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University Fodder

I was in Brighton this weekend, visiting my best friend Sarah. We met at university back in the mid-1990s when we were both studying law. She was always bold where I was shy and I think in some ways, this is why we are still good friends today: opposites attract. One thing we very much had in common was food, we talked about it constantly. Whether it was the breakfast in the student union, or the cod on bubble & squeak with Béarnaise sauce from The Griffin in Caversham, food was always high of the list of subjects to be discussed. Every evening, we’d ring each other to discuss the intricacies of our respective dinners whilst watching Eastenders simultaneously on the television.

University food was stodgy as it was potato and baked beans ‘heavy’ and thus not very refined. It fulfilled its purpose but I ensured I always cooked something a little more sophisticated for dinner. I will always remember the look on my flatmates’ faces when I made Chilli & Prawn risotto for the first time… Disbelief, followed by mild envy!

I have made this recipe ever since. It’s perfect on a rainy summer’s day: fresh and tasty with a hint of chilli to warm you up.

Chilli & Prawn Risotto

Chilli & Prawn Risotto

2 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, chopped finely

1 clove of garlic, chopped finely

1 red chilli, chopped finely

200g Arborio risotto rice

4 ripe plum tomatoes, peeled, with core & seeds removed and chopped roughly

150g King prawns

2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley

Salt & Pepper

 

For the stock

550ml fish stock

180ml white wine

4 sprigs of parsley

 

Method

First you need to peel the tomatoes. Boil water in a small pan, use a knife to score the tomatoes with a cross and put into the water for 30 to 60 seconds. You will see the skin starting to peel away. Wait till they cool down a little and then peel. Ensure you remove the core and the seeds, chop roughly.

Put all the ingredients for the stock into a pan and heat on a low setting.

Heat the olive oil on medium-high heat in a casserole dish or large saucepan. Add the onion, garlic and chilli and cook until translucent. Do not burn or it will taste bitter!

Add the rice, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until it smells nutty and the rice is well covered with the oil. Add the chopped tomatoes and stir. Cook for 2 mins.

Start adding the stock at regular intervals, stirring frequently so the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. This will take about 20 mins and will ensure the rice is cooked through. Once the time is up, add the prawns & parsley, cook for a further 4 mins. Season & serve.

Makes 4 small servings ( or 2 large ones!).

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My brother: the food aficionado

For as long as I can remember, my brother has had a taste for fine foods. When we were children, my parents would take us to rather nice restaurants and my brother would invariably pick the grandest dishes on the menu. He loved soup, in fact he was obsessed with soup. If we were eating out, he’d usually order the rather magnificent Bisque de Homard as a starter. He’d tuck into this with great gusto, his napkin firmly tucked into his shirt, savouring each spoonful with noises of appreciation. He also had a penchant for saumon fumé, îles flottantes and fois gras. So young, such a fine palate.

Needless to say, with such high standards, he’d also express his distaste for food he thought was below par. One summer in the early 1980’s, my parents had taken us to a restaurant in Montreux for lunch. Having ordered Spaghetti Bolognese, my brother’s discontent became quickly apparent as he picked at his food and his huffiness took an upwards turn. Suddenly, at the top of his voice he declared: ‘C’est de la merde!’. Imagine my parents’ mortified silence at this angry pronouncement, made only worse by the fact we were sat next to a table of nuns quietly tucking into their lunch. We still laugh about it years later.

I like to think that my mother’s own Spaghetti Bolognese was so good that any other attempt at it would always come a poor second in my brother’s eyes. It’s a recipe I watched her make time and time again and which I have made many times since.

 Spaghetti Bolognese

250g extra lean organic minced beef

1 onion, chopped finely

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce

2 tbsp Ketchup

1 tbsp tomato purée

A splash of Maggi Arome

A pinch of dried oregano

1 can chopped tomatoes

1 can of water

Salt

Pepper

 

Method

In a large casserole dish, heat the olive oil on a medium to high heat, once hot, add the onion and garlic and fry for 4-5 minutes or until the onion is translucent.

Add the meat, breaking it up with your hands as you add it to the onion and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the meat is no longer pink.

Sprinkle the Worcestershire sauce all over the cooking meat Stir.

Add the ketchup. Stir again and cook for a minute or two. This will add sweetness to the dish – I promise you it’s worthwhile! Add the Maggi and some salt to taste.

Pour in the chopped tomatoes (and add the dried oregano) and cook for 5 mins. Fill the empty can with water and add a quarter of the water in. Cook for an hour on low-medium heat and during this time add water at intervals so the sauce doesn’t dry out.

Season with salt & pepper. Serve with Parmigiano Reggiano.

Don’t forget to cook your spaghetti in salted boiling water 10 – 12 minutes before the hour is up.

This yields two big portions or 3 medium sized portions.

Also good served on a baked potato with crème fraîche for lunch the next day.

Sweet Delights

I went baking mad this weekend… My kitchen was like a scene from a culinary war zone: Bowls, scales, flour, chocolate, sugar, food processor, milk and eggs were strewn all over the counter just waiting for me to create something heavenly.

Honeyed Apricots

GreenI’ve always enjoyed unusual combination and when I came across Molly Wizenberg’s Pistachio & Apricot cake from her book ‘A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table’, I knew it was something I had to try. The preparation was good fun: as I reduced the pistachios to sand-like crumbs in my food processor, I couldn’t help but be in awe of their beautiful green colour. Not only was it going to be delicious, but it was also going to be good-looking. The batter was thick and once I gingerly added the honeyed apricots, it was ready for my oven. The result was visually mouth-watering: the top of the cake was perfectly browned and you could see the apricots just peaking through.

 The taste was unusual and a little peppery and the apricots added tartness where I was looking for sweetness. I’d really recommend getting some very good (and ripe) apricots. If they are a little too tart like mine were, I would double the amount of honey you use to sweeten them up.

 Pistachio & Apricot Cake

John & I enthusiastically tucked into two slices each before going for a walk. I think it might have slowed us down. This cake is very filling!

 Another Orangette special I attempted this weekend was Coconut Macaroons with Chocolate Ganache. OH MY GOODNESS, heaven in a biscuit: moist in the centre but still chewy with the dark chocolate balancing out the sweetness of the coconut. You will win yourself friends and massive favours if you hand these out.

 Coconut Macaroons

Coconut Macaroons with Chocolate Ganache
From ‘A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table’ by Molly Wizenberg

 Makes 18 macaroons.

3 cups (lightly packed) sweetened shredded coconut
150g caster sugar
180ml egg whites (about 5 large eggs)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
115g dark chocolate, finely chopped
120ml cup double cream

Place the coconut, sugar and egg whites in a large, heavy saucepan, and stir to combine. Cook over medium/low heat, stirring regularly, about 10-12 minutes, until the mixture is pasty but not dry. Stop cooking when it no longer looks creamy but is still sticky. Remove from heat. Mix in vanilla extract. Spread out the coconut mixture on a baking sheet or a large plate. Refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 150 degrees Celsius. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Using your hands pack the coconut mixture into domes, and place them on the baking sheet. You should have enough to make 18. Bake the macaroons until golden, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool.

MacaroonsPlace the macaroons on the wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet or some foil. Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl. Heat the double cream in a small saucepan until it is very hot and steamy but not boiling, remove from the heat, and pour it over the chocolate. Wait a couple of minutes, then stir until smooth. Pick up each macaroon in turn and dip it in the chocolate so they are covered on top. Refrigerate the macaroons until the ganache sets. This takes at least 2 hours. Transfer the macaroons to an airtight container, and refrigerate.

I am not a glutton

It rarely happens but I overindulged this weekend… in spectacular fashion. It was my last weekend with John before he took off for Europe for three weeks so I decided that trying new recipes was the best way to deal with it. Maybe I was selfishly and subconsciously trying to make him too fat to get on the plane.

Cheese & Wine

I’ve always loved suppers of what we call ‘les restes’ (or leftovers). A baguette, a selection of cheeses, some sort of pâté and green salad dressed with tangy vinaigrette. Not to mention a nice glass of red wine. It is relaxed, easy and really satisfying. Instead of pâté, I made salmon rillettes.

Salmon Rillettes

Adapted from Cooking At Home on Rue Tatin by Susan Loomis

I served the rillettes with slices of fresh baguette.

250g skinned salmon fillet
salt
75 g unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped chives
125 g smoked salmon, cut into thin strips, then cut into 2 cm pieces
¼ smoked paprika

 

Salmon RillettesPoach the salmon in simmering salted water for 7-8 mins depending on the thickness of the fillet. Once cooked, remove from heat and leave to cool.

In a medium-sized bowl, mash together with a fork the butter and the olive oil until very smooth. This is important otherwise you will have big chunks of butter in the finished rillettes.

Stir in the lemon juice, then the chopped chives and smoked salmon.

Flake the cooked salmon over the mixture, then fold the pieces of salmon into the rillette mixture along with the paprika.

Season with salt, if necessary.

Put into a serving dish, cover, and chill for at least two hours. Bring back to room temperature before serving.

Please note that this keeps in the fridge for a good couple of days.

I also made Pistachio & Apricot Cake and Coconut Macaroons with Chocolate Ganache, but more about that later.

Grand-Mamy knows best

carrots

When I was in my early teens and still living in Switzerland, every Thursday I would jump on the bus or ride my moped to my grandmother’s place in Territet for lunch. She’d always be eagerly awaiting my arrival on the balcony of her top floor flat.

I remember the familiar smell of her apartment block as you entered it and the creaky lift which slowly crept up the floors. Grand-Mamy would always open the door of the lift and give me a big hug. I liked the familiarity of this weekly ritual, and looking back, I realise how wonderful it was to be able to go home or to my grandmother’s for lunch.

I remember two things my grandmother used to make regularly: a refreshing carrot, apple and orange salad in summer and a warming and filling soupe aux raves with a dash of cream in winter. Just recalling those recipes bring all the memories of my childhood and teenage years flooding back.

As it is summer, I thought I’d share the very simple Carrot, Apple & Orange salad recipe with you: 

Carrot, Apple & Orange Salad (makes enough for 2-3 servings)

2 medium sized carrots, grated

2 medium sized apples (Braeburn, Gala), peeled and grated

The juice of one orange

Squeeze of lemon juice

Mix the apple and carrot together and add in the orange juice. Put in the fridge for 15 mins so the juices of all the ingredients combine.

Remove and serve with a squeeze of lemon. No need to add sugar. Serve.

Refreshing with a bit hit of vitamin C, this recipe really opens up your appetite before the main offering.

Simple Pleasures

Fish

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across Molly Wizenberg’s blog Orangette. Her writing is inspiring and her passion for food is infectious. She has a love of all things French and the food she cooks reflects that. Enthused, I decided to try out one of her recipes at the weekend.

 I was up in Derbyshire and after an active day comprising a 90-minute bike ride and a 2-hour walk, I was starving. I plumped for a simple but tasty recipe of poached halibut with garlic, parsley, lemon and olive oil.

 Poached Halibut with Garlic, Parsley, Lemon & Olive Oil,  from Molly Wizenberg’s Orangette blog (a recipe adapted from from Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s Weeknight Kitchen newsletter)

Ingredients

4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
8 sprigs of parsley
1 tsp salt
Water
2 halibut fillets with skin removed (if you can’t find halibut, use cod)

More parsley for the garnish
2-4 lemon wedges, for garnish
Extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle
Salt & Pepper

Method
Put the crushed garlic, parsley, and salt in a 12-inch skillet or sauté pan. Add water to a depth of about 5cm. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 5 minutes.

Halibut fillets will cook for 8 to 10 minutes per 2.5cm of thickness.

When the poaching stock is ready, delicately put the fillets into the pan. Cook for the time you’ve worked out depending on thickness. The water should just be bubbling gently. Test the fish by making a small slit with a small knife in the thickest part of the fillet: all but the very centre of each piece should be opaque.

When each fillet is ready, use a slotted spoon to transfer it to a serving plate. Garnish the plates with sprigs of parsley and lemon wedges. Drizzle with olive oil, add salt and pepper. Don’t forget a squeeze of lemon!

Serve with peas and new potatoes tossed in olive oil.

 

Cooked fishThe taste is delicate and deliciously fragrant. I served it with asparagus which was a mistake as it overwhelmed the fish a little so next time I will be trying it with peas.

I am awaiting the delivery of Molly Wizenberg’s book ‘A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table’ with much trepidation.

Et il a une bicyclette!

Blog Bike

I have decided to start cycling into work. Commuting in London takes me up to two hours a day and if I want to fit in exercise, seeing friends, cooking and baking into this, I’d need a 36-hour day. Cycling to and from work will mean I can cancel my gym membership and spend more time pursuing my other passions.

So I decided to hire a bike for a week. I went to the On Your Bike store in London Bridge on a Saturday and collected my steed. Mmh, a donkey might have been a more appropriate description. It was big, heavy, grey and slow. Being fairly fit, it was a bit of a shock to the system.

The following day, I decided to undertake a practice run into work, I set off just before 9 in the morning. It was hard work and because I wasn’t clear on where I was going, I had to stop frequently to consult the map. An hour and 10 sweaty minutes later, I arrived, discomfited, at work. I was truly questioning the benefit of such suffering. Thankfully, I made it back in a quicker time but the 25-mile round trip (via the supermarket to reward myself with nice food) exhausted me.

Having hired this instrument of torture for a week, I had to return it, which meant cycling into work again so I could return it to the London Bridge store after work. Being a tad over-cautious and maybe a little Swiss in nature, I decided to give myself plenty of time and left at 6.30am.To my surprise, it was a wonderful ride into work: I knew the route, the roads were pretty empty and it was a lovely day. The ride gave me an instant boost for the day.

This meant the bike plan was back on track. Next stop: buying a suitable bike. Having done a bit of research and spoken to a couple of people who are keen cyclists, I am leaning towards getting a road bike, rather than a hybrid. Evans Cycles weren’t very helpful and pointed me towards their ‘most’ popular model. So the hunt is very much on and I am looking forward to going to a few more shops to see what is out there.

I love how a bicycle takes you to places which would remain undiscovered were you using a car or public transport. It’s faster than walking, thus satisfying my need for speed and the plethora of new & old buildings, pretty streets, glorious parks, moving statues (Sumner Street in SE1) and very different areas of London on offer please my unquenchable curiosity.

Go on, give it a go…

Birthdays & Holidays

IMG_1679

June meant I entered my mid-30s with great reluctance. To soften the blow on the day, I was lucky enough to be in Estoi in Portugal sipping Cava by the pool at 9.30am. The day was made even more perfect when I opened my present from John: a two-day BAKING COURSE! The man sure knows how to keep me happy.

We rented a small villa with a pool and had a much needed rest. Having never been to Portugal, I was ambivalent as to what we were going to find in the Algarve. The reputation it holds for being overrun by ‘Brits Abroad’ was filling me with fear. I needn’t have worried, it was wonderful. The parts of Faro we visited were filled with history and were incredibly picturesque. White cobbled streets and alleyways, gorgeous churches, beautiful buildings, orange trees and small cafés (in which we had a splendid spinach quiche) all made for a very pleasant stroll round the town. In fact it reminded me of Seville which happens to be about 200km away.

IMG_1594We also drove (for what seemed like an eternity) down to Sagres, the most south western point of Portugal and visited the fort there. We then drove up the coast and took in the amazing and dramatic cliffs overlooking the sea. The flora in that area is quite fascinating, arid with plenty of pine trees and unusually shaped bushes. I was quite mesmerised by its almost otherworldly aspect.

Our only beach trip was a long haul affair. We drove to Olhão and from there we got a ferry to Ilha do Farol. Everyone else had been sensible and come with a parasol. Not us. Having arrived at our destination, we had to walk a good 10 minutes to the beach… it was worth it, it was not overrun with holiday makers which was a nice surprise. It was mainly populated by Portuguese families out enjoying their day off on the beach. John managed to burn the soles of his feet by walking across the hot sand and concrete… Oh very dear.

 

 

Fish The rest of the holiday was spent lying in the sun, swimming in the pool and reading. At meal times, we made salads and grilled fish outside. The tomatoes were heavenly, all they needed was a drizzle of olive and the bursts of taste that hit your tongue were out of this world. We also discovered Vinho Verde, which literally translates as ‘Green Wine’ – not because of its colour but because it is so young. The grapes are picked late and the Portuguese wine is drunk very young. It was delicious, zingy and fresh.

All in all a wonderful holiday. I would thoroughly recommend going to Portugal in June – it’s not as busy and the weather, although hot, is bearable. Renting a small villa and hiring a car for a week was the perfect way to enjoy some much needed down time and discover the area.