Sunday, 29 April 2012

Brunch bunch: parmesan French toast

Breakfast is often just that - a break to the fast of the night, squeezed into the gap between bathroom and hair drier before work. It's usually a monastic bowl of hearty muesli for me, or maybe some heartwarming porridge if it's chilly outside. Not something to linger over.

Brunch, however, is something else entirely. I was blown away by the droolworthy selection on offer at John Torrode's Luxe restaurant yesterday. My eggs Benedict was a plateful of brunchy joy, perfectly poached eggs under a decent blanket of smooth hollandaise. Not the indecent drenching that I would usually give myself at home, but then I didn't have to waddle out of the restaurant either, so all the better for it.

In the spirit of Luxe, I giving my brunches the attention they deserve, starting with some tweaks to an old favourite.

Serves 2 greedy brunchers

~for the French toast
5 eggs
100ml whole milk
40g Parmesan, finely grated
30g mature cheddar, finely grated
a pinch of cayenne
a small pinch of salt
30g butter
5 slices of day-old white bread

~for the tomato salsa
4 ripe tomatoes, chopped into 5mm dice
3 spring onions, finely chopped
2 mild green chillies, finely chopped
salt and pepper
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp cider vinegar

1) Whisk together the eggs, milk, cheeses, cayenne and salt, then dip each slice of bread into the mixture, giving each one a good soaking.

2) Stir together all the salsa ingredients, adding salt and pepper to taste, then warm through in a small pan.

3) To cook the French toast, melt a knob of the butter in a non-stick frying pan, then fry each slice over a medium heat until golden brown, flip and cook the other side. Serve with a dollop of the salsa.

Monday, 16 April 2012

New ingredients: Sweet tamarind

This little fruit caused quite a stir in my office when I took some in last week, so I thought I should introduce it here too: sweet tamarind.

When I grabbed a handful of these to nibble at my desk for breakfast, I had no idea that they would become the centre of attention. Cue curious looks and manhandling. Although lots of my colleagues were familiar with the type of tamarind that is used in curries as a sharpening agent, no-one had come across the sweet version before. There was lots of interest, and plenty of inuendo. Yes, they look suspect, but they taste delicious.

In the immortal words of my boss, "this is going to sound stupid, but it tastes like...tamarind". Yes, it does taste like tamarind, only far less sharp, almost jammy in fact. The texture is something like a date, slightly fibrous but also squidgy. There is a mellowness to it that is absent in the cooking type.

Getting into them can be tricky - the bark is hard and brittle, almost like a shell, and needs to be cracked open. The fruit inside is covered with a thin, spidery branch-like structure, which should also be removed before eating. Watch out for the shiny brown pips inside! To be honest, if I'd had a banana in the house, I would have taken that for breakfast instead, but I was having a disorganised start to the day.

If you fancy trying them in the convenience and privacy of own home, boxes are widely available in Asian stores in London, or here online. Just don't show them to the people you work with.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Warm butter bean and spinach salad with crispy garlic

Oh dear, apologies for being such a slack blogger recently - I blame a combination of a demanding work schedule and my recent discovery of a rather excellent new spirits shop on Wardour Street (Amathus in case you're interested). They have an incredible selection of world rums that I've been exploring with more vigour than is probably wise, leaving me happy and very relaxed, but with no time for cooking. Oops.

Much of my recent meal prep has been quick, where dishes like this come into their own. I love tinned beans and pulses - they're super healthy and don't require days of planning and advance soaking like dried pulses. This recipe is uber easy and makes a nice quick lunch or light supper. It also hovers in the non-committal world of warm salads which have been so loving during these strange sunny/thundery days of April. I have to admit, I can't wait for summer to start.


about 200ml vegetable oil
a whole bulb of garlic
4 tbsp extra virgin olive
½ onion, finely diced
1 stick of celery, finely diced (if there are any celery leaves, chop and add them to the mix with the parsley)
450g fresh spinach
400g can of butter beans
½ lemon
3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

Greek yoghurt and crusty bread, to serve

1) Separate and peel all the cloves of garlic, keeping 2 cloves aside. Finely slice the rest into even 1mm thicknesses. Pour enough vegetable oil into a small saucepan to come 1cm up the side, and fry the garlic over a low/medium heat until golden. Be careful not to let it brown as this will make the garlic bitter. Sprinkle with a little salt and leave to drain on kitchen towel.

2) Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and gently fry the onion for a few minutes, until soft and translucent, then add the garlic. Fry for a minute more, then add the celery. Cook until soft, then add the butter beans to the pan and allow them to warm in the juices before adding the spinach. Pop a lid on the pan and allow to cook until the spinach has wilted.

3) Sprinkle over the parsley (and celery leaves, if using) and squeeze over the juice of the lemon, then season with a little salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Sprinkle over the crisp garlic and serve immediately.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Sweet potato cakes in a crispy sesame coat

I love it when friends go on their travels. There's something so wonderfully evocative about hearing their tales of food markets and dishes from across the seas. And perhaps, if I'm lucky, I might receive a small parcel of some strange and exciting food stuff, like the kodampuli last month.

Hearing the stories of a friend just back from Tokyo reminded me of my own memories of Japan. I loved their appreciation of fresh, seasonal ingredients, prolific use of umami flavours, and ability to bring out the inherent beauty of food itself.

We had to stick to a serious budget on our trip, so we often avoided restaurants and instead picked up a few delicious and mysterious nibbles from a food shop, to picnic with in one of the parks, or by the river in Kyoto.

Sweet potato cakes were a common sweet that I ate a lot of, a type of wagashi (traditional sweet) I think. If you live in London do try one of the jewel-like sweets in wagashi shop Minamoto Kitchoan on Piccadilly, they are so very pretty and tasty to boot. This recipe is a play on the wagashi I remember, a little less sugary perhaps but full of the natural sweetness of the potatoes, and coated with crispy toasted sesame seeds.


Makes 20

600g sweet potatoes
40g softened butter
30g sugar
2 egg yolks
tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbsp plain flour
½ tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
about 1½ cups sesame seeds (about 200g)

2 x silicon baking trays, or 2 x oiled and floured baking trays

1) Bake the sweet potatoes for 35-50 minutes (depending on size) at gas mark 6, until soft all the way through. Scoop out the soft flesh and beat in the butter, sugar, egg yolks, cinnamon, flour, vanilla and salt. Chill the mixture for an hour.

2) Pour the sesame seeds into a bowl. Use a teaspoon to scoop out rounded teaspoons of mixture, and drop each one in the seeds, giving each a generous sprinkling all over with seeds until they are completely covered, then very gently use your hands to pat them into 6cm rounds. You will need to be very careful as you do this, or they will smoosh. Place each cake on the baking tray, leaving a centimeter space between each.

3) Bake for 15 minutes at 400f/200c/gas mark 6, or until the sesame seeds are golden but not turning brown at the edges. Leave to cool on the trays for 5 minutes before transferring toa wire rack to cool.

These are best eaten fresh, as the seeds will soften on storage, but they can be recrisped by heating briefly in the oven again.
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