Monday, 22 February 2010

Almond, lemon and orange cake

Despite being chocolate-free this is one of my favourite ever cakes. Or is it a pudding? The original recipe is one I harvested as a youngster, about ten years ago. It came on a recipe card from the Observer and was by Sophie Grigson, who described it as being Tunisian. I'm not sure about the North African origins, but this is a fantastically light and moist cake which is first baked and then left to soak in a lightly spiced syrup. Although it's quite sweet, the generous amounts of citrus balances this out and results in a fresh and fragrant taste.
It's also great for people on gluten-free diets as the breadcrumbs can be replaced with crumbs from gluten-free bread. As it's a minor ingredient this substitution doesn't affect the flavour or texture of the finished cake.

Recipe (for one large-ish cake):
45g fresh breadcrumbs
200g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
1.5 tsp baking powder
200ml vegetable or sunflower oil
4 medium eggs
Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
Finely grated zest of half a lemon

For the syrup:
Juice of 1 large orange
Juice of half a lemon
85g caster sugar
3-4 cloves
1 stick cinammon

Mix all the cake ingredients well and pour into a shallow-ish cake tin (I use a rectangular one that's approximately 25x15cm) lined with grease-proof paper. The cake mix will be more liquid than normal due to the oil in it (and it's therefore easier to cook it in a shallow dish). Bake at gas mark 5 for around 50mins. If it looks like the top is colouring too quickly cover with some foil. The cake definitely needs to be cooked through, so a skewer or fork poked into the middle should come out clean if a bit sticky.
As the cake cooks, make the syrup by gently heating all the ingredients together until the sugar has dissolved (which should also be enough time for the spices to infuse) and then put to one side.
Once cooked let the cake cool for 5-10minutes, but while it's still warm turn it out onto a plate and spike it with a fork. Slowly pour the syrup over the cake, allowing it to sink in before pouring on more. Ideally leave the cake for a few more hours for the flavours to develop. Serve on it's own or with some mascarpone cheese, sweetened with icing sugar, and mixed with whipped cream or yoghurt. It's what a dessert fork was made for.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Cocum, Cambridge, UK

I have previously documented my love of the masala dosa, and identified the Rice Boat as possibly the only place in Cambridge where an authentic version is available. I was therefore very excited late last year when I heard that another Keralan restaurant was opening in the city.

A quick look at the Cocum website suggested that this place could be good, as it seemed to be an outpost of an established restaurant based in Greater London. The menu was extensive and contained lots of dishes with unfamiliar names in Malayali that I can't really pronounce. And although I was a bit suprised to see Tandoori dishes making an appearance (they are strongly associated with North India), I was reassured by the presence of masala dosas. I also noted that they offered a takeaway service and when one wintery night I really couldn't be bothered to leave the house (or indeed the sofa to cook something in the kitchen), myself and the male companion person thought we'd give Cocum a try. All our dishes were perfectly nice if a bit generic tasting and lacking distinct South Indian flavours. However, I will be the first to admit that a masala dosa doesn't really travel well so when a dinner with the girls was planned I suggested we trying eating in at Cocum.

First impressions on arriving were not impressive. I know 1970's retro is having something of a revival but the decor inside Cocum veered strongly towards the naff rather than cutting-edge cool.

However I would have happily looked past the large (and very dated) Indian tourist board-style posters of Kerala on the walls, the plastic flowers on the table, the old and heavy furniture and the worn carpet if the food had been amazing. It was not amazing.

My masala dosa was perfectly adequate, with the large dosa pancake thin and crispy. But the sambar lacked any real flavour, and certainly didn't have the expected spiciness to combine with the mild dosa filling. The coconut chutney was also acceptable, but again was very mild verging on bland. All in all there wasn't much evidence of many mustard seeds or curry leaves being used in the component parts of this dish, even though they are key flavours of this region.

The other dishes that were ordered also seemed to fall into this category of being completely acceptable but not really distinctively South Indian. This is in marked contrast to Rice Boat, which in addition to contempory decor also has a much shorter menu and dishes that deliver fully authentic flavours.
In later discussions it seems as if this branch of Cocum might actually be a franchise of the orginal London restaurant. And as there has pretty much been some sort of Indian/Bangladeshi outlet on this site for as long as I can remember, it may well be the case that the sign outside has changed but not much else. However this is purely my personal hypothesis, and it may be that Cocum is being run by Keralans who don't think that the residents of Cambridge are quite ready for the true tastes of the backwaters. But whatever the case, apart from a semi-decent masala dosa, my hopes for another venue for South Indian feasting were pretty much disappointed.

The bill for three of us was slightly under £40 (not including service), and this included two masala dosas, a prawn main dish, a couple of side dishes, and some drinks. So if low cost and slightly grubby and tired surroundings are your thing then Cocum might be the place for you, but I think I'll be sticking to the Rice Boat.

71 Castle Street
Cambridge CB3 0AH

Monday, 1 February 2010

Cauliflower soup with cheese on toast

So as I continue to spend my days wrapped in a scarf and unwilling to leave the house except for essential activities (shame going to work appears to fall into this category), the need for hearty fare for dinner persists. I would include this cauliflower soup with it's cheese on toast accompaniment in this category, as it was warming, rich and luxurious. And pretty quick to make too.

Recipe (enough for around four)

1 medium cauliflower (cut into small florets)
1 small white onion
1 medium clove garlic
1 medium potato (chopped into small cubes)
Around a pint of vegetable stock
sprig of thyme (optional)
good grating of nutmeg
small knob of butter
salt and pepper to season
single cream to finish (if you want it)

Slice the onion thinly and gently sweat it in the butter until it softens. Crush the garlic, add to the pan with the thyme (if using) and continue to cook for a few more minutes. Add in the cauliflower and potato, give everything a good stir and then pour in the vegetable stock (as with previous soups I always use Marigold bouillon powder). Simmer for around 20-30mins until the vegetables are completely soft and falling apart. Wait for it to cool a bit, fish out the thyme and then blend in the saucepan with a stick blender until it's smooth. Grate in some nutmeg, and however much salt and pepper you like. Re-heat gently and pour into bowls. Swirl in some cream if you want (it tastes quite rich even without this) and serve with cheese on toast while considering if you have actually made some sort of highly innovative, de-constructed cauliflower cheese.....