Back to life

Since last November when I found out I was pregnant, food blogging has been a bit of a challenge. I’ve got some classic pregnancy symptoms – in short, everything tastes “funny” and I go from craving things for about twenty-four hours to never wanting to see them again. Red meat and fish are off the menu, instead it’s as much fibre as possible. Thrilling. I’m occasionally making up for it with ice-cream, because I might as well bow to a few stereotypes.

While I may not be cooking as much, I am reading. Conran Octopus sent me a copy of Christine Manfield’s Tasting India which is utterly sumptuous. The recipes are nestled amongst National Geographic-worthy photographs from Anson Smart. These combined with the travellers’ tips at the back create a more fervent desire than ever to visit India. My odd tastes make me want to drink vats of her Ginger Lime Soda and for when I’m back to eating normally again, I’ve bookmarked about a dozen recipes. It’s a beautiful gift book, cook book and travel guide rolled into one.

Lucky me got to go to lovely Leluu’s Vietnamese Cookery Class just after Christmas. Although it wasn’t on the menu that day, one of my main staples now is her Hot and Sour soup. It’s perfectly balanced like all her recipes and it makes prawns palatable for me at the moment – so thankful for it!

Some of you may have twigged that there’s something afoot this May. I’m very happy to say that I’ll be cooking with the lovely Meemalee and Food Urchin for the shindig hereby known as Stir Wars taking place at Tsuru on the 5th of May.  Given that I’ll probably be lumbering about by then, I’ve asked the lovely Arianna Halshaw from Bittersweet Bakers to help me. We’ve been having hysterically good fun coming up with recipe ideas and I’m looking forward to making them, even though I won’t be there on the night to serve them – sob! You can buy tickets here and I recommend doing so early…

 

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Golden Biscuiteer Bunnies


I had an idea to make some biscuits to welcome in the Year of the Rabbit – well, mostly I just wanted to make biscuits.  Bake something. Partially because I find baking particularly conducive to ‘thinking time’ where my mind wanders off and it’s a great stress-busting exercise as well as being productive.  Not forgetting the fact I also have a ridiculously sweet tooth. However, baking generally tends to be easier, and less stressful, when you haven’t forgotten to buy eggs.

The Biscuiteers book came to the rescue with an eggless recipe for Treacle Spice Cookies which I tinkered with to make these golden bunnies.  I was so excited when I bought this book – not for the gloriously embellished slices of sugar themselves, more for the comprehensive range of base biscuit recipes (10 in total) because many doughs simply don’t hold up to rolling and cutting. The book itself is more of an artist’s primer in some ways with lots of technique and decoration ideas, and you’ll have to like sugar. Or pretty food. But as usual with Kyle Cathie, it’s beautifully photographed and designed.  It probably wouldn’t be the most used cook book on your shelf but hey, just take it down occasionally and look at the pictures.

Ingredients

  • 200g plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 25g Golden caster sugar
  • 25g light brown sugar
  • 100g butter, unsalted (not softened)
  • hefty pinch of sea salt
  • 50g Golden Syrup

Method

  1. Sift flour, baking powder and spices together and then mix in the sugars.
  2. Rub the butter in with your fingers as if you were making scone, until it’s like breadcrumbs.
  3. Make a well in the centre of the incorporated mixture and add in the Golden Syrup and combine to an evenly-coloured dough.
  4. Divide into two pieces, shape as discs and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 170c/350F/Gas Mark 4 when the dough is chilling, then cook for 14-18 minutes.

These keep remarkably well. I was going to make a lemon cream filling – but none of them survived long enough to be sandwiched.

The Biscuiteers Book of Iced Biscuits by Harriet Hastings and Sarah Moore is published by Kyle Cathie, ISBN 978 1 85626 941 4.

Banana Butterscotch Muffins

I’m very proud to have a recipe in the new Green & Black’s book.  Micah asked me a couple of times for a contribution and I pretended not to hear him as I had absolutely no idea what to make. Eventually I caved and asked was there anything he was missing and after thinking for a couple of minutes, replied “Give me a muffin recipe”.

It was only afterward that I discovered that he’s not exactly a huge fan of the muffin, as describes in the intro to this recipe in the book – though he understands that others feel differently. I tried a number of variations which I presented to him, and the one below was my absolute favourite, they’re light and moist.

Banana Butterscotch Muffins

  • 250g wholemeal flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 175 g caster sugar
  • 150g butterscotch chocolate or Mini Daim bars, chopped
  • 250ml whole milk
  • 90ml vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 medium, black-ripe banana
  1. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 6/200.
  2. Mix the dry ingredients together.
  3. Mix the wet ingredients together (I classify banana as ‘wet’).
  4. Combine but don’t overmix. Line a twelve space muffin tin with paper cases, and divide the mixture between them.
  5. Cook for 20 minutes.
Muffins are great because they keep well, homemade ones are so infinitely superior to commercially produced ones, and if you add in some dried fruit and use wholemeal flour, you can almost kid yourself that they’re entirely healthy.
I then discovered that Micah loathes bananas with a passion. Needless to say, this isn’t the recipe which features in the book! Instead it’s a more sophisticated affair, dark chocolate and cardamom.  Ultimate is packed full of gorgeous concoctions, including Bittersweet Bakers‘ amazing Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls and lots of recipes which Micah himself perfected – up til the wee hours of the morning sometimes. It’s been a delight to be involved in the smallest way, and for the full scoop on the launch party, check out Catty’s account over on the Catty Life!
“Ultimate”, edited by Micah Carr-Hill is published by Kyle Cathie, RRP £16.99

Review: Hix Chop & Oyster House by Mark Hix

It’s always a good sign when you’ve had a recipe book for approximately three weeks and it already looks like it’s been handed down through the generations. My copy of Hix Oyster & Chop House by Mark Hix bears the grease stains from roast chicken, splatters of stock from chicken soup and there’s a blob of garlic sauce on page 133.

The first impression that I had after flicking through the book was “I really should take a walk down to the butcher’s.” The Meat chapter is a cut-by-cut guide, with pictures (in fact he even suggests, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, bringing the book to the shops so that you can point out what you want if it’s on display) with a description of how they cook it at the restaurant, weights, and a little history. I probably should have read what he said about hanger (or l’onglet) a little more carefully before heading off to the Ginger Pig – while the flavour is tremendous, it’s a slightly chewier cut than most and benefits from being sliced before serving.  I realised afterwards that’s always how I’ve had it in restaurants. Still tasted good.

The first recipe I made was for the seasonal chicken soup.  We probably roast a chicken once a week in our house and while I occasionally freeze the carcasses until I’m ready to make a huge batch of stock I might also make soup.  Often more of a broth than a soup to be honest. The difference with the Hix recipe, essentially, it that it uses a roux of flour and butter into which you gradually ladle the stock and simmer for another 30 minutes. Sauté some mushrooms, add some fresh herbs – and you have a dish fit for kings, frankly. Velvet texture and sublime flavour, it’s become an utter staple for us. The Hix recipe does suggest using whole chicken pieces but I find it works fine with the remainders of the roast bird, or with thighs or wings.

With plain old available-in-Waitrose-now rather than new season garlic, we also made the sublime Baked New Season Garlic Sauce. The leftover went in to the following night’s soup to make it even creamier and pungent because otherwise I was tempted to eat it with a spoon. Next up is going to Monkfish Cheek and Fennel Pie and I’m already looking forward to it.

The book is full of simple classics and an enthusiasm for seasonal, local produce that’s admirable. Not everything makes the cut around here, but Hix Chop & Oyster House has earned its place on the bookshelf.

Thank you to Quadrille for sending me a review copy. Hix Oyster & Chop House is available from Amazon, rrp £25.00