two more tablespoons of caster sugar to top the biscuits before baking

1) Put the butter in a large bowl with the caster sugar and orange rind, and cream until blended with a wooden spoon. Sift together the flour, semolina, salt, peppers and mix into a consistent dough. Try not to work it too much or the mixture will become toughened.

2) Make into a rough log shape about 7cm in diameter, wrap in clingfilm, and chill for an hour before slicing into nine equal slices.

3) Lay out the dough on a greaseproof paper covered baking tray, with enough room between each slice for the dough to spread a little while it cooks. Use the last 2 tablespoons of sugar to thickly coat the top of each biscuit, and bake at 325f/170c/gas mark 3 for 30 minutes. Leave to cool on the tray for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Raspberry & ricotta pancakes with honeycomb syrup

Happy Shrove Tuesday! I love any holiday that centres around food, but pancake day is a particular favourite. Sweet cakes-in-disguise with syrup for breakfast? Yes please. I'm afraid this version doesn't strictly adhere to the tradition of using up what's left over in the cupboards, but they are heavenly.

I based these on a fail safe recipe by Jamie Oliver for thick fluffy American style pancakes, then upped the fluffy-factor by adding ricotta and reducing the flour, to create an almost souffléd mouthful. The raspberries are essential for giving the impression of healthiness. Just close your eyes and don't think about the syrup...


Makes 10

~for the pancakes
250g ricotta
the zest of a clementine
a pinch of salt
3 tbsp milk
80g (1 tightly packed cup) plain flour
3 large eggs
100g raspberries

~for the syrup
6 tbsp caster sugar
50ml water

1) First make the syrup by allowing the sugar to melt over a low heat. Don't stir the sugar, but you can swirl the pan gently to bring in any bits left at the edges. Continue to heat until the sugar has turned a rich brown colour, then turn off the heat and stand well back before adding the water to the pan. It will spit and bubble for 30 seconds. When the bubbling has died down, bring the heat back up and let the syrup warm through whilst stirring, until it is smooth.

2) Separate the eggs into two bowls, then add the clementine zest, salt, milk, and flour to the egg yolks and blend until smooth with a whisk. Whisk the eggs whites with a clean whisk, then fold gently into the flour mixture.

3) Heat a large heavy bottomed frying pan over a low heat, then spoon the mixture into thick, 10cm blobs. Press a few raspberries into the top of pancake, then leave for about 3 minutes, until small bubbles have started to appear around the edges. Use a palette knife or spatula to carefully turn each pancake - the bottom of each should be golden at this point. Allow to cook for another 2 minutes then set aside while you continue to cook the rest of the batter in batches. You may need to wipe any raspberry juice that has leaked from the fruit off the bottom of the pan occasionally, or it will catch on the bottom of the pan and spoil the other pancakes. Serve with the warm honeycomb syrup.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

More tales from Portugal: Peniche

A small window into another time...

We saw these fish drying in the sun next to the usual washing line of clothes down a quiet street in Peniche.  The town's traditional fishing industry is still running - some parts of town hum with the smell of sardine canneries - but is now supplemented by tourism, and surfers hoping to catch one of the energetic waves that thrash the sandy beaches.

These look like some sort of rays to me but we didn't spot them in any restaurant windows.  I like that Peniche is still the sort of town where people are trusted not to take what they find - a philosophy which extends to their churches, where valuable icons are sometimes left unattended.  I am sad to say it would never happen in London, but it was nice to know that way of life still exists, somewhere.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Fairy tales and fairy cakes

Who ate all of granny's cakes?

Are you a fan of fairy tales?  Enjoy circus skills?  Love spending your Saturday night in a dank tunnel?  Then you would have enjoyed Don't Stray From the Path, an interactive theatre piece which took place last week in the tunnels underneath Waterloo station, courtesy of the Old Vic theatre.

It's a truly atmospheric venue, authentic with London grime and smothered with decades of graffiti as you near the entrance.  It was owned by British Rail until very recently, and it shows: the dimly lit corridors are still occupied with cogs and things that go whirr, the rumbling echo of a train occasionally passing overhead.  There's an unexpectedly cosy industrial-style bar space, but their limited bar didn't run to my favourite rum so we didn't stop for a drink.

Although this performance was for a few nights only the venue is open for other events until September so there's plenty of time to have a look.  I felt a bit mixed about this piece.  There were some original bits of set dressing that suited the rough-and-ready style, and the psychosexual edge to the narrative stopped the fairytale elements from drifting into chintziness.  However, there were also some staging issues with moving the audience around the space and some parts of the production felt disjointed to me, as if they were from entirely different pieces.  Still, it's amazing what they achieved in just 4 weeks prep time, so well done to them.

Oh, the wide eyed girl above was collecting cakes for granny from the audience - but gobbled them all up!  Greedy guts.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Staying put and keeping cosy

It's -3 outside and snow is slowly covering the ground in a picturesque veil of white. It's double glove weather, time to bunker down and avoid going out (except for those completely legitimate snowball fights, which must always be followed by a strong, reviving cuppa).

My solution to the cold is soup, and lots of it. I spent yesterday happily making this hearty soup, packed full of mediterranean veggies and beans, and with a few orzo (rice-shaped pasta) thrown in to make it a meal.

A tip: if you have the hard end of a piece of parmesan left over in the fridge, use that instead - or as well - as the grated cheese in this soup. Toss it in whole and it will give its cockle-warming umami tones to the dish. Delicious and thrifty.

Serves 6

1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 small carrots
1 aubergine
1 large courgette
1 stick celery
1 red pepper
400g cooked borlotti beans
5 plum tomatoes
1/4 cup (30g) orzo, or other small pasta
3 tbsp olive oil
2 bay leaves
a pinch of dried rosemary
a sprig of fresh thyme
1 1/2 litres water
5 tbsp grated parmesan

~for the pesto
40g basil leaves
8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp pine nuts

1) To make the soup, first cut the carrots, aubergine, courgette, celery and red pepper into 1cm dice. Heat the 3 tablespoons of oil in a large pan.

2) Gently fry the onion over a low heat for five minutes, then add the garlic and fry for a further minute. Add the carrots and aubergine and fry for another few minutes before adding the red pepper, courgette and celery. Break up the tomatoes with your fingers into rough pieces, and add them to the pot with the orzo pasta, herbs, borlotti beans and water. Simmer for 30 minutes, then add the parmesan and season with salt and pepper.

3) While the soup is cooking, make the pesto by blending together the basil, pine nuts and olive oil until you have a rough emulsion, then add salt to taste. Serve the soup with a spoon of pesto to stir through.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Animal, vegetable or mineral?

I'm still puzzling about what this mysterious creature could be, spotted in a restaurant window on Rua Augusta in Lisbon.

Any ideas?

I've never seen anything like it!

Sweet dreams are made of this

Bom dia! I returned from Lisbon this week, fat but happy. As I'm snowed in this morning along with the rest of London, I thought I'd share one of my highlights from the trip with you.

I have to admit that I was attracted to Portugal in order to try those delicate little custard tarts called pastéis de nata, a speciality in Lisbon. I've had some before which were very tasty, but surely they'd be even better in their spiritual home?

The pastéis are said to have originated from the Hieronymite monastery in Belém in the 1830s, when the monks fell on hard hard times after being expelled. The tarts soon began to be made to the same recipe in an adjoining building, which continues today as the Pastéis de Belém cafe on the Rua de Belém, using the same recipe from 1837. I was told that today only two people know the closely guarded recipe. All of which means that eating there counts as culture and not gluttony, which means it's a guilt-free trip. Happy days.

The cafe itself is quite beautiful, tiled in the traditional blue and white azulejo style. It's a popular spot with visitors and locals alike - even in January there was a decent queue waiting for a batch to appear.

The pastéis are served warm from the oven so the flaky pastry is crisp and the custard is only gently set and seductively creamy. Each tart has a dash of heady vanilla, which can either be complemented with a dash of powdered sugar or cinnamon from the shakers provided, or enjoyed alone. There is an art to achieving the right amount of caramelisation both on the top and underneath which they are very aware of - I took a walk past the open kitchen and saw a woman carefully inspecting the bottom of each pastéis. Those that did not please her discerning eye were tossed aside. They still looked delicious to me...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...