Archive for February, 2007

A RECIPE: Cottage Pie

Everyone will tell you that the nightlife in New York is magnificent. You can sip cocktails in Waterford martini glasses overlooking the cities spectacular skyline or knock-back bottled beers in low key bars pumping out classic nineties hits until four in the morning. But what I miss is sitting in a good old English pub. Its low ceilings, wooden door-frames outdated patterned carpets, roaring fireplaces and its regulars- old chaps with drooping jowls and glazed eyes; propping up the bar with cigarettes and lager held between their puffy palms. With its many Irish immigrants in New York there are Irish ‘pubs’ all over Manhatten but having been to Ireland I can say quite credibly that they are not remotely similar to Irish pubs, which are like English pubs (with a few more drunk people). I was only 14 at the time- but the Irish don’t seem to bother with age restrictions and I seem to recall doing my first pub crawl there- snagging a coaster from each pub as proof of my first brush with law-breaking. Sure, the outsides look traditional but inside American ‘Irish’ pubs tend to have neon-lit signs saying ‘beer’, loud pop music and have a tendency to be overburdened with frat boys playing beer pong. They are commonly known as Dive bars meaning (and I think quite aptly) “a dirty or shabby disreputable bar”. Do Americans’ of Irish decent, who are so proud of their heritage really believe that this is what British pubs are like?

Décor aside, for most Ex-pats I’m sure that it’s the British brews that they yearn most longingly for but as a (shock, horror!) non-beer drinker and seeing as this is after all a food blog- yes you guessed it, it’s the pub grub that I miss the most! Grub meaning food and not dirty floors or faces- for those, my friend, would be referred to as ‘grubby’. Lately I’ve found myself dreaming about creamy fish pies with buttery smooth mashed potatoes, steaming steak and ale pies that burn the roof of your mouth, comforting shepherds pies, cottage pies, game pies, crumbles and steamed puddings drenched in hot custard all after a long Sunday walk on an inevitably wet and dreary English day. Aahh, comfort eating at its finest and most deserving. That is what English food represents for me. Shepherds pie and bangers and mash are often seen on an American ‘Irish Pub’s’ menu but they are followed by Chicken wings, mozzarella sticks, nachos and 8oz bacon cheeseburgers. It’s like Indian restaurants serving steak and chips- why go to a restaurant to eat food that you normally eat? Why go to an Irish pub and eat wings? It’s not the actual chicken wings or the mozzarella sticks or the nachos or even the 8oz bacon cheeseburgers that I take offence to- it’s the fact that they are on an Irish pub menu. You don’t after all buy a BLT in a kosher deli.

To console myself, I’ve reverted to cooking a lot of British food recently- but I have to say without the low ceilings, outdated carpets, roaring fireplace and the regular old chaps propping up the bar chain smoking and drinking pints of lager- they just don’t quite taste the same. A bar is simply not a pub.

Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Cottage Pie’

A RECIPE: Chocolate chip cookies

When I attended school in Philadelphia, Valentine’s Day was a big deal. Everyone bought in candy and cookies and everyone received a card. This of course was because the school didn’t want a single child to feel left out- so if you had one secret admirer in the class then you’d never know as they had to give a card to everybody else too. I don’t rate Valentine’s Day as an important holiday and yet I do remember every almost every one better than I remember most Christmases and birthdays. That said, these memories are mostly not happy ones’ (it is after all a holiday which simply reminds us of how thoughtful or useless our other halves are or how desperately single/unloved we are).

I blame the reason for my undiagnosed secret obsession with Valentines Day on growing up in the States. The day is treated like a holiday over here- candy and cupcakes are sold by the tons; (cut into heart shapes and decorated in pink and red) and advertisers leap at the opportunity to make us feel bad about being alone or worse still being with someone uncaring, who doesn’t think to buy you an impressive diamond rock on this oh so special day. It angers me because I’m sucked in and I too want to make heart shaped cookies and have flowers sent to me by a secret or not-so-secret admirer.

When I went to boarding school in England it was hard to overlook the fact that their approach to Valentine’s Day was somewhat different. At school they actually allowed students to anonymously send turnips to people who they didn’t like! Turnips aside, in England the fun and secrecy of Valentine’s Day still exists where it has commercialised here. Thoughtful as it is to acknowledge everybody, I think I prefer the secrecy (so long as I’m not the one receiving turnips).

I’ve only ever indulged one secret admiree and because it was sealed with a giant heart-shaped cookie it was sort of a give-away that it was from me. I can’t guarantee that this cookie will bring you success (it definitely didn’t in my case) but it won’t be ignored. It’s delightfully chewy and awesomely chocolaty so make sure you REALLY like this person before you consider letting it out of your sight.

Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Chocolate chip cookies’

A RECIPE: Simply the best Chocolate Cake

What I’m learning about Americans’ is that they know what they want and ‘gosh darn it they’re gonna go out and get it’. They have far more guts and ambition than us polite conservative “oh, I’m terribly sorry, am I in your way” Brits. And I have to say-I’m a big fan. Of course there are areas in life where this aggression takes a less admirable stance but for the most part it cuts out all the time wasting crap and gets you straight to the point.

For one thing, it means there are no morning hold-ups in Starbucks with “umming” and “erring” about what kind of coffee to get and what kind of milk to top it off with. “Get me a grande non-fat, double shot mocha latte. Hold the cream”. Americans’, know what they want.

I’m the same with my attitude towards food. I know the end result that I want and if I don’t get it then I swear profusively, pout my lower lip and then keep at it until the recipe works the way that I want it to work. Baking books can be very guilty culprits of making something look amazing in the photos and then the home cooks end result is a disappointing mess that gets thrown in the bin. As a food stylist, I know why this is- and yes this makes me a guest at that guilty “it doesn’t look like the one in the picture” party.

So, to make up for the fact that I make a living out of deceiving novice cooks and avid bakers alike by wasting their time on sub par recipes I have here a chocolate cake recipe, which certainly isn’t a time waster. It’s just plain and simple as good as it gets- the whole nine yards without any pit stops. My mother bakes this cake and then has to freeze it after the first slice so that she doesn’t eat the whole thing. My approach is somewhat different but then restraint is not something I can make claim too. I know what I want and gosh darn it I’m gonna go out and get it.


Simply the best chocolate cake
This cake is big and rich and if you’re into sharing then it can feed 20 people. The ingredients need to be of the best quality- there’s no messing around with this cake.

Equipment you will need:
3 large bowls.
Electric beaters
2 deep 8” (20cm) cake tins greased and lined with parchment paper

For the cake
400g plain flour
250g caster sugar
100g light brown sugar or muscovado
50g good quality cocoa powder (not drinking chocolate)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
150ml plain yogurt or sour cream
1 tbsp vanilla extract (not essense)
3 eggs
175g butter, melted
125ml sunflower or corn oil
300ml ice cold water

For the icing:
150g 70% cocoa chocolate
225g butter
250g icing sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract

1/ Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Mix the flour, sugars, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt together in a bowl.

2/ In a new bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream and vanilla until completely blended

3/ In a new bowl, beat the melted butter and oil together with your electric beaters, then add the chilled water and beat to combine.

4/ Add the dry ingredients to bowl number three all at once and beat with your electric beaters on a low speed.

5/ Add the egg mixture and mix until everything is blended.

6/ Fill your baking tins evenly, making a slight dip with the back of a spoon in the centre of each cake. Place into the oven on a central shelf and bake for 40-50 mins. Check after 40 minutes by lightly pressing your finger into the cake, if it bounces back and a toothpick comes out clean, then you are in business. If not, return the cake to the oven for 5 minutes and finish the washing up.

7/ Remove the cakes from the oven and leave in their tins for 10 minutes before turning out onto wire racks. Allow to cool completely, you’ve waited this long so don’t get impatient now.

8/ For the icing, melt the chocolate over a double boiler and set aside to cool slightly. Beat the butter until soft and creamy, then sieve over the icing sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Gently pour over the vanilla and chocolate and mix until smooth and glossy.

9/ To put together use a large serrated knife to even the rounded tops of the cakes. (You can reserve these scraps to snack on without anyone else knowing). With a palette knife spread a generous layering of icing one one half of your cake before placing the other cake on top, bottom side up (this will give a nice flat top). Then place remaining icing onto the top of the cake and spread evenly down the sides and over the top, using your knife to smooth the sides, and being careful to wipe your knife of any crumbs. Allow the icing to firm up in the fridge before serving.

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