Wednesday 30 May 2012

Grapefruit cakes

I've mentioned the grapefruit situation with the fruit box at work. So. Much. Grapefruit.

Not very pink, pink grapefruit
There were a couple of office birthdays coming up, so I decided to make a cake utilising the grapefruit glut. In my last job, birthday cakes were very political. They were discussed in team meetings and policies were argued, formulated, and then ignored in favour of the unhappy status quo.

My new workplace is not like that at all. They are a thoroughly charming group of young people. I'm the oldest in the office by a reasonable margin, which is a bit of an odd experience for me, but I am so delighted to be working with this extraordinary bunch I just can't tell you. My mother might make a plea for the Shore boys of my generation, but really, at 23 most of them were still struggling to walk upright. These kids are an entirely different kettle of fish - clever, articulate, polite, radiant with youth. Totally awe-inspiring, magnificent creatures. A lot of them are volunteering for a brief period, and I haven't quite figured out how I am going to deal with the regular little bereavement of these beautiful people moving on to other things. 

So in my continued karmic journey towards reincarnation as an Italian mother (or journey away from foie gras farmer...), I am enjoying feeding them. And the thing about clever, articulate, polite people is that they are very sweet and gracious guineapigs for my experiments.

I think we can agree that my cake decorating needs some development
Right, this grapefruit cake then. My first attempt used this recipe, using evaporated milk instead of fresh (I was deeply sceptical about fresh milk and grapefruit juice not curdling. It might have worked but I didn't want to find out) and making it in one 8" square cake tin. Needed cooking for a bit longer than the recipe, obviously, but sticking a toothpick in it worked as an indicator.

I split the cooled cake in half (really must get a serrated knife, if snazzy cakes are going to become a more important part of my repertoire). I brushed the cut edges with a simple grapefruit syrup (i.e 1:1 grapefruit juice and sugar), and sandwiched it with fresh grapefruit curd mixed 50/50 with white chocolate buttercream. For some reason, I had been absolutely convinced that the white chocolate buttercream recipe contained cream cheese.  It doesn't, but I'd already bought it, so in it went. I used strained grapefruit juice and some zest instead of the cream and vanilla to carry the flavour through a bit more and moderate the sweetness of the frosting.

Really good crumb
I iced it with more of the buttercream, without the curd added, and got a bit fancy with the piping bag and some pink cachous. It was delicious - and very popular in the office - but the grapefruit flavour was very subtle. Almost undetectable, in fact.

There were more grapefruit in the following week's box, so I made another cake. This time, I used the grated zest of 2 grapefruit in the cake itself. I reduced the grapefruit syrup down a bit further to concentrate the flavour and melted a couple of my remaining pâtes de fruits into it before brushing it onto the cut surfaces of the cake (which was a 9" round). I filled it with grapefruit curd mixed with cream cheese, then iced it with the grapefruit-flavoured white chocolate buttercream (without cream cheese in it). I was playing with food colouring, aiming for a sort of ombre effect, but I didn't quite get it. Much better flavour though.

I've cancelled the grapefruit in the fruit box now. They make a pretty good cake, but I'd really rather use lemons. And if there are always grapefruit cakes, where does that leave chocolate?

Some of my colleagues have said they read my blog. I am seeing how closely they read it.

Sunday 27 May 2012

Soho Food Feast - best school fête ever

When you are one of the best-known chefs in the country, and your kids' school is short on cash, you don't hold a car boot sale. You get some mates to cook some stuff, you sell tickets and you spread the word. Yesterday was the second annual Soho Food Feast, organised by Fergus and Margot Henderson, in support of Soho Parish Primary School.

It was sold out (and why wouldn't it be, when tickets were only £4?), but one of my friends works for a company that sponsored the event and managed to wangle a couple. We had the best weather of the year so far for it, and as far as I could tell a jolly good time was being had by all.

St Anne's church garden doesn't normally look like this
The deal was that you bought tokens for £2 each, which you swapped for little tasting plates of food, and bought drinks separately. And that was a very, very good deal. I'd prefer it if you didn't tot up the number of tokens I must have bought though.

Mahoosive Mojito from Milk & Honey to open the innings. Very restorative. £7.50 well spent.
Angela Hartnett demonstrating how to make pasta. She has really lovely aquamarine earrings
It was such a nice, intimate setting. This was the only cooking demonstration I got to see, but I will take on board some of the pasta-making tips. Adding a bit of semolina to my paste to give it a bit more of an al dente quality. Wish I'd asked where she got her sausages for the sauce though - they looked superb.

Melon, tomato and lemon thyme salad with jamón from Brindisa. Not jamón ibérico.  Amazing fragrance from the lemon thyme.

There were many pork-based offerings. good for me, not for my friend who eschews the pig.
Crumbed pigs cheek bun, served with a little salad and a divine grilled spring onion. Tender, porky heaven from St John.

The Kopapa team - the Adidas-shod feet belong to Peter Gordon but I was trying not to come across as too much of a star-fucking chef groupie so I didn't dwell on taking pictures of all the chefs. My friend had the glazed lamb rib, which was delicious but tricky to eat.

The Polpo offering. Least successful plate of the day - the asparagus wrapped in speck with a little salty cheese was good but the baccala mantecato was pasty and flavourless and the meatball was a little bland.

Pork and beans in mustard sauce from Quo Vadis. Not the best-designed dish for eating out of little cups but utterly delicious. I told Jeremy Lee that he is my favourite person on twitter.

Smoked salmony nibbly things from Hix. Possibly the best smoked salmon pâté I've ever had.

Another non-pork offering for Penny - a vegetable taco from Wahaca
One vendor, which I will politely not name, was offering vegan, gluten-free cupcakes and calling them  "a treat" and using "you can eat 3 and not feel bloated" as a selling point. Not my idea of a treat. Blood orange sorbet from Gelupo is a proper treat.

Saturday 26 May 2012


Our garden is looking pretty shite at the moment. Lots of rain and not a lot of time, money or energy have really taken a toll.

The only things that are looking really good are the peonies. Stunning. They also prove that I have no future ahead of me as a sniper - I couldn't get a properly focused picture no matter what I did (falling short of actually getting out my tripod, that would have been an effort too far). Fortunately, I like this over-exposed, slightly-blurred, shaky-hand, bad-tattoo effect.

Thursday 24 May 2012

Left. Over. Roger - stuff with chicken

I really enjoyed last month's inaugural Left.Over.Roger challenge hosted by Carla at Can Be Bribed With Food. I do like a blogging event where I don't have to make an extra effort, just cook as I usually do and remember to take a picture.

This month, we had a leftover chicken breast and wing from a roast chicken.
Leftover roast chicken - I'd pretty much picked the brown crispy bits off it already. Cook's perk.
We also had a large bowlful of a light chicken stock, made from the carcass and jellied juices of the roast chicken and a few odds & ends of carrot, celery and onion. Stock made this way is never going to be the absolutely most flavourful liquid, but it gives depth and body to dishes in a way that plain water or a stock cube doesn't.
Light chicken broth

 The night after the roast chicken, the leftover breast meat and about half the broth cuddled up to a handful of mushrooms, a couple of leeks and some arborio rice in a risotto. To give that nice mantecato finish, I stirred a big knob of butter and bigger handful of grated parmesan in at the end.
Chicken, mushroom and leek risotto

Then the night after the risotto, the rest of the broth joined some chickpeas, chorizo, yellow peppers, spring greens and a can of crushed tomatoes to make a sort of broth-y, stew-y, minestrone-y thing with Spanish flavours. There was a tiny amount of risotto left, so I chucked that in at the end to provide a bit of thickening for the broth, then squeezed some lemon juice over to brighten the flavours. It's hard to go wrong when chorizo is in the equation - this was definitely the most successful dish of our chicken run.
Sort of Spanish-y minestrone sort of affair

Monday 21 May 2012

Meat-Free Monday: vegetable lasagne

I've never made a good meat lasagne. I don't know why - I make a pretty good ragu and a killer bechamel, but somehow in the layering or something it all goes pear-shaped and ends up like a particularly robust housebrick.

My vegetable lasagnes, and even my seafood lasagnes, on the other hand, are brilliant. I hardly ever make them, because they are fiddly, time-consuming and use lots of pans, but when I do, it is all worthwhile. I don't have a fixed recipe for them, it's more riffing on a theme of varied colour, flavour and texture. So it might be layers of various barbecued mediterranean vegetables, pumpkin and mushroom or smoked and fresh seafood.

The finished article
This one is a layer of leeks and courgettes, bound with a 200g tub of soft philly, seasoned with celery seed, oregano and black pepper, then two layers of spicy tomato, onion and pepper sauce (fresh red and my last smoked dried hungarian wax), and a top layer of spinach, garlic and ricotta, seasoned with loads of nutmeg. If I'd been feeling more energetic I might have topped it with a layer of bechamel, but instead I just used grated cheese, so the top layer of pasta sheets curled and crisped in the oven like tortilla chips. Yum. It makes 8-10 portions, so this is a pretty economical way to go about making our lunches for this week.

Leeks & courgettes, sauteed hard, then bound with philly
One way of tying the various flavours together without everything tasting same-y was to take advantage of the different alliums. So leeks in one layer, onions in one layer, garlic in one layer.

Spinach (the frozen stuff), garlic & ricotta
Spicy tomato, onion and peppers. Lots of liquid in this layer.

Letting it sit for a bit before cutting gives tidier slices

Saturday 19 May 2012

Yalla Yalla - Green's Court

I had totally forgotten that I had my camera in my bag and that I'd had the intention of blogging about this meal. Hence the single, token picture from right at the end of the night.

The thing was, one friend was just back from a long weekend in Barbados, two have been internet dating (not each other - strings of new men) and a new acquaintance, with whom I was instantly smitten, joined us. It meant that the conversation and wine were both free-flowing, and the food was so good that it didn't occur to me to get my face out of the plate for long enough to think about things like lighting and actually remembering the names of the dishes.

We stuck to mezze - not because the main dishes didn't sound good, but because we (that is, I - I did my usual irritating trick of hogging the menu and deciding what everyone else was going to eat) greedily ordered so many little dishes that no one had room for a main course. For four Australian girls, all used to having ready access to loads of good Lebanese restaurants, it's been a bit of an adjustment living somewhere that the cuisine is less-accessible, so we just wanted to eat all of it. Except the chicken livers. I was told that they would judge and mock me if I ordered the sawda djej, so I didn't.

So we talked about Barbados (which sounded amazing), internet dating (very entertaining), a bit of Victorian literature (proving that I have very little idea of when Victoria actually ruled), old school American tattooing (new acquaintance lives in Michigan and has the most awesome tattoos), passive aggressive notes (mostly me, I have produced some excellent ones at work lately), whether one assumes that very tall people are older because of looking up to them physically, modern theatre and inappropriate crushes. It may have been the wine, but I thought we were all being witty and erudite (um, except for that whole Victorian thing) and had a jolly good time.

Look, the service is slow and perfunctory, the tables are small, the seats are uncomfortable and the food isn't quite as good or as cheap as Al Waha (where I have ordered the sawda djej with different friends and not been judged), but it's very conveniently positioned in Soho and the food is pretty bloody good. It's tiny and they don't take bookings, so it is perfect if you want a 6pm dinner and be home by 9.

Prawns, squid, aubergine and whitebait - I think all fritti misti should have pomegranate seeds

T: 020 7287 7663

Monday 14 May 2012

Meat Free Monday: baked eggs and greens

3 of the 5 a day

This is what dinner looks like when you have a load of green veg and not a whole lot else in the fridge. Fortunately it was delicious! The veg repays a bit of care with the cooking, but aside from that it is very straightforward. I think a delicious variation would be to add some sliced mint to the veg and use crumbled feta instead of the cheddar. I put the dish on a cork mat in between us and we ate straight from the dish.

Baked eggs & greens (serves 2)

Olive oil
2 large courgettes
1 small head of broccoli
1 bunch of asparagus
2-3 spring onions
2 cloves of garlic
juice of a lemon
4 eggs
Grated cheese
smoked chilli sauce to serve

Warm a hefty splash of olive oil in a shallow cast-iron pan. Add the courgettes, cut into chunks, and sauté them until they are well browned. Add the broccoli, cut into florettes and sauté until they start to soften, then add the stalks of the asparagus, the chopped spring onions and the garlic. When the garlic is soft but not browned, add the tips of the asparagus and the lemon juice.

Break the eggs over the top, sprinkle with a good handful of grated cheese and bake at 180C for about 20 minutes. You could do it for less, but you know what Paul is like with runny egg yolks.

Serve with a slosh of chilli sauce over the top.
Pretty quick, pretty healthy, pretty delicious

Saturday 12 May 2012

Mocha Almond Semifreddo - WSC, BSFIC, LOL OMG!

After dipping my toe in the chocolatey waters of Choclette & Chele's We Should Cocoa last month, I was on a bit of a roll and keen to have another go. This month's challenge ingredient, set by Laura at How to Cook Good Food, was almonds. This presented a slight problem. I love almonds, and I think they are absolutely divine with chocolate, but as one of my colleagues is allergic to nuts it meant that I couldn't take my dish in for polishing off by the sweet-tooths I work with.

I was going to have to come up with something less-sweet, that Paul would eat.

Fortunately he had vaguely mentioned an interest in a dessert, which I'd filed away in the ridiculously large portion of my brain dedicated to food. Coffee icecream. Since one of my all-time-favourite ice cream flavours is Baskin Robbins Jamoca Almond Fudge, a blissful combination of coffee, chocolate and almonds, I knew there was something I could do there.

Then I saw that Kavey's Bloggers Scream for Ice Cream challenge for this month was chocolate and knew that an ice cream with chocolate and almonds was definitely the way forward.

Chocolate fudge ripple - or should I call it a fudge sink?

I decided that a mocha semifreddo, with a ripple of chocolate fudge sauce, liberally studded with smoked almonds would be just the thing. I had to re-assess my plans pretty quickly because the weather was just not cooperating with getting the smoker out. I blanched and roasted my almonds in the end.  Then I found, at the back of the chocolate shelf in the cupboard, some coffee amaretti biscuits, given to me as a Christmas gift (not telling you which Christmas...), which I thought would tie everything together nicely.

Let's not say how long these amaretti have been in the cupboard
The only slight problem that arose with the execution of my plan was that the ripple didn't ripple. It sank. Straight through to the bottom. There was a lovely fudgey base, a lovely fudgey top and no fudge in the middle. I have a theory about how to overcome it for next time though, which I will share in the recipe. Because of the rich sabayon base to the semifreddo, you get a creamy, smooth-textured ice without needing to churn it.

Upside down Miss Jane

Mocha Almond Semifreddo (makes about 8 slices)

3 eggs, separated
100ml seriously strong coffee, still warm
100g caster sugar
300ml double cream
3 coffee amaretti biscuits, chopped into chunks
100g almonds, blanched and roasted 

Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, coffee and 2tbs of the chocolate fudge ripple in a bowl over a pan of simmering water until it is quite thick (coats the back of a spoon) and frothy. Remove from heat.

Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks.

Whisk the cream to soft peaks.

Fold together the cream, egg whites and coffee sabayon, then fold through the amaretti chunks. Pour into a loaf tin lined with cling film. What I did was then drizzle half the remaining fudge ripple onto the mixture, cover it and freeze it. Next time, what I will do is cover it, put it in the freezer for an hour, THEN ripple the fudge through when the ice cream has a bit more stability. After another half hour in the freezer, drizzle a bit more fudge on top and sprinkle the semifreddo with the almonds, pushing half of them down into the almost-frozen mixture and leaving half scattered on top. Freeze again for at least a couple of hours. Serve cut into slices, with any remaining fudge ripple on the side, for the incorrigible chocolate fiends.

That's what we like to see

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Venison sausage, grape and chocolate bake

Sausage bake

Well, isn't this a delicious, autumnal-looking plateful? It's just a crying shame that it is mid-May, and that the weather is still so crappy that hearty comfort food is really appetising.

At first glance, sausages, grapes and chocolate may sound like a totally cracked-out combination, but there are lots of game & chocolate recipes, and salsiccia all’uva is a pretty classic Tuscan dish, so it really isn't that much of a stretch and it is totally delicious. Even if the grapes aren't really sweet when they are raw, after a time in the oven they become more concentrated and luscious and the juices meld with the chocolatey balsamic into something really special. I'd serve a green vegetable on its own, after this, rather than putting anything extra on the plate.

Venison sausage, grape and chocolate bake (serves 2)

splash of olive oil
2 red onions, peeled and cut into quarters
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 branch fresh rosemary
1 small celeriac, peeled and cut into chunks
6 venison sausages
1 large bunch of seedless red grapes (these were Crimson)
Salt & pepper

Put the onions, potatoes, rosemary and celeriac in a roasting tin with a splash of oil, and toss around well to coat. Roast at 180C for about 30 minutes.

Add the sausages and grapes and some salt & pepper (mostly pepper) and return the tin to the oven for another 20 minutes. Remove, turn the sausages and drizzle over the chocolate balsamic reduction, then return to the oven for another 15 minutes or until everything is sticky and brown and delicious.

You may need to lick the plate.

Sunday 6 May 2012

Afternoon Tea at Bea's of Bloomsbury

My dear friend and dance partner Sharon is getting married in a couple of weeks. This is cause for great joy because she is awesome, her fiancé (a slender man referred to by my husband as "Sharon's portly lover") is awesome, and as a couple they are really brilliant. Unfortunately, the wedding is happening in Scotland and we're not going to be able to go. Still, it gave us a very good excuse for a celebration involving quite a lot of cake.

Sharon's bridesmaid lives in Scotland, and she was herself a bit preoccupied with preparing for her professional viva (and organising a wedding) so I offered to book something for a small group of her London-based friends. Afternoon tea is a very good way to do a low key but luxurious pre-wedding-but-not-hen-party celebration. A lot of the afternoon teas in hotels in London are absolutely extortionate, but you honestly don't have to spend a huge amount of money to have a good one. I settled on Bea's of Bloomsbury, although it was the St Paul's branch not, in fact, Bloomsbury. It's a funny thing to be in the City of London on a Saturday - hardly anyone around and many of the shops don't even bother to open.

There were a few little niggles with the booking process (i.e I chose the day when they were changing the system they use and I slipped through the gap, then the email address on their site was the wrong one, rapidly resolved through speedy tweeting to @beas_bloomsbury) but once the booking had actually been accepted, it was pretty much plain sailing.

The savoury component of the tea was a selection of filled baguettes. These were lovely - really good bread, with a lovely crackling crust. There were goats cheese and sun dried tomato; mozzarella and pesto; ham and mustard; and chorizo. Not your regular afternoon tea finger sandwiches at all. But the thing is, I like your regular afternoon tea finger sandwiches! I'd spent the journey into London in a reverie about smoked salmon, egg and cress, and delicious cucumber sandwiches, so I was a little discombobulated to be denied them. Baguettes are also quite a bit more filling than finger sandwiches, so I didn't really feel able to do justice to the sweet stuff on offer.

Filled baguettes
And what a lot of sweet stuff there was! Scones, a selection of cupcakes, marshmallows, meringues and three kinds of brownies. The scones were perfect, served with proper clotted cream and jam (the waiter proudly announced that they have started to make their jam in-house, which is worthy, but they need to buy some Certo - it really needed a better set). The mango and strawberry marshmallow was also excellent, if not quite as interesting in flavour as my pink grapefruit ones. Next I ventured upon one of the pretty raspberry meringue hearts, which were nice and chewy in the middle and given a good bit of zing by the raspberry gloss on the outside.

At that point I was mostly defeated, although after a time I rallied enough to go halves in a delicious coffee-topped cupcake. I just couldn't face the brownies, blondies or chocolate and nut killer brownies. The doggy bag that Sharon took home to her portly lover contained 3 whole cupcakes, quantities of brownies and a few meringues. 

Everything we were served was excellent (the "champagne tea" is served with actual Moet et Chandon champagne, not a cheaper sparkling wine), the presentation was very pretty, the room was lovely and filled with natural light and the staff were all charming. My only real gripe was that it was all quite unremittingly sweet. Maybe two of the brownies and the marshmallows could be swapped out for a slice of tarte au citron, or a tarte aux fraises or even a shot glass of lemon posset. Just something of a less cakey texture and less cloying sweetness to mix it up a bit. Fantastic value though, at £24.50 for the champagne tea, and well worth it for someone with a serious sweet-tooth.

Scones & cakes

After tea (more than 3 hours later) we were a bit unwilling to call it a day. One of the girls, while trying to get her over-tired baby off to sleep by wandering around with him, had noticed that there was a roof-top terrace and bar in the building, so we trooped up for a stickybeak. Fabulous view. The sun was in the wrong spot so I couldn't get a nice picture, but you are on a level with the dome of the cathedral and it's RIGHT THERE. The bar had comfy leather seats and windows that reminded me oddly of Jabba's sail barge in Return of the Jedi, but fortunately fewer slave girls in bikinis. Although I suspect that on a Thursday night when all the City boy trader douchebags are spending up big, the slave girls would be arranged. For a quiet amaretto sour in good company on a Saturday evening, it was perfection. And a fellow patron admired my red patent boots, which is all I really ask of a venue.

Roof Terrace at One New Change

Thursday 3 May 2012

Trio of grapefruit sweets

We get a weekly fruit box delivered to work. This is a brilliant thing - it somewhat mitigates the temptation to snack on chocolate and cake in the mid afternoon - but some of the choices are a bit eccentric. A whole coconut is not easy to eat in an office environment. Neither is a whole pineapple. Watching someone take a bite of what they think is an orange segment, only to discover it is grapefruit, is a perfect comedy moment but not a very useful piece of fruit for eating out of hand.

So. I had 5 pink grapefruit on a Friday afternoon, looking unloved and slightly the worse for wear, so I took them home to give them a little TLC.

I used some zest and juice to create lovely fluffy marshmallows. I used this recipe but used grapefruit juice instead of water both to dissolve the gelatine and to make the syrup, and added the grated zest of one of the grapefruit to the gelatine mixture. The texture wasn't 100% perfect - the fact that I was using a manual eggbeater pretty much meant I gave up whisking too soon - more like Turkish delight than a commercial marshmallow, but the flavour was brilliant. The grapefruit gave it a real tang and a much more grown up flavour. I can totally see why posh marshmallows seem to be having a bit of a moment.

Then I used more rind and juice to make some grapefruit jellies, also known as Pâtes de Fruits. I followed the method for Dan Lepard's mulled wine jellies, substituting the juice for the fruity liquidy bits in the recipe and adding the finely grated zest of one grapefruit. These actually weren't very successful. They weren't remotely pink as you can see, but they also had very little grapefruit flavour; the overwhelming flavour was apple from the pectin. And strangely, the combination of apple and grapefruit actually tasted a bit like mango.

second attempt at the jellies 
I thought it over for a couple of days, then melted down the jellies with the juice and zest of another grapefruit, brought it back up to 106C and re-set them. Second time around they were delicious and very grapefruity!

The remaining grapefruit peels I turned into orangettes (pampelmoussettes?) - I carefully scraped away all the pith, blanched them in 3 changes of water then boiled in a simple sugar solution until translucent, rolled in granulated sugar and then left overnight to dry out a little. I decided to give them a bit of extra prettiness with pink sparkle sugar and some white chocolate. I didn't want to waste the rest of the melted white chocolate, so I stirred it into my coffee. It seemed like a good idea at 7 in the morning.

Grapefruit returning to the office in a more user-friendly fashion


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