February | 2014 | The Proof of the Pudding

In our house, Friday night is fish night, and it has been for as long as I can remember. Friday mornings involve a trip to Eddie’s Seafood Market, an amazing fishmonger in Edinburgh which offers up a huge range of fresh seafood from crabs to monkfish to sole to scallops to cod roe to mussels to mackerel, and much, much more. Rick Stein named it as one of his Food Heroes, so take it from him if you won’t from me! Friday evenings start with the lights being dimmed and mum lighting the Shabbat candles. The melodious tones of Alanis Morissette or Joni Mitchell often float through the house. Sometimes things are a bit more upbeat and we’re going 70s style with Billy Joel, Elton John or David Bowie. There’s wine chilling in the fridge, fresh bread on the table with real butter to slather over it and a general feeling of contentment that the weekend is beginning.

So I guess this recipe is the first of my odes to glorious Friday nights. (We actually ate this dish on a Sunday. So sue me.) I made homemade tagliatelle, a recipe for which I will post soon, promise, but you could use bought fresh or dried pasta. I chose prawns and cute little baby scallops, but if you’re taking a trip to your local fishmonger, or even the supermarket, then don’t be restricted by that – go for whatever looks fresh. If you pick mussels or clams then I would clap a lid on top of the pan after the wine and cream goes in, until they have opened up. This feels like a truly indulgent pasta dish, but it’s actually not too rich. Crème fraiche is quite aciditic, plus the white wine and the lemon juice cuts through the creaminess of the sauce. The chilli adds a perfect hint of heat.

Ingredients (serves 3) 1 shallot Bunch of flat leaf parsley 3 cloves garlic 1 red chilli 1 lemon 1 small glass dry white wine, plus a large one for the chef 300g dried or fresh tagliatelle, or homemade pasta made with 300g flour and 3 eggs 1 tbsp olive oil 175g scallops 200g king prawns 2 heaped tbsp crème fraiche

Salt and pepper

Method 1. Finely chop the shallot and parsley and crush the garlic. Finely slice the chilli. I used about ¾ of the chilli, but you can test a small piece of yours to see how hot it is and make a judgement from there. Juice the lemon and measure out the wine.

Serve with a green salad, crusty bread and another large glass of chilled white wine.

When I was little, I remember it being such an exciting feeling to be allowed to stay up a bit late, join mum and dad at the table and taste some unusual new seafood or have a sip of wine. Now I’m allowed to decide my own bedtime, but it’s still just as lovely to relax lazily with the perfect combination of company, music, food and wine.

I guess that it comes with the territory of being an insane food-lover that most of my fondest memories tend to involve food in one way or another, and I’m sure there will be more to come on the blog. Do you have any particularly happy food-related memories? I’d love to hear them if you do.

Anyway, enough of these sentimental, and probably tedious, ramblings. Whatever you’re doing tonight, I wish you the most lovely of Friday nights…


A girl can’t live off cakes and bakes. This may be controversial, but, sadly, it’s true. This week I have a few savoury recipes for you, and today’s one is the perfect weekday meal during the colder months of the year: few ingredients, quick and comforting. It really is just a case of bashing some ingredients into the oven and letting them work their magic. You can also adapt the recipe according to what you have in your cupboards – use whatever variety of tinned beans and tomatoes you have, add a red onion or sprinkle over some chilli flakes.


Ingredients (serves 4) Olive oil 12 Cumberland sausages 2-3 tsp Dijon mustard 2 red peppers 1 tin cherry tomatoes 1 tin butter beans, drained 1-2 tsp dried oregano

Salt and pepper

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas 6. 2. Add a glug of olive oil (about 1 tbps) to a roasting tray and heat in the oven for 5 minutes. 3. Use scissors to cut your sausages apart and add to the roasting tray, moving the sausages around in the hot oil. Cook for 20 minutes, shaking half way through. 4. Add the mustard to the sausages and cook for another 10 minutes. 5. Chop the peppers into chunky strips and add to the roasting tray. Cook for 10 minutes. 6. Finally pour in the tomatoes and beans and season with the oregano, salt and pepper. Cook for a further 10-20 minutes until hot and bubbling.

Serve with fresh bread and steamed vegetables, as we did, or with a side of mashed or baked potatoes. We guzzled the lot between 4 people, but if you want to make the sausages go further (say 2 per person) then I would add an extra tin of both tomatoes and beans, so that there is enough to go round.

One of the joys of cooking is using fresh fruit and vegetables that are in season. It really does make a difference if your ingredients are at their prime: there is nothing better than the first home-grown artichoke of the year; or biting into a crisp Autumn apple; or the pungent smell of basil as it is crushed to a pulp for pesto in July; or cutting into a pomegranate at Christmas time and seeing the deep red juices run out. I had been planning to make a pomegranate cake for a while, but their best days are nearly over and right now oranges are some of the best fruit you can eat. We have a fabulous local green grocer who provides us with entire crates of oranges. As you can see, ain’t nobody getting scurvy in this household.

We use most of the oranges for juicing – freshly squeezed orange juice is one of the best things you can have on your breakfast table – but it also seemed like a perfect opportunity to try a baking experiment. I gathered the ingredients I had to hand, plus a pile of oranges, and the results were delicious. The structure of this cake holds very well and the brown sugar gives it a rich, caramel-y flavour. The topping adds moisture and a burst of freshness. If you have oranges in the house then I encourage you to give it a go…if not, then go out and buy some! They are the fruit moment.

Ingredients 200g butter, softened 100g caster sugar 100g light brown muscavado sugar 3 large eggs Zest of 1 lemon Juice of ½ a lemon 250g plain four 2½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp vanilla extract

For the topping: Juice ½ lemon Juice of 2 oranges (200ml) 50g sugar

3-4 oranges

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas 3. 2. Grease a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin and line with a circle of baking parchment at the bottom. 3. Beat the butter with the two sugars until fluffy and pale. An electric whisk will be your best friend here, but if you don’t have one then give it some welly with a balloon whisk. 4. Beat the eggs in one at a time.

5. Mix in the lemon zest and juice and the vanilla extract.

6. Sift the flour and baking powder and mix well until all the ingredients are combined to a thick batter.

7. Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and spread flat. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 50 minutes. The cake is ready when it is golden brown in colour and a skewer comes out clean from the middle. 8. Place the cake, still in the tin, on a wire rack and leave to cool for 10 minutes. 9. While the cake is cooking, combine the lemon juice, orange juice and sugar and heat in a pan over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes to reduce the liquid to a thick syrup.

10. Peel and slice the oranges. I learnt the following trick years ago and it was such a revelation when using peeled oranges in a recipe. It will be much, much easier if you use a serrated knife.

11. Make holes in the cake with a thin skewer and spread over the orange syrup, reserving a little of it for the very top.

12. Remove the cake from the tin and decorate with the orange slices. Finish by brushing the remaining syrup over the oranges as a glaze.

This cake is perfect served with crème fraîche or natural yogurt, and will keep in a tupperware box for a couple of days.

I’ll just leave you with the little nursery rhyme which inspired the name of this recipe…

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.

You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.

When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.

I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

These brownies were a gift, along with a ridiculously sized growler of porter, for a close friend who turns another year older and wiser today. Ok, maybe just older if the antics of Saturday night are considered. I would argue that the basic brownie recipe that these are based on (Nigella Lawson’s in “How To Be a Domestic Goddess”) is the best out there: a bold claim, I know. If you champion a rival recipe then I would love to hear it!

The original recipe adds chopped walnuts to the brownie mix, but I wanted to do something a bit different. A long list of potential edible extras came to mind: white chocolate chips, peanut butter, marshmallows, raspberries, orange zest, Oreos, and so on. Ross demanded “No Fruit”, but in the end he lost that battle. I think I struck a pretty fair compromise though, by balancing out fruit with booze. Rum and raisin is a classic combination – I love rum and raisin ice-cream – and, once that idea had popped into my head, I just couldn’t let it go without making it. Unfortunately, I had sultanas, not raisins, and the dregs of some apricot liquor, not rum. And so Not-Rum-and-Raisin Brownies were born.

Ingredients (Makes about 15 brownies)

Small handful of sultanas A few glugs of fruit liquor or rum 190g butter 190g good quality dark chocolate, 70% cocoa solids is ideal – or higher if you love dark chocolate 3 large eggs 1 tsp vanilla extract 250g caster sugar (Note: this seems like a ridiculous amount of sugar when you weigh it out. We’re making full fat brownies here. Deal with it.) 115g plain flour ½ tsp salt

80g of fudge, chopped into small pieces

Method

1. Soak the sultanas in the liquor and leave for a couple of hours, at least.

2. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan. Butter an 18cm by 28cm tin (at least 3cm deep) and line with baking parchment. If you leave some excess parchment on either of the long sides then lifting the entire bake out of the tin is much easier.

3. Melt the butter and chocolate over a low heat, stirring until glossy and smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

4. Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla in a bowl.

5. Sift the flour into a separate bowl and add the salt.

6. When the chocolate mixture has cooled enough (unwanted scrambled egg action would be a disaster here), beat in the egg and sugar mixture.

7. Combine the chocolate mixture with the flour. Drain the excess liquid from the sultanas and add to the brownie mixture with the fudge. Beat to a smooth batter.

8. Pour the thick brownie mixture into the lined tin, using a spatula to scrape every last drop out. Give the tin a shoogle (technical term) so that the mixture spreads into the corners.

9. Bake for about 25 minutes, depending on how you like your brownies*.

10. Leave to cool on a baking rack and then cut into pieces. Dust liberally with icing sugar.

*The consistency of brownies is very much a personal preference. 25 minutes in the oven produced a wonderfully fudgy consistency, but if you prefer your brownies soft and gooey in the centre then 20 minutes should do it. Any less than that and you might be scooping out your brownies into a bowl. Do remember that the brownies will keep cooking once they are out the oven.

These went down extremely well, if I do say so myself. The hint of booze was just right and the fudge was slightly melted but still chewy. They are very, very rich so one piece is definitely satisfying enough…unless you are the birthday boy, in which case no one is counting!

Happy Birthday Colum!

I’ve always been a bit scared of buns. All that kneading and proving and shaping (mainly all that kneading, jeez what a faff). So when I saw the front cover of the Guardian Cook (14 December 2013) lying innocently on the kitchen worktop I gazed longingly at the bronzed swirling buns, but resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t brave enough to attempt making them. I commented to Mother that they looked delicious and she confessed, “Hmmm yes…actually I thought that might be something that you would like to make us”. Cheeky Mother – not such an innocent Guardian Cook after all. My instant reaction was “No”, but grudgingly I had a look at the recipe and lo-and-behold no kneading! And a pretty straight forward recipe at that. Deal done.

I altered the recipe slightly – my dough needed much more time to prove and a little more time to cook than the recipe suggested; and, not only did I not have “vanilla salt” and ground cardamom at home, but I couldn’t find any at Waitrose. If those aren’t the precise ingredients that Waitrose exists for then I don’t know why it does! I also added sultanas just because.

Ingredients (Makes 7 buns)

225ml whole milk 75g butter 300g spelt flour 125g plain wholemeal flour 70g caster sugar 1-2 tsp green cardamom pods ½ tsp salt 10g fast-action dried yeast

1 medium egg, beaten

For the filling: 75g softened butter 2 tsp cinnamon 50g caster sugar ½ tsp sea salt flakes 3-5 twists of ground vanilla beans or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod

Handful of sultanas

To finish: 1 medium egg, beaten

Demerara sugar

Method

  1. Heat the butter and milk until almost boiling and remove from the heat. Leave to cool slightly.
  2. Gently bash the cardamom pods to open them up and remove the small black seeds. Violently bash these until you have a fine powder. I used a pestle and mortar, so “fine” is a generous description.
  3. Sift the flours into a large bowl. Add the salt, sugar, yeast and 1 tsp of the cardamom. Mix.
  4. Now that the milk is warm, not hot (if it is too hot it can kill the yeast) add it to the dry ingredients with your egg. Mix.
  5. The “dough” will be a thick, sticky consistency. You’ll think it’s wrong. It’s not. Cover with cling film (lightly oiled if your bowl is small, so that if the dough rises a lot it won’t stick) and leave in a warm place for anywhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours until the dough rises. I covered mine in a towel to keep him extra cosy.
  6. Cream the softened butter with the sugar, cinnamon, sea salt and vanilla. Resist the temptation to spread on toast and shove in gob.
  7. Tip (scrape) the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll out into a rectangle which is roughly 35cm by 25cm. Spread the butter mixture all over the dough using a palette, or any other flat, knife. Sprinkle over the sultanas.
  8. Roll the dough starting from one of the long sides so you have a long sausage shape. Cut into seven pieces, leaving the seventh piece slightly smaller than the others.
  9. Butter a 23cm cake tin (with sides at least 5cm high) and place the smallest roll in the middle, pretty swirl side up. Place the remaining six evenly around this one. Leave in a warm place for anywhere between 30 minutes and 1 hour to double in size.
  10. Let’s get these buns in the oven. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan and brush the buns with the beaten egg. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 25-35 minutes until dark golden brown. If you tap the bottom of the cake tin it should sound hollow.

We had these the next morning with fresh orange juice and coffee: perfection. They would go equally well with a cup of tea mid-afternoon. Ross also suggested having them iced, or with streaky bacon and maple syrup. I’m not sure about the last idea.

These are rich, dense buns, with a satisfying, cakey texture. The flavour of the cinnamon and cardamom is beautiful, though the recipe is definitely adaptable to other combinations. I like the idea of orange zest and dark chocolate chips. Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to try one of the more fiddly recipes that call for kneading. But for now, excuse me while I go polish off the last sticky crumb of these buns.