Archive for August, 2007

A Pickle with Okra & Summer Roasted Vegetables

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If I were to be stuck on a desert island with one item of food, it would not be okra. If I were to be stuck on a desert island with a thousand items of food, okra would still not be on my list. In fact, if I were stuck on a desert island, with only okra and the beach to eat, I would probably spend my first deserted week developing recipes for sand cakes. Continue reading ‘A Pickle with Okra & Summer Roasted Vegetables’

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So New York and So British Scones

“You’re so New York!” my sister blurted out to me as we chatted away on the phone, the other day.

“What?!” I replied, with some hostility.

“You sound SO New York, now” she guffawed down the phone, with a level of obnoxiousness that only a sibling can deliver. Continue reading ‘So New York and So British Scones’

The Break-up and Feta Cheese, Cucumber and Tomato Herb Salad

After years of fighting cravings, having six on days that were most stressful and using it to avoid hitting the afternoon biscuit tin, I’ve finally given it up. I’ve read so much about how bad it is to put into your body, that it’s awful for your teeth and metabolism not to mention the way it makes you feel or the amounts of caffeine it contains. Diet Coke- see ya. I went cold turkey on its multibillion-dollar label three months ago and I’m still going strong.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Last year when my boyfriend gave it up I was truly in awe. Diet Coke was my nicotine, my pick-me-up, my sweet tooth satisfier. Sadly, there’s no such thing as a Diet Coke patch yet- I was going to have to do this on my own. My decision to give it up came out of reading far too much bad health press on it, the realisation of how much money I was spending each day on it and it was a challenge- and I always welcome a challenge.

Giving it up has been like a messy break-up. You know that the relationship is bad for you and finally one day you look at yourself in the mirror and think ‘I’m better than this’ and end it. For the first few days you mope around, you keep seeing them in the street; you struggle not having them in your life. Maybe you eat a little more chocolate and ice cream than usual. In week two of the break-up you discover a new confidence in yourself- you’re ready to go out on the rebound and try other men or in this case drinks. You get the inappropriate ones out of your system (the wines and cocktails) that will make the ex jealous. Then in week three you fight with your best friend who invited them to your BBQ. Week four brings on another break down and after one to many, you call on your ex in a desperate state, wanting them back in your life. You feel momentarily satisfied by their attention and familiarity- promises to change and to be better for you are made. But after a week of relationship relapsing you know why you ended it in the first place and you kick them out of you life for good. You stop being jealous when you see them in the hands of another and you stop fretting that you might run into them in the grocery store, you stop craving them, you stop needing them- you’re pleased they’re out of your life.

I wanted the poison out of my body but how was I going to cope without my afternoon sugar hit? I was concerned that in desperation I might start robbing children outside work for their sweets. As it turned out, it was Diet Coke that was the catalyst causing my sweet tooth to spiral out of control into an endless whirlwind of sweet desire. I’m beginning to see why America is blamed for its world contribution to pudge. I’m drinking more water, so my skin is clearer from the lack of sugar and my stomach is flatter from the lack of excess carbonation.

Some readers are probably thinking- what’s wrong with calorie-free-90% -water-Diet Coke? The answer is, I’m not sure that there really is any absolute evidence but it’s linked with cancer, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol and tooth rot, excess wind (from both directions)- and I sit way too comfortably on the fence to want to take risks like that anymore. And, don’t be fooled by the new Diet Coke Plus- it’s full of water soluble vitamins, which means you’ll just flush them away down the toilet.

Like any break-up, getting over it takes time, and they always stay at the back of your mind. But I have a new beverage in my life now, it’s pure and clear and makes my skin glow. So long Diet Coke- sparkling water, anyone?

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Feta cheese, cucumber and tomato herb salad

This salad is perfect for summer. It’s cool and refreshing, crunchy and soft and full of flavour. I cooked it at a party a couple of weekends and was asked for the recipe- so here it is. If you don’t have the exact herbs just use extra of the other two.

Serves 4 as a side dish

2 tomatoes (average size), seeded and diced
200g/7 oz feta cheese, crumbled
½ small red onion, diced (or 2 diced spring onions/scallions)
2 tbsp finely chopped dill
2 tbsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tbsp finely chopped mint
1 cucumber, seeded and cut into marble sized cubes
1 tbsp olive oil (or to taste)

1/ Have all of your ingredients chopped and mix together everything but the cucumber and oil. Up to an hour before serving, add the cucumber and oil and season to taste. If you mix together too early, the cucumber will release too much liquid.

The proof is in the pudding and Pistachio Meringue Roulade

There are certain weather considerations that a cook in England does not need to take into account (that is to say without the ever noticeable effects of climate change). It’s rarely ever hot, it’s rarely ever humid and it rarely gets that cold. Last weekend I went home to Kentucky, to cook for my parents’ office party and found that I was battling with heat and humidity- that I’d never really had to think about before (except in terms of my own body temperature and its effects on my appetite). I finally understood why a large number of people render baking recipes as flawed. I’ve never thought of baking as being temperamental, but this weekend I learnt baking is rather like a keeping a plant. Give it unsavoury conditions and it will die a disagreeable death.

Lesson one. Making meringue roulade in 100% humidity is like throwing bread cubes into a pond and expecting croutons. Of course, I hadn’t thought about this before I had separated my eggs, whisked the whites, added the sugar, folded through pistachio nuts, lined the baking sheet and placed it in the oven. Why would I?
The result, of course, was a slab of marshmallow. I had wanted a crisp outside and a chewy inside- not a squidgy and gelatinous mess. Perfectionist, that I am, I started over. I baked the meringue at a lower temperature for longer and got out the dehumidifier. It was fine, but I wasn’t going to win an award in sugar craft.

Lesson two. Rolling pastry in heat and humidity is impossible. Pastry needs a cool environment and my parents’ air conditioning had given up fighting the humidity and may as well have been on holiday, drinking a cocktail on a sun lounger for all the good that it was doing. In other words, I would have had just as much success rolling the pastry, in summer, on the 96th street subway platform. Note to all cooks- in kitchen designing never place an oven underneath your main work surface, unless of course you plan to use it solely for warming you backside. I found myself wishing that I had put homemade bread on the menu instead.

I read that the phrase “the proof is in the pudding” is shortened from it’s original form, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” and this was definitely the case on this evening. Despite, my lousy day as a pastry chef, the food all turned out to great acclaim, even if it was not worthy of being in front of the usual cameras. The desserts: pistachio meringue roulade, chocolate bread and butter pudding and plum crumble were polished off and recipes were requested. The next day, waiting for a delayed plane at Cincinnati airport, I got out my Tupperware pot of chocolate bread and butter pudding and the seventh Harry Potter book- airport delays have never been so sweet.

Pistachio Meringue Roulade with berries and cream

Meringue roulade is baked in a Swiss roll tin (or to Americans’ a sheet tray with a small lip). It’s baked at a higher temperature than normal meringue and takes about 15-20 minutes for 4-5 egg whites. If you want to make a simple but impressive dessert, then this is it. A good rule of thumb: for each egg white you need 50g/2oz sugar. This is the kind of dessert that you will want to eat for breakfast the following day- and my mother will back me on this one! If you are using an English Swiss roll tin, cut the eggs to 4, the sugar to 225g/8oz and the nuts to 175g/6oz.

5 egg whites
280g/10oz caster sugar
200g/7oz Pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
300mls whipping cream
2 punnets of raspberries (about 200g/7 oz)
½ pint blueberries (about 140g/5oz)

1/ Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5. Line a 10 by 15 inch (about 25 x 40 cm) tin with baking parchment and spray lightly with cooking spray or brush lightly with oil.

2/ In a large clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with electric beaters until stiff peaks form when you pull out the beaters. Keeping the beaters on medium-high speed, begin adding the sugar, a little at a time, continuing to beat until the whites thicken, are glossy and continue to maintain stiff peaks.

3/ Gently fold through ½ of the pistachio nuts. Spread evenly into the lined tin with a spatula and sprinkle over the remaining nuts. Place into the oven for 20 minutes, or until set and crisp on top but has not coloured.

4/ Lay out a large piece of parchment paper (slightly bigger than meringue tin) on the counter and turn out the meringue. Let sit for a few minutes then, using the parchment roll up the meringue and allow it to cool in this way.

5/ Whisk the cream to soft peaks, and then fold through the berries. Unroll the meringue and spread the cream evenly over the inside. Roll up again, this time without the parchment. Slice to serve.


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