March | 2014 | The Proof of the Pudding

Or in this case, my kitchen is my castle.

Apologies for the hiatus in blog posts, but things have been pretty crazy over the last few days. Ross and I got keys to our new flat at lunchtime on Friday and since then we have not stopped. Most of the flat looks like a bomb site: there are piles of boxes and bin bags everywhere, a gigantic cardboard box (sofa bed inside) in the hallway, our “bed” is a sofa bed mattress on the floor and you will struggle to get into the spare room.

However, the kitchen has been unpacked, organised and ready to go since Friday afternoon. You can tell where our priorities lie. I don’t mind eating take out on the floor, sleeping on a make-shift bed or having to rummage through bags to find a pair of shoes. As long as the kitchen is an oasis of calm, with daffodils on the window sill, a scented candle lit and the coffee machine switched on, I’m happy.

So I’m afraid there’s no new recipe today. Although the kitchen is ready and waiting for cooking to begin, we have not been! We had time to make our first home cooked meal last night (Rock Salt Roast Chicken, garlic and rosemary roast potatoes and steamed green vegetables) and it was a welcome break from pizza and Ikea hot dogs.

I am so excited to cook in our new kitchen (I have been allowed my own “baking cupboard”) and, since I have to spend the next two days in the flat unpacking and waiting for deliveries, I’m going to get baking. I plan to make the ultimate in homely baking (clue in the picture below). Although we adore our new flat, it is yet to truly feel like home, and I know that the smell of this item wafting through the rooms will help in getting us there.

Expect good things soon…


Last Friday we travelled up north to a beautiful little cottage at the Lake of Menteith to begin the hen weekend celebrations for Abi, the most gorgeous of brides-to-be. The journey was eventful, to say the least. My train was late which in turn made us late picking up the (funky) hire car, half of us got lost on the drive up (due to misdirection, not our own fault of course), we were unexpectedly faced with a pot-hole ridden single track road snaking up the side of a mountain and the airbag light in Kirsty’s car kept coming on. However, good things come to those who wait and once we had finally made it to the cottage, unpacked and put “Now That’s What I Call A Wedding!” on the sound system, it was all worth it. What ensued was a night of food, cocktails, games, onesies, surprises, shots, more cocktails and extremely enthusiastic singing. It all began with an afternoon “tea” – I say “tea” because instead of pots of tea we had pots of Pimms. It’s how it should be done.

The girls had whipped up finger sandwiches, vanilla cheesecakes and red velvet cupcakes, and my personal offering was mini lemon curd tarts. I needed something that would keep well for 2 days and would also travel well. So instead of baking the lemon filling into the tart cases, I made separate tart cases and a pot of lemon curd. All that needed to be done at the cottage was to spoon the curd into the cases and adorn each one with a raspberry. Simple.

This is my grandmother’s recipe for lemon curd and it is delicious. As in, eat-it-from-the-jar-with-a-spoon mouth-wateringly delicious. It reminds me of spring because she, and now my mum, would make it around Pessach (or Passover) time when there is an excess of egg yolks leftover from the Pessach baking. The pastry recipe is a sweet shortcrust pastry from Katie Stewart’s Cookbook. This book is the bible in our kitchen. Although this description in The Telegraph’s obituary for Katie Stewart refers to a different one of her cookery books, the exact same applied to ours: “Unlike some recipe books from the early 1970s, Katie Stewart’s book remains timelessly useful. Alongside the glossily pristine compendia of Gordon Ramsay, Sophie Dahl, Ottolenghi et al, The Times Cookery Book is almost always recognisable from its broken spine and pages dog-eared and stained with the oil and gravy of many years’ service. Clean replacements are hard to find.”. Never have truer words been spoken.

The golden rule of pastry is “Cold, cold, cold”. Keep everything in the fridge until you need it, run your hands under the cold tap and perhaps even open a window. If you don’t have white cooking fat, then just use all butter, but it will enhance the flavour and crumbly texture of the pastry. I wanted my curd to be very set, so took it to a fairly thick consistency. Be careful when doing this as you don’t want the mixture to curdle.

Ingredients (makes 12 tarts, with a little pastry and a half jar of lemon curd to spare) 4 tbsp cold milk 25g caster sugar 100g butter 15g white cooking fat 225g plain flour

A pinch of salt

100g butter 150g caster sugar 3 lemons, zested and juiced

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas 6. Mix the milk and sugar together and put in the fridge.

I had a fantastic time at the hen do and now can’t wait for the wedding to roll around in just over 3 weeks’ time. Better get dress shopping…eek!…


Disclaimer: it’s hard enough to make guacamole photogenic, but when it comes to a brown-coloured bean dip it’s pretty much impossible.

And with my camera skills we’re not off to the best start anyway. But please believe me when I say, if you could taste these two dishes you would be running out to the shops to stock up on pinto beans and forage for ripe avocados (Good luck to you on that last part, by the way. Like, seriously. I had a last minute panic on Thursday night because the 6 avocados someone picked out in the shop were all rock hard, so shoved them in a dark cupboard inside a brown paper bag snuggled up with some ripe bananas. I can’t say the results the next day were astounding, but it did the job well enough).

Anyway, I digress. I made these dips as accompaniments to the Mexican meal we had on my birthday last Friday, but feel free to have these with whatever meal you fancy. Personally, I could eat guacamole straight from the bowl. Sack that actually – just give me a ripe avocado, salt and a spoon and I’m in heaven.

There are so many variations of guacamole out there, so this is just my personal taste. I like my guacamole with bags of flavour from other ingredients aside from avocados and enough lime juice to keep a crew of sailors healthy. The bean dip originally came from our lovely friend Julia and is perfect served with tortilla chips and one (or two) margaritas.

Anna’s Guacamole

Ingredients (makes a lot! – enough for 12 people as a side) 6 avocados 3 tomatoes 2 small red onions 3 garlic cloves 2/3 red chilli Half a bunch of coriander 1 ½ limes

Salt and pepper

Method
1. Halve the avocados and remove the stone. Scoop out the avocado flesh with a spoon – this should be pretty easy if the avocados are ripe. Mash in a large bowl with a fork

2. Finely chop the red onions, garlic, chilli and coriander and mix into the mashed avocado.

3. If you can be bothered, skin the tomatoes. I think this gives a nicer texture to the guacamole, but is definitely not essential. Do this by dropping the tomatoes into a pan of boiling water for 30 seconds and then peeling back the skin – again this should be pretty easy if the tomatoes are ripe. Remove the seeds (also not essential but will avoid a sloppy texture), chop and add to the guacamole.

4. Mix in the juice of one lime and season generously with salt and pepper. Adjust the balance of lime, salt and pepper to taste.

If you’re not serving this immediately then pour over the juice of half a lime in order to stop the guacamole browning, cover in cling film and pop in the fridge. Definitely eat on the day of making.

Zingy Bean Dip

Ingredients (makes a lot!) 2 tins of pinto beans, or other similar beans like borlotti beans 2 tomatoes Garlic cloves 2 limes Half a bunch of coriander Half a bunch of parsley 2 spring onions 2 tsp cumin

Salt and pepper

Method 1. Skin the tomatoes following the instructions in the recipe above. 2. Chop the spring onion, garlic cloves and herbs. 3. Drain the beans and add all the ingredients to a large bowl or blender. Liquidise or blend, depending on what equipment you have to hand. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

I had a really wonderful birthday, made so special by the company, the fabulous presents, the (strong) margaritas expertly made by dad…
…and this spectacular chocolate cake made by the ridiculously talented Kirsten…

Still dreaming about that buttercream filling…


Last Friday I gave you a sneak peak of what I was about to cook, and I’ve finally recovered from the weekend enough to write up the recipe for the main event of my birthday dinner: Puerco en Naranja (or Pork cooked in Orange Juice). This is a stunning recipe and perfect for a really special occasion. It takes a bit of time, but it is so worth it.

Mum ordered the pork from the butchers (it’s an unusual cut, so you will probably need to order from your local butcher, or at least visit the meat counter at the supermarket. However, if you fancy the flavour of this dish without the cost, you could try the same marinade with a cheap cut of pork like shoulder or even chops and just adjust the cooking times and technique). I gave the butcher the name for the order. He returned with the biggest cut of pork loin I’ve ever seen, chuckled and commented “Spears: never a small order”. Well he’s not wrong. But to be fair, every last morsel of meat was devoured.

Ingredients (serves 10 to 12) 9 lbs rib-end pork loin, with the bones chined and the skin scored (ask your butcher to do this for you) 10 cloves of garlic 2 tbsp salt 4 tsp oregano 24 peppercorns

6 oranges

Method 1. Pierce any exposed meat with a sharp knife and place skin side up in a large roasting tin.

2. Crush the garlic, salt, oregano and peppercorns using a mortar and pestle. Add the juice of 2 of the oranges and mix.

3. Slather the marinade all over the pork and give it a good massage, rubbing it into any cracks or cuts. Cover in cling film and leave in the fridge for at least one hour, but ideally overnight. We had particularly tasty results with the meat this time, which we are sure was at least in part due to the overnight (12 hours plus) marinade. 4. Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4. Remove the pork from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature. Pour the juice of 2 more of the oranges over the pork and pop the orange skins in the roasting tin. Cover with tin foil and roast for 2 hours.

5. Drain off most of the juices and keep aside for later. Turn the pork and bake for a further hour uncovered. Baste every 20 minutes or so.

6. Turn the oven up to 200C/180C fan/Gas Mark 6. Turn the pork skin side up again and cook until the meat has browned and the skin has caramelised (this will take approximately 30 minutes).

7. Skim off any fat from the reserved juices, add the juice of the final two oranges and bubble over a high heat until reduced to a thick sauce.

8. Slice the meat – it should fall off the bones beautifully – and pour over the orange cooking liquid.

Serve with wraps, rice and whichever extras you like – we went to town and had beans, guacamole, salsa, sour cream, jalapeños, cheese and lettuce. I’m not sure how many of these are authentically Mexican sides but darn they taste good!
This recipe is in Recipes from the Regional Cooks of Mexico by Diana Kennedy. It was originally passed on to my parents more than 25 years ago by Professor David Weisblat, my dad’s boss while he was a postdoc in California. I’m told that David was a genius at cooking Mexican cuisine, and one night he scrawled this recipe on a scrap of paper for mum and dad. Now we have Diana’s recipe book, but I just love the jumble of words and instructions that David wrote so I thought I’d share it with you:

I (roughly) doubled the original recipe but you can easily scale it back if you’re not feeding such a crowd! So go on, treat yourself.

Recipes for some of the sides are to come later in the week….

It’s been a tough day. Gym. Sauna. Shopping. Manicure. Haircut. Basically, being 24 is pretty stressful so far.

I’m afraid there’s no new recipe today (you’ll have to make do with just one this week, but to be fair it was a good’un). This is the week of birthdays: first Ross, then me and tomorrow my mum’s. Wasn’t I the best birthday present ever for her 24 years ago? But seriously, she got to fulfil her wish of being married and having children before she was 30. Just. I’ve always had impeccable timing.

So today I give you the promise of delicious recipes to come next week. Expect flavour, expect Mexican, and expect meat. For now, here’s a sneak preview of what’s going to be happening in our household tonight…

Happy Friday one and all!



There’s something about meringues that is pretty magical. Maybe it’s the way that a gloopy, anaemic liquid can be transformed into light, frothy clouds with just a whisk. Or maybe it’s the glossy, bright white mixture that appears once sugar has been added. It could be the texture after cooking, a perfect combination of crisp, soft and chewy. It’s definitely the wonder that only two basic ingredients, egg whites and sugar, can result in such a delicious treat.

Meringues can fit in equally well at afternoon tea or a fancy dinner party, and look impressive, but are easy enough that children love to make them. When we were small we had a wonderful step-by-step children’s recipe book which included a recipe for pavlova that we loved to make. Aged about 10 my little sister gave it a go all by herself. Unfortunately, she misread teaspoon as tablespoon and the end result was, shall we say, a little vinegary in flavour. A valiant attempt, but an advert for reading a recipe thoroughly if ever there was one.

I’d been contemplating making flavoured meringues a lot recently, and with four unused egg whites leftover from the custard I made last Sunday this seemed like the chance. I think the flavours I chose work perfectly together: the sharpness of the fruit, the bitterness of the dark chocolate and the intense sweetness of the meringue itself. If you want to try other flavours then go for it, but be careful when adding anything wet or runny as this can affect the texture of the meringue (for example, in this recipe don’t add any extra zest than stated because of the orange oil that will come with it). If you want plain meringues then just leave the added extras out, they will be just a scrumptious in their natural form.

Ingredients (makes about 14 meringues, depending on size) 4 egg whites 115g caster sugar

115g icing sugar

Zest of 1 small orange 2 tbsp freeze dried raspberries

Orange and pink gel food colourings (optional, but this gives a stunning finish)

150g dark chocolate

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 120C/100C fan/Gas 1. Meringues require an extremely low oven temperature, which cooks them through without burning the outside and dries them out. 2. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. You are really going to want either an electric whisk or someone with tireless biceps to do this.

3. Add the caster sugar a spoon at a time, whisking constantly.

4. Add half the icing sugar, whisk, then add the other half and whisk. Pro tip: do not add the icing sugar while the blades are switched on. This results in unnecessary clouds of powdered sugar billowing around your kitchen and requires a lot of wiping down of surfaces, chairs and toasters.
5. You will now have a glossy, sticky mixture. Remove half of it into a different bowl and gently fold in the orange zest. Fold the freeze-dried raspberries through the remaining mixture.

6. Line 2 baking trays with parchment, not greaseproof, paper. Meringues will stick to greaseproof paper, but not baking parchment. I like to place a small blob of meringue mixture at each corner of the trays, so that the baking parchment has something to stick to and doesn’t slide around.

7. Use a large dessert spoon to create individual mounds of meringue mix on the trays. Dip the end of a skewer into the gel food colouring and swirl through the meringues to your hearts content.

8. Cook the meringues for approximately 1¼ hours, or until they are crisp on the outside. Turn the oven off, turn the meringues upside down and leave in the oven to cool. Pro tip: do not forget that you have meringues in the oven and switch it back on to cook something else. This will lead to burnt meringue (or pavlova, as it was in that case).

9. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of water. Make sure that the bowl does not touch the water otherwise the chocolate will get too hot.
10. Dip the base of the meringues into chocolate, allowing a few seconds for excess chocolate to drip off. Leave to dry upside down, again on baking parchment.

We had these after a delicious Thai meal that my mum cooked on Saturday. She made her ridiculously simple, but exquisite tasting caramelised oranges. (**BONUS RECIPE** Allow 1 orange per person. Peel and slice. Slowly heat 170g sugar with 140ml water, bring to the boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add the juice of ½ a lemon and pour over the sliced oranges. Chill.) As I banged on about before, oranges are at their primes right now, and they went so well with the meringues.

I think that the raspberry meringues would also be amazing served with fresh mixed berries and a generous dollop of cream during the summertime.

Speaking of which, is it summer yet? I have such a hankering for pesto and salad niçoise and fresh strawberries and Pimms.

No?

Sigh.


Let’s talk about pasta. More specifically, let’s talk about homemade pasta. Tasty, satisfying, versatile, impressive, quick and, best of all, easy; making your own pasta from scratch is guaranteed to have your friends and family oooh-ing and aaah-ing and complimenting you on the dedication you have to cooking. Well my friend, lap it up as you laugh on the inside and reminisce about the 2 glasses of wine that you knocked back while you made it. The longest part of the process is letting the dough sit in the fridge for an hour (this is when most of the aforementioned wine drinking probably took place) and the trickiest part of the process is rolling out the dough. If you have a pasta machine and a spare set of hands, then this is a breeze. If not, then never fear, I’ve found that pasta is easily a one-woman job. A rolling pin, or a bottle of wine (SEE? SO MANY USES), will do the job of the pasta machine and you can use a sharp knife to cut the pasta to size.

The only ingredients that you really need for pasta are flour and eggs. That’s it. 00 flour is the super fine flour that Italians use to make pasta so if you can get your hands on that then great. However, I’ve been advised by my go-to foodie friend that regular plain flour works too. The most basic pasta dough recipe that you can follow is 100g flour to 1 egg, which will serve roughly one person.

I add a small amount of olive oil for elasticity and a pinch of salt for seasoning. Semolina can also be added to your dough to give it more texture and bite. The proportions of semolina to flour in a recipe vary from family to family, and depend on where in Italy you are. Apparently, the further south, the more semolina in the recipe.

I’m yet to experiment with different proportions of semolina to flour, but here is the recipe that I have been using lately. I find it has a lovely bite, especially if only cooked very briefly, and a rich flavour. It holds up to a flavourful sauce and I’ve used it to make tagliatelle and raviolis so far (like here in my Seafood Tagliatelle).

Ingredients (serves 3) 225g 00 flour 75g semolina 3 medium eggs, beaten (if you have large eggs then add the mix a bit at a time in case you don’t need it all) Small glug of olive oil

Pinch of salt

Method 1. Weigh out the flour and semolina and mix together with a pinch of salt. Pour into a mound on your work surface and make a well in the middle.

2. Pour the beaten egg and olive oil into the well and use a fork or your fingers to slowly begin to incorporate the liquid into the dry ingredients.

3. Combine to a stiff dough and knead for 5 minutes. Wrap the dough in cling film and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, but preferably one hour. Set up your pasta machine, if you’re using one.

4. Cut the dough in half, wrapping one half back up and putting it in the fridge. This will make it easier to deal with rolling out the dough – if you have many spare pairs of hands and a super long kitchen then knock yourself out and do it all at once. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

5. Lightly flour the work surface. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into an oblong thin enough to go through the first setting of the pasta machine. If you’re going rustic then continue with the rolling pin until you have a nice thin dough and then use a knife to cut your pasta shapes.

6. Flour the pasta machine and put the dough through the thickest setting. Fold the dough on top of itself so that it’s half the length and put it through the same setting again. Now take the thickness down a setting and repeat the process. Do not be tempted to skip a setting as the pasta is likely to tear!

7. I take this dough to the second thinnest setting and then put it through the larger cutter to make pieces of pasta about 1cm wide. You can take it as thin as you like and either use the cutter on the machine, or cut by hand with a knife.

8. Lay your pasta on a tray sprinkled with semolina, which will stop it sticking together, or hang the pasta until you are ready to use it. I got a fancy pants pasta hanger for Christmas, but I used coat hangers when I didn’t have one (how did I survive??). Repeat with the second half of the dough.

Cook in heavily salted, boiling water. The pasta will cook in 2 minutes.

If you give homemade pasta a go then let me know how it works out, or if you have your own favourite pasta recipe or semolina to flour ratio then I would love to hear it!