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A retrospective: summer of 2010

Yesterday was the last day of summer. Through the lens of my camera, this is the story of the past few months.

English Countryside: Beautiful Oxfordshire

South of France: Restful Provence

London suburbs: Dulwich

Stillness and peace: Switzerland

Statuesque: Greece

Tell me about your summer. Did you see new places? Take up new hobbies? Discover new eateries? Fulfill your goals?

Sweetness & Light

Food is my favourite way to show my love and appreciation of my family and friends. It is all about pleasure; it has always been that way for me and I hope it brings a little bit of happiness to those I cook for.

I also think that making something for someone, if you are able to, is so much more thoughtful than buying it in a shop, ready-made. I’ve made cakes, cupcakes, chocolates and pain d’épices for friends as gifts, and it’s always been well received.

It was my sister-in-law’s birthday at the weekend and I really wanted to make her something bite-size and tasty. Who could resist a combination of dates, pistachios, almonds and honey?

Dates Stuffed with Pistachios & Almonds
Inspired by Food & Travel Magazine

Ingredients
25 dates
100g shelled pistachios
1 tbsp good quality honey
1 tsp good quality rosewater
50g ground almonds

Method

Stone the dates by making a slit lengthways to remove the stone.

Save 25 whole pistachios for decoration. Put the rest in a food processor along with the honey and rosewater. Process until well combined but still with little chunks of pistachios in the mixture so it retains a bit of crunch.

Put the mixture in a bowl and combine with the ground almonds. Carefully stuff the paste in the pre-prepared dates and top with a whole pistachio for decoration.

Place in petits fours cases. Make someone happy.

Tea in the library

… said with an overly posh English accent. My mother used to utter these words when she described my brother’s English accent back in our childhood and teens. We’re not quite sure where it came from. She thought he was only a step away from drinking said tea with his little finger in the air, in true English gentry style. Needless to say, things have moved on since then, I think coffee might be his drink of choice now. As for the accent, it’s still there sometimes, lingering.

Which brings me nicely onto scones. Not your typical English scones but some made with wholemeal flour. And triangular in shape. I know this is blasphemy in some circles. Never mind. I hope you won’t hold it against me.

I read quite a few American food blogs and the book which kept coming up time and again was Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce. I’d made the Rosemary Olive Oil Cake which Heidi Swanson adapted for her 101 Cookbooks blog. It was superb. When I brought the cake into the office, I was nearly nominated employee of the week. Of course I am overstating it somewhat but I must convey how good it was. I was sold. So I got the book. Best thing I did. Divided into different sections for rye, spelt, barley, wholegrain etc, it’s got some great and sometimes unusual recipes.

I plumped for the Barley Strawberry Scones only to realise that I couldn’t find barley flour for love, nor money. Large supermarkets didn’t have it. Health food stores didn’t stock it. So I made it with wholemeal flour instead. The recipe also calls for buttermilk. Same story as the barley. I ended up making my own substitute with some full fat milk and lemon juice. It worked perfectly. These scones are best eaten warm. With a cup of tea in the library.

Wholemeal Strawberry Scones
Adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce

Ingredients

For the scones
½ cup of butter (equivalent to 115 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, plus more for greasing the baking sheet
1 cup plus 2 tbsp wholemeal flour
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup regular or low-fat buttermilk (if you can’t find it, mix 1 cup full fat milk with 1 tbsp lemon juice)
1 large egg

For assembly
1/2 cup strawberry jam
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Method
Preheat the oven to 175 C. Use a little butter to grease a rimmed baking sheet.

Sift the flours, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a mixing bowl, pouring into the bowl any grains that may remain in the sifter. Add the butter, then use your hands to break the butter into pieces the size of grains of rice. The quicker you work, the more solid the butter will remain, which is important.
Whisk together the buttermilk and egg in a small bowl, then pour it into the flour mixture and stir until barely combined.

Liberally flour a work surface. Transfer the dough to the surface and dust the top of it and your hands with additional flour, folding the dough a few times so it is not sticky.

Divide the dough in half. Flour your hands and pat each piece into a disk 7 inches across and about 3/4-inch thick. Use a pastry scraper to loosen the disks from the work surface.

Spread one disk of dough with the strawberry jam. Place the remaining disk on top, pressing down gently so the dough settles into the jam. Brush the top of the second disk with the melted butter, and then sprinkle it with the sugar.

Use a sharp knife to cut the double-decker disk into 8 equal wedges. Carefully transfer them to the baking sheet, spaced a few inches apart. Bake on the middle rack for 22 to 26 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through. The scones are ready when their tops are golden brown and some of the jam has bubbled over onto the baking sheet.

Use a metal spatula to transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool slightly (and to stop them from sticking to the sheet as they cool).

Serve warm with clotted cream.

Mango Kiss

There I was, the other week, discussing with one of my colleagues a cookbook which I’d heard from various sources was a little disappointing. Interestingly enough though, said colleague, a keen cook like me, was raving about it and after describing how he’d made several mouth-watering dishes, I vowed to make something out of it that very next weekend. What I chose to concoct was a departure for me.

Salads excepted, I have never been a big fan of fruit in savoury dishes. I was scarred for life by my Mother’s chicken curry with bananas and sultanas. Why would you do that to your own child? What was she thinking? There was obviously some logic there as she was very experimental but I never bought into it. It was far too sweet for my liking.

What finally tempted me back into this realm was some langoustine tempura which I had in a restaurant called La Vache qui Vole (there was a papier mâché flying cow complete with wings hanging from the ceiling of this establishment) in Martigny in Switzerland. The dish was served with a mango salsa. It was good. Very good in fact, and the mango, not too sweet or tart, was the perfect accompaniment to the tempura. I was hooked. Well I lie, I have been hooked on dried mango for a long time but I could take or leave fresh mango. When I came across a Vietnamese dish called Tom Sot Xoai in Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey, I knew I had to try it. It was a revelation; it was fresh and flavoursome, with the mango and prawns brought into perfect balance by the fish sauce. An absolute must-make again.

Stir-fried prawns with mango (Tom sot xoai)
Adapted from Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey

Ingredients
1 small underripe (but not green) mango
1 tsp cornflour
2tbsp vegetable oil
8g garlic, finely chopped
80g shallots, finely chopped
1-1 ½ red bird’s eye chillies, finely chopped
250g large raw peeled prawns
Juice of 1 lime
1tbsp fish sauce
Large handful of Thai sweet basil leaves
White pepper, freshly ground

Method
Peel mango and slice flesh away from stone in the middle. Cut up roughly into 1cm pieces.

Mix cornflour with 1tbsp water, set aside.

Heat oil in a wok or a large frying pan over a medium to high heat. Add garlic, cook for a few seconds, add shallots, cook for another 30 seconds. Add red chillies and prawns, turn heat up and stir-fry for approx 2 minutes, till the prawns are pink and just cooked through.

Add 2-3 tablespoons of water (less if using frozen prawns), lime juice, fish sauce and cornflour mixture and stir-fry for a few seconds till sauce thickens. Add the mango, cooking for a short time until heated through. Stir in basil and season with the white pepper. Serve with rice. Serves 2 generously.