Friday, 12 March 2021

Florentine Slice


What a year. WHAT a year. Honestly, words fail me. As far as these things go, Paul and I have been very fortunate - our housing has been secure, none of our dearest loves has been ill, our time-tested internet shopping habits have served us well. Urchin has found having both of us at home all the time absolutely ideal. 

It's just the confinement. The narrowing of life and experience. The loss of fleeting, casual contact with other people. I am an introvert by nature and had no idea just how much I value those tiny instances of connection until they didn't happen any more. Looking at exhibitions online just can't compare with wandering through a gallery. Having a long chat on the phone isn't the same as attending a reading and then sharing a meal. Somehow spending time with actual people is more nourishing than just messaging or speaking, regardless of how freely you speak.

You wouldn't know from this blog, but I have spent a lot of time in the kitchen over the last year. With restaurants mostly closed and local delivery services unreliable, I have cooked most of what we've eaten, three meals a day and snacks. I am profoundly tired of cooking. But at the same time I'd mostly rather bake a cookie than buy a cookie because doing one fills in a couple of hours as I decide what to bake and then do it, instead of just the gratification of eating it.

I wasn't sure how these were going to go. We'd run out of the previous batch of biscuits (chocolate hobnobs) and had no eggs. I initially thought of a round of shortbread, cut into wedges, with half a glace cherry pressed into each piece, but as I searched for eggless cookies with glace cherries I kept coming up against Florentine recipes. But I really wanted shortbread.

And lo! Unto us a Florentine slice was born. The caramel layer is quite soft, like a Millionaire's Shortbread, instead of being snappy and chewy like a proper Florentine. For something I cludged together and crossed my fingers over, these are very good. Something about this year that is actually worthy of being remembered.

Florentine Slice (Makes about 18 pieces, depending on how you cut it)


175g butter, softened

85g caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

200g plain flour

25g rice flour

1/2 tsp ground ginger

Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla bean paste with electric hand beaters until light and fluffy. Mix in the flours and ginger and fold & smear together with a spatula to a dough. Press into a baking paper-lined 8x11" pan and pat to an even layer. Chill in the fridge for about an hour.


50g butter

50g double cream

100g soft light brown sugar

50g golden syrup

50g plain flour

50g mixed peel

50g glace cherries, chopped

75g pistachio nuts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180C (fan)

In a small bowl, combine the flour, mixed peel, glace cherries and nuts. In a small saucepan combine the butter, cream, sugar and golden syrup. Over a low heat bring just to the boil. Remove from heat and stir in the combined flour, fruit and nuts.

Pour the fruity caramel mixture over the chilled base and gently rotate the pan to encourage it into the corners. Bake for 15-18 minutes until evenly browned and bubbling.


100g dark chocolate

While the slice is baking, finely chop the chocolate. As soon as it comes out, sprinkle the chocolate evenly over the slice. In a few moments it will all have melted, so nudge it to cover the slice completely.

Allow to cool in the tin (which takes much longer than you'd think for the chocolate to set) before cutting into small pieces.


Saturday, 21 March 2020

Passionfruit Pie

"May you live in interesting times" the apocryphal saying goes. With this coronavirus pandemic business, the times certainly are "interesting". And unsettling and worrying. And weirdly mundane, as laundry still has to get done, kitty litter needs to be scooped and meals still have to be cooked. In fact, even more meals than usual because Paul is working from home so all of a sudden lunch is required.

We were supposed to have Paul's mother staying with us for a month, but the South African government closed the borders a day before she was due to travel. Disappointing, since it was the first time she'd planned to come to the UK in several years, but being effectively in lockdown in a home that is not your own wouldn't be entirely cosy.

I had planned several very good meals for her stay. We wanted to cook some of the things we really enjoy which she may not have been familiar with, and also just take advantage of having an extra body in the house to justify a bit of extra indulgence. There were going to be curries and barbecues and cakes. Lots of vegetables prepared in interesting ways. Many, many cups of tea.

Having expected her to arrive on Wednesday morning, my grocery order for this week still contained a lot of the things I had on the menu for this weekend. We'd invited Paul's niece and her husband and Paul's sister in law to join us to celebrate Mothering Sunday and were going to pull all the stops out on the meal. Despite all the news about panic buying, denuded supermarket shelves and grocery deliveries arriving half empty, almost everything I ordered arrived - fortunately I'd had a chance to edit the order before the site crashed and had removed the very large standing rib roast that was an extravagance for six people and completely absurd for two.

The ingredients for the dessert arrived. Paul has revealed, 20 years into knowing him, that he really, really, really likes passionfruit. He also is quite partial to key lime pie. I concluded that passionfruit would probably be acidic enough to thicken the condensed milk and eggs in the way limes do and lo! Passionfruit pie was born. The crust is crunchy, the filling is fragrant and smooth and it's very, very easy. Although if this rush on eggs continues, it may be a historical artifact.
No filter or food colour, just lovely egg yolks

Passionfruit Pie (makes 8-10 slices. You can decide how many people that feeds)

140g digestive biscuits
70g roasted, salted macadamia nuts, roughly chopped in half
80g butter
9 passionfruit
2 limes (you need the juice and the finely grated zest)
2 cans sweetened condensed milk
4 egg yolks (I used particularly nice eggs with lovely glowing orange yolks, which gave my pie a gorgeous colour)
150ml double cream (optional) to garnish

Preheat the oven to 160C, fan

Melt the butter in a medium sized saucepan. In a food processor, combine the digestives and nuts and process until the biscuits are fine crumbs and the nuts still have some chunky bits (if you don't want to wash up the food processor, crush the biscuits in a plastic bag with a rolling pin and chop the nuts by hand) and mix the crumbs into the melted butter. That's why you melted the butter in a larger saucepan than you needed.

Press the buttery crumb mixture very firmly into the base and sides of a pie plate. I think your hands are the best tool for this, but you can use the back of a spoon if you insist.

Bake the crumb case for 8 minutes.

While the crust is baking, scoop 8 1/2 of the passionfruit out into a mini processor and reserve the last half passionfruit for garnishing later. If your passionfruit don't come in multiples of 3 you can go nuts and use 9 whole passionfruit for the filling and an extra one for the garnish. It's the end of the world! Let your hair down. Whizz in the mini processor until the pulp on the seeds has broken down and the seeds are starting to break up a bit. This maximises the amount of juice you get out of them. Strain the passionfruit into a 1l measuring jug and add the grated lime zest and juice. This should give you about 200ml juice. Whisk in the sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks and stir until smooth. You will feel it thickening almost immediately.

Pour the filling into the baked crumb crust and return to the oven for 15-20 minutes or until set but still with a bit of a jiggle. Allow to cool completely and then chill for a couple of hours before serving.

Whip the double cream to peaks, pipe it on if you can be bothered or just splodge it as I did, then garnish with the pulp from the reserved half passionfruit.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Cookbooks 2019

This hasn't been a great year for blogging, from my point of view. Not a lot I have cooked has been worthy of a whole post, so I've mostly been sticking photos on Instagram as reminders to myself of what I have been eating, and making notes on Eat Your Books and hoping it's enough to replicate my results if I want to. But here we are, staring down the barrel of December, when people are thinking about what to get their food-inclined loved ones for Christmas. So here are the four cookbooks, released this year, that I have cooked the most from.

And just as a by the way, I don't have affiliate links or make any money from this, any links I have inserted are purely to help you find things. Also, I bought all of these myself and would do it again.

They all have really good recipes, but the main thing I love about them is the writing. Dishoom, Mandalay and Baan all tell stories which give context to the dishes in a way that I really love.  Diana Henry's writing is always delightful: evocative and inviting, but the other three give a sense of place to the cultures and cuisines they are writing about which I think is important when you are cooking from outside a culture.

Dishoom is a British chain of restaurants, modelled on the "Irani" cafes in Bombay. The food is a lot better than the majority of neighbourhood curry houses we've been to (there are excellent exceptions, but most of the Indian restaurants we've been to in this country haven't been very good), the atmosphere is relaxed and they are reliable. Even though you nearly always have to queue. It took me years to get Paul into one, and now he is a confirmed fan. When I saw that they had a book coming out, with the famous House Black Daal recipe in it, I had to have it.
Dishoom's garam masala is not like bought, ground garam masala
The Irani cafes apparently had their heyday in the 1960s, but Dishoom tries hard to capture the essence of them, and set a scene for when and how you eat the dishes in the book. I don't think my Kejriwal quite captured the grandeur of the Willingdon Club, but they tasted lovely.
Kejriwal - fried eggs on chilli cheese toast

It appears that I took no pictures of the daal - so imagine, if you will, a bowl of dark brown sludge that tastes deeply of hours spent perfecting it. It is rich, creamy, subtly spiced and utterly entrancing. If you think of a bowl of lentils as being penance in food form, this will show you how very wrong you are.
Spicy lamb chops
Everything I have made has been delicious, and well worth the extra effort of making my own masalas and making batches of fresh ginger and garlic purees. A technique I hadn't come across before, which is used in grilled meat dishes, is to do a short, first marinade in green papaya puree, before adding an aromatic second marinade. It's very successful - it seems to open the meat fibres so that the aromatics really penetrate, and it makes the meat incredibly tender. To the point that even with flat metal barbecue skewers, it's hard to turn kebabs because the meat just falls apart. So delicious!
Okra fries
MiMi Aye has become a friend through the magic of social media. She's a brilliant human - passionate and articulate whether she's pointing out racism and discrimination or being geekily enthusiastic about pop culture. Her first book, Noodle! is great and I thoroughly recommend it, but you can easily see that Mandalay is the book she wanted to write. It's deeply personal - which is not something you often say about a cookbook.
Duck egg curry - a long-standing favourite
Burmese food, apparently, tends not to be pretty food. Mostly muted shades, it makes up for the appearance with incredibly punchy, savoury flavours. I have shared some of my more photogenic pictures, but there have also been several intensely flavoured, aromatic bowls of brown and beige.

Tofu fritters like you have never experienced tofu before, ginger salad, chicken goujons and two dipping sauces

Goat and split pea curry, and Burmese coleslaw
Lahpet thoke - pickled tea leaf salad
Lemon salad

Baan is also a clear labour of love. Having read Kay Plunkett-Hogge's Adventures of a Terribly Greedy Girl, I was familiar with her Thai childhood, and adult love for Thailand and its food. It's interesting to juxtapose MiMi and Kay's experiences - one brown woman born in the UK and for years not being quite Burmese enough and one white woman born in Thailand but not quite Thai enough. I feel extremely fortunate to have their books in my hands.
Classic gai yarn - incredibly juicy chicken
 As delicious as the recipes I have tried have been, my favourite thing, I think, is the method of brining the chicken for the Classic gai yarn - I have used it many times since I first bought the book, and used the same brine for my most successful ever roast pork.
Northeastern-style [duck] laarp

This meal danced all over South East Asia, but the rings are Kay's Squid deepfried with garlic and white pepper
Diana Henry's last book, How To Eat A Peach, was glorious. From the tactile flocked cover to the stories to the carefully considered menus, the whole thing is a treasure: a fantasy of long lunches and expansive hospitality. From the Oven to the Table is a very different kettle of fish. You may not have noticed, but the UK is in a very tense and uncertain period at the moment, which I think has created a need to cocoon and seek comfort - this book certainly seems to be an expression of that.
Croque monsieur bread pudding
Of course, having previously heard that Diana plans several books ahead, she was probably considering this book well before the 2016 referendum. So it may not have been a response to the current climate, but it certainly seems to articulate the zeitgeist. These are dishes to give heart. To nourish the people you hold dear before you let them go back into the world.

Lamb chops with sweet potatoes, peppers and mojo verde
Not all the dishes are bung-it-in-the-oven-and-wait: some have a few stages, some are made by the final addition of a relish or sauce, but they all feel quite achievable. The recipes also aren't trying to be too clever - it's not about "I bet you didn't know you could cook THIS in the oven", it's about dishes that the oven is the right thing for.
Baked lime, passionfruit and coconut pudding
Baked sausages, apples and blackberries with mustard and maple syrup
Roast peppers with burrata and 'nduja
Tomato, goats cheese and olive clafoutis with basil
I honestly couldn't pick a favourite from these books, so don't ask me. I think I will go back to all of them again and again, whether it's to re-read a passage or to take inspiration or actually follow a recipe. And I can't imagine anyone being disappointed to receive any of these as a gift.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Barbecued chicken wings - a summer's work

Work in progress - April. Excellent colour but not much crunch
For inexplicable reasons, Paul's never been much of a fan of chicken wings. He'd always opt for a drumstick or a piece of breast or something first. I, on the other hand, love them. Deep-fried and crisp or richly sticky with a sweet marinade, I think they are delicious little morsels and well worth nibbling around the bones.

Just as inexplicable as Paul's traditional lack of interest in chicken wings has been his sudden enthusiasm for them this year. Chances are it was kicked off by something he saw on youtube, but I really don't remember what it was. But he wanted chicken wings and he wanted them barbecued. However it started, we've had a summer-long pursuit of the perfect barbecued chicken wing.

Chicken is supposed to be quite tricky to barbecue. Certainly anyone who has ever been faced with bloody-at-the-bone drumsticks with a charred outer layer would tell you that it's not that easy. But you certainly don't have to par-cook it and finish it on the barbecue, the way a lot of recipes suggest.
August: method perfected, experimenting with flavours
It took some trial and error, but we've hit on a really, really good method for barbecued wings. Paul thinks the theory is sound for bone-in chicken thighs, but we haven't tested that yet. The key is a long, off-set cook, so that the meat is cooked through, gently enough that the connective tissues are starting to melt as well.

Sometimes with barbecued chicken, the smoke, while giving the meat a delicious flavour, makes the skin leathery. We've discovered that a spoonful of cornflour in the marinade counteracts that leatheriness, leaving a lovely crisp skin and also helping the seasonings to adhere.
So good. Succulent all the way through, crisp outside.
The basic principle is a spoonful of cornflour, a spoonful of vegetable oil and your choice of seasonings. From that framework, it's really adaptable. We've done fish sauce and garlic, inspired by the famous Pok Pok wings. We've done kim chi juice, which has a delicious fermented funk. We've gone Greek-ish, using olive oil instead of vegetable oil and seasoning with lemon juice, garlic and oregano. We've done soy sauce, ginger and garlic. We haven't yet tried saucing them afterwards, a la buffalo wings, but I am sure that would work too.
The calamondin almost died over winter 2017/18, but it's back on track
This version, with fruit from our bonsai calamondin tree, is particularly successful. The main flavour is the bittersweet not-quite-orange flavour of the calamondin, with a subtle warmth from the chilli and the (for me) essential garlic.

Calamondin and Garlic Chicken Wings

1kg chicken wings (we get the ones with the wing tips removed - 1kg is 12-14 wings)
1tbs cornflour
1tbs vegetable oil
1tbs light soy sauce
3 calamondins, cut into rough chunks, seeds removed (if you don't have access to fresh calamondins - and I can see why you wouldn't - use 1 medium tangerine)
6 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into rough chunks
1tsp chilli flakes
Pinch of salt

In a small processor, combine everything except the chicken wings. Pulse to a thick puree - it doesn't have to be completely smooth. Pour the puree over the chicken wings and turn to give a good coating. I used to do this in a ziplock bag, which is just the right thing for smooshing sauces into all the nooks, but I am trying to cut down on single use plastics so now I do it in a pyrex dish with a lid and just give them a good stir.

Refrigerate until ready to cook. An hour in the marinade is better than no time at all, but 6-8 hours is better. I try to do it just after breakfast for eating in the evening.

A kilo of wings takes up quite a bit of space, so you'll need to build a fire set off as far to the side of the barbecue as you can. We start with a bag of easy-light charcoal and then add a thick layer of lumpwood - the fire needs to last a while and burn pretty hot.

Arrange the wings. Barbecue, lid down, with the vent over the wings and open a little bit to encourage the heat to flow over them, for 45 minutes to an hour.
Calamondin & Garlic wings. Slightly caught on the outside, absolutely delicious.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Mars Bar Slice

On Saturday, it was the kids day at the farm where Paul shoots. Last year was the first time he'd been involved - the day before we smoked and wrapped two shoulders of lamb with a lot of harissa, garlic and preserved lemons. They, along with everything else on offer, disappeared as if a plague of locusts had been let loose.

This year, they were determined to out-do themselves. They had four kettle barbecues set up for slow roasting and a gas grill for burgers. Paul acted as pitmaster. Starting at 7am they cooked through until about 4pm, getting through 1.5 sheep (in various cuts), 3 small deer, 160 pheasant, duck and venison burgers and some sausages. All meat either produced or shot on the farm. There was also a bakery full of bread and buns, salads and a vast array of confectionary. He got home sunburnt and too tired to speak and slept for 12 hours.

My small contribution was a tray of Mars Bar Slice. Always a crowd-pleaser. Although given that the locusts left not a single bite of anything, it's hard to adequately assess the popularity with this particular crowd.

Mars Bar Slice (makes lots)

100g butter
2 tbs golden syrup
More-or-less 500g mars bars (they keep changing the size, but anything from 450-550g total weight is absolutely fine). 1/4 of them finely chopped, the rest cut into rough chunks.
120g rice krispies
200g milk chocolate
200g dark chocolate - or you could use 400g milk chocolate, but I like that touch less sweetness from combining the two
30g coconut oil
Pinch of salt
Sprinkles (optional)

Line a tin with non-stick baking parchment. I used a 20 x 30cm pyrex lasagne dish, but an inch either side of those measurements isn't a problem.

Combine the butter, golden syrup and the roughly chopped mars bars in a medium pan, and melt gently over a low heat, stirring constantly until smooth, then remove from heat.

Put the rice krispies in a large bowl with the finely chopped mars bars. With your hands, gently toss the mixture together to separate out the pieces of mars bar, which have a tendency to cling together.

Stir the melted mars bar mixture through the rice krispies. Scrape into the prepared tin and press down well with a spatula. Cool for an hour to set.

Combine the milk and dark chocolate, chopped into chunks, with the coconut oil and a small pinch of salt in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water (not letting the water touch the base of the bowl) and stir until the chocolate melts. Pour the melted chocolate over the set slice and tilt the pan around to make the coating even. If you are using sprinkles, allow the chocolate to cool for about 5 minutes before adding them, so they don't just sink straight through. I used some very glamorous bronze crunch sprinkles which I think make everything look classy. They'll probably turn up on cauliflower cheese at some point.

Allow to cool for 30-45 minutes at room temperature before cutting into small squares with a sharp knife. Store in the fridge if it's warm or humid.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

White chocolate sour cherry cheesecake

White chocolate sour cherry cheesecake
We had a house guest staying last weekend. He's a friend of Paul's who comes over 3-4 times a year, but he lives a 3 hour train trip away. So if he comes to visit he stays the night so they can sit in the living room talking shit for hours. I assume - I usually go to bed. I limit my hostessing to washing the spare room sheets, cleaning the bathroom and making a salad.

Any excuse to make a pudding, however. The last time he came over I made Felicity Cloake's perfect pecan pie. Which was SO darn good. Really. Best pecan pie I have ever eaten. I've made it again subsequently and it's actually a bit tricky to think of other desserts to make when that exists in the world. It also makes other pies and tarts feel a bit shy. How can they live up to that?! Paul ended up solving the dilemma, when he asked for a cheesecake with a layer of a tart fruit jam on top.

It's quite a dense, baked cheesecake, and not too sweet (unusually for white chocolate). I used a very nice 70% fruit sour cherry preserve, which was just the thing.

White chocolate sour cherry cheesecake (serves 8-10)

120g ginger nut biscuits
50g butter
pinch salt
200g white chocolate
300g sour cherry jam, divided in half
300g cream cheese
300g sour cream
50g caster sugar
2tbs cornflour
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1tbs kirsch (or other booze)

Preheat oven to 180C, with a metal oven tray on the middle shelf.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water and set aside to cool.

Melt the butter in a small pan. Using a rolling pin, crush the biscuits in a plastic bag until they are mostly fine crumbs, with the occasional bigger bit. Mix the crumbs into the melted butter, add a pinch of salt and stir well.

Line a deep 20cm round cake tin with a removable base (you don't really have to, especially if you are using a springform tin, but it helps avoid the cheesecake's tendency to crack as it cools because the lining moves with it) and firmly press the buttery crumbs into the base of the tin.

Bake the base on the preheated oven tray for 15 minutes.

Remove the tin from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 110C.

Dollop half the jam over the hot biscuit base, and spread gently around as it melts.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, cornflour, eggs, vanilla and lemon zest until smooth. Fold in the cooled white chocolate and pour into the tin, over the base. It's quite runny, so it should self-level well.

Bake for 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 hours, until set but still slightly wobbly in the middle. If you didn't line your tin, when you pull the tin out of the oven, run a palette knife all the way around the cake to make sure it's loosened from the sides of the tin (again, helps avoid cracking). Allow to cool completely.

In a small pan, warm the remaining half of the sour cherry jam with the kirsch until it's a bit runnier. Spread over the cold cheesecake. Chill before serving.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

A good start to the year: garlic thyme potatoes

Finger lime
Happy New Year! 2019 is currently feeling overwhelming and fairly terrifying, so my main hope for us all is that it won't be as bad as it looks.

Last night, as is our preference, we stayed home and ate a delicious dinner. I had planned our traditional fondue, but then when the groceries were delivered my cheese wasn't in it. I couldn't quite face the prospect of a trip to the shops, so I re-thought, and came up with a very good plan using the available ingredients.

Fortunately, our starter was not affected by the lack of cheese. When I did the seafood platter for last week's Christmas Eve meal, Paul was smitten with the finger limes. He decided that if it could be had, some caviar would be a perfect New Year's Eve nibble, garnished with the finger lime beads. Caviar was obtainable (at predictably terrible price, but hey, we didn't have to pay for taxis last night), and it was a perfect combination. The matching size and texture and contrasting flavour and colour was excellent. It would even have been worth brushing my hair and leaving the house for, but fortunately I didn't have to go to those lengths.

For our not-fondue main course, I pulled some flatiron steaks out of the freezer, which we grilled over charcoal, braised some chicory and made these fab, meltingly delicious potatoes. It's the same potato dish I made for Christmas, and I think making it 2 weeks running means it's worth writing up the recipe. It's still very buttery, so it's not a low-calorie option, but it's much lighter than a dauphinoise.
You can see how sticky and melting they are
Garlic thyme potatoes (serves 2)

3-4 medium Charlotte potatoes (or other waxy or all-purpose variety), peeled and thinly sliced
45-60g (3-4tbs) salted butter
1 big sprig fresh thyme
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine or white vermouth
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
Black pepper

Preheat oven to 180C

Grease the base of a small casserole dish thickly with 1tbs butter. Arrange half the potatoes evenly in it. Scatter the garlic, thyme leaves, a good grinding of pepper and half the remaining butter on the potatoes, then add the remaining potatoes.

Pour over the wine and stock - it should come up about 2/3 of the way up the potatoes. Press down on the spuds so they are briefly submerged. Scatter with knobs of the remaining butter and another grinding of pepper.

Bake for half an hour or so, until the potatoes are golden on top, melting in the middle and most of the juices have evaporated. If your dish is deep rather than long it'll take longer. Allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.


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