Thursday, 25 February 2010

Ice Cream

I've been very prolific with posts recently, but as it's been my birthday I've been eating lots of lovely food!

After visiting the wonderful Foodilic last Sunday, it's hard to believe but after waddling around for an hour me and my friend fancied something sweet. So we headed to Scoop and Crumb, which I have been meaning to try for ages... and what better treat on a rainy day than an ice cream sundae? All the ice cream is made with local organic milk, and it's not a chain - infinitely better than your run of the mill Ben and Jerry's or Haagen Daz. At least on a grim day like that we didn't have to queue, apparently this place gets super popular with people queuing out the door, being as it is just a stone's throw from the seafront.

They've managed to create a refreshing, light tasting ice-cream, yet with a satisfying creaminess - a bit like Italian ice cream. We both had two scoops: I had strawberry cheesecake and cherry with chocolate; Karen had lemon and chocolate crunch. They didn't last long.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Happy Bitday

What happens when your friends can't spell (or when the letter-shaped candles snap as they're being hurriedly applied to a cake before you re-enter the room):

Now, I love Nutella and I love cinnamon, but I'd never dreamed some genius would put them together in a cake recipe! And finely executed this cake was too, moist, crumbly with lots of surprise chunks of yummy Nutella. Mmmmmm.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010


Back in the 80s or 90s there was an advert for the knobbly artifically flavoured and deadly moreish corn-snack Nik Naks. Two men in a cartoon discuss their virtues, making reference to their rather weird and grotesque appearance, and contrasts this with their 'explosive' flavour: "Nik Naks they look BLEEEUUUUUR! but they taste BANG!" (watch the video, you'll see what a mean)

This motto was brought to mind the other day when I did one of my favourite things: coming home to what is at first glance fairly basic food stocks but at which point the imagination starts whirring to produce a quick yet wholesome and tasty meal based on working with what we've got. Surveying the fridge I had some leftover mashed potato and some sweetcorn. Investigating the freezer for some cooked prawns and smoked mackerel I had in storage, I set about creating this fish pie.

I loosely based the fish filling on a chowder recipe I've made before and gently simmered the fish and prawns in milk until defrosted (probably not necessarily the height of food safety, but it was all cooked already and I'm still alive as I write this). I fried off an onion, added half a tin of tomatoes and a pinch of chilli flakes, then added in the milk, fish and sweetcorn and simmered together a little. A little cornflower to thicken and a touch of salt and pepper, and into the oven it went with the leftover mash on top and some grated parmesan. Hey presto, comfort food for one in only about an hour, all made from pretty much leftovers and store cupboard ingredients. Shame about the rather bizarre pink and vomity colour scheme but, like Nik Naks, it looks weird but tasted GREAT.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Cocktails and canapes

The other weekend it was Valentines' Day and some friends and I thought the perfect way to treat ourselves was to have some cocktails and canapes. By the amount we produced you'd think we were catering for more than an intimate party of 4, but who'd want to share all of these delights with too many people? With less munchers to steal all the best bits it ended up being a joyful feast rather than just a nibble with drinks.

We consulted a few online sources for inspiration, looking at vintage recipes and also the lovely recipe book born of the Chocolate and Zucchini blog. The menu was I suppose a bit of a homage to our idea of cocktail parties of the past, with prawn cocktail, salmon and cream cheese vol-au-vents (heart-shaped of course) and Ritz crackers, smoked mackerel pate on circles of brown bread, spanish omelette, prawn cocktail, cheese and cumin gougeres (unbelievably moreish) and Black Forest gateau (not homemade, I admit).

One thing I don't think we banked on was how long it took to make all this stuff. It's all just so damn finicky. That's one thing I've noticed about the evolution of food for entertaining over the years. While you might find vol-au-vents and dainty sandwiches at parties these days, the vol-au-vent cases are probably bought in frozen-ready, and it doesn't take too much to throw together a few rounds of sandwiches. Even less labour-intensive are the ever popular mediterranean-style spreads of pots of houmous, cold sliced meats and salamis, bowls of olives, casually torn chunks of bread etc, all of which can be bought pre-prepared and laid out in 10 minutes.

But looking at recipe books from the 50s to the 70s, if a food stuff could be fussed with in some way, it was worth doing. Decoration and bite-sized daintiness was encouraged - why would you serve a bowl of egg mayonnaise when you can halve boiled eggs, scoop out the yolk, mash it up with mayonnaise and pipe it back in (a la 'devilled eggs' - you can even dye them blue and pink for an extra flourish)? Takes 10 times longer but hey, what else were you going to do today? And it would be the height of bad manners to expect your guests to have to help themselves to pate and bread, what they want is it pre-cut into neat circles and topped with the pate and perhaps a garnish. The thing is that it's all very repetitive - you might enjoy filling the first one or two vol-au-vent cases prettily with filling, but those things are small and deceptively moreish, so if you've got a proper party going on you're going to have to do that maybe 20-30 times.

Drinks-wise, we made some classic cocktails, including old-fashioneds (sugar cube soaked in bitters; add ice and a touch of soda; then top with bourbon and an orange twists) and martinis (vodka poured over ice cubes tainted with vermouth, strained into a glass with a green olive) and basically concluded that a lot of original cocktails were devised as a way of drinking pure undiluted spirits while still looking refined and not-at-all like an alcoholic. The rather soupy green stuff to the left in a 'kiwi-tini' which we enthusiastically concocted, thinking that after all the pastry, eggs, cream cake, pate and pure alcohol we should probably get some vitamin C.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

6 hours and a dozen eggs later...

When, inspired by another department's efforts, I suggested having a cake sale at work in aid of the Haiti disaster fund, I didn't realise I'd get so into the idea that I'd spend my day off on my feet in the kitchen, slaving over eggs, sugar, flour and icing to produce 4 different cakes (3 for Haiti, 1 for me).

I awoke to a clear, cold morning, the first bit of clear blue sky we've seen in a while and then this happened:

A sudden, ridiculously heavy and blustery hail storm which blew in enough for there to be a smattering of icy deposits to collected on windowsill and bushes. Followed by more sun, and then some snow... all in all outside looked far too unpredictable, so I settled in to a day of working up a steam in the kitchen. And with radio for company and a good amount of bowl and finger licking to keep me sustained throughout my travails, I rather enjoyed it.

Preparing my tools in a (not for long) clean kitchen:

Cake(s) number 1: Vanilla Cupcakes

I'm never sure when these are done as they're quite dense and can be a little heavy... not sure if I slightly overcooked them, but always still delicious especially with beautiful creamy frosting on the top. I think I was a little over-zealous with the food colouring though, I got a bit over-excited and they ended up maybe a little childishly bright rather than the sophisticated pastel shades I was intending:

Cake number 2: Carrot cake with lime cream cheese frosting

This cake mix was REALLY tasty with the cinnamon spiciness! This is a recipe that always works out, lovely moist cake with dreamy, fluffy frosting:

Cake number 3: Spiced date, apple and walnut loaf

A little bit Delia Smith, a little bit Marguerite Patten this recipe. I used Delia's recipe for date, apple and walnut loaf which combined more ingredients than Marguerite's 'spiced date loaf' (plus I had apples to use up). But Delia omitted to use any spice, so I co-opted the 2 teaspoons of mixed spice from Marguerite's recipe, and I think the two combined was perfect - rich moist fruit with a lovely spicy aroma.

Cake number 4: Ginger Cake (from Levi Roots Caribbean Food Made Easy, my latest acquisition)

At this point I admit my domestic goddess facade was beginning to slip, and I certainly wasn't in the mood for weighing out treacle - a bit of an annoying recipe direction as treacle is thick and sticky and rather tricky to transport from tin to scales to saucepan. Tablespoon measurements would have been better...

Melting together treacle, sugar, butter:

Mixing in the flour, powdered ginger and chopped stem ginger (resisting the urge to eat chunks of it straight from the jar):

Looking very brown and treacly....

With lime icing:

And the cake sale....