Archive for January, 2007

Winter outside, summer inside

America is a country of extremes- they just don’t do things by half, it’s all or nothing. Portion sizes are huge. When you order a muffin you’ll get a muffin large enough to feed your entire family, and some. At an event I went to last summer they weren’t selling meagre chicken drumsticks but deep fried turkey legs- the length of my arm and the circumference of my thigh. I was told a taste of one of these cave-man-like delicacies makes a person weak at the knees. What I didn’t ask was whether the knee weakness was due to the clogged arteries preventing blood flow to the brain or because they tasted so unbelievably good. I’m going to hope that it’s the latter but assume that it’s the former. But it’s not just size that is extreme or obscene (you decide) that I’m thinking about. Right now, as I’m sitting in my apartment in a sleeveless tee shirt and shorts with the widows open in the middle of January I’m thinking about extreme temperatures. It’s freezing outside. Apparently it’s going to get even colder and this is just the effect of global warming. But meanwhile I’m sitting in my sauna/apartment desperate for some cooler air so that for just once I might be able to go to bed and snuggle-up under my duvet without perspiring like the man controlling the turkey fryer. I was expecting to feel this kind of heat in the summer- but this included getting a tan. I shouldn’t complain, as I don’t pay the heating bills- it’s all controlled by the landlord. But I know that come the heat of the summer I’ll be sat inside in my sweats and fleece- lined coat with the windows open trying to get warm. It just doesn’t make sense to me. It makes deciding what to cook for dinner a challenge. Outside I want a hot bowl of soup, warming and filling. When I get home I want salad finished by cooling bowl of ice cream. This soup is winter warming but with the addition of cooling avocado and tomatoes on top it feels more summery. If the tomatoes are really poor, then use whole tinned, strained from their juices.

Spinach bean and chorizo soup
The Italians cook something similar to this called Ribolata- but I’m not Italian, nor am I an expert in Italian cuisine, so I’m sure that you’ll find this very different to anything you’re used to. This serves 6-8 depending on how accustomed you are to American portions.

100g/4 oz chorizo, chopped
1 large onion, diced
3 large carrots, diced
3 celery sticks, diced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
8 ripe tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and chopped
450g/1 lb spinach, washed and tough stalks removed, chopped
1.3 litres chicken stock (good quality is better)
2 x 400g tins cannelloni beans
½ loaf of stale ciabatta, torn into 1inch chunks
8 crispy slices of proscuitto, to serve I find it easiest to do this between sheets of paper towel in the microwave)
1 avocado, diced, to serve
2 tomatoes, diced, to serve

1 In a large pot, fry the chorizo until crispy, remove from the pan, leaving most of the fat (this has a lot of flavour in it so use in place of oil). Slowly fry the onion, carrots and celery in the pot, covered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes and garlic, cover and cook for a further 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2 Add the spinach, stock and beans, bring up to the boil and let gently simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Add the chorizo back into the pan along with the ciabatta and cook to heat through. Serve in large bowls topped with the crispy proscuitto, diced avocado and tomatoes.

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A RECIPE: Fifth Avenue Shortbread

Fifth Avenue Shortbread

There is no questioning the fact that shopping in New York is great. But, I visited Saks fifth avenue yesterday- which I found to be more of a museum than a place that one would go to buy a pair of jeans. I was given a gift certificate there for Christmas- a mixed blessing if you ask me as there is very little to buy there under a couple hundred bucks (not to be ungrateful). It’s definitely not my kind of store but I worked my way round hoping that maybe there was an amazing food department hidden somewhere- like Harvey Nichols, Selfridges or even Harrods where I could blow my credit on a beautiful hunk of cheese or . But, alas, no there is no food department ( or not that I could find). Just floor after floor of expensive clothes and people spraying you perfume. I’m a cook, so I spend my life stinking of garlic with flour hand prints on my backside-I definitely don’t belong in this kind of place let alone these kind of clothes. I left empty-handed with the idea that when my more glamerous sister comes to stay she might be able to guide me through the maze of luxury that is Saks. And in the meantime, I’m going to make my favourite Millionnaires shortbread- renamed ‘Fifth Avenue Shortbread’ because I think it’s good enough to be sold at Saks.

Fifth Avenue Shortbread

Fifth Avenue Shortbread

This is my all-time favourite treat. The chocolate you use here is very important, so buy as expensive as you can afford. I love Green & Blacks- a mix of milk and dark is beautiful.
ps. A flour print on you backside is essential to your success in making these.

For the base:
175g/6oz butter
75g/3 oz caster sugar
175g/6 oz plain flour
75g/3 oz corn flour

For the middle: ( you can double this if you like a thick caramel layer)
100g/4 oz butter
2 tbsp golden syrup or maple syrup
1/2 tin condensed milk

For the chocolate layer:
200/7 oz Green & blacks milk and/or dark chocolate

1 20cm x 30cm baking tin

1 Heat the oven to 180C/Gas 4/350F. Beat the butter until soft, then beat in the sugar. Add the flour and cornflour and mix until it comes together into a ball. Line the base of the tin evenly and prick all over with a fork. Bake in the oven for 20-30 mins or until lightly golden on top. Allow to cool.

2 Once cool, melt the butter in a small saucepan, then whisk in the syrup and condensed milk until combined. Stir over a gentle heat, constantly allowing to come up to a gentle boil (do not allow to burn!) and allow to gently simmer until it thickens and turns a golden colour (this will take at least 5 minutes). Pour over the cooled base and allow to set.

3 Once the caramel has set, break the chocolate into pieces in a bowl. Place a small saucepan with 2 cm of water onto boil, once boiling, place the bowl of chocolate over the water (make sure the base of the bowl isn’t touching the water) then turn the heat off and allow the chocolate to melt slowly, stirring occasionally with a spoon. Once melted, pour over the caramel layer, spread evenly and allow to set in the fridge. Cut into squares and feel better than a million dollars as you sink your teeth in.

A RECIPE: Chocolate Hobnobs

Chocolate Hobnobs

American football was not something that I imagined myself forming an addiction to. For starters, it’s not food and my addictions tend to be purely taste focused. More than that though- it’s a game that takes over three hours to complete(and I’m not one for sitting still), a game that has more commercials than play-time, and a game where the boys wear helmets so you can’t pick out the cute ones! But, my imaginations tend not to dictate my life and thus I have found myself donning an Eagles shirt each weekend and spending each working week looking forward to the next game day. And, yes, I should perhaps be supporting the New York Giants- but that’s a story for another day and another kind of blog.

So, what is it about American football which has drawn me in with remarkably very little kicking and screaming? I think it all comes down to the food- which happens to be just as important as the game and that it’s a sociable affair. Ah, so that’s why it fits into my addiction criteria! The only time a sport brings people together in the UK is football during the World Cup- and as we know that only happens every four years! Americans’ know better than anyone how to make a sporting event into an occasion and I can’t recommend it enough.

Yesterday, I sat in a room filled with ten fabulous people, surrounded by mountains of food (to begin with there was mountains anyway)and we cheered, ooed and ahhhed and held our full-bellies- and it was brilliant! Soon enough- the commercials don’t seem so bad because it provides time for some chat and munching and it doesn’t matter that you can’t see the players faces because you can be less biased about who you like (plus you can always use your imagination!).
Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Chocolate Hobnobs’

First Impressions and for the love of a bagel….

New York- Week One

Before I can do anything else I need to sink my teeth into a bagel- not just any old freezer packed bagel but the real thing (huge rounds of puffy chewy dough, sliced in half and smothered in rich fattening-but totally satisfying cream cheese). In London, citizens are royally robbed of the fundamental human right to good bagels. They just don’t exist. Sure, you can head down to brick lane where they churn them out 24 hours a day- but sorry Bagel Bakery, they just don’t cut it.

So, in London, I had to resort to making them myself- which is no mean feat. It’s a long (albeit delightful) process but one that cannot be repeated on a daily basis if one is to also carry out the unfortunate process of making a living. Much as I would often rather chose the former, my landlord would have had me evicted if I had passed up paying the rent to making bagels- and thus my bagel- making days were limited.

But now, I am in the land of bagels: America, ‘land of the free and the home of the best bagels in the world’. You can’t go ten blocks without passing a store wholly devoted to churning out bagels in all their delicious circular glory. I could polish off a bagel everyday- and whilst they surround me here, I think I just may.

So, why are they so darn delectably good? I think firstly because they are consumed daily by a large number of people. There’s the demand for them; which means the quality is good. In the UK, there’s the vicious cycle of a person buying a bagel (which doesn’t come cheap)- being disappointed- not buying them again- so they aren’t produced any better. It comes down to freshness and whilst over here they are baking batches throughout the day because there is the demand- that just doesn’t happen in the UK. Secondly though and perhaps most importantly, they come from tradition here- whereas in the UK people might just manage to describe a bagel as: a roll with a hole; over here I think people think: a bagel is a bagel you can eat them anytime of the day- who doesn’t know what it is?

However, for those who have not yet discovered the simple pleasures of the bagel- fear not for you can still make them from home. I, on the other hand, am handing in my bagel making days and leaving it to the hands of the true masters. Plus, now I’m going to be occupied with the quest to find the best bagel shop in the city.

Continue reading ‘First Impressions and for the love of a bagel….’


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