Monday, 26 February 2007


In a week when we have had friends visiting (hence the complete absence of any posts) we have eaten out a lot, have drunk slightly too much on a couple of occasions, and have spent a lot of money. Obviously it was a fun week but by Friday I was tired and ready to enjoy a quiet weekend pottering about in the flat.

The perfect start was a spot of comforting cookery courtesy of Elena Ho's Muffin Monday challenge on her experiments blog. I love a muffin but since reading about the challenge I hadn't devoted too much time into thinking of a recipe until my visit to the local wholefoods shop, Real Foods, on Friday when I spotted some lovely vibrant green pistachios and the idea of white chocolate and pistachio muffins popped into my head. I picked up a bar of Green & Black's white chocolate to chop up into rubble for the muffins and decided to exaggerate the vanilla in the chocolate with my baking staples of vanilla sugar, a jar of golden caster sugar which is permanent home to a few vanilla pods, and some vanilla extract.

2 cups of plain (all-purpose flour)
1 1/2 tsp of baking powder
1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp of salt
1 cup of vanilla sugar
1/2 cup of roughly chopped pistachios
1/2 cup of white chocolate chips or roughly chopped white chocolate
2 large eggs
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
1/2 cup of milk
1 tsp of vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 200°C and line a 12 cup muffin tin with muffin cases. In a large bowl mix together all of the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl whisk together the wet ingredients and then add the wet to the dry. Stir to combine but do not over stir. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 20 minutes until the muffins are risen, golden and a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the centre of a muffin. Remove the muffins from the tin and leave to cool on a wire rack before enjoying one with a large mug of tea and the weekend papers.

Makes 12.

Sunday, 18 February 2007


After much deliberation I finally decided to take part in my first sugar high Friday last week. It is being run by Jasmine at Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and the Valentines inspired theme was sweet seduction.

Being in a relationship with someone not terribly sweet toothed means that any dessert has to be carefully judged but a cheesecake always seems to hit the nail on the head. I have made the New York Baked Cheesecake from 'How to be a Domestic Goddess' a couple of times and, as the recipe feeds 12 people, I felt confident enough to try an adjustment in scale. Dishes made with seduction in mind are usually (well in my house at least) for two so a few individually portioned cheesecakes seemed ideal.

I am not a pro at recipe fiddling and twiddling so I latched onto the hardest ingredient to divide, eggs, and went from there. Six eggs in a dish to feed 12 meant that, in theory, going down to one egg would be perfect for two (I should know by now that my theories never quite work out) so dividing the recipe into sixths was the way to go. My lack of digital scales meant that this was largely approximation as it is pretty hard to weigh 37.5g of anything.

So to get started I made a sixth of the biscuit base and used it to fill the base of four cupcake cases (already a little off the perfect two portions that I had envisaged). On Friday I made a sixth of the cheesecake mix and filled the four cases with quite a bit left over so I decided to just fill two extra cases and have baseless cheesecakes that could be eaten with a spoon from the paper. The recommended cooking time was around an hour so, religiously sticking to my sixths, I set the timer for 10 minutes and checked, another 5 and checked again, another couple of minutes and finally the top was golden. The key to the original recipe lies in not opening the oven door during cooking or for a while afterwards and even though I know this I was stressing and so opened it, repeatedly. My cheesecakes rose spectacularly before sinking and cracking - oh well I suppose we live and learn.

Anyway, they don't look bad (although strangely like those little portuguese custard tarts) and they tasted as they should, creamy and a little lemony and definitely delicious. I will be revisiting this experiment and hopefully one day will report back with a perfected and more exactly proportioned recipe.

Thursday, 15 February 2007


My name is Gemma and I am a 27 year old cookbook addict. I'm sure this news won't surprise any fellow addicts out there and it definitely won't surprise my groaning bookshelves (or my groaning boyfriend). I made the brave deicision to count my cookbooks on Saturday and, while I had been curious about the size of my collection for a while, I wasn't sure that I was entirely ready to deal with the truth of it.

The final (until the next new purchase) tally:

67 cookbooks (this actually isn't as bad as I had feared but is still plenty)

A large pile of food magazines inlcudng copies of delicious, Waitrose Food Illustrated, Gourmet, Vogue Entertaining and Travel, The Donna Hay Magazine, and more.

Food writing. I didn't even attempt to count this category as they are all scattered around but a small selection includes Ruth Reichl, Jeffrey Steingarten, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and 'The Pedant in the Kitchen' by Julian Barnes, which is my favourite so far and is hilarious.

Finally we have the dull stuff, otherwise known as diet books. These were bought during various fat moments and have swiftly been relegated to the back of the shelves which is definitely where they belong.

The shameful fact is that far too many of these books have been read but not cooked from. I have my favourites but have been neglecting some of the trickier titles, such as Gordon Ramsey's 'Secrets' with all those scary towers of multi-michelined food. To end the neglect and to stop my guilt at all of these purchases I am promising to make at least one new recipe from every single one of my books by the end of the year. So a minimum of 67 new recipes plus any from new purchases. This is quite a scary thought and it leaves me wanting to scuttle back to the security blanket of Nigel Slater's roast chicken but then again the roast chicken in Bill Granger's book looked pretty tasty and maybe this will make me try those scary recipes that I keep putting off.

So the promise is there and last night I made a perfect start with a Valentines meal and two brand spanking new recipes.

This is roasted slashed fillet of sea bass stuffed with herbs, baked on mushroom potatoes from 'The Return of the Naked Chef' by Jamie Oliver, he suggests serving it with salsa verde but that felt like overkill and I'm glad I resisted. I have never cooked sea bass before due to my irrational fear of fish cookery but it was delicious. The potato and mushroom mixture underneath was soft and slightly lemony and the sea bass had a delicate taste and texture that worked well with the basil and flat leaf parsley that I used for the stuffing. The only teeny tiny problem was that in the recipe the skin is slashed for the herbs but my fish was still covered in its scaly armour which was impossible to get through so I made some cuts in the flesh instead which worked just as well. I don't cook enough fish and this recipe reminded me why I should be braver about it, it also reminded me that I should use my Jamie Oliver books more as this one has been ignored for quite a long time.

The perfect Valentines day pudding came courtesy of Jo Pratt and 'In the Mood for Food'. The recipe is for exotic chocolate pots and I used her tip to make them into mousses by adding a whisked egg white. The chocolate is flavoured with orange zest and allspice and was fab. I was also pleased to have an excuse to present a dessert in my Max Brenner hot chocolate hug mugs that were a 23rd birthday present.

So two books down and 65 to go but if last night is a taste of what is to come then it should be a good year.

Saturday, 10 February 2007


I quite often buy a loaf of sourdough bread from our local bakery, Circle, on a Saturday morning and today was no exception. This bakery is one of the reasons that I love our flat, the sourdough is great and they make the most buttery croissants and the most perfect baguettes that I have tasted outside of France. I popped the bread into my bag and jumped on a bus up the road to go and buy a few food magazines. As I was buying the new issue of Donna Hay's magazine my mind started to drift towards lunch and, as I just happened to be in the Harvey Nichols food hall, I decided that one of the field mushrooms on display would be perfect for mushrooms on toast. However, as I walked back down the hill that didn't seem quite right. By the time I had got back to the kitchen a mushroom sandwich idea had formed. I sliced the giant beast of a mushroom and fried it in some butter, while this was cooking I bashed up half a garlic clove with some sea salt, stirred in some mayonnaise (Hellman's) and then on a whim a little dijon mustard. I laid out two slices of bread, put mushrooms on one side, slathered on half of the mayonnaise, added a few oak leaf lettuce leaves, more mushrooms and then the rest of the mayonnaise on the other slice of bread. I put it all together, sliced into two and ate. I had already decided that this would taste good but it was better than I had imagined, I kept having to dodge the buttery mushroom juices that were dripping onto my plate but that was definitely no bad thing.

Thursday, 8 February 2007


I was in two minds this morning over whether to write this post as, let's be honest, from this photo this meal looks pretty uninspiring but then I gave myself a good talking to. At first glance this is just a chicken breast with mash and greens but what chicken, what mash, what greens...

The chicken is my favourite choice from my local butcher. Chicken breast on the bone with the wing still attached. I tend to coat the skin in some dijon mustard, a little honey, salt and pepper and herbs, last night was herbes de provence as my usual choice, fresh thyme, was a bit passed its best. This is cooked, skin side up, in a fairly hot oven for about 45 minutes by which point the skin is crispy and far too tasty for my waistline and the meat is cooked through but still surprisingly succulent (too many skinless and boneless chicken breats have coloured my opinion forever) and juicy with little nuggets of yumminess hiding in between the bones.

The mash is potato and celeriac. I used roughly equal weights of celeriac and potatoes and boiled them until they were cooked (obviously), then mashed them with a fairly large wodge of butter, some milk and a good measure of sea salt. It took some pretty consistent work with the masher to get this lump free but it was worth it.

The greens are beautiful tender stalks of purple sprouting broccoli, one of the best options for brightening up an otherwise dull month. I popped it in a pan of boiling water for just a few minutes and remembered almost immediately that I really should steam it to keep that beautiful purple colour in the broccoli rather than ending up draining away water the colour of ribena.

I have just had a horrible realisation that this post sounds like a rip off M&S ad - 'this is not just food...'. Anyway, this is just food, this is weekday food, this is not the prettiest food, but this is damn tasty food.

Monday, 5 February 2007


So, another slightly off week but do not fret (she tells herself) the end is definitely in sight and I can clearly see a time when I may be able to not only cook meals after work but may also be capable of taking photographs and writing posts about them. With that in mind I am formulating some rather late New Year's Resolutions to entertain myself and hopefully you, but more on those over the next couple of days.

In the meantime evening meals continue to be fairly easy options. Last week I remembered some left over puff pastry from the onion tart of a few weeks ago and decided to experiment with a caramelised red onion, roasted pepper, basil and goats cheese tart (this was the safest kind of experiment because, really, how could puff pastry with buttery onions, peppers, basil and goats cheese taste anything other than fab). I slowly cooked 4 red onions in some butter until they were soft and caramelised. At the same time I put 2 whole peppers under a high grill to blacken their skins - when this happened I popped them into a bowl covered with clingfilm to make it easier to remove the skins. When the onions were cooked I rolled out the pastry and scored a border around the edge, pricked the base all over with a fork and filled it with the onions, the skinned and sliced peppers, some fresh basil leaves and some slices of goats cheese and put it into a high oven for 15 minutes. A large green salad with a wholegrain mustard dressing provided our usual accompaniment to this type of meal.

After a quiet week in the kitchen I somehow managed two batches of birthday baking over the weekend. On Saturday night we were headed to a birthday party and I decided to bake a little gift of the custard cream hearts from Nigella Lawson's 'Feast'. They looked fab but as I have never made them before and managed to resist tasting one before wrapping them up in a box I can't really say much apart from this. I'll have to make them again soon.

I can, however, say that the vanilla cake from Tessa Kiros's 'Apples for Jam' is absolutely delicious. I made it to take to work for a birthday and it was wolfed down disturbingly quickly. It is a very simple vanilla sponge that could be easily dressed up but I followed the instructions for a vanilla butter icing softened with a little milk and it was beautiful. It was one of those cakes that reminds you exactly why home made is best.