Archive for February, 2009

CHEF’S TIP: Forgetting ingredients?

Annie Copps

Annie Copps from Yankee magazine is one of the funniest cooks out there and knows all too well how easy it is to get distracted when you’re having a good time at the stove. Don’t want to forget an ingredient? Annie recommends doing what we call in the biz mise-en-place. That’s a French way of saying pre-measure your ingredients before you start the recipe, dummy- but it sounds so much nicer in French. Now, if only I could be so enthusiastic about washing-up!

A RECIPE: Mum’s flapjacks

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flapjack3

My greatest pleasure when I receive compliments for my work in the kitchen is when people say that it’s better than their mothers. Usually said compliment is followed by a lengthy description about the effort and time that their mother had put into making the dish, the time of year it was made and a laborious list of ingredients that went into it. When somebody tells me that it’s not as good as their mothers, I have to be honest I find it difficult to look them in the eye, let alone listen to their tedious story about why their mothers rendition was so much better than mine even though it used boxed cake mix and margarine.

I find myself praising my mothers cooking little and often. Little because I (and I say this with the up most respect, mum) only remembe a handful of truly wonderful things and often because I speak of this handful of glorious dishes like a child mourning the loss of a pet guinea pig.  This goes to be said for most things I eat- if it’s fabulous I bank eternally in my taste memory. If it’s average I’ll forget it and if it’s poor it will on occasion come to haunt my dreams or worse yet a reminder will appear in the form of a bitter taste in my mouth.

Eternally banked in my good memory are the taste of my mothers flapjacks. I expect you want to know why these flapjacks are better than yours, your mothers and Nigellas? So, here comes my lengthy rant: My mum makes the best bloody flapjacks around- and those fortunate enough to try them fresh out of the over are forced into submission. I have school friends who still rave about ‘those squidgy oat things your mum made’. They are the only thing that I can consistently rely on seeing in my mothers depressingly sparse pantry. A reminder that there are no longer three hungry children in the house and yet the flapjacks live on.

What makes mum’s flapjacks so wonderfully special to me is they break all the rules. Firstly, most flapjacks set up hard but mum throws in an extra glug of golden syrup and spoonful of flour which leaves them crunchy on the edges, chewy in the middle and with a delicious sticky bottom. These are not tooth breakers but merely tooth rotters. Secondly, (and I’m sure you can imagine my shock and horror when I discovered this myself) mum uses margarine instead of butter. Yup, marg- that stuff we avoid like processed cheese for all its bad fats and oils. This is the second time in the past month that I’ve been confronted rather hostily by a recipe containing margarine, which I’ve been forced to admit tastes nicer than my own butter counterpart. But why, I hear you ask? In the flapjacks case, my mum just shrugged her shoulders, you can use butter if you like, she said but it makes them too rich. and my mum always used margarine because it’s cheaper. In these economic times who can complain about that? Of course, feel free to use butter- I won’t judge, not now that I have seen the virtues of margarine, but like I said they won’t be my mum’s amazing flapjacks made with butter. And if you’re still fretting about the bad fats popping out to haunt you just remind yourself that you’re much better off making something from scratch with margarine than buying something processed. I’m just saying.

I have pestered my mum for the recipe ever since I started this blog but being something that my mother could competently bake blindfolded it was difficult to get proper answers from her. A recipe that’s stored in somebody’s head is the hardest to get right. How much flour? Oh, one of my dessert spoonfuls, slightly mounded. How much golden syrup? Oh, about a third of the jar. This was no weigh your ingredients to match your eggs weight Victoria sponge. Last weekend, however, I made a trip home, and in a break from the never ending wedding planning to-do list I made it a priority for us to fit in a flapjack lesson- one on one; with a set of scales.

You can thank me later. In the meantime I suggest you buy yourself some margarine- it could be the best decision you’ve made all year.

Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Mum’s flapjacks’

A RECIPE: Roasted carrot salad with lemon truffle dressing

roasted carrot salad with lemon truffle dressing

The weather is playing tricks in New York. One day it’s minus zero and I’m going to bed snuggling my hot water bottle and the next day I’m on my way to work peeling off the hat, scarf and Eskimo coat. It’s very confusing for my wardrobe and even more so for my stomach. Planning for meals is already complicated enough with my twelve hour work days. Don doesn’t seem to mind if he’s eating beef stew and mashed potatoes in the middle of summer- but I find the weather really wreaks havoc on my cravings. I’ll aimlessly open cupboards, the fridge and freezer trying to decide what it is I want to eat.  Primarily in the winter, I lean towards hot things- which means roasting vegetables, or steaming them rather than a salad. But on these crazy weather days when you find yourself pottering around the apartment without the need for the sheep-skin lined slippers, I’m a fan of the roasted vegetable salad. Roast up any veggies with some interesting spices and toss with raw arugula or mixed greens. Well, if sweet and sour makes sense when you order Chinese, then why shouldn’t hot and cold when you put together a salad? It’s a whole lot easier than making soup and if you’re really lazy then you can do what I do and roast off a pile of veggies at the beginning of the week and then just reheat as the week goes on.  They make great afternoon snacks, too.

My favourites? Roasted carrots, butternut squash, broccoli, brussels sprouts, green beans, tomatoes, asparagus, fennel, red onions- really, anything goes when it comes to roasting. Toss it with your greens then add a cheese and the toasted nut or crunchy addition of your choice and you have a meal rather than a side salad. My recipe today is for roasted carrots, but you could easily swap out the carrots with another favourite- this is merely happily digested suggestion. And it’s for one, because eating alone (as I so often do- sigh.) does not have to mean scrambled eggs on toast every night (though this is a favourite stand-by).  If only everything in life could be so simple.

Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Roasted carrot salad with lemon truffle dressing’

A RECIPE: Lemon truffle dressing

I’ve been feeling unwell these last few days. The kind of unwell where you spend three days in the same pj’s, sprawled inelegantly across your bed/sofa/floor moving in and out of consciousness and in a steady sweat. The kind of unwell, where you only move to pop more Sudafed, vitamin C and echinachea down your parched germified gob and once in a while you drag your broken body to the restroom. The kind of ill where you find yourself with nothing left to watch on your TiVO and you’ve watched an entire series of Grey’s Anatomy on netflix. The kind of unwell where you blow your knows through three boxes of Kleenex and despite paying extra for the soft ones your upper lip and nostrils have gone bright red and undeniably crusty. The kind of ill where the only food worth eating is loaded with habinero chiles. The kind of unwell where when you cough in the night your significant other wakes up startled believing that there is a seal in the bedroom. There is indeed a dying, sweaty seal with a crusty nose clutching a handful of used kleenex- I am it. Like I said, it’s been a rough few days, people, so please forgive me that this weeks posting appears to be a bit of a copout.

In reality this recipe is no copout- it happens to be my favourite salad dressing. The kind of salad dressing that you pull out when you need to impress- when you need to wow.  Tangy with lemon, a little exotic with soy sauce and a splash of truffle love makes this one sexy salad dressing. This is not for days when your coughing your lungs out- it’s for the days when you’re feeling grateful that the taste of cough drops is no longer lingering on your tongue.

Lemon truffle dressing

Truffle oil is not cheap but it is worth the cost and you only need the tinniest dribble. Store the oil in the fridge and when you’re feeling low, open take off the cap and breathe in the truffle love.

Makes 500ml/2 cups dressing

Diet Facts: Truffle tastes good

1/2 cup lemon juice (about 3 lemons)

zest 2 lemons

1 Tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce

1 1/2 tsp sugar (or more to taste)

1 cup canola oil

3 Tbsp white truffle oil (or black will suffice)

1/ Place lemon juice, zest, soy sauce and sugar into a large bowl and whisk together vigorously to combine. Gradually add the canola oil- drizzling very slowly and whisking all the time. Finish by whisking in the truffle oil. Season to taste and store in a tightly sealed container in the fridge.

CHEF’S TIP: Sinking nuts?

Joyce White

Joyce White, author of Brown Sugar and Soul Food knows a thing or two about hosting the perfect tea party- and lets just say a cake with sunken nuts on the bottom just ain’t playin’ a part in it, no siree. Joyce’s trick is to coat your chopped nuts in a dusting of flour before you add them to the cake batter- she claims it’s just an old myth, but I certainly think it’s worth a shot. Nobody wants sunken nuts, after all.

A RECIPE: Malted oat shortbread

malted oat shortbread

I’m not a demanding girl. Really, I’m not. I have simple tastes and I don’t require fancy clothes or jewels or wine. I’m not a bride-zilla and I’m not a nagging girlfriend- I simply tell Don to do something rather than ask. All I ever want is a decent cup of tea and in the afternoon an equally complimentary biscuit. Is that really too much to ask? I think not.

And yet, five weekends out of ten I find myself in a less than satisfactory tea situation delivered by my very own nearest and dearest. My father has made my mother tea, in bed, every morning of their marriage and yet here I am about to embark on holy matrimony and I cannot rely on an acceptable cup of tea. He insists on making it- and I try my best to encourage and compliment if and when it arrives in a drinkable state, but honestly most of the time it isn’t worth the cost of the imported tea bag.

Don does not drink tea. Seriously. Sometimes I question how English he actually is- a Brit that doesn’t drink tea? Sounds suspicious to me. And whilst I regret that we cannot read the papers or eat breakfast pouring each other tea from the pot, I regret even more that Don fails appreciate the finer points in tea making. This isn’t about how long you steep the tea bag for or whether or not the milk was put in before the tea was poured or after- this is about appreciating a quality cup of tea. Quality being key word. Don cannot see the difference between serving a cup of tea that resembles dirty dishwasher or one that it is rich in golden colour. This is a problem.

I can live with the dried up contact lenses that he flicks onto the floor rather than into the rubbish bin. I can handle the large shoes, which I trip over in the morning or the fact that he snores, can’t clean the dishes properly and always throws his dirty clothes over my neatly laid out clean ones. But, this tea situation is honestly quite dire.

My only consolation is that at least I can rely on myself for a decent biscuit (and tea, of course). Something buttery and rich, not too sweet, not too crumbly and one that will dunk without leaving too much biscuity residue in the bottom of my cup. This malted oat shortbread was inspired by a need for something wholesome- malt powder, whole wheat pastry flour and oats. The malted flavour is mild but it really adds depth so I highly recommend using it if you have some lying around. One things for sure, as healthy as these look they won’t be lying around for long- Don ate ten in a row after I scolded him for the abysmal tea he served me. Demanding? I think not.

Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Malted oat shortbread’


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