Archive for July, 2007

A RECIPE: Cheese & walnut gougeres

This weekend my parents are throwing their third annual office party and for the third year in a row I’m heading over to Kentucky for an evening of unpaid but highly appreciated work. It’s really a simple affair- buffet style, and my expertise isn’t at all necessary but my mother would rather not deal with the stress of cooking and my father likes to claim that he’s flown in his private Chef. The fact that I’m not a chef and never have been is ignored and for one evening a year I’m The London (now New York) Chef. This year I will be accompanied my very own tried and tested wine waiter- my boyfriend. For a ‘wears-a-suit-to-work’ kind of guy- he’s extraordinarily good at playing the more subordinate and helping role of a bar waiter. So, now my father can proudly boast he’s flying in his Chef and Bar tender.

The problem is- seeing as I’m always cooking other peoples’ recipes, I tend to get carried away with the menu. If you’ve read any of my previous posts and recipes then you’ll know that I’m a simple cook, though I do like to add a few extra ingredients here and there. In other words, you wouldn’t find me bringing plain hot dogs and buns to a BBQ. I sent the proposed menu to my mother weeks ago:
Slow cooked leg of lamb, feta and herb salad, cod poached in olive oil with gremolata, roasted garlic and tomato tart…

“Sounds delicious. We’ll use salmon and put it on the grill”, my mother said.

“What’s lamb?”, asked my father’s secretary.

Being fed-up with making burgers at work all summer, I pleaded to my mother to allow me some creative liscence and go with the lamb

“Oh, don’t worry- it tastes a lot like beef when it’s slow cooked” my mother replied.

Organic leg of lamb cooked for seven hours in stock and wine at a low simmer until it peals off the bone in tender strands of succulence- and you want to say it’s BEEF!

Dessert is another headache altogether. This crowd loves desserts, which tend to be the main event and no matter how many I make the the FHB (Family Hold Back) rule always comes into effect. I make proper puddings (which are not as an American thinks- custards thickened with corn flour- or should I say corn starch?). Convincing the crowd isn’t hard- explaining what it is can be! Last year I made a summer pudding, hand picked berries and all. It was stared at a little ominously, until I cut into its glistening bread casing and the fruit came tumbling out. I had to called my peach and raspberry crumble a cobbler but the chocolate éclairs were devoured instantly and I was thanked very much for making such wonderful “cream puffs”. But how can I complain? They all enjoy my food and even if the lambs not quite tender enough for me, or my meringue crisp enough- I know that I will get huge compliments. What’s in a name anyway?
Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Cheese & walnut gougeres’

A Match Made in Heaven & Ricotta and Basil Gnocchi

Heston Bluementhal’s Michelin Starred UK restaurant: ‘The Fat Duck‘ relies on the concept of imagination and experimentation. His famous ‘scrambled egg and bacon ice cream’ and ‘snail porridge’ have people waiting three months in order to pay a fortune for a taste of his quirky combinations. Though this might be extreme, across the globe there are many food pairings that baffle even the most cosmopolitan palate- peanut butter and jelly. Like so many of my fellow Brits I ask the question- why?

According to the National Peanut Board nine out of ten American households have a jar in their cupboard and the average American consumes six pounds a year. It goes without saying that PB&J sandwiches are the most popular method of consumption; but this sweet on sweet alliance has yet to cross the pond.

In the UK peanut butter holds a less than prominent position on the supermarket shelves and most people I know over there either don’t own a jar or have one stuck to a shelf way in the back that was probably bought for me when I last visited. What you will find very easily in an English supermarket is Marmite. For those who don’t know, Marmite is deliciously salty, resembles molasses in texture and is full of the vitamin B’s. In the UK, 370,000 tons of Marmite is consumed each year- and that’s a heck of a lot, considering you only need a tiny bit at a time. Having lived in both countries, I finally came round to the idea of Peanut butter- though I’m the only one in my family who eats it.

In my house, we ate Marmite. Marmite and butter on toast to be precise. As I grew up and became more daring in my culinary endeavours I began pairing it with honey, cheese- mainly cheddar and then apples (which my sister taught me) the started using it to add flavour to Bolognese sauce. I even learnt as an assistant Food Stylist how to use it to paint a roast chicken for an even colour. Finally, twenty-four years into my transatlantic life and I have discovered the perfect match for Marmite and it was there all along- natural crunchy peanut butter. Don’t buy the kinds with the sugar just buy all natural and spread them both together- on a bagel, or a rice cake, or just do as I do (much to my boyfriends disgust) and lick them off the spoon in harmonious unison.

I have found that on the whole Americans’ do not like the idea of marmite- which perhaps has something to do with the fact that its found in the baking aisle next to powdered yeast (if it’s sold there at all). “Yeast extract? ughhh!” my colleague gasped as I pronounced my loyalty. She pulled a face similar to that of a baby who isn’t sure about the taste of its carrot puree and is thinking about whether or not they ought to cry about it. And there I was thinking that my enthusiasm would be enough to tempt her. This attitude is such a far cry away from England.

There is a first class restaurant in London called “The Providores” that serves a fabulous brunch menu. When I was at cooking school the Head Chef, Peter Gordon, came to do a demonstration and he told my class that the best seller on his fusion brunch menu was ‘soft boiled eggs with Vegemite (Ozzy version of Marmite) soldiers!’ So, if us Brits are so keen on this salty taste- why aren’t Americans?

Lets face it, we ALL, yes that’s right every single one of us has a food habit- or two that makes the rest cringe. My sister eats cottage cheese with everything, my boyfriend mashes up every michelin starred meal I cook for him(!) with ketchup, my dad likes his crusty left-uncovered-in-the-fridge-cheese with marmalade on cold toast, my mum spreads her bagels with butter, cream cheese and jam (and no she’s not even slightly overweight) and my brother is one of the pickiest eaters alive- but I bet he eats something wacky.

The Fat Duck are currently recruiting staff for its ‘experimental kitchen’ and if people are queuing up for three months in order to try ‘salmon poached in liquorice’ then peanut butter and Marmite might not be so far off the next big thing- lets just hope it’s not turned into ice cream.

Ricotta and Basil Gnocchi

I think this is a pretty safe combination- but for those daring souls, try adding different herbs or even some anchovies to your sauce. I had this recipe published in Woman and Home magazine in March 2007.

Serves 4

500g/1 lb 2 oz ricotta cheese
1 egg yolk
200g/7 oz plain flour, plus extra
2 tbsp grated fresh parmesan
5 tbsp chopped fresh basil
drizzle of olive oil
200g/7 oz cherry tomatoes, halved
1 garlic clove, diced
50g/2oz black pitted olives (optional)
300ml/ 1/2 pint passata
3 tbsp sea salt
drizzle of oil and Parmsan shavings to serve

1/ Beat together the ricotta and egg yolk, then add three-quarters of the flour, the Parmesan and 4 tbsp of the basil and fold together to make a soft but not sticky dough. Add more flour as necessary and season well.

2/ Flour your hands and roll the gnocchi into logs 2.5cm wide and let chill on floured parchement for 30 mintues.

3/ Drizzle a little oil into a non-stick frying pan and toss in the tomatoes, garlic and olives(if using), mixing together for 5 minutes before addig the passata for 2 minutes, to heat through. Stir through the remaining basil and season to taste.

4/ Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add the sea salt. Cut the gnocchi into 1 inch logs and drop one at a time into the boiling water. Cook until the gnocchi float to the surface (about 2-3 minutes) then drain and serve immediately with the tomato sauce spooned on top and the parmesan.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat & Frozen Raspberry Mojitos

It’s been hot in New York City. So hot, in fact that I’ve discovered a whole new meaning to the word: ’sweaty’. And despite my dramatic nature, I never thought that I would in all seriousness ever utter aloud the words “I’m melting, melting” but last week I would have howled it to the moon had it promised me relief. I’m helpfully informed that this is kind of heat is “nothing” and if I hear one more person say “wait until it gets really hot” I might just pack my bags and fly back to rainy old London where I’ve been told there might not be a summer at all this year!

For those of you who live in or have been to London and have travelled on the tube, at rush hour, during a heat wave, on a train that proceeded to stall between stations, without explanation, right up until the to the point that you thought you might not get out alive- then you can commiserate with me.

But the thing that really got to me, I mean really got my blood simmering- was not the damp forehead or the clammy hands or even the realisation that I was actually very capable of producing impressively large sweat stains. It was the fact that I lost my appetite all together. THAT hasn’t happened to me since I was hospitalized with a meningitis scare when I was eight years old! I’m always able to eat- it’s something that never crosses my mind- the fact that I might be capable of sitting in front of a big sloppy plate of beefy lasagne topped with melted buffalo mozzarella and not want to tuck in- let alone have a little taste. Losing my appetite was like coming to the realization that there are an awful lot of hours in a day. Was this what the rest of my summer was going to be- day after day of being unable to put anything other than a straw in my mouth?

There wasn’t air conditioning in our airless, muggy apartment. My boyfried and I, actually believed like true tight-lipped Brits that we were tough enough to survive a New York summer without it. As confident as Red Coats in the Revolutionary War- we would defeat and conquer the Yanks! Or not….

In part, I blame him for my suffering of sleepless nights and food repulsion. “It doesn’t bother me”, he challenged, wading in a sea of his own perspiration. His father had put the idea into his head that if we put frozen ice packs underneath our pillows at night then our heads would stay cool- thus making our bodies cooler. If you decide to try this at home then I would suggest not to use hot pink coloured gel packs. On the verge of heat exhaustion, and anger exhaustion having seen the vibrant colour of our newly dyed sheets, I wasn’t in the mood to be challenged. I dragged myself up the street and handed over some damp notes in exchange for an air conditioning unit. The apartment is now blissfully cool, along with my temper and most importantly- because my life/this blog was on the line- I want food again. I’m loving each costly and bad-for-the-environment minute of my new buddy, air-con, and I think I’ll survive the rest of this summer just fine- even when it does get “really hot”.


Frozen Raspberry Mojitos

Makes about 12 (depending on glass size)

I love mojitos and I get really frustrated when I’m served a bad one. I find them kind of messy to make though so decided to make up mint syrup in advance, which can be kept in the fridge or freezer and if you’re really organised you can make lime juice ice cubes, allowing 3 tbsp juice per cube. No more muddling the mint and no more shaking in the sugar. The Raspberries are optional but a very good addition. If your glasses are big then make sure you taste before you add too much soda water.

For the mint syrup:
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
2 cups worth of picked mint leaves

For the drink:
lime juice (3 tbsp per glass)
white rum (1 generous shot per glass)
seltzer water, to top off (about 50-75ml per glass)
ice cubes
frozen raspberries, crushed (about 6 per glass), optional

1/ Put the sugar and water in a saucepan and over a low heat, allow the sugar to melt, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Slowly bring up to the boil and let boil for 1 minute. Turn off the heat and add the mint leaves. Allow to sit for 30 minutes, before straining. (if you like the mint bits, feel free to leave in but make sure you have a toothpick handy to clean up your teeth after.)

2/ For each mojito glass, fill with ice cubes. Add a very generous shot of white rum followed by 3 tbsp mint syrup and 3 tbsp lime juice (or one lime ice cube). If you are adding the crushed raspberries, add at this stage and mix together.

3/ Top with a touch of seltzer water and check for taste. (If you are using the lime ice cubes you will need to allow this to melt before tasting.) Garnish with mint and serve.

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