Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Christmas pressies

This year I decided to make edible presents for the family and for the first time I actually made them. I was prompted by a number of blog articles I'd seen on making gifts and set about finding recipes that would appeal to ma famille.

My sisters got a selection of peppermint bark and white chocolate and cranberry chocolates care of Home Baked. Their jar of sweets was finished off with some of Sophie Dahl's peanut butter fudge.
Dad got a rather large amount of chocolate and ginger biscotti care of Cannelle et Vanille (the picture is from that blog too).

Ma got some chilli nut brittle (adapted from a Suite 101 recipe). No photo as it was just a massive jar of caramelised nuts!

Being a boy I didn't get round to making delightful gift tags for the jars. One step at a time! But I did manage to wrap them as all present need unwrapping. Fortunately all the jars survived the trip home intact, (despite the best efforts of Southeastern trains).

I think the gifts were most unexpected and on the whole well received. I was shocked at how long the biscotti took to make. They were the most labour intensive by a long way needing a double baking and lots of care. the fudge is not proper "fudge" fudge but it's ok and crazily sweet.

I also wanted to make my student sibling a Soup in a Jar, jars of red onion marmalade for everyone and some kind of boozy drink. However, time got the better of me. Maybe next year.

Anyway, thanks very much to the bloggers who inspired my Christmas gifts this year and here are the recipes I used:

Peppermint bark

200g dark chocolate
200g white chocolate
4 candy canes (or a small stick of rock)

1. Line a tray with silicon paper.
2. Melt the dark chocolate over a bain marie and spread evenly onto the tray. Leave to set in the freezer.
3. Slice the rock into thin slivers using a big sharp knife (it's harder then you think).
4. When the dark chocolate is set, melt the white chocolate and spread evenly over the dark chocolate (hopefully the cold dark chocolate will not melt too much).
5. While the chocolate is still runny, sprinkle over the crushed candy canes and leave to set.
6. Cut into into strips.

White chocolate and cranberry chocolates

200g white chocolate
Large handful of dried cranberries, chopped finely

1. Melt the chocolate over a bain marie.
2. Stir in the cranberries.
3. Spoon chocolate into moulds.
4. Chill in the freezer until solid (the colder the chocolate the less chance of it melting as you unmould)
Note: I got two great silicon moulds from Poundland!

Peanut butter fudge

125g/4½oz butter
500g/1lb 2oz dark brown sugar
120ml/4fl oz milk
250g/9oz crunchy peanut butter
1tsp vanilla extract
300g/10½oz icing sugar

1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat.
2. Stir in the brown sugar and milk, and bring to the boil for 2-3 minutes, without stirring.
3. Remove from the heat, and stir in the peanut butter and vanilla seeds.
4. Place the icing sugar in a large bowl, and pour the hot butter and sugar mixture on top. Using a wooden spoon, beat the mixture until smooth.
5. Pour into a 20cm/8in square baking tray, and set aside to cool slightly, then place in the fridge to chill completely.
6. Cut the fudge into squares with a sharp knife, turn out of the tin and store in an airtight container.

Chocolate and ginger biscotti

150g butter, room temperature
200g sugar
Zest of 1 orange
3 eggs, room temperature
415g flour
25g cocoa powder
12g baking powder
pinch of salt
70g stem ginger, small dice
50g chocolate chunks

1. Cream the butter, sugar and zest together. Add the eggs one at a time and scrape the bowl.
2. Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder,baking powder and salt and add it to the mixer. Mix until combined. Add the ginger and chocolate chunks until well distributed.
3. Transfer the dough into a half sheet pan lined with parchment and form into a log that is about 12"x4" approximately. Bake at 180°C for about 25 minutes or knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
4. Let the log cool completely and then slice it into 1/4" thick pieces. Place the cookies on the sheet pans and bake at 160°C for about 10 minutes. Then flip the cookies over and bake an additional 10-15 minutes or until dry.

Note: These things are incredibly fragile, so go easy.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Random shizzle

Things have been a bit quiet on the foodie front recently, but I have been up to a few things, just not enough to warrant their own posts:
  • I went to the Taste of Christmas at Excel and was completely underwhelmed. I think I'm getting a bit fed up of these food festivals which all seem to have exactly the same chilli flavoured things, cheese, fudge and sausage stalls.
  • I did a rather interesting taste test of a new version of a chocolate bar, which was fun. I'm not allowed it say what it was but it might be an anagram of barstar...
  • Rather sadly, I ordered my first ever take away just for myself after a particularly arduous day at work.
  • I'd love to go on the Leith's food writing course, but the places are all gone already and it's a tad on the dear side.

Thursday, 16 December 2010


Went to the Seven Dials outlet of Hawksmoor tonight for a Christmas outing with the Comms gang (and therefore the majority of the ICCHFC) for a steak-fest.

At this point, I should admit that prior to hitting Hawksmoor we'd been to Paramount (at the top of Centre Point) for a cocktail or few, consequently this review is not particularly detailed or thorough.

I can simply summarise by saying I will be going back here. The placed was packed full of festive revellers. The underground hall did not detract from the atmosphere in anyway. The big oak tables were a suitable resting place for glasses of full bodied red wine and thick juicy, perfectly cooked hunks of cow meat. I finally had a porterhouse steak and I was not disappointed. Although having shared a 900g portion, Ben and I decided that we could probably have nailed one each. The outside of the steak was crisp and dark from the charcoal grill and the meat was uniformly pink medium-rare (to allow some of the fat to render out).

We had all the side on the menu which were OK, but not awe-inspiring given the steak main event. I was quite surprised that the beef-dripping chips had only about three massive chips in the standard metal "bucket".

Apart from the fantastic steaks my only other over-riding memory is of the inordinate 45minute wait between ordering and the protein arriving, which was a massive disappointment and put the brakes on half-way through an otherwise rather spectacular evening. Apparently this was because two of our party had ordered a steak well-done. Should that really make such a difference?

Anyway, if you like steak go there. I will be going back and attempting to remember a bit more of the experience next time!

Hawksmoor (Seven Dials) on Urbanspoon

Monday, 13 December 2010

ICCHFC - Week 64: Charity bake

Today the ICCHFC put on another charity cake bake, as is customary at this time of year. However, for some reason, there was not as much enthusiasm as usual (this may have been due to the effect of pretty much everyone in the office being more interested in extra-curricula activities other than work so that there was a glut of cake and sweets throughout the whole of December.)

By ICCHFC standards it was a pretty poor affair:

Fruit loaf, flapjacks, carrot cake, Victoria sponge, muffins and rocky road were available.

I was quite pleased to hear that my classic Victoria sponge (with oodles of cream and raspberry jam) sold out first. I'd liberally coated the top with icing sugar and used a hot skewer to decorate the top. It turned out pretty well, but I was a bit over-enthusiastic with the first stripe and almost went through the top layer of the cake!

Friday, 10 December 2010


I discovered Housebites today.

Housebites is
a brand new dining experience, hosted in private homes around the country, combining the intimacy of a dinner party with the range of choice of a restaurant.

Basically it seems to be a way of organising supper clubs or underground restaurants without having to create a massive on-line following and develop a "brand": anyone can attend a Housebite and any keen cook can host one. Simply sign up on the website either as a host or a diner, pay your money and away you go.

The site has only just launched but I shall keep and eye on it as it definitely seems something to try.

Friday, 3 December 2010

ICCHFC - Weeks 62 and 63

No cake action for the last two weeks:

Week 62 John forgot to bring it in on the Monday and so promised it for Friday. For what happened next, I will turn to John
“So, I will bring a home-baked cake in on Friday J” – so the cake is at home. I forgot. What a plonka! Sorry folks :-(

As for week 63 Marianne succumbed to a baking disaster...

Next week is charity cake bake week

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Jamie's Italian, Canary Wharf

Went for an ad hoc familial meal at Jamie's Italian in Canary Wharf last night. I didn't really have any expectations but it's suffice to say that even though it's been open for months I hadn't even contemplated going there.

I was quite surprised when my sister called to say that she'd they'd just walked in and got a table despite it being 6pm on a Friday night. I had heard talk of long queues to sample the delights of this "neighbourhood" restaurant.

We started by sharing a meat antipasti plank. It was literally a wooden plank balanced on two cans covering almost the length of the whole table, topped with various charcuterie and cheese. The cured meats were good as was the pecorino which came on music bread and some sweet chilli sauce. The crunchy root veg salad tasted of nothing despite the advertised "chilli , lemon and mint". However, the mozzarella was the star of the show. Simple beautiful: creamy and full of flavour. Delicious.

Thus far, the food was a touch hit and miss. The plank was also carefully portioned, with three of everything. Not quite the generous offering I expect when I think of antipasti and certainly not worth nearly £7 each! I also didn't like the air of superiority from the unfriendly menu descriptions (how many people know that music bread is a crisp Sardinian flat bread (think Italian poppadom)?) and the supercilious tone of the waiter (especially when he told me that I had ordered game so I should watch out for shot).

Anyway, I had gone down the pasta and secondi route. Rabbit ragu papardelle came topped with a lovely lemon and crunchy herby breadcrumbs which gave great an interesting texture. Also the pasta was very thick curly ribbons which I hadn't seen before. Unfortunately the mascapone sauce was too rich and far too salty for the rabbit so the subtle flavours of the braised meat were lost.

For my main I had grilled pheasant, well, I almost had it. The bird came with Jamie's "special Italian bread sauce". I wish it hadn't. The pungent mixture of garlic and anchovy was frankly disgusting, I simply could not eat it. Given that everything else on the plate was a on top of the sauce there was nothing to do but send it back.

Fortunately the Burger Italiano replacement was very good. Juicy flavoursome beef with plenty of worthy enhancements: "melty fontina cheese, crispy salami, (a little too much) lettuce, tomato salsa, dill pickles, chilli and crispy fried onions". Despite asking for it pink, the burger still came medium and the waiter irritatingly asked if I wanted fries (as if I want a carb side order when I've already has pasta).

My sister and Ma, on the other hand, were very pleased with their prawn linguine and skate special respectively.

We all shared an Amalfi lemon curd for dessert which was rich and suitably tongue puckeringly sour. Although the mascapone and mint chiffonade added little, the English raspberries were the most curious addition for a restaurant that's "seasonal".

Overall I was left disappointed by the inconsistency of the food, the irritating attitude of the waiting staff (I think we were left alone for maybe 30mins once dessert was served, with no opportunity to ask for the bill or coffee) and the style over substance of the place. However, they must be doing something right as by the time we left after 8pm the place was packed and the bar was packed with people waiting for a table. Perhaps, they just had an off night with me. I'd be prepared to go back there but it's not somewhere I'd suggest.

Jamie's Italian (Canary Wharf) on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

ICCHFC - Week 61: Nutty apple loaf

Everyone was curious this week as to how Michael was going to maintain the level of his excellent pear and almond muffin début. He certainly managed it with this brilliant nutty apple loaf.

(Picture care of the Iron Chef Shellie blog).

The cake was full of generously filled with lumps of chocolate, nuts and apple making each and every bite different. Incredibly easy to eat; our first slices were demolished in seconds, hence having to track down a picture.

It would appear that the Hummingbird Bakery's cookbook is Michael's best friend.

Michael's Nutty Apple loaf (recipe from Iron Chef Shellie blog again!)

175g unsalted butter, at room temperature
140g soft light brown sugar
2 tablespoons strawberry jam
2 eggs
140g plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
100g shelled mixed nuts, chopped
50g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
2 eating apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped

1. Put the butter, sugar and strawberry jam in an electric mixer and cream together until light and fluffy.
2. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well and scraping any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition.
3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon in a separate bowl, then beat into the butter mixture. Stir in the nuts, chocolate and apples into the mixture by hand until evenly dispersed. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight if possible.
4. Pour the mixture into a 23x13cm loaf tin, greased and dusted with flour, and smooth over with a palette knife. Bake at 170°C for 50-60 minutes or until brown and the sponge feels firm to the touch. A skewer inserted into the centre should come out clean, but for a little melted chocolate. Leave the cake to cook slightly in the tin before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

ICCHFC - Week 60: Lemon and rosemary cake

Laura did remarkably well this week and pulled a massive surprise out of the bag.

I was the last of the cakers to try a slice of the very sticky cake. It was obvious there was a herb involved but the challenge was to identify what. My taste buds told me that it was rosemary but the flecks of green just didn't look like rosemary so like a complete chump I didn't guess rosemary! I'd been fooled by finely chopped rosemary and I was looking for whole leaves. What a plonker.

I don't think I've had a fruit and herb combo before in any type of scenario and it worked really well in this cake. The lemon was very sharp and the rosemary added a great foil to the citrus. It was in that weird place between sweet and savoury. And yet incredibly moreish.

Laura's Lemon and Rosemary cake (adapted from The Times Online)

200g ground almonds
200g white sugar
200ml olive oil
4 eggs
Grated zest of 1 large lemon
4 sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped
For the syrup:
Juice of 2 large lemons
Same amount of water
3 tbsp sugar
4 sprigs of rosemary

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2. In a large bowl, beat together all the cake ingredients and pour into 8 oiled ramekins.
3. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes until golden.
4. To make the syrup, simmer all the ingredients over a low heat, until thickened.
5. Turn out the cakes, prick them all over with a skewer and pour syrup over them.
6. Decorate with Greek yoghurt sweetened with icing sugar, a sprig of rosemary and wedges of orange.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Project: Salt Beef - Part II

After two weeks of waiting the salt beef was finally ready to come out of its salty bath. Admittedly it didn't look to promising straight out of the brine.

However, once I'd cleaned off all the gunk (technical term there) and boiled it for 3 hours (together with a leek, a carrot and half an onion), dear Lord, what a magnificent meaty delight I had on my hands.
The meat was a exactly the right pink colour I'd hoped for (the effort of getting hold of some saltpetre had been worthwhile). It was just tender enough to carve easily and then gently fall apart with only the gentlest of probing with the eating irons.

One thing to note, is that it was definitely worthwhile trying to get as much fat off as possible before brining. The small scraps I had left on the surface had jellified and were not particularly pleasant. Thankfully, once cooked they were easily removed.

To celebrate, I had a traditional Irish meal of potatoes, carrots, cabbage and salt beef with some of the cooking broth. (Once the beef was cooked I left it to rest wrapped in a foil sarcophagus whilst I cooked the other veg in some of the cooking liquor.)

How tasty? Very. The meat was beautifully spiced, just sufficient to accentuate it's flavour.

However, that still left me with over 80% of the joint left. So, the following morning I made some mayo (spiced with cayenne) and took in four rounds of sandwiches to work for Jess, The Tilbatron and Karen.

The mayo worked well with the beef. The generous slices of meat were incredibly satisfying and seemed to just melt in my mouth without requiring much chewing. I think it's fair to say that the others were equally pleased with their lunch.

Rather sadly I polished off the last bit in another sandwich for a Saturday afternoon treat. I had two dinners and five generous sandwiches from a 4lb joint and after 2 weeks. Was it worthwhile? I think so, as it was an absolute treat and I had to stop myself picking at the meat every time I opened the fridge door. Let's just say it's not something I'll be making regularly but I'm pretty sure this won't be the last time.

All that remains is to try Jess's

Wedding cake - the pictures

I received the official pictures of the wedding cake I made a few weeks ago. Doesn't look too bad, does it?

Friday, 12 November 2010

Here's a thing...

Why is the same cut from different animals called different things?

For example, belly comes from a pig, breast from a lamb and brisket from a cow and yet they're all the same part of the animal. Weird, huh?

Tasty nonetheless.

Monday, 8 November 2010

ICCHFC - Week 59: Red velvet cake

I really didn't know what to make this time round for cake club. I just wasn't particularly inspired. I had a vague idea to do something with caramel but it didn't really grab me and I couldn't find an appealing recipe that really made me want to make it.

I was flicking through my recipe books trying to find inspiration and I was thinking about the cakes I'd done in the past and what I'd really enjoyed making. Then the angel food cake came to mind; clearly a cake I would never make other than for cake club. So, what about its counter-part a devil food cake?

It wasn't quite that simple, however. Recently there's been an air of mystery about the weekly cakes. Sara has instigated a season of "baker's choice" which has been accompanied by a guessing of the cake prior to the unveiling at elevenses.

With this in mind a devil food cake would be pretty easy to guess. It's basically a massive chocolate cake that looks like a massive chocolate cake. So what about a red velvet cake? A red vanilla chocolate cake coated in a white cream cheese frosting. Surely no-one would ever guess that, would they?

After a pleasant afternoon of baking and icing I had a cake ready for the ICCHFC. Thing is I had no idea how red the cake would be until we cut it open. I forgot to take pictures at the batter and baked stages (d'oh). I was pretty pleased nonetheless.

The cake was an unqualified success. No-one guessed what it was and everyone seemed very impressed by its size, colour and flavour.
Cake club gold baby, yeah!

This picture doesn't do justice to the deep red colour of the cake (too much reflection from the icing). Fortunately John took a better one:

This cake is a favourite in the deepest south of the US of A. Apparently the red colour was originally due to the reaction between the acids in the vinegar and buttermilk with the red anthocyanin in the cocoa and giving it the red colour. However, this was before cocoa was "Dutch processed", so now the red colour comes from a shed-load of food colouring.

After plenty of trawling of the t'interweb for suitable recipes I came up with the recipe below which is a combination of the many many that I found (Just how sweet do Americans like their icing? I frequently saw recipes using more than 1lb of icing sugar!)

Amongst all the recipe trawling I'd also come across the concept of a crumb layer of icing. Effectively a thin layer of icing put on to hold crumbs then left to set before applying the final layer of decorative icing, ensuring a perfect finish. If only I'd known about this when I was making the wedding cake. How much easier would things have been?

My red velvet cake recipe (sorry for the American cups):

2½ cup plain flour
1½ cup caster sugar
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp baking powder
¼ cup cocoa
1tsp salt
1½cup vegetable oil
1cup butter milk (or as an alternative 1tbsp red wine vinegar topped up with milk to make 1cup and left for 10mins)
1tsp red wine vinegar
1tsp vanilla extract
1 bottle of red food colouring ~38ml
For the frosting:
12oz cream cheese
60z butter, very soft
~6oz icing sugar
1tsp vanilla extract

1. Sift together all the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, bicarb) and stir in the sugar.
2. Beat all the wet ingredients together (buttermilk (or substitute), oil, eggs, vinegar, colouring, vanilla).
3. Gradually beat the dry ingredients into the wet to create a smooth scarlet batter.
4. Divide the batter equally between three 8" cake tins and bake for about 25min at 180°C. (The cakes are ready when the top springs back from a gentle prod, the sides have started to come away from the tin and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean).
5. Leave the cakes to cool in the pans for about 5mins before turning out to a cake rack and leaving to cool completely.
6. Meanwhile make the frosting. Firstly beat the butter so it is very soft and smooth. Slowly beat in the cream cheese and vanilla and then the icing sugar. Add icing sugar until you get the flavour you are after bu I'd recommend a minimum of 6oz. Leave in the fridge for at least 10mins to firm up.
7. Layer the cakes with a generous amount of frosting (about 2tsbp). Then cover the cake with a thin crumb layer of frosting and leave to chill for 30mins (or longer).
8 Use the remaining icing to give a perfect white casing to your deep velvet cake.

Saturday, 6 November 2010


Whilst trying to come up with an idea for my cake club cake for Monday, I was browsing though New British Classics by Gary Rhodes and came across a recipe for crumpets.

I did not realise only 4 ingredients are required to make these beautiful tasty treats. It being Saturday and about brunch time, how could I not give them a go?

So after mixing 8oz strong flour, 1tsp dried yeast, ¼oz salt and ½pint warm water I left the batter to "rise" while I watched Saturday Kitchen.

A quick addition of water to loosen the batter, a gentle fry in a pan and I was in heaven:

So it would seem that crumpets are dead easy to make and incredibly satisfying. I got six meaty crumpets from the batter enough for today and tomorrow.

I love the way that the batter transforms to the familiar pitted crumpet we know and love just by the addition of heat and butter:

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

ICCHFC - Week 58: Chocolate, chilli and orange cake

Seb was back on the case this week and made a chocolate, chilli and orange cake.

Seb's made quite a few adjustments to the original recipe (see below) and wasn't quite sure how it had turned out so was insistent that a photograph should be taken before it was cut, so hear it is:

Seb needn't have worried. Look at that amazing marbled texture:

This was certainly a substantial cake. Despite having changed the recipe it was pretty tasty, although I think the chilli and orange subtleties were lost on me.

Seb's Chocolate, chilli and orange cake (aka Simon Rimmer's original recipe on Something for the Weekend)

For the chocolate syrup:
200ml/7fl oz water
125g/4½oz butter
1¾oz honey
1lb 2oz dark chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa solids
For the sponge:
9oz butter, plus extra for greasing
9oz caster sugar
5 free-range eggs
1 vanilla pod, seeds only
14oz flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 orange, zest and juice
For the glaze:
1 orange, juice only
4½oz icing sugar
1 tbsp orange liqueur

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease a 25cm/10in bundt cake tin.
2. For the chocolate syrup, heat the water, butter, honey and chocolate in a saucepan, stirring regularly, until the mixture is smooth.
3. For the sponge, cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla until well combined. Fold in the flour and baking powder. Spoon half of the mixture into a separate bowl.
4. Stir half of the chocolate syrup and all of the chilli into one half of the mixture. Add the orange zest and juice to the other half of the mixture.
5. Spoon the orange mixture into the cake tin and spread the mixture out until it is level. Spoon the chocolate chilli mixture on top. Bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and set aside to cool.
6. Meanwhile, for the glaze, mix the orange juice, icing sugar and orange liqueur together in a bowl until well combined.
7. Carefully remove the cake from the tin and brush with the glaze. Pour over the remaining chocolate syrup.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Eating in Norwich - pigeon on toast and roast pheasant

Spent the weekend in Norwich eating and drinking. Friday was spent at the Norwich Beer Festival. Saturday was spent eating, browsing great Norfolk produce and then cooking and eating it. Sunday was a modest recovery followed by plenty of sea-side indulgences at Great Yarmouth.

Saturday's dinner was:

Pigeon breasts on toast with mushrooms in cream.

Roasted pheasants with celeriac mash, braised red cabbage, spicy roasted squash and a gravy of roasting juices and red wine.

Followed by an apple and quince crème brûlé.

Pretty good Saturday night, if you ask me.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Autumn feast

An autumnal feast for supper tonight:

A fat pork chop with blue cheese butter atop a melange of pan roasted vegetable (salsify, parsnip, carrot and apple).

Project: Salt Beef - Part I

This evening saw the start of a major foodie project: I'm having a go at making my own salt beef.

This has been prompted by my desire to emulate the amazing salt beef bagels from Brick Lane and the very good Birley salt beef sandwiches which I have recently been introduced to by a colleague as a "pay day treat".

What could be better than a vast quantity of salt beef on tap? In fact Jess (said colleague mentioned above) is also joining me in the quest for pink beef joy.

Initial research revealed that saltpetre (potassium nitrate) is required to keep the beef characteristically pink. A little help from the internet was required to locate the requisite chemical.

Once this arrived we ordered the beef brisket from Drings which we picked up on Monday. Yesterday saw the purchase of the plastic boxes.

4lb of prime beef brisket ready for the curative brine. The beef fat I've rendered down to be used for some lovely roasties at some point in the future.

After an exhaustive search on the internet for an appropriate recipe we finally settled on this one from Martha Stewart. Although with input from other recipes I've adapted it a little (see below for the low down on what I actually did). So this morning I made the brine and this evening put my brisket into its salty bath.

Now all that's left to do is to wait 10 days to see the fruits of my labour...

Recipe for salt beef:

15g (half a jar) pickling spices
1 cup Maldon sea salt
2.3l water
~4lb beef brisket, trimmed of fat
1 bulb garlic, slice through its equator
½cup soft brown sugar
4 bay leaves
1dsp saltpetre

1. Firstly make the brine by putting all the ingredients except the saltpetre and garlic into a large pot and bring to the boil. Stir until the salt and sugar has dissolved.
2. Take the pot off the heat and leave to cool COMPLETELY.
3. Trim the beef.
4. Put the cold brine into the plastic box and mix in the garlic and saltpetre.
5. Completely immerse the beef in the brine. Use a bowl to weight it down if required.
6. Turn the beef daily (use tongs to prevent bacteria from your hands entering the brine)
7. Leave for 10 days to two weeks.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

ICCHFC - Week 57: Pecan blondies

I'd completely forgotten that Hannah wasn't in on Monday so her box of pecan blondies was greeted with much desire!

I've wanted to make blondies for ages, so I was intrigued as to what they were like. Far less rich than brownies the nuts were a welcome addition (I prefer brownies without nuts) as the white chocolate flavour was not particularly dominant (although I'm not sure any white chocolate cake ever really has a very strong flavour of white chocolate). Nevertheless the blondies were incredibly moreish the whole box got finished off in double time and there was almost a rumpus over the last bits.

Hannah's pecan blondies (care of the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook)

5oz white chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup unsalted butter
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
1½tsp vanilla extract
1½ cups plain flour
Pinch salt
1 cup pecans, chopped

1. Line a baking pan (46 by 23 cm/18 by 9 inch) with parchment paper and preheat oven to 160°C.
2. In a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, place chocolate and butter (do not let the base of the bowl touch the water). Leave until melted and smooth. Remove from heat.
3. Add sugar and stir until well incorporated. Add eggs and vanilla, stirring briskly so that you don’t allow the eggs to scramble. (Don’t worry if the mixture looks as if it is starting to split.)
4. Add flour, salt and pecans and stir until well combined and the nuts are evenly dispersed.
5. Spoon mixture into prepared baking pan and bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown and the centre is still soft.
6. Let cool completely and cut into squares.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Feeding the parents...

Went home this weekend and cooked attempted to cook a nice meal for the parents. All week I was suffering from the cook's equivalent of writer's block and just could not come up with a decent menu.

I did know that I was going to finish with Queen of Puddings as that gave me an opportunity to use up the masses of cake left-overs from the wedding cake tasting. I also knew I wanted to do fish and something very meaty to please both parental units. A rather successful trip to the Saturday market resulted in me settling for:

Sea bass in a spicy broth
Rib-eye steak with roast potatoes and mustard cream cabbage
Queen of puddings

Sea bass in a spicy broth

I got a pair of sea bass fillets and a pint of prawns from the fish man at the market. I made a broth using the prawn heads and shells and some Asian aromatics (ginger, coriander stalks, lemon-grass and chilli). Unfortunately I used a touch to much chilli: one red chilli finely sliced with seeds. When will I learn how to use chilli? I either get too much or not enough - grrrrrrrrrrrr! Anyway, I served the fried fish fillets on a mound of noodles surrounded by coriander and prawns. Obviously the picture looks very dry. Mainly because I made a bit of a boo-boo and strained the soup into the wrong bowl so instead of a clear liquor it was a touch cloudy. Still it tasted OK, just a touch hot and I cooked the fish pretty well.

Rib-eye steak with roast potatoes and mustard cream cabbage

No picture here as this was not the roaring success I had envisaged. Error after error here meant I wasn't best pleased with my steak or potatoes. Let's just say they were "very caramelised". I could blame a strange kitchen and equipment but that would be a cop-out. Frankly, I cocked up. Still Ma very much enjoyed it. And I completely forgot to top the steaks with the blue cheese butter I'd made.

Queen of puddings

Despite all the earlier mistakes I'd left the best till last. Both parents loved this pudding and despite seconds even managed to leave some for another day. This was the only recipe (from Phil Vickery's Proof of the Pudding) that I'd used and the piped meringue and different fruits really improved the presentation: I'd made a pair of contrasting compotes: plum and pear and cinnamon. Quite a difficult beggar to serve up nicely though. At least I ended on a high note.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

ICCHFC leftovers - orange crème caramel cheesecakes

Sara wasn't a fan of the orange frosting she made for her pumpkin cake this week. Consequently I volunteered to use up the orange, sugar and cheese mix (far better than throwing it away).

I found this recipe for orange crème caramel cheesecakes which I duly made. The one I had at home turned out pretty well:

It had a very subtle flavour and a lovely texture, smoother that a traditional cheesecake. The caramel delivered a very strong flavour hit and I could happily have had more (I would have done had I not made 8 smaller ones rather than the 6 in the recipe). The biscuit was über crunchy and gave an excellent textural contrast.

The ones I took into work had to stay in the ramekin moulds and had the biscuit "base" on top. Nonetheless everyone was still rather complementary about them despite the presentation.

All in all a good result for some left overs. Although I did use rather a lot of energy and extra ingredients to prevent something being put in the bin. I do wonder what the best option would be had I done some sort of carbon analysis of either landfilling the leftover frosting or making a the puds...

Here's the full recipe, just in case you don't have any leftovers to use up!

Orange crème caramel cheesecakes recipe

300ml double cream
peel from 1 orange
8oz caster sugar
4tbsp orange liqueur
200g tub cream cheese
4 eggs
For the biscuit base:
250g digestive biscuits
85g butter, melted

1. Heat oven to 150°C. In a small pan, bring the cream to the boil with the orange peel, then set aside to infuse.
2. Tip 5oz sugar into another saucepan with just enough water to make it sludgy. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer and boil to make a darkish caramel. Add 2 tbsp of the orange liqueur (watch out as it will splutter). Leave it to settle slightly, then pour the caramel over the base of 6 x 250ml ramekins and set aside.
3. Beat the cream cheese and the remaining 3oz sugar together in a large bowl, then beat in the eggs and the remaining orange liqueur. Strain in the infused cream, then beat everything together to make a custard. Skim off any froth and set aside.
4. Place the ramekins in a deep roasting tin. Divide the custard between them - it will only come to halfway. Then bring the tin to the oven and fill with boiling water so it comes halfway up the outside of the ramekin dishes.
5. Bake the cheesecakes for 40 mins or until just set, then remove from the oven and the tin. Leave to cool, then chill at least overnight. These can be made up to 2 days ahead and left to chill.
6. For the bases, crumble the biscuits into a food processor, then blitz to fine crumbs. Add the melted butter and pulse until everything is mixed.
7. Divide the biscuit mix between 6 ring moulds on the serving plates. Pack the base firmly into the moulds and chill.
8. To serve, unmould the cheesecakes, saving the caramel sauce in the ramekin. Top the bases with the crème caramels, drizzle the sauce over and around the plates.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Rabbit weekend

Last weekend was dedicated to the rabbit which had been sitting in my freezer since I picked it up at the London Farmer's Market in Broadgate in August.

My guide for rabbit adventure was Week in Week out by Simon Hopkinson. It has an entire section devoted to jointing and then cooking the different rabbit parts.

I started off with the whole rabbit

and ended up with two shoulders, a saddle and two legs:

I started off with the slow braised rabbit shoulders with white beans and parsley for lunch on Saturday.
Great lunch time fodder; hearty, warming and incredibly easy.

Then I moved on to the saddle for dinner:

I had these quick braised saddles with some Purple Majesty potato mash. Delicious.

Sunday's dinner was a fitting finale as I used the legs to make lapin à la Dijonnaise.

I think I paid tribute to the rabbit with these three dishes. Each was wonderful and made me wish I was in the French countryside, rather than in a flat in the capital. However, I think my heavy handedness with quantities reared its head once again. Rabbit's quite a subtle flavour and the copious amount of sauce and side dishes I had may have masked the other flavours (especially the rich cream mustard sauce of the finale).

Nevertheless it was a great weekend of eating.

On to the recipes:

Slow braised rabbit shoulders with white beans and parsley

1 tin haricot beans
2 rabbit shoulders
4 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
300ml water
100ml white wine
Handful of parley, chopped

1. Season the rabbit and brown in olive oil. Add the garlic and fry until slightly coloured.
2. Add the beans, wine, water and bay leaves and the 2tbsp olive oil. Cover and bake at 150°C for 1-11/2 hours, until the beans are soft.

Quick braised rabbit saddles with lemon, rosemary and white wine

Rabbit saddle, trimmed of sinew
2 glasses white wine
2/3 sprigs rosemary
Juice lemon

1. Season the rabbit and fry until golden in olive oil.
2. Add 1 glass white wine and the rosemary. Partially cover and leave to simmer until nearly all the wine has evaporated, ~10-15mins.
3. Turn the saddles over add the remaining wine and half the lemon juice and cook, uncovered, for ~10minutes until the juices have mingled and the saddle is firm to the touch.
4. Add the remaining lemon juice and remove the saddle to rest.
5. Carve the met from both sides and serve with the juices.

Lapin à la Dijonnaise

2 rabbit legs
25g butter
2 shallots, chopped
150ml dry white wine
100ml dry cider
200ml double cream
2tsp Dijon mustard
Lemon juice, to taste

1. Season the rabbit and brown all over in butter.
2. Remove rabbit from pan and sweat off shallots.
3. Add the wine and cider and reduce by half.
4. Add the rabbit back into pan and bring back to the simmer.
5. Put in an oven at 170°C for 40mins. Turn the rabbit legs half way through.
6. Once baked, remove the rabbit from the pan and strain the cooking liquor.
7. Add the cream and reduce until the desired consistency is reached. Then whisk in the mustard and lemon juice. Season to taste.
8. Return the rabbit legs to the pan to warm.


Had the "perfect" English muffin, that I picked up from the Flour Station stall at the cheese market I went to on Sunday, tonight.

I split it and topped with some Comté that I also got at the market. Chefs always seem to be banging on about Comté so I wanted to see what the fuss was all about.

The muffin was pretty damn good as expected and the cheese was quite like Gruyère. I was a little underwhelmed as it didn't blow my socks off, but I'd agree that it's pretty good.

Monday, 18 October 2010

ICCHFC - Week 56: Pumpkin cake

Sara was baking duty this week and went very seasonal with a pumpkin cake.

It was very carrot cake-esque, with a similar texture and flavour. I'd need to have a slice of each side by side in order to tell the difference (that's not a slight on Sara's cake rather a comment on my rubbishness). I was the only person to have the orange cream cheese frosting and I thought it added a lovely piquancy. Definitely better with than without.

However, now the remaining frosting has been donated to me to do something with (or else it would have been chucked). I think a baked cheesecake may be in order.

Sara's pumpkin cake (taken from Good Food)

300g self-raising flour
300g light muscovado sugar
3tsp mixed spice
2tsp bicarbonate of soda
175g sultanas
½tsp salt
4 eggs, beaten
200g butter, melted
zest 1 orange
1tbsp orange juice
500g (peeled weight) pumpkin or butternut squash flesh, grated
For drenching and frosting:
200g pack soft cheese
85g butter , softened
100g icing sugar, sifted
zest 1 orange and juice of half

1. Heat oven to 180°C. Butter and line a 30 x 20cm baking or small roasting tin with baking parchment.
2. Put the flour, sugar, spice, bicarbonate of soda, sultanas and salt into a large bowl and stir to combine.
3. Beat the eggs into the melted butter, stir in the orange zest and juice, then mix with the dry ingredients till combined. Stir in the pumpkin.
4. Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 30 mins, or until golden and springy to the touch.
5. To make the frosting, beat together the cheese, butter, icing sugar, orange zest and 1 tsp of the juice till smooth and creamy, then set aside in the fridge.
6. When the cake is done, cool for 5 mins then turn it onto a cooling rack. Prick it all over with a skewer and drizzle with the rest of the orange juice while still warm. Leave to cool completely.
7. If you like, trim the edges of the cake. Give the frosting a quick beat to loosen, then, using a palette knife, spread over the top of the cake in peaks and swirls.

TIP: Pumpkins can vary dramatically in water content, so keep an eye on the cake towards the end of cooking - yours may take less or more time to cook through. Butternut squash works brilliantly, too.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Cheese market

Went to a cheese and wine festival on the South Bank this morning. There was plenty of English and French cheese on display. These pictures will probably make my sister ("turophile" that she is) quite jealous.

For lunch I had a tarte-diot: a traditional Savoie tartiflette (potatoes, onion, wine, lardons, reblechon cheese) with some very tasty sausages.

To be honest it was a little disappointing as it was a touch luke warm, but it did serve to fill me up after an exhausting morning watching Psycho at the Empire Leicester Square.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Brasserie Joël

I went to Brasserie Joël to take advantage of the special LRF menu. The restaurant is located in the very swanky Park Plaza hotel at the end of Westminster bridge. The fantastic modern interior of the hotel and buzz in the bar while we had pre-dinner G&Ts helped cement my high expectation for the meal.

I was quite surprised that the LRF menu was basically the same as the pre-theatre menu with just a couple of differences. Still no problem, I was expecting a limited choice for only £16.95 for two courses. The second surprise of the night came with the addition of a cover charge. There are very few restaurants in London that have a cover charge and this unexpected extra always niggles me a little. I felt like I was being duped before I'd even started looking at my set price menu. Nevertheless, A and I enjoyed copious amounts of very good bread and lovely soft creamy French butter whilst making our choices.

A had the spinach, beetroot and ricotta salad, or as the bizarrely phrased menu put it:

Ricotta buffalo

Which was OK, nothing too special. It seems that the combination of flavours I featured in my beetroot soup is quite popular at the moment. [I feel as if I have unexpectedly tapped into the Zeitgeist for the first time ever!]

For my starter a bowl of artfully arranged trompette mushrooms and buffalo ricotta was placed in front of me before the waiter dramatically poured the soup over. "Great," I thought, "this is gonna be a special eating 'event'". That thought quickly disappeared from my mind as I took my first sip of lukewarm soup. Quickly followed by a grainy mushroom and then a mouthful of grit. Someone had forgotten to wash the wild mushrooms: disgusting. There was nothing I could do but spit it out and ask for another starter. I should really have asked for the chicken liver parfait but instead asked for the soup again. A fresh one was brought this time piping hot and with clean mushrooms (although I have to admit each time I put one on my spoon I wave of anxiety washed over me).

For her main, A went with a baby artichoke and wild mushroom risotto with Parmesan and pea shoots, which came in a saucepan (sorry about the photo).

I had roast chicken of Bresse with a fricassee of Jerusalem artichoke.

I was quite excited at having some of the renown blue-footed Bresse chicken and was half-expecting the label to be presented with the dish (I'm sure I'd read somewhere that some restaurants show the label to prove the provenance of the AOC protected chicken). It was bloody good chicken, but I'd like to to a taste test with some "normal" chicken to see just how amazing the Bresse chicken is.

Unfortunately the shine was taken off this dish by the artichokes. I don't like crunchy Jerusalem artichokes, it's like eating raw potatoes: horrible. I asked for the artichokes to be checked if they had been served as they should. Apparently, when the chicken came back it was clear that whoever was on the pass had decided that I should have crunchy artichokes. I contend that this was a mistake.

Having had almost four courses and far too much bread there was no way I could even contemplate a dessert.

The service was excellent. The waiters dealt with my problematic dishes graciously and with no hesitation. Although the dining room felt slightly buried in the midst of the hotel I really liked the modern décor and the atmosphere had an enjoyable buzz. It's just a shame the food wasn't up to the same standard.

Brasserie Joël on Urbanspoon

Friday, 15 October 2010


Went to the new outlet of Belgique on the river-front at Canary Wharf for lunch today. I wasn't sure what to expect and didn't take my camera, but I wish I had. What a little gem.

The food we had was pretty good, although the frites were slightly disappointing just because we all had such expectations. The portions were massive as well.

I think we'll definitely go back there so I'll report back when we do.

However, I can tell you how great the patisserie is because I has this wonderful strawberry bavarois for threeses.

An ethereal strawberry mousse held by a very light sponge and topped off with beautiful berries (spoilt only be a stick of candied angelica, which is anathema to me).
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