Monthly Archives: June 2013

Peaches, Roasted with White Peach Balsamic

Greetings dear readers,

I made it back from the USA last week (via three flights and one delay) and then worked at Open Days all weekend; after a whirlwind birthday celebration with the Princess in London (whatever you do, go and see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s possibly the best theatre show ever. We both agreed it is the most fantastical/magical/mind-blowingly-clever stage production we’ve ever seen. It made me laugh and cry and filled me with that glorious feeling of the magic of the world in a way only good children’s stories seem to do.) So I am rightly over tired at the moment. And tomorrow I am going back to school to do some follow up visits (before I can finally get down to tackling the vast amount of stuff I have accumulated as part of my field work, and make it all make sense…) I am going to tell you all about Chicago and MSU very soon, as well as Petersham Nurseries (another fantastic London find) but until then, I leave you with this very simple dish.

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The best days of summer are upon us, the longest day is past and it is thus very necessary to celebrate soft fruits and sunshine. I realised whilst I was in Chicago that this blog is very much a journal of my eating experiences and ideas and any attempt to make it anything else is just silly. So you’ll probably be seeing a lot of practical eating in the next while – especially since I have to cook for myself until September. I do hope you like.

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There isn’t a recipe here. (I’m not big on recipes, I won’t lie.) Basically I found this fantastic white peach balsamic in Chicago (on a food tour which I will write about soon). What better way to roast peaches than with a little olive oil, balsamic and brown sugar? So that’s exactly what I did. I halved the peaches, drizzled some balsamic and olive oil over them, and then sprinkled them with brown sugar. I roasted them in the oven for about 40 minutes, at 180C, until they were soft through and the juices and vinegar had caramelised. I served them warm with yoghurt, some pistachios and a few strawberries. (You can embellish a lot here – add in herbs you have, I like thyme with peaches – or some oats for a more crumble effect. You can serve the peaches with ice cream or cream or sweet biscuits. The choice is yours really. Just use slightly under ripe fruit for the best results.)

East Lansing, Michigan

Hello dear readers,

I am writing to you live from the metropolis of East Lansing, which is the home of Michigan State University. I’m here at a conference – an awesome one, where people talk about food all day. It’s amazing.

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I wasn’t sure if I’d have time to write anything whilst I was here, but I’ve found a minute. Food wise, things have been interesting so far. It seems I am really bad at eating whilst travelling – I’m better once I’ve gotten to my destination so my eating experience in the US started at Atlanta airport (which was spectacularly efficient). I got all excited about the different M&M flavours they have – almond, pretzel, peanut butter (small dance). I bought the pretzel ones. I’m not convinced. I also bought crisps. I did actually have enough time to seek out proper food but I just didn’t feel like eating.

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My first night in Chicago wasn’t much better – we were delayed in Atlanta on the runway for 2 hours whilst we waited for a storm to pass so by the time I got to my hotel I was anxious to get showered and go walking. It got to half 9 and I suddenly realised I hadn’t eaten and was totally in need of sleep so I found this tea place that served chickpea salad and had that with this weird chocolate mint drink that they made with white tea. It was odd but addictive all at once.

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The next morning I got an early Amtrak train over to Michigan. I didn’t have time to eat or get coffee before  getting on the train so I ate on board. Everything was pre-packaged and the coffee was almost undrinkable but I persevered with a bagel and cream cheese. It’s one of the few photos I’ve taken of food on this trip.

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The conference food has been pretty good – it is a food conference after all and MSU are very into using local. There’s lots of fruit and bagels and yogurts for breakfast and we had really good chargrilled chicken at lunch. But my highlight so far was dinner this evening. I’m staying in a residence hall and they have a central dining hall which, in term time, serves 2400 students a day. I went up this evening for dinner and for $10 you can have as much as you want. There’s a variety of drinks – juice, coffees, colas. You can get cereals if you really want. There’s a whole selection of food stations – you can get sushi or burgers or pizza or vegetarian, roast chicken or pasta. You can have it all! It’s mind blowing. There was a salad bar with like 15 different things on it, plus seeds and dried fruit. You could get fresh fruit too. And ice cream! (I had the cake batter flavour and another one which was green swirl which was a bit like cream soda in ice cream form. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t convinced by either.)

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I made several trips to various stations. I started with the roast chicken, which they were roasting whole and then portioning to order, with mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. It came from the ‘homemade’ station and it was exactly like the food you read about in Southern stories. (I think it’s possible that I read too much about food.) Then I got miso soup with tofu from the veggie station and some fruit (melon and strawberries). Then I thought I’d try the salad bar – the pasta salad with broccoli was the best, the baby mielies were questionable –  before being completely ridiculous and having the ice cream. It was awesome. And so relaxed – there were students, parents, people with small children. There were a variety of eating areas, spaced all around the food service area. And the chefs, as it started to wind down, were eating too. Totally awesome dining experience. It makes our service pale in comparison in terms of choice. I may have to go again before I leave and take photos.

That’s all for now! The pictures are all of Chicago and the places I passed on the train trip. I’ll take more of where I actually am soon!

Strawberry Cupcakes

It’s just after 5.30am here. I’ve been woken up by three fire alarms this evening (the singular joy of a residence tutor) and I decided that it probably wasn’t worth trying to go back to bed now. It’s all light anyway. I’ve had my first coffee and, under normal circumstances, I would make something with a lot of butter in it now, to console myself over the lost sleep. But I’m all out of butter as I am attempting to wind down the contents of my fridge before I leave for the US on Monday night. So instead I’ll tell you about these summery strawberry cupcakes I made on the weekend for a friends birthday. I made them as a gift (cupcakes are good for gifts).

I bought strawberries at the farmer’s market on Wednesday and some were beautiful – red and juicy – but others were still slightly under ripe and so I decided to turn them into these cupcakes. It is summer after all (even if it’s not actually warm and sunny), and strawberry eating is almost compulsory. I topped the cupcakes with cream cheese icing, to add a slight tang to the sweetness. They were all eaten (except the ones I had left over which couldn’t fit into the box)!

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The recipe is adapted from one in The Primrose Bakery Book. Their recipe used raspberries and had a coconut buttercream but you know, I hate coconut and I didn’t have any raspberries so I used the basic recipe as a jumping off point. The result was a sweet, strawberry flavoured, slightly pink cake with bright white icing. I garnished them with fresh strawberries. My recipe made 18 cupcakes and not the said 12. I’m not sure if this is because my tray is smaller than normal or if I fill the trays less generously? Who knows. No one ever has any issues with extra cake as far as I know.

Strawberry Cupcakes

Adapted from The Primrose Bakery Book

225g unsalted butter

225g golden caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 eggs

210g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

25g cornflour

180g strawberries

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a muffin tin with cupcake cases.

Cream together the butter and sugar until whitened and fluffy.

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Add in the vanilla and then the eggs, one at a time. The mixture will split. Fear not.

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Mix together the flour, baking powder and cornflour. Fold into the butter mixture in two goes. Roughly chop the strawberries – I did this in a blender, just blending them lightly, you don’t want it totally puréed.

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Fold the strawberries into the mixture. Spoon into the cupcake cases and bake for about 15 minutes, until the cupcakes are risen and browned and spring back when touched.

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Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before cooling completely on a wire rack.

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Ice with cream cheese icing once completely cold.

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Allotmenting

I’ve been going allotmenting (my new word for gardening), a fair bit recently. Things are starting to come along in the garden, although a lot of it still looks forlorn and unloved! But I picked up some mielies at the farmer’s market on Wednesday so I planted them out yesterday. We also have pumpkins, strawberries, cucumber, peppers and chili plants planted out now. Potatoes are springing up everywhere. Like everywhere. Including in places where we didn’t plant them – one of the thrills of inheriting a garden. It’s super exciting. Most exciting though, is all the pots in the green house which have started to come up. Seeds! Turning into plants! I am over excited. Here are some photographs to show you our progress.

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This is our very wonky stand in the greenhouse. There are tomato plants on the bottom, spinach in the middle there and peppers and strawberries on top. (We’re still holding thumbs for them,)

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Our spinach.

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Some of our tomato plants. It’s going to be a tomato festival in here soon, we’ve got so many. Well, I’m hoping so anyhow.

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Watermelons! Or what will hopefully produce watermelons. I’ll be over the moon if we manage it.

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At the back are courgettes and in front, garlic.

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Our strawberries, chilli, cucumber and some hyssop. Surviving in the outdoors!

Food Photography

So on Thursday I ventured down to the county of Northamptonshire to spend the day improving my food photography skills. The course I chose was hosted by the lovely Vanessa Kimbell, at the Juniper and Rose cookery school. Vanessa was warm and welcoming and our class size was small (only eight) and included the Daily Telegraph writer Xanthe Clay. (I spent most of the day a little in awe of these two women – both very successful food writers.) Other participants included the owners of a secret tearoom, a caterer, a children’s cookery instructor, and a photography student.

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The day started with slightly technical instructions on photography, given by photographer Boyd Gilmour. Boyd explained about the importance of light, how it changes, and how to overcome various issues, like shooting into the light and how to avoid grey looking white plates. We then moved out into the garden and started to use our cameras. Boyd and Vanessa explained the importance of not shooting food in direct sunlight and we spent the morning under the dappled shade of a tree. Vanessa whipped up some blueberry muffins and jars of Eton mess for us to photograph, as well as a bowlful of strawberries and some asparagus. Boyd was on hand to give specific help with camera settings and the more technical aspects of photography whilst Vanessa did some translating techniques into layman’s terms and highlighted some simple styling ideas and tricks.

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We played around with aperture settings, learning about blowing out the background, how to utilise the light and how to organise arrangements of things. In the picture below you can see Vanessa styling the muffins. I learnt about the importance of echoing ingredients, so blueberries scattered around the blueberry muffins and then blue flowers to echo this.

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We got to eat some of the scrumptious blueberry muffins as a snack and there was time to wander around Vanessa’s beautiful gardens, meet her dogs and chickens, and generally absorb the wonderfulness of the place. Then we wandered back inside where Vanessa was preparing lunch, a lovage and lime soup served with cranberry and hazelnut sourdough. She showed us how to build a shot, adding ingredients and using lines that echo – so the round bowl on the round rack, on the round table. She emphasised the importance of fresh ingredients (herbs, flowers) in photo shoots, how they can lift the picture.

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We then got to eat the soup, which was delicious, and to photograph the scene. Vanessa’s dad, Bill, popped over – he runs the FleurFields vineyard, which is only a mile away from the school and we got to sample some of the wines. My favourite was the Fleurfields rose.

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Over lunch Xanthe talked to us about The Grenada Chocolate Company which she and Vanessa visited in Grenada. It’s a very inspirational story about ethical chocolate and what can be done even when people say it’s impossible. The company make chocolate in small batches (the expiry dates on the labels are hand written), and produce it right where it is grown, something the larger companies have been arguing for years is unachievable. There was a sadness to the story though because the company’s founder, Mott Green, recently passed away and no one is sure what will now happen to the company. (You can read the article Xanthe wrote about the company and Mott here.) Despite the tragedy in the tale, it was an inspiring lesson, particularly about the power of the consumer and the importance of supporting farmers/producers/people whom you think are doing the right thing. For dessert Vanessa had been sent brownies by Rachel Lucas, made with chocolate from The Grenada Chocolate Company. The brownies were really good, dark and dense – a bittersweet dessert in the realest sense.

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Vanessa also talked about the importance of finding your own style. Her style is very vintage, and quite rustic. My style is much more simplistic – she showed us various cookery books with different styles. I discovered mine is quite like the photography in Dan Lepard’s book Short and Sweet. I tend not to fuss with trimmings and I shoot the stages of a recipe quite starkly. The shot below is typical of something I might do.

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Knowing this is very helpful in terms of creating an identity of sorts on the blog. After lunch Vanessa showed us how to refresh and style a salad, with ingredients picked directly from her rather beautiful kitchen garden. Her garden was inspirational, not least because it is fairly new (they’ve only been in their house 22 months) and I got all excited about prospects for our allotment.

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The day was long and tiring but so much fun. I learnt loads, met new like-minded people and took away many tips and ideas. I’m thinking about signing up for a sourdough course now too.