Monthly Archives: November 2015

Reading List

A mid-week reading list to get you to the weekend!

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‘Those mail and newspaper deliveries punctuated the day. You read the newspaper over breakfast…’ I loved the excerpts of Rebecca Solnit’s new book (wonderfully titled ‘The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness’) in this Brainpickings article so much that it is now on my wishlist. Perhaps to read at Christmas. Also, time to read the newspaper over breakfast? On an ordinary weekday? Sigh.

This is a fascinating short video on Mexican line cooks cooking at home: la comida de los cocineros. In fact, I discovered the website Feet in Two Worlds just the other day and am already fascinated by the concept.

This almost-photo essay on Palermo makes me want to pack a suitcase and head for sunnier climes. Possibly to attend a workshop like those run at Anna Tasca Lanza (this one on the Language of Food is very appealing). Or this Cook the Farm training programme that they offer. Perhaps when my ship comes in.

I *may* have shouted at the computer whilst reading this. I think it is important to ask questions about school gardening programmes, not least those questions relate to historical relationships with food growing and farming, issues of class, ethnicity, and immigration… But I also feel like the author of the article was fundamentally asking the wrong kinds of questions*, like why is achievement in maths and English the only measure of success in schools? What is testing for? What does it do? What kind of world are we creating when the only acceptable activities in school relate to achievement (and PISA scores)? What about art? Creativity? Wellbeing? Achieve, achieve, achieve seems to be the education mantra but what about all the other stuff that can be learnt but not measured in the context of school?

*Never mind her fantastic assumption at the beginning of the article that the immigrant in her story had no education [talking about the immigrant’s son]: ‘he was made a citizen of this great country. He will lead a life entirely different from yours; he will be educated’ nor this spectacular denigration of female volunteers: ‘the weird, almost erotic power she [Alice Waters] wields over a certain kind of educated, professional-class, middle-aged woman (the same kind of woman who tends to light, midway through life’s journey, on school voluntarism as a locus of her fathomless energies)’.

This is the other angle on such stories – school gardens educating the ‘whole child’. Probably also not asking the right questions but for context…

This is a fantastic piece of foodieness. I like to think it is slightly satirical, poking fun at the ridiculousness of food shopping and the quest for the best egg but I’m not so sure.

What I plan to make next week: gingerbread cake with cookie butter frosting. Um, hells yes.

These pictures of Fern Varrow, a biodynamic farm and this recipe of theirs for a squash galette – Jen and I were talking galettes just the other day. New project.

I haven’t really ever eaten or cooked with quince before, but after reading this, I want to try poaching some. (Especially if I get to eat them with clotted cream and pistachios.)


Friends for dinner (and a reading list)

I seem to be immersed in reading about Thanksgiving this week. Obviously this is because I read and listen to far too many American things but I am rather enjoying all the reporting: confessions on what to do/what not to do with a turkey, how many pies to bake (or bring), whether it is acceptable to not wear a jacket and tie to dinner, how the table should be set. It is basically like a very complicated dinner party with far too many people and family feuds.


Speaking of dinner parties, we had friends over for dinner last night (win!). We had a wine-off between a South African pinotage (which was superb) and a Spanish rioja (which, I confess, is one of my favourites). (Wine is not something Andrés and I are likely to ever agree on – we are both staunch wine nationalists.)

I cooked, because Andrés had been at work all day. It was a middle eastern-inspired feast. I made lamb baked with aubergine, and butternut with red onions and tahini, both from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. (Suffice to say I am slightly obsessed with that book.) I also made Anna Jones’ flatbreads (you can find the recipe here) and a green salad. The flatbreads have become my go-to recipe. They are super easy to make and ridiculously versatile. Anna makes hers with spelt flour but I was out of spelt so I just used regular flour.

To finish, because next week is Thanksgiving and (as I said) I’ve been reading all-things-Thanksgiving this week, I made pecan pie. But not just any pecan pie. I made David Lebovitz’s bourbon-ginger-pecan pie. And IT IS AMAZING. As a not-really-into-eating-desserts person, this is a spectacular marry of fiery ginger and sweet, smoky pecans. The ginger (particularly the addition of freshly grated ginger) lifts the pie and cuts the sticky sweetness. The original recipe (according to DL) comes from First Prize Pies which is written by one half of the Butter & Scotch team. If you make anything for Thanksgiving, you should make this. (And you should serve it with clotted cream. Just saying.)  I also think his words on what happened in Paris last week were fairly accurate to what I was feeling. The whole trying to make sense of something that happened to a place and people you love when making sense just seems unachievable.

I followed his recipe almost entirely (I left out the ground ginger simply because I found I had run out) and so I am not going to repeat it here. You can have this moody picture of my pie instead.


Other things I made this week included Violet Bakery’s butterscotch blondies. I am working on a post to share them with you but suffice to say I took a full tin (basically the whole tray minus the two I left at home for Andrés) in to work with me and by the end of the day there were three blondies left inside.  David Lebovitz has a post on them which you can find here.

The Thanksgiving Reading List, plus a few extra

Read about what they might’ve eaten at the first Thanksgiving. Some fairly logical dishes. Some unusual ones too. Eel anyone?

Bon Appetit’s Thanksgiving podcast. It includes stories about Thanksgiving and advice on what to do (defrost that turkey WAY in advance. It is bigger than you think.)

Thanksgiving desserts. (Also from Bon Appetit.)

Julia Child and Thanksgiving. Because, Julia.

American chefs in London on their favourite Thanksgiving dishes.

‘Eat real food and don’t worry too much – it’s the fear-free diet’. My kind of eating logic. An interesting read on nutrition, science and food fads.

I loved reading this. Food and art come together in fantastic ways.

I started listening to Limetown while I was cooking yesterday afternoon. It is just brilliant and I am hanging on the edge of my seat for Tuesday’s episode.

An incredibly interesting project that attempts to account for a past that was hidden. It makes me ask questions about how we forget/remember the past, and how we educate young people about our difficult and contested histories.

Just a Reading List

I had this total plan for Sunday this last week. Play a (ridiculously early) netball match, have a catch-up brunch and then spend the rest of the day pottering about in the kitchen, roasting a chook and potentially making some cake. (A gingerbread bundt perhaps? Or this apple cake from Orangette – I have the massive Bramleys for the applesauce on my kitchen table.)

But then I leapt to intercept a pass during the match and landed badly on my knee. So pottering about the kitchen was out and I had to spend the day on the couch with my knee elevated and iced with frozen peas. Gah. I did get up to help (read interfere) Andrés roast the chook and make our dinner (which, I might add was excellent) but I mostly spent the day watching the last episode of Unforgotten (still not sure how I feel about how it all ended), Lewis and reading a little. So I don’t have a nicely photographed scene to upload today (my photograph of the chook is out of focus due to the demise of my phone’s camera!) You’ll have to make do with my reading list for now.

Reading List

I’ve written many a time now of how much I love Rachel Roddy’s writing about her life in Italy (and all the food she makes/consumes). This week’s blog post was no exception. How much do I want to roast pumpkin after reading this?

This. ARGH! Read this to complement it. I like the idea Anne-Marie Slaughter proposes, that we need to redefine success as not simply meaning professional success and to value those other parts of our lives just as much. (This, I might add, from the woman who was judged for leaving her job in government to return to her family, and work as a full-time, tenured professor at Princeton. Honestly. What is the world coming to?) You can listen to her talk about this move over on Freakanomics. As someone who is by very definition competitive, especially about work, I find this idea compelling (life is more than just work – a very hard thing for a recent PhD to understand) and something which I need to become better at (which is somewhat ironic no?)

I really want to have a bakery. Like really. Especially after listening to these two food heroes – Liz Prueitt of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco and Claire Ptak of Violet Bakery in London – talk about life, women in professional kitchens, and baked goods.

Since starting to buy bread almost weekly from Small Food Bakery, I’ve become lazy about making my own bread. But this article has rekindled my desire to experiment with different flours. That and the fact that I finally got a new sourdough starter this weekend. (Thanks to Small Food’s generosity.)

I’m reading An Omelette and a Glass of Wine in fits and starts. The articles are all short and the writing is engaging. I’ve not really read Elizabeth David before but so far, I’m enjoying it. Particularly her words on summer meals. ‘Pale apricot chanterelle mushrooms from sodden Surrey woods have only to be washed and washed and washed until all the grit is gone, every scrap, and cooked instantly before the bloom and that extraordinary, delicate, almost flower-like scent have faded’ (David 2009: p. 33). How much do you want to go foraging in a damp wood to retrieve mushrooms right now? (I don’t even really like mushrooms anymore – due to a massive allergic reaction rather than the taste of mushrooms – and I want to eat them now.)

I found the Food52 podcast this past week. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Allison Robicelli (of Robicelli’s) talk about the irony of creating a satire dessert that ‘is the next cupcake’ only for it to become the next cupcake. I’m talking of course, about nutellasgne. If you’re not sure what that is, you can read about it here and here. You can also watch this rather awesome video where they talk about making cupcakes.

That is all for this week. Back soon, hopefully with a recipe.


Chocolate Birthday Cake (and a reading list)

I am not sure about you but I am a big believer in celebration cake. You are probably unsurprised by this fact. Nothing brings me more joy than making people happy with cake, or thanking them with cake and so I am always on the look-out for excellent cake recipes. I mean, in truth, I am always on the lookout for excellent cake recipes but it is so much more satisfying to then be able to share said cake, to give it away and make someone happy. (Sometimes you just want to make cake for yourself, but that is an entirely different kind of cake – at least for me, anyway. But then again, I don’t really like to eat cake all that often. Yes, I am aware that this is weird.)

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It was Andrés’ birthday last month. I was totally undecided what to make for his cake. When he came home from Spain in September he had talked about a traditional cake that appeared to be vanilla and filled with pastry cream but I had no idea about it and have never made it. My attempts to google the cake fell flat (probably because the sites were all in Spanish, my understanding of what it was was fairly obscure, and my Spanish is limited to basic greetings and numbers at the moment so I just couldn’t figure it out.) Fortunately, he got distracted from that cake by the prospect of an oreo-themed cake (thank goodness for buzzfeed lists!) and so I set about making him this cake.

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I’d been wanting to make this cake anyway because IT IS AWESOME. It is dark dark chocolate cake that is dense and intense (see what I did there?). It is quite unlike my family’s traditional chocolate cake (which, for the record, is still fantastic but lighter, less intense and less solidly chocolate in flavour) but I like the dark headiness of this cake. It makes you feel slightly giddy and simultaneously incredibly satisfied. Like someone you met in a smoky bar and then kissed, after slightly too many whiskies, in a slightly dodgy alleyway.

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This cake is gorgeous to eat without frosting but if you so choose (and like me, are more about the cake than the frosting), it can be a vehicle for your frosting of choice. I’ve made it with various combinations of peanut butter, salted caramel, vanilla, raspberry and so on. Basically all the flavours that work with very dark chocolate (orange is another good choice) will work here. For Andrés’ birthday I filled it with salted caramel and vanilla frosting. This past weekend I made it as a thank-you for my thesis proofreader. I made half the original recipe, and cooked it in one of my smaller bundt tins. I then covered it in salted caramel frosting.

This really is very good cake. You should make it now. The recipe below is half of that in the original and makes enough for a small bundt (this will happily feed 8 people easily – the bundt picture above). If you’re looking to make a large, 20cm three layer, layer cake, then you should double this amount. I’m afraid I haven’t included frosting in the notes here, simply because I feel you should make an executive decision regarding flavours. I usually use a 4:1 icing sugar to butter ratio (500g icing sugar to 125g butter) with a tablespoon or so of milk to help get the creaming process going and add in flavours and additions as I need.

Chocolate Birthday Cake

Adapted (very slightly) from Tea with Bea

60g dark cocoa powder

125ml (1/2 cup) boiling water

60ml (1/4 cup) milk

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

65g unsalted butter, softened

140g dark brown sugar

80g golden caster sugar

60ml (1/4 cup) sunflower oil

2 eggs

140g white spelt flour

3/4 tsp bicarb of soda

cocoa powder for dusting

Preheat the oven to 170C. If using a bundt tin, grease liberally with butter and dust with some cocoa powder. Shake out any excess cocoa powder and set the tin aside. If you’re making a regular cake, line the base with parchment paper. Line the sides with parchment paper too, making sure the parchment is higher than the sides of the tin.

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Put the cocoa powder in a bowl and pour over the boiling water. Whisk until smooth, then whisk in the milk and vanilla. Set aside.

In another bowl, beat the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy.

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Add in the oil in a steady stream. Then beat in the eggs.

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Mix the flour with the bicarb in another bowl. Fold in the flour in three batches, alternating with the chocolate mixture. Begin and end with the flour.

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Pour the mixture into your cake tin of choice and bake for approximately 45 minutes.

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The cake will be risen and dense when done. A skewer inserted will come out clean. Once the cake is done, allow it to cool for 10 minutes before turning it out of the tin and cooling it completely on a wire rack.

Once this is totally cool, ice with the frosting of your choice… (For the 20cm three layer cake, you will need a fair amount of frosting! If you want to do a crumb layer you’ll need approximately 750g icing sugar.)

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Reading List
I am currently reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I began reading this ages and ages ago (whilst everyone else was reading it and when I was lost in my thesis and the idea of reading for pleasure was a pipe dream). I couldn’t get into it back then but I’ve taken it up again after my mother said she’d read it and it was wonderful. I love love love The Secret History – it is one of my favourite books ever.

This short list of ‘How to tell you are in a Jane Austen novel’ made me laugh a lot. So much of truth.

And I intend to make this applesauce so I can make this cake from Molly over at Orangette.

I now have a craving for toasted cheese sandwiches because Felicity Cloake over at The Guardian made a ‘non-scientific perfect grilled cheese’. Like any of us ever need to be reminded of the epicness that is a toasted cheese.

I want to learn to bake more with spirits like gin and so this sloe gin, plum and almond cake is on my to-do list.

Chocolate Peanut Cookies (and a reading list)

In recent weeks, what with the fall in outside temperatures and the grey skies, I have been incredibly homely and ever so slightly anti-social. In this, what I like to call the adjusting to winter phase, I tend to hole up at home, mostly in comfy sweaters, reading (or binge watching Homeland on Netflix), listening to things on audio (books and podcasts) and baking. A lot of baking. I find it incredibly satisfying to be able to both bake and read simultaneously – something made possible by my conversion to audio books.

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This Sunday, for example, I not only made the peanut cookies that are the actual focus of this post but also some banana bread with cacao nibs (for midweek 4pm snacks), and a peanut and pretzel brittle that, OMG, I should really learn to un-make because it is amazing, all whilst listening to The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith. (I basically got to that point where I-had-to-know-what-happened and therefore could not stop listening). I took the brittle to netball, as a post-game treat, and it went down a storm. Andrés berated me on Monday for leaving him at home alone (he was on a day off) with the brittle, which was significantly reduced by the time I got home. More on the brittle soon. Here is a teaser in the meantime.

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But peanut cookies. There are loads, mountains really, of recipes related to all things peanut butter and I certainly forget that the humble peanut comes in other forms (roasted and salted is my preference, or covered in caramel or even better, chocolate). Sometimes I want a cookie that tastes more like peanut and less like peanut butter. It’s not often, but it does happen. And so these cookies. They’re inspired by a recipe in Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries III. I aspire to write like Nigel does – simply and yet convincingly.

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Just the other day, after a walk up the hill to buy bread (from Small Food Bakery), passing trees of red, gold, burnt orange, the last occasional shades of green, the cloud came back in, low and dense in the sky, and I found myself in my bright kitchen, making lazy roast vegetable soup (as a vehicle for bread) and thinking I should write it all down – not only the cooking but the feeling bit, the descriptions of ordinary days that are fascinating to read, reflections on the weather, the state of a garden, a meal eaten out. And then I got distracted and I haven’t done so. But I think it might turn into something soon.

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Reading The Kitchen Diaries reminded me that there is nothing more pleasurable than a simple meal – steak cooked just-so with salad, soup with bread (slathered in butter), roast chicken with root vegetables, potatoes cooked in various ways, a pork chop and a side of coleslaw. In my autumn cleaning of unread magazines and newspapers, I came across an article by Christopher Hirst in an old Independent on Sunday. The article detailed how recipes with fewer ingredients, seasonal highlights and simpler techniques had increasingly become Hirst’s recipes of choice. As much as I love a 22-ingredient, multi-step, equipment-heavy recipe (Hirst uses the example of Heston’s black forest gateaux), of late I have been far more inclined towards simple dishes and even simple desserts – four ingredient chocolate mousse, salted caramel, simple cookies. Nigel has a way of capturing that simplicity of eating in a few lines that make even the simplest of meals seem elegant.

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My late grandmother, Alaire, bought me the first of Nigel’s Kitchen Diaries when I finished cookery school and it seemed like a happy coincidence that this third iteration was the book I chose (without conscious thought) as a post-viva reward gift to self. The Kitchen Diaries was the first cookbook I ever read like a novel – I am usually more of a dipper than a full-blown immersion reader of cookbooks but The Kitchen Diaries broke that rule and I have been reading III in much the same way: slowly, from cover to cover. I think the message in The Kitchen Diaries is similar to that found in the writing of Alice Waters: good food, simply cooked is a gift. One to be shared and to take time over, even on a messy, stressed-out weekday evening in midwinter. Oh to cook like that – with a sense of purpose – more often!

These cookies (which I have made twice in as many weeks) are simple cookies. Very little fanfare or excess. And yes, I have tarted them up slightly (with the addition of chocolate chips) to resemble a more glamorous counterpart but mostly they’re just goooood. I suspect they would be fantastic dipped in caramel. I had plans to half coat them in dark chocolate but they were gone before I could even begin to contemplate that. Just saying.

Peanut Cookies

Inspired by the hazelnut cookies in The Kitchen Diaries III

120g roasted peanuts

100g smooth peanut butter

125g unsalted butter, at room temperature

50g light brown sugar

50g maple syrup

250g plain flour

100g dark or milk chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 170C. Line a baking tray with parchment.

Blitz the peanuts to a course meal in a blender/grinder. You want something not particularly fine but with no visibly large peanuts left. Set this aside.

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Cream the butter, peanut butter, sugar and maple syrup until light and fluffy.

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Weigh the flour into a separate bowl. Using a spatula, fold in the flour and chocolate chips followed by the peanuts. Bring the mixture together with your hands into a not quite entirely crumbly mess. Turn this out onto a clean surface and knead lightly into a dough.

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Form/roll into a log shape. Spread clingfilm across a flat, clean surface and transfer the log onto the clingfilm. Roll up the dough in the clingfilm and twist the ends. Refrigerate for an hour.

Slice the dough into rounds and bake on your baking sheet for approximately 12 minutes. The cookies should move if you push them with your thumb – that is how to test they are done. They will also be nicely golden. If they don’t move or are quite resistant to your thumb, let them cook for a few more minutes. Leave to cool on a tray before eating.

Reading List

As I said above, I listed to The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith over the weekend.

I thoroughly enjoyed this article that outlines Nigella’s life through the meals she has eaten. I like to think that this blog will become a record of the various meals of my life.

I started to reread Wuthering Heights over the weekend. Nothing like a cold fog to transport you to the moors and some dark gothic novels.

One of my favourite bloggers – Rachel Roddy – now has a weekly column in The Guardian Cook. I am unreasonably excited about this and want to try this broccoli ripassati soon.

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you may be aware of my slight obsession with tiny dogs. Not actually teeny tiny dogs but terrier-sized ones. I have been known to embarrass my companions by trying to befriend them in the street or pointing them out and squeaking in a high-pitched voice. (I am aware that it is awkward. I simply cannot help myself.) At some point in the near future, I will actually get my own dog (the Pixilene having firmly shifted her allegiance to my mother) and then I will probably be less embarrassing in public. In the meantime, I love the sound of books like this one – a tribute and compendium of dogs known over the years.

Also, this blog. I intend to search for her book in a bookshop in London tomorrow – I am down on a research day but have hours to kill (and a sister to see hopefully) before my train.