Friday, 10 December 2010

The most amazing Breadmaking Christmas party

We all know the usual pre-Christmas restaurant outing/outrage. Desperate office boys and girls around London huddle around overpacked restaurants, eat restrictive bland 3-course menus with 2 choices of main, 2 of starter and (if you're lucky at all) 2 choices of dessert. Add to that the embarrassment of having to quickly wolf down everything so you can be out of there before the minus two hours of the booking are finished (and your double-decker has turned again into a butternut squash). And what about having to pay anything from £35 to £extortionate, upfront when you make the booking, AND getting charged full price if one unlucky sod happens to fall ill in the snowstorm? There you go…now you've got your typical London Christmas party. And "due to extreme popularity, we are only able to accommodate your group for a Christmas dinner on the 19th of November". Don't tell me you haven't heard this one! Christmas is Christmas, and whether you like it or not, a dinner in November does-not-a-Christmas-party-constitute, in anyone's (and much less a foreigner's) book.

Hence, this time my international colleagues and I went for an alternative Christmas dinner. One where you get your hands dirty (and sticky!), one that requires at least one full body apron per person, no loose hairs and future wonderment on how flour has managed to end up everywhere (including the inside of your underwear!). What I'm talking about is an evening spent making bread (and eating it) in the e5 Bakehouse. Ben McKinnon's love child is a lovely bakery squished under one of the London Fields train station arches, which dishes out yummy organic loaves. The master feature is the wood fire oven that Ben and his sister designed and built from scratch, using information found on the internet and reclaimed materials. Despite being mismatched, it's extremely pretty, sitting there and puffing fire like a gentle ancient dragon.



We ended up in the bakery after my friend Natalia (who lives nearby and met Ben when she was passing by and smelt the bread, leading to a small coffee-making day collaboration) thought it would be a good alternative idea and a great chance to avoid the usual pre-holiday restaurant rat-race. And what a fantastic idea it was. After we confirmed numbers, Ben kindly booked us in to come and make some great ciabatta breads on a freezing Thursday evening. Thinking that we would be eating only the bread, we brought along some nuts, olives, cold meats and LOTS of cheese and wine to go with it. However we were in for a surprise...(or two!)



We started with Ben showing us around and passing on the recipe for the ciabattas, and while we got messy measuring water, flour and leaven he showed us the next steps, which involved a lot of waiting for the dough to rest, and not as much kneading as I actually expected. After an initial mixing and resting we folded the dough by lifting it off the edges of the bowl with a spatula, from the outside towards the centre, something that was repeated again two times after intervening rests and cheese-and-cracker-nibbling.



After the few times of folding and resting were over, we transferred the dough into a well-floured surface, where we stretched it, and finally decorated it with rosemary, olives or sundried tomatoes, and - following the example of the Italians in the team - drizzled it with olive oil and spread a few salt flakes on top.

Then we moved on to the long table that Ben's girlfriend had cutely decorated with tea lights and where all our cheesing and wining was previously performed, and heard something about "dinner". Thinking that was the bread we had just baked, we were shocked to discover that the guys had even made some vegetarian lasagne for us which were followed by dreamy mince pies (I had been eyeing those earlier when they were patiently sitting in the bakery shelves, but I had no clue some of them were meant for us!)



After being totally filled up to the brim with food, we finished off with some freshly brewed coffee from Square Mile that Natalia had brought with her and went off into the frost with our little bags stuffed with leftover ciabatta and some of the signature Borodinsky rye bread that Ben had also made for us and which we "styled" into the bread tins.



An amazing night overall, and an amazing bakery, go in and get a loaf any time you're around Hackney, or visit the Bakery's facebook page to stay updated on future events and baking classes, which take place usually on Saturdays.

Arch 402, Mentmore Terrace
London, E8 3PH
E5 Bakehouse on Urbanspoon

-----------------------
Update: 10 March 2011

I was really stunned and delighted to see last night that Ben's bread featured in the BBC's Great British Food Revival. Michel Roux Junior even exclaimed that his bread "turned him on"! I don't think even I expected such quick progress when I wished Ben "even more good luck in the New Year", but he definitely deserves it and I'm really glad to know his bread keeps on selling out.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Gooey chocolate and almond cookies

Ah...cookies. My life-long weakness. Ever since I was a kid, I've lived on cookies, any kind of cookies. Apologies to the severely British, but I can not call them "biscuits". Biscuits in my severely sugar-damaged bread are something salty, not sweet. Like a cracker kind of thing. Sort of.



Anyway, back to cookies. I buy them. I eat them. Every day. Around 11:30 to 12:00, all my colleagues will testify it's cookie-munching time. If I miss them one day, I get grumpy. Can be any kind of cookies, but chocolate chip ones are a definite favourite. By "can be any kind of cookies" I mostly mean cookies with some form of chocolate in or around them. If I had to define the perfect one, then...hmmm...it would probably be the chocolate covered speculoos. Simply majestic. Anyways, needless to say, I also make them. I've tried many kinds, but never these ones, as I generally don't like chocolate too much (just a little bit) but these are just the right amount of gooeyness and cheweiness, they stay like this for quite a few days, and they're enough to share with friends (which all my friends will verify is NOT something I usually do with cookies. With cakes maybe. NOT with cookies).



In Greece the typical breakfast is a coffee and a cigarette, or - if you're not a smoker - a coffee and a cookie or a pastry of some kind. Seriously. When Greek people marvel at the fact that I can eat a full English/Mexican/Asian breakfast with cooked things in it, that are not sweet but salty, this is the reason why, because it's extremely atypical to find anything non-sweet in a Greek breakfast. On the other hand, the American "milk and cookies" at night thing, that we don't have. Cookies are for breakfast, or for elevenses, not for dinner or post-dinner. How weird we Greeks are...



Gooey chocolate and almond cookies
Source: Inspired by 17 and baking

Makes about 40 cookies

  • ½ cup ground almonds
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 150g 70% dark chocolate, chopped
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ cups light brown sugar
  • 8 tbsp softened butter
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ cups icing sugar

Mix the almonds with the sugar. Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie or in the microwave and set aside. Sift the flour together with the cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Mix the butter with the brown sugar at high speed with an electric mixer until well-combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue mixing until they are fully incorporated. Fold in the melted chocolate and add the milk and vanilla. Finally slowly add the flour mixture and mix until all is combined.

Shape the dough into a ball, cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours (preferably overnight).

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 180°C. Put the icing sugar in a big bowl and scoop out little heaped tablespoonfuls of dough, roll them into a ball and coat them with the sugar. Transfer to a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, leaving at least 5cm breathing space between each cookie ball. Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, until they are cracked but not completely firm. Cool them on wire racks.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Caramelised apple cinnamon cake

Ah... Autumn. The cold is seriously setting in now, due to an unexpected boyfriend cold yesterday we threw out the window our resolution to NOT turn the heating on in the house until November started, and here I am looking at gloominess outside being all cuddly and warm inside. Usually the onset of winter brings me down a notch, but this year for some reason I have made so many plans and so many interesting things are coming up, that I'm still happy as a bunny and really looking forward to the future. So much, that I didn't think hard about putting a neologism I created as a facebook update, and then had to face endless speculation, excitement and finally disappointment from friends who thought that me being "futureexpectant" meant that I was pregnant. I have to admit, if I had thought a bit harder I might have seen the connotations there, but I can assure you, I definitely am not pregnant, neither do I have the time to be at the moment!



What I finally had the time to make was an autumn-fitting cake on one of the few Friday nights that I have managed to leave work on time. After rushing out to catch the next train and forgetting to buy half the ingredients I needed, I got off one stop early, managed to find the stuff I needed in a corner shop, walk back home through the "scenic" route (which can be even more scenic and nice in this time of year), bake the cake, make homemade pizza for dinner with some leftover wonderful Italian cheeses (mozzarella, fontina and provola) I had picked up in Greenwich Market last Sunday and be in bed by 23:00. Record time! And I even managed to fit in an episode of Fringe between all that too!



I hadn't tried this cake before, but it resembled one that I really love making, which has less apples and more of a crumbly top, and I was a bit sceptical about how this one would turn out, but it was immediately approved by the sniffling boyfriend, so I'm assuming if someone with virtually no taste buds would promptly scoff it, then it must be good enough to be worth a post! The apples on the inside made it very moist, and it tastes great warmed up with some vanilla ice cream (I keep writing this for pretty much every cake I post, but is there really anything in the world that DOESN'T taste good warmed up with vanilla ice cream on the side? Nope. Thought so. OK, this one would taste great with some cinnamon ice-cream, if I had had the time to make some. Any good recipes out there? If you find one, give me a shout!). I adapted the recipe a bit and added cinnamon in the cake, and topped it with some icing sugar and NOMU Sweet rub, which is a mix of sugar, cinnamon and sweet spices from a great little South African company. I tried it once years ago, and I've been ordering it online ever since, as I can't do without it, in cakes, pancakes, even on top of hot chocolate!



Caramelised apple cinnamon cake
Source: Adapted from Tesco Real Food

Serves 12

  • 4 apples
  • juice of ½ a lemon
  • 275g golden granulated sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 100g butter, melted
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 215g plain flour
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp NOMU Sweet rub (or a mix of sugar, cinnamon and mixed spice)

Grease a 23cm spring form cake tin and line the base with greaseproof paper. Peel the apples, cut them into ½cm-thick slices and mix them in a large bowl with the lemon juice, 1 tsp of the cinnamon powder and 50g of the sugar. Scatter another 50g of sugar over the base of the tin, and top with enough apple slices to cover the base, overlapping the slices slightly to make a nice circular shape.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Beat the eggs, melted butter, remaining 175g of sugar, salt and vanilla extract together until combined. Sift the flour, baking powder and remaining 1 tsp of cinnamon over the mixture and add the ground almonds. Mix in the remaining apple slices with their liquid and fold together quickly. Pour into the tin and bake for 50 minutes, checking the cake after the first 30 minutes to make sure it's not getting "suntanned". If it is, bake it covered with foil for the next 20 minutes.

When it's totally cooled, turn the tin upside down onto a plate so that the base is on the top and sprinkle with icing sugar and then NOMU Sweet rub, or the mix of sweet spices and sugar.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Spiced honey duck with caramelised sweet potatoes

Mmmm...duuuuuck... Thus spoke my boyfriend at the idea of buying some breasts of this favourite of ours to cook at home. Little did we know that unexpected commitments would come up, disasters would strike (like the day I came back home from work, licking my lips with the idea of duck on my mind, only to find that there was no electricity in the whole neighbourhood. Needless to say, takeaway pizza just wasn't the same and the most infuriating thing was that the electricity DID come back two hours later, the moment I was blindly and fiddlingly trying to open the pizza box), the days would pass and the duck would be still lying in the fridge.

 


 
Nevertheless, after an almost week-long odyssey we finally both managed to be at home, and feeling experimental, I decided to try a different recipe this time. I've made duck many times before, always using sweet sauces as I love it this way (my all time favourite used to be this tamarind duck I could get in a lovely Thai restaurant in Norwich called The Sugar Hut... ah, I miss that so!) and I stuck to the sweet principle this time as well, but with some extra spice. My boyfriend was extra helpful and experimental alongside me this time, when he dug out half a monster sweet potato that we had left over in the fridge (from making a batch of these coffee cupcakes for a charity coffee morning at work, in case you're wondering!) and suggested that we make roast sweet potatoes to go with the duck. Yes, sweet potatoes with sweet duck.

 


 
However, it worked beautifully, and I was really impressed, so much that this is now definitely my favourite recipe for duck, and I'm sure I'll repeat it again and again. The sweet potatoes were not too sweet (as I thought they would end up being) and although I could have made them into a purée, I like the bite and the chargriled edges (plus saves me some time puréeing and washing the extra utensils!).

 


 
Spiced honey duck with caramelised sweet potatoes
Source: Severely adapted from John Burton Race

Serves 2

  • 2 duck breasts
  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 4 tbsp runny honey
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • ½ tsp ginger powder
  • ½ tsp Chinese five spice powder
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • ¼ tsp chilli powder
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220°C. Peel the sweet potato, chop it into cubes and toss with the olive oil, maple syrup, chilli powder, cinnamon and nutmeg in a tray. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and bake for 35-40 minutes until soft and caramelised, frequently mixing the potatoes around so they don't stick.

Crush the coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar (or put in a strong plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin or tin can). Mix in the ginger, Chinese five spice and some freshly ground black pepper.

Clean the duck breasts and score the skin in a diamond pattern with a sharp knife. Season with a little salt. Place the duck skin side down in a very hot pan, reduce the heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes. Pour the fat out of the pan and turn the duck over, cooking it until it is nicely browned.

Reduce the heat and sprinkle the spice mix over the skin of the duck breasts. Drizzle the honey over them and continue cooking, basting them constantly with the melting honey until nicely glazed. Turn the breasts over and when they're ready remove them from the pan and keep warm.

Serve the sweet potatoes topped with the sliced duck and drizzle with the rest of the spiced honey.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Pear and chocolate frangipane tart

It's official. The winter is here. And yet, somehow I feel like I've been saying this since weeks ago. But then again, weeks ago I didn't have to get the "autumn" coat out, neither did I think for a second that I would feel like turning the heating on already (when last year I only turned it on in November!). So yes, something's definitely going on right now. You can call it Autumn, but I'll call it Winter.


For someone who comes from a country with two seasons (Summer=hot hot hot and Winter= mildly cold + snow once every 10 years) living in a place where there is such a strong distinction between summer, autumn, winter and spring is refreshing to say the least. Never had I seen autumn leaf colours in Greece (there's it's one day here, tomorrow on the floor, no in-between stage!) and never had I realised that there are things that just "go" with autumn.


Like this pear frangipane tart. I discovered this a year ago, and it's become one of my favourite feel-good desserts to make when I'm down, or when it's cold outside (which is usually one and the same!). The fact that you serve it warm makes it even more appropriate, nothing better to warm you up inside than something warm that...goes inside your mouth! It's also become one of my boyfriend's favourite desserts, so I get a lot of special requests. Yes, it takes a while to make, but oh...how much it's worth it!



Pear and chocolate frangipane tart
Source: Valentine Warner in Olive magazine (November 2009)

Serves 8

For the pastry

  • 250g plain flour
  • 150g butter, fridge cold and cut into small cubes
  • 1 tbsp golden caster sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten

For the filling

  • 3 firm conference pears
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 100g 70% dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
  • 50g good quality milk chocolate, chopped into small pieces
  • 175g softened butter
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 125g ground almonds
  • 75g plain flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • 15g flaked almonds

To make the pastry put the flour, butter and sugar in a food processor and blend until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the eggs, blend again and turn off when the dough forms a ball. Roll out the pastry between two big sheets of cling film so it doesn't stick (I learnt this trick from Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets, and although I can't stand the guy and his cockiness, at least I got something useful out of the show!).

Line a deep fluted 25cm tart tin with the pastry, by carefully peeling one sheet of cling film and gently lowering the pastry into the tin (or the other way around, putting the tin upside down on the pastry and carefully turning the whole thing around, so that the dough falls into the tin). Place on a baking tray, prick the base with a fork and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line the pastry case with crumpled baking parchment and fill with baking beans. Bake like this for 22 minutes, then remove the beans and paper and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes, or until the base is dry. Remove from the oven and leave aside to cool.

Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C. Peel and cut the pears into quarters. Remove the cores and put the pear quarters into a bowl with the lemon juice, tossing them so they are all covered, so they won't turn brown.

In a mixer blend the butter and sugar until pale and soft. Add the ground almonds, flour, salt, baking powder, eggs and vanilla. Blend well, take the mixer out and stir in the chocolate pieces with a spatula.

Spread the almond mixture evenly over the cooled pastry case, arrange the pear quarters on their sides in a circle around the tart, pressing gently into the almond mix, narrow ends towards the centre.

Bake on the tray in the centre of the oven or 30 minutes. Sprinkle the flaked almonds over and return to the oven for a further 35-40 minutes, or until the pears are tender and the frangipane filling is well-risen and golden brown. Leave to stand for 15 minutes before lifting from the tin. I love this served warm, if you have leftovers you can reheat it in the microwave later on, and serve with some good quality vanilla ice-cream, it's delicious when the chocolate bits are gooey and melt in your mouth.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Orejitas (Sugar and cinnamon cookies)

For those of you who were wondering where I've been for the last few weeks, I had a brief holiday back in Greece to attend my best friend's wedding, see family and friends and get some last sun for the year! Now, the sun part didn't exactly happen as planned, since in the second part of our trip we got rain, clouds and 9-Beaufort winds (I witnessed my first horizontal hanging flowerpot...seriously, it was blowing THAT hard!) but at least we got to get out of the daily routine, and have a bit of a break.



Coming back, I was faced with my partner's excitement about the Mexican Independence Bicentennial celebrations (and his disappointment that he wouldn't be in his country to see them) and I was specially requested to make his favourite Mexican cookies. These are the things he puts on a pedestal the most when it comes to sweets, and the first time I tried to make them I felt daunted at the idea of trying to recreate something so "sacredly perfect", but it ends up that they are extremely simple, and he even prefers my homemade version to his favourite pre-packed ones!



A Mexican friend had suggested a recipe to me at a party, and after a quick look at a video online I was set to create my own version. We both love cinnamon, so my recipe includes quite a bit of that, but then again I can't think of many people who hate cinnamon, so hopefully that's a good thing! Alternatively (when I've got some in my cupboard, as it's hard to find in Britain, I've only been able to get it online), I sometimes use an amazing Sweet rub mix that NOMU (a South African company that makes amazing spice mixes) produces to substitute the sugar and cinnamon. If you can find it, try it, it's the most heavenly thing! (but in this case just mix a few spoonfuls of it with less than the 1 cup of sugar).



Orejitas (Sugar and cinnamon cookies)
Source: dulcis in fundo (Inspired by Cocina de Yolo)

Makes about 40

  • 500g puff pastry (in a block, not the already rolled kind)
  • 1 cup golden granulated sugar
  • 4 tsp cinnamon
  • A few tbsp of flour
  • A bit of butter for the tray (optional)

In a bowl mix the sugar with the cinnamon. In a big and well-floured surface roll out the pastry into a rectangular shape until it's about 4mm thick. Sprinkle with half the sugar mix and roll out more with the rolling pin, making sure the sugar gets embedded into the dough. Turn upside down, sprinkle the other half of the sugar and embed it again into the dough by rolling further.

At the end of this you should have a 2mm-thick long rectangular dough. Grab one of the long sides and start rolling it tightly with your hands towards the centre, creating a little "snail" shape. Stop when you get to the middle, and roll in the same way from the other side. You'll get a very long tightly rolled together "double snail". With a sharp knife cut off 4mm-wide pieces from the rolled dough, and place them on a very lightly buttered tray (or if you have a very good non-stick one, you can skip the butter). You need to make sure that you place them in the tray very near each other, leaving not much space, otherwise they will grow to immense proportions and "uncurl" (I learnt that the hard way the first time I tried to make them!)

Finally, put the tray in a preheated oven and bake at 180°C for 25-30 minutes. They're ready when they're nicely coloured.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Nameday Lemon meringue pie

No, this is not a special pie called "nameday". Name days are even more important in Greece than birthdays. A name day is the day of the saint whom you're named after, and as it happens, mine falls on one of the most popular days of the year. (Ironically, it's the saint that corresponds to my name that I don't even use anymore, but there's always reason for celebration!) The 15th of August for Greeks equals the end of the summer holidays, and as a matter of fact all of Athens empties in the beginning of August and slowly fills up again after the 15th. Ever since my childhood it signified that "last bit of fun" before the "having to go back to school" and the start of the boring winter routine (everything that is not summer, and especially not summer holidays, we call winter in Greece, despite the fact that winter there is half the winter that winter is in the UK. And everything that is winter is also boring).


So, to go back to this name day, due to an unforeseen friend's wedding I was stuck in London this year, but of course I had to have a little get-together to celebrate. In Greece simply everyone you know comes to your house on your name day, mainly uninvited, as everyone knows the day of the year that your name is celebrated. My name days were always massive feasts of purely desserts, late in the evening, sitting in the courtyard under the vine trees, heavy grapes hanging precariously over our heads. Feeding more than 30 people (who all wanted to try all the cakes) meant at least two days shut in the kitchen, and a whole evening spent cutting, serving and spoon washing (for the next batch of guests). Ah, wonderful days...


Since the weather has been pretty miserable lately, no grapes and no sitting in the garden could be applicable in the London gloominess, but there was dessert to cheer us up, and I decided to make this lemon pie which I had made a week before for my other half's birthday, and was a great success. So great that it all disappeared and he was crying for more (aiming his best "puppy look" at me), so this time I made a big one for the guests, and a tiny individual one just for him. The ingredients are quite enough to do that, so if you've got a small tart case, you can make your individual version for a special someone too!


Lemon meringue pie
Source: Adapted from ASDA magazine

  • 300g ready made shortcrust pastry
  • 4 tbsp cornflour
  • 425g golden caster sugar
  • Grated zest of 2 lemons
  • 4 large eggs
  • 150ml lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Roll out the pastry and use it to line a 20cm tart tin. Prick the base, lay a sheet of foil on the pastry and weigh down with baking beans. Bake for 10 minutes, remove the foil and return to the oven for 5 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C. Put the cornflour, 225g sugar and the zest in a pan. Gradually stir in 250ml water until smooth and blended. Heat until boiling, stirring all the time until it's clear and thick. Remove from the heat and set aside for 15 minutes.

Lightly beat the egg yolks and slowly pour into the cornflour mixture, whisking all the time. Whisk in the lemon juice and then pour into the tart case. Cook in the oven for 15 minutes.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Pour in the remaining sugar, 1 tbsp at a time, whisking until stiff again after each addition.

Pipe on to the lemon mixture with a piping bag, starting at the outside edge and working towards the middle. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Leave it in the tin until it cools down, and then put it in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Roasted chicken with pancetta, artichokes and red wine

These days it's gotten colder and gloomier. Having gotten spoiled by the sun this summer, and enjoying light food due to the heat, I've missed a few all-time favourites. Hence, now the last few days that it's been getting cooler I found the opportunity to turn on the oven, and make this great one-tray dish.

Chicken is the most ever-present staple food in Greece, and the meat of choice for most Greeks. I still get surprised when people come to visit, and anywhere we go, no matter the cuisine, they will order the chicken out of everything else. Sweet and sour in Chinese restaurants, Tikka Masala in Indian, teriyaki in Japanese, whichever way sounds more Greek in Italian places and don't get me started about Lebanese, Turkish, Arabic restaurants and the like, which serve food almost identical to Greek anyway...


I don't have any gripes with chicken. It can be great if cooked properly, and I eat it gladly, but when I have the choice, I'll usually go for some more "exotic" meat. This is due to the fact that usually in Greece chicken is overcooked, overdry, and too chewy, and that heritage follows me closely, to the point that in most unfortunate occasions I've managed to ruin meals myself by being uncertain about its pinkness and overcooking it.

But this recipe...ah...it is amazing. Probably my favourite chicken recipe right now. It can be made with breasts or thighs (if you want extra-guaranteed meaty moistness) and because of the addition of the oil and wine, it doesn't dry up, and tastes wonderfully rich. The potatoes are also impregnated in the bacon and artichoke juices, and along with the wine they become this amazingly tender pieces of heaven!

Try it, seriously... Just drooling thinking about it. Maybe it's not that bad after all to have some "cold" days...


Roasted chicken with pancetta, artichokes and red wine
Source: Adapted from Waitrose Magazine (March/April 2008)

Serves 4

  • 500g baby new potatoes
  • 4 skinless chicken breasts or thighs
  • 4 tbsp paprika
  • 280g jar chargrilled artichokes (I love the ASDA Extra Special ones)
  • 140g pack pancetta cubes
  • 75ml red wine (I usually use my leftover wine, but a fruity red works great)
  • Pinch of sea salt 
  • Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Place the potatoes in a pan filled with water, cover and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 5 minutes, to part-cook them. Meanwhile, season the chicken breasts or thighs with salt and pepper and sprinkle the paprika on them, rubbing it in on all sides. Drain the artichokes into a bowl, reserving half the oil.

Put the pancetta in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat and fry until it starts to turn golden. Drain the potatoes and add to the pan, with a tablespoon of the artichoke oil, and continue cooking until they start to colour. Add the artichokes and give them a quick stir. Transfer to a roasting tray and arrange the chicken  over the top of the potatoes. Pour over the red wine and the remaining artichoke oil and season generously.

Put in the oven and roast for 30 minutes until the chicken is thoroughly cooked, there is no pink meat and the juices run clear. Remove the chicken from the tray and keep warm. Return the potatoes to the oven and continue to cook for 10-15 minutes, until lightly golden. Return the chicken to the tray, turn off the oven and leave to warm up for a few minutes. Share the potatoes between 4 plates, place the chicken on top and drizzle with the pan juices.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

I scream, you scream, we all scream for... gelato!

Ever since I bought my ice cream machine, I've spread my obsession with it all around, making friends and colleagues drool along the way with my descriptions. So the time had come to invite some of them over to my place, to have a cooking and ice cream-making day. As my partner was away getting in touch with his 3-year-old self in Disneyland, I decided to make this a day for the girls, and after some drinks in the pub on Friday I polled everyone and the popular choices were mushroom risotto, a salad (for which I chose and enforced my favourite Roasted butternut squash salad – needless to say no one complained!) and strawberry ice cream.

Although I love strawberry sorbet, I usually won't choose strawberry ice cream if there's anything else on offer, and therefore I had never made any before, so I thought it was a great opportunity to try a recipe by ice cream icon David Lebovitz. My Italian friend did the shopping and brought some wonderfully ripe strawberries along, maybe a bit too old to eat but 100% perfect for ice cream. While frantically making all the food I almost forgot to put half the ingredients in the ice cream machine, but at the end it was all a success, and the gelato had a very fresh and light flavour, since by using just milk it didn't carry the usual heaviness of cream.



We took the food and ice cream to the garden and had a great day discussing food and what we each like to cook from our countries now that we live in Britain (with the group comprising of one Italian, one Brazilian, one Japanese and one Greek, some interesting combinations came up!), and even more, how much it annoys us that the simple ingredients you can find everywhere in each of our home countries need a special trip and a much deeper pocket when you're in the UK (real Italian savoiardi, Japanese sticky rice, Brazilian fresh fruit and Greek pita breads – not these concoctions they sell in the supermarkets here, but REAL Greek pita breads), if they are to be found at all (I haven't found the real Greek pitas in London yet, if anyone knows any place that sells them please please tell me!).

A day later, I find myself with some leftover mascarpone, and a challenge. I don't feel like tiramisú, but what about tiramisú ice cream? Here we go. A bit of internet scouting, and a few minutes later I'm getting somewhere with an experimental recipe, since I had never thought I could make ice cream out of mascarpone. I love tiramisú ice cream, and this one, although heavier than the gelato that I usually prefer, was absolutely yummilicious. Only thing is, I added quite bit of Baileys, so this is actually a Baileys-tiramisú ice cream. If you love Baileys, you will love this, if not, use a bit less... By the way, I barely managed to take some pictures before I devoured it all (I only made a small dose to try it, I'm not that big a piggy!)

The strawberry ice cream was a lot more, so I had some more today, and I discovered that drizzling it with melted dark chocolate (which solidifies after it hits the ice cream!) makes it even yummier... Drool...and let's hope the good weather continues!



Strawberry gelato
Source: Adapted from David Lebovitz

Makes about 900ml

  • 500g ripe strawberries
  • 100g golden granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 370ml full fat milk
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp kirsch

Clean the strawberries, shake them around in a bowl with the sugar and honey and leave to rest for 30 minutes. Pour the whole contents of the bowl in a blender and liquidise. Pass through a thin sieve, squishing out all the flesh with a spoon and scraping around until only the seeds are left. A lot of recipes skip this step and put the strawberries whole, but I think it's really worth going the extra mile, as seedless gelatos are so much smoother and melt-in-the-mouth than the ones containing seeds.

In a big bowl mix together the milk, lemon juice and kirsch, adding the strawberry purée. Pour into your ice cream machine, or if you don't have one put in a freezable container (preferably metal) and freeze for 1 hour, then take out, squash with a fork and refreeze, repeating the process every half an hour or so.



Tiramisú ice cream
Source: Adapted from Tracey's Culinary Adventures

Makes about 900ml

  • 450g mascarpone
  • 125ml double cream
  • 125ml full fat milk
  • 130g sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 60ml Kahlua
  • 45ml Baileys

For the chocolate ripple

  • 100g sugar
  • 80ml water
  • ½ cup strongly brewed espresso
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large bowl blend together the mascarpone, milk, cream, sugar, salt, Kahlua and Baileys. Chill the mixture in the fridge while you make the chocolate ripple.

In a saucepan mix together all the ingredients for the ripple over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens and covers the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat, cool, and then chill in the fridge.

Pour the ice cream mix into your ice cream machine, and when it's done, drizzle the chocolate ripple between layers of ice cream when you're transferring it into its freezable container. If you don't have an ice cream machine put the ice cream mix in a freezable container (preferably metal) and drizzle the chocolate ripple also in layers, freeze for 1 hour, then take out, squash with a fork and refreeze, repeating the process every half an hour or so.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

A not-so-English summer and a butternut squash salad

Whomever is complaining this year about there being no summer, please shut up NOW (and don't jinx it for the rest of us!). If you add the "summer" days we've had from 2004 to now, the average is 7. Seriously. Spread out over 3 months. So, right now it's bit after mid-summer (in my biological calendar, which defines summer as 1 June - 31 August) and we've already had more than 7 days of sun, warmth, and - dare I even say it? - "mini heatwave".

Being a dedicated meatterian during the winter, I find that once the summer comes I become mostly a strict icecreamterian with some fish and seafood mixed in (not in the ice-cream, in my food regime). I'm not a big fan of salads as I find them mostly boring, but I love to discover weird combinations, and mix and match things to my taste, most of the times including a favourite ingredient that becomes the key, like parmesan, or - in this case - butternut squash.



Although on a very hot day the last thing I want to do is turn the oven on, when I think of this warm salad I drool, and I make up for the extra heat in the kitchen by disappearing quickly out of it as soon as the squash is done and the salad is plated, enjoying it in the cool garden or living room.

I had found this recipe in an old Tesco Magazine and had cut it out, but I didn't like some things in it (like the red onion and the lack of dressing) so I adapted it a bit more to my taste. This has become my all-time favourite salad, and that's saying a lot, coming from me. Try this with a chilled glass of fresh lemonade on a hot day, it's absolutely dreamy...



Roasted butternut squash salad
Source: Adapted from Tesco Magazine

Serves 2

  • ½ butternut squash
  • ¼ tsp chilli powder
  • A pinch of cinnamon
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • A pinch of salt
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 bag rocket
  • A handful of pumpkin seeds
  • A handful of dried cranberries
  • 60g goats' cheese (I prefer Soignon)

Preheat the oven to 220°C. Cut the butternut squash in small cubes and toss in a tray with 1 tbsp of olive oil, 1 tbsp of maple syrup, the chilli powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Roast for 35 minutes or until browned and caramelised.

In a small bowl mix the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil with the 2 tbsp of maple syrup and set aside. Place the rocket leaves on a plate, add the squash hot from the oven, sprinkle the pumpkin seeds and cranberries on top, add the goats' cheese in small pieces and drizzle with the dressing. Serve before the squash has the chance to cool down, this will make the goats' cheese slightly melt, which gives the whole salad a wonderful texture.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Summertime and strawberry pleasures

Ever since I moved to Britain and discovered the amazing quality of English strawberries, I have been praising them to everyone around the world. Sure, strawberries are a big favourite everywhere, but you've really got to taste the ones in Britain, when in season, to experience the difference. They are somehow perfect; fragrant, small, shiny little things, that fill your mouth with juicy sweetness. I love them, and every winter I can't wait for the summer to come for one more reason, so that I can have my most beloved fruit. I refuse to have them out of season, and always aim to find new varieties to try every year. My trick is to always smell them, and choose the smallest ones, those are the ones that I always find the most tasty. If they don't smell amazing, chances are they won't be, and these massive beasts that look more like golf balls than strawberries always make me suspicious that something else is going on under their skin...


After an unusually cold winter (the worst in 30 years) this summer arrived surprisingly early, and English strawberries benefited from the extra sunshine and joined us earlier than usual so I've been enjoying them for quite a while now. One of my favourite quick desserts is to clean some, throw them in a bowl with some good vanilla ice cream and smash some shop-bought mini meringues on top, drizzling chocolate syrup over everything (including, frequently, my fingers and the whole kitchen counter).

It's rare that strawberries will stay long in our fridge, but in cases when we've been away and I haven't managed to devour them all, and they've become and bit slushy and don't look to die for, it's always a good opportunity to make one of my favourite sorbets, adding a Greek sweet dessert wine that I had brought back a few years ago from the island of Santorini, which gives it a great little flavour twist.


This week I happened to come across some strawberries that were a bit "unhappy", but since they were only 60p I grabbed the opportunity to adopt them for a sorbet, along with some fresher ones for a few strawberry tarts, which are also yummy and not too difficult to make. You can make one big tart, but I prefer individual ones as we're only two people in the house, and I can make as many as I want this way. With my consumption of strawberries, I'm always two kilos heavier at the end of every summer (not from the strawberries themselves, but from what I make with them!), so I try to cut down by making a few portions, and this recipe works equally well for one big tart or with the ingredients divided into two.

As I'm writing this, it's one of the hottest days I can remember, and the smell of jasmine is coming in through the window from our tiny 2x2 garden. Despite its tininess it contains a gigantic magnolia tree, half a plum tree (the rest belongs to the next door neighbours), a massive jasmine bushy mess, a rose tree and some bamboo. So I'm starting to consider what kind of dessert I can make with jasmine flowers, I've thought of a few combinations but if you've got any tested ideas send them along. It's so huge, and there's so many flowers it's a pity to let them go to waste. And then, the wait starts for the first plums and the wonderful things I can make with them...


Strawberry tarts
Source: dulcis in fundo

Makes two individual tarts (9cm in diameter)

For the pastry

  • 125g plain flour
  • 75g cold butter, cut into small chunks
  • ½ tbsp sugar
  • 1 small egg, beaten (if your eggs are too big just use the yolk only)

For the filling

  • 5 strawberries
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • ¼ cup of sugar
  • 1 cups full fat milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1½ tbsp corn flour
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • A pinch of salt

For the pastry, mix the flour with the butter and sugar in a food processor until it starts to resemble breadcrumbs. Add the egg and mix again until everything is incorporated. Shape into a ball, and flatten between two sheets of cling film, rolling it a few centimetres bigger than the size of your tart cases (it makes enough for two 9cm tart cases, and I had some leftovers, which I froze for another time). Unstick one piece of cling film from the dough and lower into the tart cases, pressing carefully and filling in the gaps. Roll the rolling pin on top of the tart cases to "cut" the surplus dough, pierce everywhere with a fork and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line the tart cases with baking paper and fill with baking beans (or rice or normal beans). Bake for 15 minutes, then take off the paper and beans and return to the oven until browned.

While the tart cases are cooling, prepare the cream filling by blending the sugar, eggs and corn flour with a handheld mixer. Warm up the milk with the salt in a small pan until it bubbles lightly, stirring every now and then with a wooden spoon, and slowly pour a few spoonfulls of milk into the egg and sugar mix, blending constantly with the mixer. Pour the mixture back into the milk pan, and carefully and quickly stir over a low hear, until it thickens (but careful, you don't want scrambled eggs! Of course in the not-so-rare case that this happens, pour everything into a blender, and then pass through a sieve and back into the milk pan).

After a couple of minutes, pass through a sieve to ensure that no chunks have formed, add the butter and vanilla extract, stir until everything is incorporated and leave to cool. Cover with cling film, pushing it down to stick on the surface of the cream, as you don't want a "skin" to form while it's cooling, and put in the fridge until it has cooled down (about 30-40 minutes). When both the tart cases and cream are totally cooled, fill the cases, adding thinly sliced strawberries on top, in a fan shape.


Strawberry and Vin Santo sorbet
Source: dulcis in fundo

Makes about 800ml

  • 190g sugar
  • 200g water
  • 200g ripe strawberries
  • 3 big chunks of lemon peel (equal to the peel of 1/3 of a lemon)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • A big glug of Vin Santo (according to taste, I put 3 tbsp in mine)

Put the water, sugar, cinnamon, star anise and lemon peel in a saucepan and warm up until the sugar has melted. Boil for 1 minute and set aside to cool. After it's cooled a bit add the lemon juice, move it to a suitable container (I use a plastic measuring jug) and put it in the freezer, so it can cool quickly.

Clean the strawberries and wash thoroughly. Put in a blender and liquidise. Pass through a thin sieve, squishing out all the flesh with a spoon and scraping around until only the seeds are left. A lot of recipes skip this step and put the strawberries whole, but I think it's really worth going the extra mile, as the seedless sorbets are so much smoother and melt-in-the-mouth than the ones containing seeds.

Remove the cinnamon stick, star anise and lemon peel from the sugar syrup and add the strawberry pulp. Put in the freezer again until cool. Pour into your ice cream machine, or if you don't have one put in a freezable container (preferably metal) and freeze for 1 hour, then take out, scrape/squash with a fork and refreeze, repeating the process every half an hour or so.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Coffee cupcakes

The last few years have brought a huge trend for macarons and cupcakes (at least in Britain) which I pretty much didn't subscribe to. Most macarons I had tried were pretty chewy and tasteless (until I realised that you have to have the ones from Ladurée to be able to tell why they are so exceptional!) and most cupcakes looked to me like something geared towards 3-year-olds, with their radioactive Technicolor looks and Barbie-doll decorations (come on, who needs a butterfly on top of their "small muffin"?). However, there are some that break the mould, and I discovered a few interesting cupcake recipes in the exceptional book Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache (which I've written about in a more than a few past posts).



The book calls these Cappuccino cupcakes, but sometimes too much embellishment is not really needed, and since these don't contain any real coffee (let alone any cappuccino!) I've converted my adapted recipe into just Coffee cupcakes. Another worry that I always have with cupcakes is the amount of butter and the extreme sweetness of the icing, which (although I have a relatively sweet tooth) I always found too much for my taste. This version uses mascarpone and less butter than the average, which makes a much creamier and lighter icing, and I reduced the sugar in the recipe, upping at the same time the amount of mascarpone, which made the result even less sweet, and really well-balanced.



After icing them, I put them in the fridge for the icing to set, and I discovered they they are great even cool, served with some vanilla ice-cream. I took some to the office and they were a great success, so I guess I'll be changing my mind about cupcakes, at least about the non-Technicolor variety! They look great, they're very light and moist, and they go fantastically well with some iced coffee...



Coffee cupcakes
Source: Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache

Makes 12

  • 2 eggs
  • 160g caster sugar
  • 200g peeled and finely grated sweet potato
  • 100g flour
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp Camp chicory and coffee essence

For the icing

  • 50g cold butter
  • 170g icing sugar
  • 60g mascarpone
  • 2 tsp Camp chicory and coffee essence

Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large bowl for 5 minutes, add the grated sweet potato and whisk again to incorporate. Add the flour, ground almonds, baking powder, salt and coffee essence and mix again.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cupcake cases, spoon the mix into the cases and bake for 20 minutes.

For the icing, cut the cold butter into cubes and whisk until it is pale and fluffy. Add 100g of the icing sugar and whisk to create a paste, beating for an extra 10 seconds. Add the mascarpone and coffee essence, along with the rest of the icing sugar, and mix by hand with a wooden spoon, until everything is incorporated. Keep the icing in the fridge until the cupcakes are out of the oven and have cooled down. After the cupcakes are completely cool, put the icing in a piping bag and decorate, adding a chocolate coffee bean on top of each cupcake.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Pitarakia (Greek cheese pies)

As I mentioned in a previous post, I come from a Greek island called Milos. I don't literally "come from" it, as I was born and raised in Athens, and only spent 3.5 months there for holidays every year, but in Greece it's very weird... since almost everyone in Greece actually lives in Athens, when people ask you where you're from, you can't actually say "Athens", so you say you're from where your parents come from. And for me, it's both parents that come from Milos, so my "homeland status" is doubly reinforced!



As many places in Greece, Milos has a few local delicacies that can not be found (at least in exactly the same form) in any other place. I don't necessarily like them all, but the one I really love is these cheese pies that my mom and grandmother made me since I can remember myself, either for just the close family, or for big feasts in the garden where more than 30 people were invited. They are called Pitarakia in Greek, which actually means "little pies", and they are extremely simple, but extremely tasty at the same time. There is an unnamed local cheese that a few farmers in Milos produce (we call it "Milos cheese"), which is yellow, very dry and salty, and is rubbed with the olive sediment that remains after the olives are pressed to produce olive oil. The cheese is then matured in clay pots for 6-12 months and the rind removed before eating, and that is what is used as a filling for the Pitarakia, mixed with a lighter-flavoured cheese.



Since I can not always get relatives to send me some of this wonderful cheese (it lasts for quite a long time in the fridge, but disappears quickly in my house!), the best substitute I've found after trying lots and lots of cheeses is pecorino sardo, a Sardinian hard cheese which is not as well-known in the UK as the similarly named pecorino romano. I usually find this in the Borough Market, and although it's not cheap, it's definitely worth the money if you're making this recipe. Otherwise you can try pecorino romano, which is more commonly available, but reduce the amount of emmental by a few spoonfuls.



Pitarakia (Greek cheese pies from Milos)
Source: My mother's recipe, passed down to her by my grandmother

Makes 20-25

  • 500g flour
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp vinegar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 150g pecorino sardo (don't confuse this with pecorino romano, it has to be the really hard salty variety of pecorino, you can find a really good one in the Borough Market)
  • 100g emmental (in Greece I use Regato, which is an Irish cheese that weirdly enough you can't find in Britain)
  • 1 tbsp dried mint
  • Sunflower oil for frying

In a big bowl make a well in the flour and pour the olive oil, vinegar and salt. Mix with a fork and gradually add between 1 and 1 ½ cups of lukewarm water, kneading the dough until it becomes soft and stops sticking (if you need more water, gradually add some more, as I do the recipe by eye I'm never sure about how much water exactly it might take). Leave to rest for 30 minutes.

Grate the cheeses and mix in a bowl with the dried mint. Roll out the dough to a 2mm thickness and cut circles out (I use an upside down small plate, the one that came with my espresso cup to be more specific, about 15cm in diameter). Fill one half of the circles with a heaped teaspoonful of the cheese mixture and fold into half-moon shapes, pressing down all around with the tip of a fork to make little lines and close in the filling securely.

Warm up the sunflower oil in a large frying pan over a high heat, and once hot add the little pies and reduce the heat to medium high. They will puff up very quickly, turn them when they get golden and as soon as the other side is cooked pick them out with a slotted spoon and put them in a plate lined with kitchen paper, so that the excess oil can be absorbed.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Taste of London and a wild mushroom and truffle risotto

If you're a Londoner and interested in food, you will have definitely heard of the "culinary event of the year" (or otherwise you might have been hiding under a rock, ice cream van, sushi platter or similar...), the Taste of London "exhibition" which took place last weekend.

Unlike most food bloggers who are drooling around the net, sharing praise like chocolate-covered ants (yeap, those usually don't go down well, as a colleague discovered when she brought some to the office and someone almost threw up after not realising what it was and having one – but I digress!), I am not really a Taste-of-London-aholic. I attended last Christmas' event, imaginatively named the "Taste of Christmas" and again this summer's Taste of London, only because I was lucky to win tickets for it both times. The tickets included £15 worth of crowns for two, so in total £30 which is a nice amount, especially since it was free and it was to be spent solely on food.



Now the only gripe I have with the Taste of London and similar "paid" events, is that, although it charges exorbitant amounts of rent to the exhibitors, the organisers subsequently charge equally exorbitant amounts for the attendants' tickets. £22, which was the cheapest available pre-booked and non-offer ticket, buys you "just entrance", and if you want to eat or drink anything substantial, that's extra. In order to boost profits even more, a special currency (called "crowns") is used, which is essentially little bits of paper you exchange for real money, as in some stalls you can only pay with those (in others you can pay with "real" money, but if you want THAT specific thing, which is not sold with "real" money, you just HAVE to have crowns to get it).



I admit you get to try a few freebies, from interesting producers and suppliers that otherwise maybe you wouldn't have the chance to see gathered in one place, but you can do the same in the Borough market, Broadway market, or Covent Garden food market (to mention just a few) without paying for entrance. Having experienced this twice, I know I wouldn't pay the price, as for the same money you can go to any of the restaurants advertised (at least if you're in London) and pay the same. Seriously, the whole deal is that "you can sample dishes from restaurants that you would otherwise maybe not afford", but that is also a bit of a hoax. Example: I wanted to try Salt Yard's famed Courgette Flowers stuffed with Goats Cheese and drizzled with honey. They were £5 a plate (or rather the equivalent in "crowns") and it was actually 1 courgette flower stuffed with goats cheese and drizzled with honey. Now I've never been to Salt Yard, and I appreciated the chance to try this dish in an "al fresco" (i.e. freezing at 10°C) environment, but I found it a bit weird that the same dish is actually £7.40 in their menu, and I'm pretty sure it's not a single courgette flower that they serve (whomever has eaten it at the restaurant, please, please tell me how many flowers there are!). So, in a few words, Taste of London is NOT cheap, you can get the same things for almost the same price (or better) elsewhere, but there's the "festival atmosphere" and chance to try new things for free that weigh on the pros side.



Now that my whining is over, I can tell you what I tried. Apart from the aforementioned courgette flower, we also had some steak from Salt Yard (ok, but have had much much better, even from ASDA), lots of prosciutto di parma, parmiggiano (where I heard the monumental conversation "what cheese is this?" "Parmesan" "And which country is it from?" – Come on besuited man with totally unsuitable shoes for a park, you paid more than £30 to come and eat here and you don't even know what...Parmesan is?) and the rest of the money was spent on little treats.



I got a coconut and a lemongrass macaroon from Ladurée (my partner got a chocolate and a raspberry one) and we both ate little bites off each others'. The lemongrass one was divine, the rest I wasn't too impressed by, but then macaroons are not my favourite thing in the world (ice cream is, which I couldn't eat as it was so freezing cold in the park!). We also got two chocolate truffles from Paul A. Young's stand at the end of the day, a quick way to spend our remaining crowns with something of excellent quality as usual! A slice of banana cake followed, a big sweet loaf (to take home) and a small Sachertorte from Demel (in the second photo from the top), which was a bit too sweet for my taste, and not as moist as I expected.



But the star buy of the day was a £5 truffle from Azienda Agricola San Pietro A Pettine. This was a black summer truffle the size of a ping pong ball, and these are the most affordable kind, if it had been a winter one it would have taken all our crowns to buy it! I have bought truffles before, from the Borough market, and this was great for making two dishes for 2 people, of which I decided the first one would be a wild mushroom and truffle risotto, not a very summery recipe, but since it was so cold this weekend it went down really well, followed by some cuddling in the sofa with our feet covered with a blanket (hope a "continuous" summer starts soon!). I had already bought some pretty wild mushrooms from the Borough Market on Friday, which were yummy and gave some extra woodiness to the risotto, but if you can't find any fresh ones you can use dried ones, soaked for 30 minutes in hot water, and then you can use the soaking liquid as part of the stock base (don't forget to pass it through a sieve first).



Wild mushroom and truffle risotto
Source: dulcis in fundo

Serves 2

  • 175g arborio risotto rice
  • 5tbsp butter
  • 100ml dry white wine
  • 300g fresh wild mushrooms (I used a selection from Turnips at the Borough Market)
  • 500ml mushroom stock (I use mushroom stock cubes from Whole Foods)
  • ½ a small truffle (the size of a ping pong ball)
  • 75g grated parmesan
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • Tiny pinch of nutmeg

Clean the mushrooms gently with a brush. Heat 3 tbsp of the butter in a large non-stick saucepan and fry the mushrooms until they have released their juices. Add the rice and fry for 2 minutes over a medium heat, stirring until well coated with the butter. Add the wine and simmer until absorbed by the rice.

Gradually add the hot mushroom stock to the pan, a ladleful at a time, stirring between each addition to allow the liquid to be completely absorbed (it should take around 30 minutes). Stir in the Parmesan and last 2 tbsp of butter, serve and shave the truffle very thinly over the risotto (I used a vegetable/potato slicer, but a really sharp knife might do the job too).

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Raspberry, lime and kirsch sorbet and a culinary present

My Greek friend Eleni, whom I know since childhood, recently came to visit us in London, and being a foodie herself she brought me this amazing culinary gift, a necklace with a little cooking pot, fork and spoon. I thought it was adorable and I had to share it with you here! It seems Greek artists/jewellers are becoming more and more inventive, and my friend told me that she also bought a similarly-themed ring for herself (can't wait to see it when I next go to Athens!).



While Eleni was here, she indulged in her love of "fruit-that-can-not-be-found-in-Greece", meaning raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and so on, but her definite favourite being raspberries, and having just bought a brand new ice cream machine, I got inspired and made my first ice cream creation - a raspberry sorbet.



Sorbets are quite basic recipe-wise, and usually consist of three ingredients, water, sugar and the fruit of choice. I wanted this to be a bit more exciting than plain raspberry-flavoured, so I infused the sugar syrup with some lime zest and added some fruity alcohol for an extra bit of yum! Since raspberries are in season, I managed to find some overripe ones in the "reduced to clear" section of my supermarket, and grabbed two packs for 60p each! It worked even better for me, as the raspberries were as ripe as I wanted them (a bit too ripe to eat perhaps, but perfect for mashing) and the sorbet ended up being much cheaper and of course much tastier than shop-bought. I was really happy when my friend's husband-to-be told me it was even better than the one he had in Scoop, which I consider one of the best places to have ice cream in London. (By the way, they need to update their website with the calendar for the 2010 events, as we went there for the "molecular gelato" day and were a bit disappointed that there was no Heston Blumenthalesque shenanigans going on.


All in all this took me about an hour to make, 30 minutes preparation and 30 minutes in the ice cream machine. It was extremely good, probably the best sorbet I've tried in my life and it disappeared very quickly. The ice cream machine I got was a bit expensive (about £60 including postage), but if you love ice cream and sorbets it's worth investing in one. The freshness of the ice cream is incomparable, and you can make whatever flavours you like, without being restricted by the limited variety of shop-bought ones. Now that I got the hang of it, prepare for a summer of sorbet and ice cream posts, I can't praise this machine enough!



Raspberry, lime and kirsch sorbet
Source: dulcis in fundo

Makes about 800ml

  • 190g sugar
  • 200g water
  • 300g ripe raspberries
  • 3 big chunks of lime peel (equal to the peel of 1/3 of a lime)
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • A big glug of kirsch (according to taste, I put 5 tbsp in mine)

Put the water, sugar and lime peel in a saucepan and warm up until the sugar has melted. Boil for 1 minute and set aside to cool. After it's cooled a bit add the lime juice, move it to a suitable container (I use a plastic measuring jug) and put it in the freezer, so it can cool quickly.

Clean the raspberries of any "bad" bits (if required) and wash thoroughly. Put in a blender and liquidise. Pass through a thin sieve, squishing out all the flesh with a spoon and scraping around until only the seeds are left. A lot of recipes skip this step and put the raspberries whole, but I think it's really worth going the extra mile, as the seedless sorbets are so much smoother and melt-in-the-mouth than the ones containing seeds.

Remove the lime peel from the sugar syrup and add the raspberry pulp and kirsch. Put in the freezer again until cool. Pour into your ice cream machine, or if you don't have one (and it's definitely worth the money if you like ice cream and sorbets, trust me!) put in a freezable container (preferably metal) and freeze for 1 hour, then take out, squash with a fork and refreeze, repeating the process every half an hour or so.
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