Monday, 23 April 2007


Since Sam, from Becks & Posh, put out the call to arms, bloggers from around the world have been flocking to celebrate English food and to proclaim loud and clear that it is not a joke. I made my cream tea but the feast of Sussex foods that I had planned was not to be, unfortunately my home county wasn't very obliging in the search for local producers willing to deliver to Edinburgh but I will make my fantasy Sussex meal one day soon. However, I am glad to say that Sam has had entries from all over the world. There are cucumber sandwiches from Anne in Stockholm, a ploughman's lunch from Beccy in Ireland, shepherd's pie from Catherine in San Francisco, Kedgeree from Freya in Essex, and a proliferation of roasts and puddings and cakes and tea. I was going to post a full round up but instead I'll direct you towards Sam's round up of the event over at Becks & Posh. I think there is enough here to prove to all those doubters that English food deserves a better reputation.

Saturday, 14 April 2007


Since Sam from Becks & Posh announced that she would be running Fish & Quips, an English food event, in time for the much ignored St George's Day I have been thinking of things to make. After running through a number of options I think I have finally decided but, in the meantime, I decided to go for a precursor to the main event. When I was a lot younger I used to love baking scones, this wouldn't be very interesting apart from the fact that I didn't much like eating them. I used to make them and then tuck into a crumpet or a piece of toast while everyone else enjoyed my scones then, one day, it all changed and I realised what I had been missing, I also realised that the only time I really like having strawberry jam is on scones and that even though I don't actually like strawberries anything else just seems a bit wrong. So today, in preparation for an afternoon of excitement watching the Grand National, I decided to make myself a cream tea. This is usually seen as being pretty posh so here is my slightly more relaxed version, the essentials are the same but the tea is made the way I drink it at home.

I went back to the old faithful scone recipe from Delia, bought fresh clotted cream, Duchy's Originals strawberry jam, and got baking. The scones were as good as only freshly made scones can be, the clotted cream was rich and yellow with that gorgeous crust on top, and the jam was superb. And to wash it down I made my perfect mug of builders' tea, for those of you not versed in this wonderful tradition here are the basics:

1) put a teabag into a mug
2) boil the kettle
3) fill the mug with water
4) leave the tea to brew for a minute before squashing the bag around a bit with your teaspoon. The point (in my mind) is to extract as much flavour as possible from the teabag without letting it start to taste stewed as stewed tea is horrendous.
5) fish out the teabag
6) add sugar if you take it, I take one teaspoon
7) add a good slosh of milk
8) drink

I know plenty of people who hate tea made like this as they find it way too strong but I love it and even though I don't drink tea very much it is always taken like this. Finally, sit down and tuck into your scone and drink your tea and try not to be too disheartened that your one bet of the year was leading all through the last fences but still managed to not even place.

Thursday, 12 April 2007


It's funny how you can look through a recipe book almost endlessly and feel like you know it back to front and inside out and then, unexpectedly, stumble upon a recipe that you just hadn't noticed before. Last year I did just that and discovered lahmacun in 'How to be a Domestic Goddess'. Maybe I hadn't noticed it before then because I had been scared of yeast but, once I had made some bread and pizzas, I was finally ready to spy the recipe for these little spicy flatbread pizzas. I tried them, and I made them again and again and again. Then, one day, I had been to the shops and had bought all of the necessary ingredients for the lahmacun but when I got home I realised that I was tired and didn't really feel up to kneading dough to make dinner. The lamb mince went into a bowl with all of the spices for the lahmacun, got squooshed together with my hands, and formed into little burgers to be cooked in the oven before being sliced and stuffed into pitta breads with garlicky yoghurt dolloped on top and a little salad. We had these for dinner on Tuesday and I tried to take a photo, I really did, but some things sound and taste a lot better than they look so I'll just have to leave you to imagine these.

This is the amount that I make for 2. If we're being greedy it makes two stuffed pittas each, but we have (once) had leftovers and they make a good sandwich the next day as well. One word of warning, the garlicky yoghurt becomes very pungent the next day. I took leftovers to work and every time someone opened the fridge there was a waft (some might say a reek) of spicy lamb and garlic.

500g lamb mince
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp of cumin
Large pinch of allspice
Large pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons tomato puree

1 small pot of greek yoghurt mixed with one minced garlic clove and some sea salt

A few salad leaves

Put all of the ingredients into a large bowl and, using your hands, combine all of the ingredients until well mixed. Divide into eight equal sized pieces and shape them into patties before putting them into an ovenproof dish. Bake at about 200°C for 20 minutes, turning once to brown all over. Once the burgers are cooked, warm through one pitta per person, slice up a burger or two to put into the bread, dollop some of the yoghurt on top, add some salad leaves, and eat.

Monday, 9 April 2007


I've been enjoying hot cross buns for many years now but they have always been bought in, ready to be slotted into the toaster before slathering in butter. This year I decided it was time to make my own. After perusing a few recipes I was finally left trying to decide between two and eventually opted for what seemed the easiest from Nigella Lawson's 'Feast'. I wasn't completely sure about how well the yeast was behaving as I was making these and after baking them I have a sneeking suspicion that I should have left them to rise either slightly longer and in a warmer place or, done as suggested in the recipe, and left them to rest overnight in the fridge. Having said that, it is also possible that making them with a wedding-induced hangover wasn't the best plan as my patience levels weren't at their highest. Anyway, I understandably had a nagging feeling that these weren't going to be the hot cross buns of my dreams (you know the ones - light, golden, and looking the way they should actually look) and the feeling became reality as they came out of the oven looking like very misshapen rock cakes - lumpy, slightly rectangular, with only the faintest sign of the cross that I had dribbled onto their tops. Still, not to be too deterred, I dutifully brushed them with a sugar glaze and once they had cooled warned that they might not be the lightest bit of bakery in the world but, appearances aside, they still managed to taste remarkably like hot cross buns. True, they were a little denser than I would have liked, but the bun that I toasted and covered in butter to have with coffee this morning was actually pretty good. So, a success of sorts but maybe, next time, I'll take my time a bit more, try not to make them with a hangover, and try that recipe that sounded a little harder. I guess we'll see if that approach is any more successful this time next year.

Sunday, 8 April 2007


Apart from the obvious joy to be had in overindulging in rabbit and egg-shaped chocolate, another reason to love Easter is the four day weekend that heralds the start of Spring for those of us lucky enough to work in places that honour public holidays. In anticipation of a Friday at home (for me at least) we invited friends over for dinner and I spent the week looking forward to spending the afternoon pottering round in the kitchen preparing a meal. I love deciding what to cook for people but I particularly enjoy being able to take the opportunity to make a pudding. I had initially planned to make some lemon souffle tartlets which I had read about on Orangette (and which will definitely make an appearance one day) but when I looked at the recipe again I realised that I hadn't made a start on the pastry early enough and as I wasn't feeling brave enough to chance drastically reducing the resting times I needed an urgent plan b, one that preferably wouldn't involve going back to the shops. I looked through a few of my most trustworthy books and eventually decided on the lemon-frosted pistachio cake from 'The Kitchen Diaries' which would only require a small substitution of orange blossom water for rosewater and slightly less coverage with the lemon frosting due to a serious shortage of icing sugar. The cake is moist from the pistachios, almonds, and orange juice, and feels like a relation to those little semolina cakes that are drenched in fragrant syrup but the icing moves it more into the realm of traditional teatime cakes, either way it is delicious.

LEMON-FROSTED PISTACHIO CAKE (adapted very slightly from Nigel Slater's 'The Kitchen Diaries')
serves 10-12

250g of butter
250g of caster sugar
3 large eggs
100g of shelled pistachio nuts
100g of ground almonds
An orange
1 tsp of orange blossom water (or rosewater if you have it)
60g of plain flour

100g of icing sugar (or less if, like me, you forgot to buy it and have almost run out)
2 tbsp of lemon juice (reduce a little if you're using less icing sugar)

Preheat the oven to 160° C. Line the bottom of a non-stick 22cm cake tin (I used a 20cm tin and it needed about 10 minutes extra to cook) with baking parchment.
Cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating between adding each egg. Blitz the pistachios in a food processor to turn them into fine crumbs and then add them, along with the almonds, to the butter, sugar and eggs. Add the zest and the juice of the orange and then stir in the orange blossom water and, finally, fold in the flour.
Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 50 minutes, covering the top lightly with foil for the final ten minutes. Check that the cake is done by inserting a skewer, it should come out quite clean with no wet mixture stuck to it. Leave it to cool in the tin before turning out.

Make the icing by mixing the icing sugar and lemon juice together until smooth and then pour it over the cake. If you have any leftover pistachios use a few to decorate the top of the cake. Leave the icing to set and then serve and enjoy.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007


After happily buying a few Jamie Oliver books from his Naked Chef days I gradually started to be less interested in him in print, I still enjoyed his TV programmes and watched each and every series but his books were no longer a must. I debated buying each and every one but there always seemed to be something more interesting around. However, my resolve broke when I saw 'Jamie's Italy' and I decided it was time to give him another try. I watched the programmes and read with interest about the stir that he had caused by killing a lamb and then I bought the book and mentally noted a few interesting recipes. Until now though this initial interest had only translated into repeatedly making the very good pizza recipe (I have discovered that I love making home made pizza and am actually jealous of the people who have decided to build pizza ovens in their back gardens as this would definitely be my first choice piece of garden cookery kit).

Anyway, yesterday I decided it was time to finally try a different recipe, I wanted to make a simple pasta dish so turned to baked pasta with tomatoes and mozzarella. The sauce is just onions, garlic, dried chilli, tomatoes, and basil all cooked together to be later layered with pasta, parmesan and mozzarella. This came out of the oven bubbling and smelling good but I immediately realised that next time I may reduce the cheese quantities as there was a little (actually a lot) too much mozzarella, which made serving it nearly impossible as the strings of cheese stuck to the baking dish, the plates, and, at one point, my hair. Anyway, cheese overdose aside it is delicious and will hopefully be just as delicious when I go home shortly to reheat a portion for my lunch with a mental note to check my hair carefully before coming back to work.

Sunday, 1 April 2007


For someone who absolutely hates any sign of mush in a banana it may seem odd that I love making banana bread but, in my eyes, it is the only thing worth cooking with bananas. It is the perfect thing to bake to eat through the week and I am always secretly glad when we have a few blackening bananas needing to be used. For a while now I have been using the banana bread recipe in 'How To Be A Domestic Goddess', I leave out the nuts and the alcohol soaked fruits and include some chunks of dark chocolate and it is fantastic, it has never let me down so is the obvious choice whenever the banana bunch is past being edible. Today though, when I saw those over ripe bananas, I remembered my promise to make new recipes from my books and decided that this was a perfect, and easy, opportunity. I went through the books and decided on a recipe from 'Jane Grigson's Fruit Book' for banana bread with walnuts. This recipe was simple and fuss free, just flavoured with the bananas, the walnuts, and a little cinnamon. It cooked in exactly the hour that she specified (which always makes me view recipes very favourably), came out of the tin without any sign of a struggle, and when I cut a slice it had a sweet crust enclosing a beautiful moist interior. I think this might just be a new favourite.