Thursday, 17 April 2008

Belated Easter Greetings

We had a family party for Easter Sunday this year, which is really just an excuse for me to indulge in a big bake-off. I made quite a few cakes, some scones, a big loaf of bread for bread and butter and some club sandwiches. Sadly I didn't think to take a picture of the sandwiches, but I will share with you the secret of the Perfect Club Sandwich. When I worked the brasserie section at the hotel, I used to churn these out by the truckload, and they are one of my absolute favourite things to eat. Full of calories, but delicious all the same.
For one (greedy) person you will need:
4 slices of white bread, toasted
2 generous handfuls of salad leaves such as frisee and rocket mixed with mayonnaise
Half a cold, roasted chicken breast, sliced
One sliced tomato
Two rashers of good back bacon, grilled and still hot
One hardboiled egg sliced thinly with one of those wire contraptions
"Build" your club as follows -
The bottom layer is salad leaves and the hard boiled eggs
The middle layer is the bacon and tomato
The top layer is the chicken and more salad leaves
You will need to skewer it all together with cocktail sticks. Cut into quarters and pop back in the oven/grill to make sure it's hot. Serve with chips and tomato chutney.

Having gorged ourselves on the sandwiches we made a light inroad into the battenberg cake, which was flavoured with vanilla and some strawberry syrup bought on our last adventure to Carrefour. The decoration is enhanced with some mimosa and violet balls bought from G Detou in Paris.

I had been contemplating the purchase of a very expensive set of easter cookie cutters online, when where should I stumble across an almost identical set, but Somerfield. At £2.99 compared to £12 + p&p. Suitably satisfied with my bargain I set about these cute little biscuits. The cookie dough is lightly flavoured with lemon and orange, in keeping with the light flavours of spring.

One of my favourite things in the world is marzipan, and I have to make a Simnel cake every year. Simnel cakes evolved from a Mothering Sunday tradition, where young girls in service (ie domestic servants) would take one of these richly fruited and spiced cakes to their mothers on the 4th Sunday of Lent - the cake was a celebration of the reunification of families in this time of austerity. The traditionally decorated simnel cake has 11 marzipan balls around the outside - to represent the 11 faithful disciples of Jesus. Judas, the betrayer, is omitted. What makes this cake different - and infinitely superior - to the traditional English fruit cake is the inclusion of a seam of baked marzipan through the middle of the cake.
The origin of the name of the cake is disputed - some sources say it comes from the latin simila (meaning the fine flour from which the cake was made) and others say it comes from Lambert Simnel - a child pretender to the English throne during the reign of Henry VII. Supposedly, as a punishment, he was put to work in the King's kitchens and devised this cake while working there.
Whatever its origins, it's my favourite Easter tradition !
My Mother's Simnel Cake
8" round, deep tin
8oz plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp mixed spice
6oz butter
6oz light soft brown sugar
3 eggs
14 - 15 oz dried mixed fruit
2oz glacé cherries, halved, washed and dried
2 tbsp milk
1lb marzipan, half rolled out to a circle 7" in diameter
1. Preheat your oven to 325f/160c or 140c for a fan oven. Line the cake tin
2. Cream the butter and sugar; add the eggs and fold in the flour, spice and baking powder. Finally mix in the milk to thin the mix slightly.
3. Mix in the fruit and cherries.
4. Put half the mixture into the tin and put the marzipan circle in the middle. Top with the remaining mixture. Before putting into the oven make a shallow well in the top of the mixture - this helps to prevent a small, cracked hillock appearing in the top of the cake.
5. Bake for 1 and 3/4 hours. Cool in the tin
6. For the traditional decoration, roll out a thick circle of marzipan and attach to the top of the cake using apricot jam. Form 11 balls of marzipan and stick evenly round the circumference of the cake. Finish with Easter chicks.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

The more it snows, tiddlypom

One minute it was bright sunshine, the next minute it was snow. Not just a few flaky bits of snow, proper snow, the type we rarely see in these Climactically Warming Times. So we did what all sensible people do in the snow - put on our jackets, grabbed the camera and slipped and slid our way down to the seafront for a cuppa.
We often go to the Wish Tower Tea Room on the seafront for a Sunday morning warmer; it's a bit tatty and is aimed at the more aged market, but they do a reasonable cup of coffee and sell some spendid cakes covered in marzipan. And there is a great view of the beach from the rather faded sunroom. The view on this occasion was somewhat whiter than normal, with snow covering everything, including the beach down to the water's edge and the tops of the groynes. I've lived in Eastbourne for all of my 32 years and I've never seen snow like it.

Squeaky Cat had a great deal of fun negotiating the fence outside the kitchen; the kittens popped their heads outside, trod on the snow, growled at it and then ran back indoors ! So cute ! Monica decided that the best place for a kitten in the snow is safely stowed in the cat bed, on top of the oven. Our Dowager Duchess cat Bubble, who is far too grand for these childish carries-on, slept peacefully through all the excitement.

The snow didn't last long, but lasted long enough for me to get a couple of pictures of our plants laden with snow.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Turning Japanese

Apologies for the long blogging hiatus. I've been experimenting with my new toy, a Nixon D40x, and have finally worked out how to compress the photos for the internet. The jump into the SLR world is so much fun !
Anyhooow. I just love eating japanese food and I have been meaning to have a go at the delightful Wafu Gyoza on Jocelyn's blog. A few days off over the last week meant I had some time on my hands for experimenting, both in the kitchen and with the camera and I set myself about making and capturing the results in style.
David and I have been fans of Wagamama for quite a while now, and I always order the yakitori while I'm there. OK, it's not quite as good as you get in Japan, but it'll do for here. Armed with some corn fed chicken thighs and a bottle of Kikkoman I set about replicating them at home, and I have to say I was pleasantly pleased with the result.
. The potstickers were a revelation. I did have to make some adaptations to my kitchen (no wakame available in Waitrose unfortunately !) but the result was really, really yummy. Such an elegant dish. If you don't feel up to the rather intricate folding and pleating then the parcels can easily be formed into little moneybags or folded up cornish pasty style. The dough is very well behaved and satisfyingly silky to the kneading hand. I was planning to start the dough off in the kitchenaid, but it actually doesn't need it. Don't lose heart at the beginning, when the dough looks like a disaster, it does improve considerably with kneading !
I accompanied our Japanese Feast with a simple amai sauce and some yakitori dip. Perfection with a glass of hot sake - if I'd closed my eyes I could have been back in an inn in Matsumoto. Thankyou so much Jocelyn for such a lovely recipe x
This post is dedicated to Cams and all the lovely Misfits

Friday, 1 February 2008

We're all going on a February holiday

David and I are off to Devon on the 9th February for a christening. One of my best friends, Lydia, had a bouncing baby boy called Sam last July and we're off for a four day mini break. I'm a bit worried about leaving the kittens, but hopefully my brother in law will take good care of them ! We're staying in a lovely looking barn cottage in Bittaford, called Blackadon Barns - I'm excited because they believe in sustainable farming and it will be great to have some ideas for our newly acquired allotment (covered in weeds). They grow vegetables and have free range chickens and goats there as well. I'm really looking forward to some bracing Dartmoor walks and doing some nature photography. We're also thinking of having an early Valentine dinner at the 1* Elephant at Torquay one night.
Can't wait for some well earned R and R.

Thursday, 31 January 2008

Fur Babies

We got two adorable scraps of black fur from the Kit Wilson Trust at Hadlow Down on Friday. They are both girls and have been named after the Friends characters Monica and Phoebe. Phoebe is only 3 months old but is proving very slippery and an ideal blogging companion.
Monica is 4 months old and is persian cross, but without the cross-looking squashed up face. They are very close and are like siamese twins - always running about and playing together. They chirrup and purr away to each other in the most adorable way. Our senior citizen kitties, Bubble & Squeak, are a bit grotty with each other so it's nice to have two cats that just luuurve each others company.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

An ice cream bar from heaven

My Dear Husband and I are going to Paris again in April for his birthday for a one night stay. I ABSOLUTELY CANNOT WAIT to go back to Berthillon on the Ile St Louis. Last time we went we had eaten so much food over the holiday that I couldn't really do it justice. But this time I am going to have a great avalanche of the salted butter caramel ice cream, then have a walk round the block and have another.
Berthillon seems to have been sent to us, the bon viveurs, as a gift from Edesia. Part of its charm, to me, is that it's really difficult to find - partly due to the little forest of "Glaces Berthillon" signs which crop up all over the two islands, a trap for the unwary. You know that mecca is on the Ile St Louis. But you don't really know what you're looking for. Your husband keeps moaning because his feet hurt on the cobbles and he wants his ice cream. Like, now. "There's a sign - why can't we just get it there ?" But you, in your foodie madness, MUST GO ON. You will literally crawl on your hands and knees to experience ice cream at its best in its proper setting. Suddenly a beauteous, panelled building hoves into view and you know. You've made it. Ice Cream Heaven is just a few tottering steps away. And my goodness, does determination pay off. There is hardly anyone here, because everyone got fooled by those signs, luring them away like Sirens. You try to decide whether to eat in the salon or to take a cornet away into a private corner and make sure nobody bothers it. Then an exceptional idea takes shape. Buy two coffees, two sundaes and then get a takeway cornet each. Genius.
You can get all the seasonal flavours here, the full range of classic flavours. It's too much really, because how do you choose ? I guess you just move to Paris and work your way through all the flavours, until the medical authorities have to take off the side of your house to remove you.
Glacier Berthillon
29-31 rue saint Louis en l'ile
Wednesday - Sundays 10am - 8pm

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Cooking with Gordon

Yesterday was the first instalment of my New Year Cookery Project. The menu was
Jerusalem Artichoke Soup
Herb Crusted Lamb with Mirepoix of Vegetables
Caramelised Bananas en Papilotte with Creme Fraiche
The soup was very easy, made with a fresh vegetable nage, sauteed artichokes and finished with cream. It was supposed to be served with morel mushrooms but sadly neither availability or mid-month budget meant that this was feasible. I love jerusalem artichokes, and it was one of my favourite starters in one of the hotels I worked in - every evening, if someone ordered it, the larder chef would make a special one up for me to greedily gobble. Gordon's version was really fresh and flavoursome, with a light addition of cream. Yummy
Vegetables being naged

Artichokes being sauteed

The main course, the rack of lamb, consisted of two parts - the herb crusted lamb itself and a hollowed out tomato filled with a very fine, sauteed brunoise of courgette, aubergine, peppers and tomatoes. There was no starch aspect in the book, so I paired it with some couscous. The quantity of butter in the recipe wasn't quite enough to make a paste, so I stuck in a bit more. My husband found my french-trimming most entertaining. This dish was really delicious.

The vegetable mirepoix ready for sauteeing - a labour of love

The banana dessert worked well. The recipe calls for cloves, but I really dislike the taste of them on their own, so swapped these for allspice. I also cut the portion size - Gordon puts two bananas in a portion, but this is a rich dish and two would have been too much. I bought creme fraiche d'isigny, and we ate the whole pot in a frenzy of greed.
We had a bottle of Trimbach Riesling Reserve with the dinner which went very well with the soup and the banana, but obviously wasn't as sucessful with the lamb ! All in all, a very delicious dinner, which I would have been very happy with in a restaurant.

All 3 of the recipes score highly in taste, ease and simplicity of instruction, giving a very satisfactory result - 9 out of 10

Watch this space for the next instalment.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Images of Japan

Keiko's beautiful pictures of Japan reminded me that I have a computer chocked full of images I shot on a recent tour of Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima. Here are some of my favourites.