Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Mini Bakewell Tart cakes

I first saw this recipe for Bakewell Tart-inspired fairy cakes earlier this summer, on Jules' excellent Butcher, Baker blog. I finally got round to making them last weekend, adapting them slightly. Instead of the cherry Bakewell iced topping, I went a little more traditional and just sprinkled on some flaked almonds. You'll need around a heaped tablespoons-worth if you're doing this, and to avoid scorching push them down slightly into the surface of the cake batter before you put them in the oven. But apart from this, I followed Jules' recipe exactly.
And most excellent it was too. A lovely almond sponge, with a hidden bit of jam in the middle, and a little crunch on top.
I'm not a massive fan of traditional Christmas dessert fare, but I think these little cakes would make a great light pudding with some warm custard. Alternatively, they are also fab with a cup of tea.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Ambala Indian Sweet Centre

In many ways I'm not very good at being a Bengali. I don't merrily chomp through fish heads, and there is no Rabindra Sangeet on my ipod. However there is one way in which I am very Bengali, and that is my love of mishti, Indian sweets or mithai.

As a child I baulked at my mum's thin, yellow macher jhol fish curry and fried bitter gourd uchay bhaja, but was happy to scoff down homemade syrupy sweet gulab jam or roshogolla. It's actually quite unusual for Bengalis to make many sweets at home, as back in Calcutta pretty much every neighbourhood has its own local sweet shop for all your mishti needs. Unfortunately an equivalent was very much lacking in the Cambridge of the 70's and 80's, so I was dependent on my mum's skills in this area and the occasional trip to the Ambala Sweet Centre in London for my fix. There are many branches of Ambala across London now, but the original shop is on Drummond Street. This is dangerously close to King's Cross Station, and I have to restrain myself from visiting on every single trip to London. Amabala is not a Bengali shop, but I'm not parochial in my mishti enjoyment, so anywhere selling jelebis, burfis and ladoos is fine by me.

Here's what I picked up on my most recent trip:

Ladoos! Probably my favourite Indian sweet, ladoos are made from fried gram flour soaked in syrup. The chickpea at its finest in my opinion.

Burfi! In this case chocolate and pistachio. The chocolate ones are a bit of a Western innovation, which involves pouring a thin layer of chocolate over a plain burfi. My sort of fusion cooking.

Indian sweets do have a reputation for being almost painfully sweet, and indeed some are. But there also some beautiful flavours of cardamom, cashew and pistachio, the richness of milk and cream, and textures that range from crumbly or softly spongy, to crispy. So as a change from the mince pies and chocolate yule logs that I might be consuming in the forthcoming festive season, I may well have a ladoo too. And with Christmas in mind, a selection of Indian sweets would make a top gift (nb they freeze very well, so you don't actually have to eat them all immediately).

Ambala also sell a range of savoury food, (I've written about their samosas before). And if you can't get to one of their many shops you can also order online (though not the samosas sadly).

Monday, 28 November 2011

Cambridge Cake Crawl

It would probably be an understatement to say that I have been known to enjoy a slice or two of cake in my time. So when The Secluded Tea Party supremo Miss Sue Flay announced that she was organising a cake crawl in Cambridge, I grabbed a friend and signed up. The plan was to visit five venues for an assortment of cakes over the afternoon, and finish with some dessert-based cocktails.

We kicked off in the Library Room at the Hotel du Vin with an impressive tea selection, some perfect red velvet cupcakes, and slices of fruit cake. As if this wasn't enough, we were also provided with a chocolate brownie each to take away (which on later consumption turned out to be fantastic). It was at this early stage that Miss Flay's provision of bags to pack up extra cake looked like a really good idea.

A brief walk later and we arrived at the recently re-opened Fitzbillies for one of their famed Chelsea buns (and more tea).

Company motto?

It was absolutely packed on a Saturday afternoon, so I really appreciated being whisked through to our special chef's table in the kitchen.

Chelsea bun close-up. Sticky.

An abundance of buns (not all for us).

More tea and a Chelsea bun later, it was off to Benet's for a palate cleanser a.k.a. an ice cream. There was quite a big selection, and apparently they are all made on site too.

My large scoop of wild cherry ice cream was lovely, and because it wasn't too sweet it was actually quite refreshing. And then it was onwards to the market, to the Caribbean food stall.

A very enthusiastic cake seller.

After some al fresco chatting and a piece of carrot cake later, we headed off towards Bill's Cafe.

Here as a minor deviation from cake, we had scones with jam and cream (and tea).

The scones were nice and light, and despite me repeatedly saying that I was full I still managed to consume a significant amount of the generous portion. And so as the sun set we staggered away to our final venue, the private members 12a Club.

Cocktail illuminated by candlelight.

Our desserts here were in liquid form, which I was quite glad about as I was near my cake saturation point. However I had no problem with sipping on my non-alcoholic tiramisu cocktail, which had the perfect balance of chocolate and coffee flavours without being sugary.

And so ended a very filling afternoon, which was also a lot of fun. I really enjoyed visiting some new tea and cake destinations such as Hotel du Vin. I will certainly be back there if only for that chocolate brownie. And maybe a cupcake. Umm, and some tea. It was also fantastic to smugly stroll past the queues to our own table, as well as chat to some cake makers and other enthusiasts. And you know you've had a good day when you waddle home with a bag of cake, feeling a little more rounded than you were before, and in need of a lie down.

Props to Miss Flay for organising it all too.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Shahi-style prawn and langoustine curry

I wasn't really sure what to call this Indian dish. I think of shahi-style food as originating from the Mughal empire in India, usually made with ground nuts or cream (or both), and therefore very indulgent. It's not the type of food my parents would normally cook, and as Bengalis they'd probably just describe it as North Indian. Other UK residents may think of it as a korma. But etymology aside, this is great Indian dish for a autumn night. It is gently spiced, but rich and full of flavour. I made it with prawns and langoustines, but you could easily make a vegetarian version instead (or indeed a chicken one).

Recipe (enough for 4):

250g shell-on cooked langoustine tails
200g large cooked prawns
Fat thumb-sized piece of ginger, ground to a paste
3 fat cloves of garlic, ground to a paste
1 large dried bay leaf
2 little finger-sized pieces of cinnamon
3 cardamon pods, split
1 whole green chilli, pricked a few times with the tip of a knife
2 level tsp ground coriander
1 level tsp ground cumin
1 level tsp garam masala
0.5 tsp turmeric
Salt and pepper for seasoning
Around 3 tblsp sunflower oil
Around 4 tblsp ground almonds
Around 200ml double cream

Put the oil into your pan, and heat gently (make sure you have enough oil to cover the base of the pan). When it's warm but definitely not smoking hot add in the whole spices- the bay leaf, cinnamon and cardamon pods. Give them a good stir, and after a minute add the ginger, garlic and chilli. Everything should be sizzling but not sticking, so turn down the heat if you need to. After another couple of minutes put in all the ground spices, and stir well. You should be smelling some nice aromas by this point. Next, lower the heat and then add the ground almonds and cook for a few minutes until they are lightly toasted. Put in the cooked seafood at this point, mix everything well and then pour in the cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and gently simmer for a few minutes until the prawns and langoustines are heated through.

So what you should end up with is a rich nutty gravy, that is flavoured with both whole and ground spices. The whole chilli provides flavour rather than heat, but this dish is as a far from bland as you can get. Using langoustines in this dish made a nice change from prawns (props to the Tesco freezer cabinet), and I thought they were much more flavourful too. I served this with some rice and my go to Indian classic of spinach and paneer with methi. Poppadom optional.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Apple crumble (for free!)

I made this apple crumble a couple of weeks ago, but have to admit that the free element might not be achievable for everyone.

My free pudding began with about nine large cooking apples from Mrs Male Companion Person Snr's garden. Once peeled, cored, and roughly chopped, I cooked these with about half a tablespoon of sugar (as they were actually not that sharp) and about a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, until they were soft but not falling apart.
My crumble topping was courtesy of the lovely Tine and the team at the Cambridge Cookery School. I've been lucky enough to go to a few events there, and this time round I was helping to celebrate their first birthday (mainly by scoffing a large number of cheese pastries and cake pops). They had also very kindly provided party bags for guests, which contained a bag of dry crumble mix, and thus the other 50% of my pudding. Apart from the usual ingredients, this also contained some oats, which when cooked and melded with the juices from the apples, added a really nice fudge-y texture to the crumble.

If you'd like to spend some pounds to recreate this crumble, you'll need about a kilo of cooked apples, and replace the biscuits in this recipe with 30g of oats and reduce the flour to 125g . Cook at gas mark 5 for about 40minutes until the crumble is golden on top. Serve while still warm with lots of cold clotted cream.

Monday, 7 November 2011

A speedy seafood stew

I really like things with fish and fresh seafood, but due to the dearth of fishmongers in the area my choice of ingredients is often limited to what is in the supermarket. Those plastic trays of prawns and mixed seafood aren't always the most inspiring thing, but I have realised that they can work very well in dishes like this. It's a vaguely Mediterranean concoction of fennel, olives, garlic and tomatoes, that is very tasty and quick enough to prepare for a post-work dinner.

Recipe (enough for 2 greedy people, with leftovers for the next day)

1 large bulb of fennel, finely sliced
1 small white onion, finely sliced
3 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
1 large sprig of thyme
1 tin chopped tomatoes (400g)
4 medium fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped or 1 heaped tsp tomato puree
Some water
About 15 small-ish green olives
1 tray mixed seafood, including squid and mussels (around 290g)
1 tray cooked king prawns (around 200g)
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
3 or 4 tblsp olive oil, or enough to generous coat the bottom of your cooking pan
Salt and pepper for seasoning

Heat the olive oil in reasonably large pan, and when it's warm put in the onion and fennel. Cook for around 5minutes over a medium-low heat until they've started to soften but not coloured. Then add the garlic, thyme and chilli flakes and cook for a few more minutes. Next, add the fresh tomato (or puree), the tin of tomatoes, and about half a tin's worth of water so that you have a loose tomato sauce. Simmer this on a low heat for about 10mins. At the end of this, the fennel should be tender. Next add the olives, and after another 5mins of simmering put in the cooked seafood. Add enough salt and pepper to season, and let the seafood heat through for a few minutes. Serve while piping hot with some bread.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Nigel Slater's chocolate snaps

Am I too influenced by what I see on the telly? Perhaps. These chocolate snaps appear to be the second chocolate recipe that I've cooked in the past few months after seeing them made on TV. Oh well, could be worse.

Anyway, this is another super-simple recipe from Nigel Slater. It basically involves making chocolate by buying some chocolate and melting it. Here's Nigel's recipe, which I followed with a few minor amendments. I left out the pistachios as my confidence that there was a small bag in the cupboard turned out to misplaced. I also used some vanilla flavoured salt from Waitrose rather than regular sea salt- which I have to say turned out to be a bit of a genius move. The combination of salt and chocolate seems quite popular these days, and having started off as something of a sceptic I am now a big fan. The addition of a touch of vanilla adds another flavour but without extra sweetness, and of course it's hard to go wrong with any chocolate/nut combo.

My only advice would be to watch the almonds like a hawk while they're toasting, as some of mine were a bit over-done despite my hovering around them. I also had a few issues with a few of the melted chocolate snaps running into each other to create an uber-snap. But once they they had set in the fridge it was easy to peel them from the baking parchment and snap them into individual pieces.

I will definitely be making these again, and probably extending the range of flavours that I add to the chocolate- I'm thinking stem ginger, chopped hazelnuts or honeycomb. It just remains for me to say, thank you Nigel and feel free to invite me round for tea anytime.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Salt and pepper squid

I pretty much like any form of fried squid whether it's calamari, or the more Asian salt and pepper squid. Actually, forget that, I pretty much like anything that's been fried.

Anyway, I can only remember making calamari once a few years ago. I'm not sure what I put in the batter but it all spat like crazy when it went into the hot oil, and I vaguely recall that most of the coating fell off during the cooking process anyway. After risking life and limb for my dinner, I wasn't keen to repeat the process again. But as salt and pepper squid is one of my favourite Chinese takeaway dishes, I thought I'd try cooking it as a side dish to go with the fish fragrant aubergine I was making too. I'm not sure why, but this time round I wasn't attacked by the squid and frying it was perfectly straight-forward. Perhaps the cornflour was just super effective in absorbing any moisture, but it does mean that this is a dish that I'd be happy to make again.
There isn't much of a recipe, but it's based on this one by Nigella Lawson. She uses baby squid, which is also what I would have done had I been able to buy any. But props to The Sea Tree for a perfectly nice big squid.

Recipe (enough for 4 as a side dish with other things):
I large squid tube, cleaned, scored and cut into small pieces (apart from the tentacles)
Around 1 heaped tsp Sichuan peppercorns
Around 2 heaped tsp regular black peppercorns
Around 2 heaped tsp rock salt
Around 5 tblsp cornflour
1 spring onion, finely chopped (optional)
Quite a lot of sunflower oil, enough for at least a depth of an inch in a deep pan or wok

Crush all the peppercorns and salt in a pestle and mortar, until they are well broken up but not finely ground. Put this seasoning and the cornflour into a plastic freezer or sandwich bag and mix well. Make sure the squid pieces are as dry as possible, and put a handful into the bag of cornflour so that they end up lightly coated. I usually use a wok for deep frying, and you'll need enough oil to ensure that the squid can float in it. Heat the oil until it's hot and shimmering (but not smoking), and gently lower in the first batch of squid. It should only take a minute or so before the squid is cooked and the coating is lightly browned. Carefully take the squid out and drain on some kitchen roll, to absorb any excess oil. Repeat with the rest of the squid. As it takes such a short time to cook, you shouldn't have any problems with the first batch getting cold before the rest are done. Once all the squid is done, sprinkle with the spring onion, and scoff while it's still hot and crispy.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Fish fragrant aubergine and a Chinese feast

As I'm sure I've said before I really know very little about Chinese food. Of course I can stir fry stuff or chomp on sesame toast, and I have experienced the Indo-Chinese cooking that's produced dishes such as gobi manchurian. However it's only recently that I've had my horizons broadened about the regional variation present in Chinese cooking (thanks internet!) and learnt about some new ingredients too.
I think I first read about fish fragrant aubergine on Lizzie HollowLeg's blog. This is a Sichuan dish, that doesn't actually contain any fish, but is aubergine cooked in style that fish is often prepared in (apparently). It can sometimes also contain minced pork, but as non-meat eater Lizzie's use of tofu seemed like an excellent alternative protein. As I wasn't sure I'd be able to get all the ingredients she used, I also found a slightly simpler recipe from the writer and Sichuan food expert Fuschia Dunlop. So here's my recipe, which takes elements from both and omits the things I couldn't find in the shop.

Recipe (enough for four as a side dish with other things):
1 large aubergine
Enough sunflower oil to fry the aubergine
Around 10 ready-fried tofu pieces
4 cloves of garlic (turned into a paste with the ginger)
Thumb-sized piece of ginger (in a paste)
2 tblsp chilli bean paste (Fuschia also gives excellent advice on which chilli bean paste to go for, and I chose the Chuan Lao Hui brand)
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tblsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tsp granulated sugar
A few tablespoons of water
1 tsp cornflour (if needed)
2 spring onions, sliced
1 tsp sesame oil

Firstly cut the aubergine into fishfinger-sized pieces, and cook them however you prefer. I shallow fried them in a frying pan in a couple of batches, but you could deep fry, or even brush with oil and bake them. They do need to be cooked through though. Once the aubergines are done, put a couple of tablespoons of oil in a wok and stir-fry the chilli bean paste for a couple of minutes on quite a high heat before adding the ginger and garlic paste. If anything looks like it's sticking add a little water, and keep it moving. Then add in the tofu, aubergine, soy sauces, sugar and vinegar, stir well, and reduce the heat. Let it all simmer for a few minutes, and add the cornflower if there's lots of liquid (I didn't need to bother with this step). Cook out the cornflower, if you're using it, for a further few minutes and then stir in the spring onions and sesame oil, and take the wok off the heat.
And tah-dah, my first bit of Sichuan cooking was done!

I decided to cook the fish fragrant aubergine as part of a Chinese dinner with salt and pepper squid, Sichuan-style prawns (blog posts to follow), and some steamed green vegetables with sesame oil. But the aubergines would have been perfectly fine on their own with some rice. I really loved their spicy, succulent-ness with hints of sourness and sweetness.

It was also great to be able to cook with some unfamiliar ingredients like the chilli bean paste and black vinegar. I still don't know too much about it, but on the basis of this dish I think I might quite like Sichuan food.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Chocolate and ginger pots

I'd only vaguely heard of the chef turned food writer, Simon Hopkinson, prior to his recent BBC television show. I now think I might add him to my list of people it would be fun to be friends with, along with Nigel Slater.
His recipe for chocolate pots with ginger appeared on his show, and immediately looked appealing. I followed the recipe from the BBC website almost exactly, apart from using 85% cocoa solids chocolate and a couple of teaspoons of vanilla extra (rather than infusing the cream).
The resulting puddings were fantastic; super-dense but with the ginger providing a nice contrast which stopped them becoming cloying. The only thing I'd change when making them again, would be to mix the chopped stem ginger throughout the pots rather than have a layer at the bottom as Mr Hopkinson recommends.

This is such simple recipe, with a classic flavour combination, but I'm really glad Simon Hopkinson popped up on my telly to inform me about it.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Borek and a meze selection

I like things made with filo pastry, but I've never I actually made anything with it myself. So now I'm in my thirtieth decade I thought I'd better correct this. I wanted something for a light summer lunch, so a meze selection including borek seemed like a good option. Borek are essentially little parcels of pastry with various fillings, which are found all around the Mediterranean and Middle East. The borek I've come across are always filled with a feta-style cheese, but Wikipedia tells me that they can have a range of different fillings. I decided to stick with feta, and used a recipe based on this one. I adapted it a bit, so my version's below. And I (obviously) did not consider making this super-thin pastry myself, but bought some ready-made filo.

Recipe (enough for around 12 pieces):
Ready-made filo pastry (I used 4 sheets in total, but this will depend on the dimensions of your pastry)
1 large egg, beaten
200g feta cheese
1 tblsp chopped dill
A good grinding of black pepper
Around 70g butter, melted
Around 2 tblsp sesame seeds

Firstly make up the filling by mashing the cheese with the egg, adding the dill and seasoning with pepper when they are well combined. It doesn't need to be smooth mix, so don't worry about any large crumbs of cheese.
Next get your filo pastry, and lay one sheet out. Brush this with melted butter, lay a second pastry sheet on top, and then brush this with butter too. I had a large rectangle of pastry so cut this in half across the widest part, and then each half into three, to create six smaller rectangles. I then placed a couple of teaspoons of the cheese mix along the longest edge, tucked in the sides, and rolled them up into cigar shapes (nb I had some rather fat cigars). These were then brushed with more melted butter and sprinkled with some sesame seeds. Depending on the dimensions of your filo you may need to alter how you cut it, but aim to make rectangles. Repeat this process with another batch of filo pastry, to make twelve borek in total. You need to work quickly with filo pastry as it becomes very delicate the drier it is. I found that putting my pastry in the fridge between batches seemed to help, and laying a damp tea towel over it is also supposed to be effective too.
Once the borek are made bake at gas mark 4 for around 25minutes until they are lightly browned.

The borek can be served hot, or at room temperature. I prefer them hot, so as I was making mine in advance I just popped them under the grill for a bit before I wanted to eat them (this also coloured them a little more). Though these are very simple in terms of ingredients, the combination of light, crisp pastry with soft, salty, slighty herby cheese is fantastic.

To go with my borek I made some cacik (a bit like raita but with garlic and mint), and Nigella Lawson's peanut butter hummus. This was a really good recipe which I more or less followed, apart from roasting my cumin and leaving out the yoghurt. To complete the meze selection I included some taramasalata from Waitrose. This is the nicest taramasalata I've had, but I think in this context it wasn't really needed, and the fishy flavour jarred a bit with the other dishes (I think some pitta bread was needed for it to work). But overall this meze lunch was perfect for a warm summer's day- filling but not too heavy, and with lots of flavour. Actually the borek were so nice I'd happily make them in the depths of winter too.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

The Hole in the Wall, Little Wilbraham, Cambridge, UK

I've been a fan of Masterchef for some time and so, like many others, was pretty excited when Cambridge resident and food blogger Alex Rushmer made it into the final three of the competition last year. Even more exciting was the news a few months ago that Mr Rushmer would be opening his restaurant in the Hole in the Wall pub, just outside Cambridge. And so with the Male Companion Person's birthday looming I booked a table for dinner.

The Hole in the Wall is very much a ye olde worlde village pub, and very pretty with it. There are lots of dark timbers, and quite a stange layout which I guess has evolved during the five hundred odd years that it's been around. We were rapidly shown to our table, with bread and butter, menus, and water all following shortly behind. Looking at the menu it was evident that despite the venue Alex and his team are definitely not going for a gastropub vibe (no sign of any posh fish and chips or gourmet burgers here), but for full on restaurant-style dishes. A brief but interesting menu had a choice of at least one meat, vegetarian and fish option for the starter and main courses. It may have been concise, but together with their daily special, a pescatarian person like moi had plenty of choice.

The subdued lighting was perfect for eating but not so good for photography.

I started off with what was simply described as a tomato and mozzarella salad with a parmesan biscuit. But there was a little twist as the mozzarella came in the form of a sort of cheese ice cream. A little reference to Alex's blue cheese ice cream as debuted on Masterchef perhaps? I remember that having mixed reviews (Gregg might not have wanted to stick his face in it), but the cheese ice cream at The Hole in the Wall was fantastic. Light, creamy and savoury- I could easily have eaten a lot more of this. It also went perfectly with the salty parmesan biscuit, and the selection of tomatoes. These were perfectly seasoned and full of flavour. I was particularly intrigued by the green but ripe tomato. The MCP went for the pigeon with beetroot risotto, which looked exceedingly pretty. Both were ideal starters for late summer.

Despite this picture the glass of wine was not actually twice the size of the starter.

Things got a bit more hefty for the main courses. The MCP went for the duck with pickled cucumber, and I had a whole bream stuffed with lemon and fennel. The fish was huge, and could probably have served two, but I managed to fit most of it (along with some samphire and potatoes) in. The baked fish was very moist, and the simple cooking really let the quality of the ingredients speak for themselves. If I was really nit-picking, I'd say that the tartare sauce on the plate, although perfectly nice, was rather unnecessary.

I really did not need any pudding but had one anyway as the MCP was. In fact we both ended up going for the burnt Cambridge cream a.k.a. crème brulée. This was rich and creamy, with a proper caramel crust which shattered on impact, but was not overly sweet.

So overall a really lovely meal. Our bill came to £75 (without service) for three courses each, and three glasses of wine between the two of us, which I thought was very reasonable.

There's very little not to like about The Hole in the Wall really. They bring water to your table without asking (always a big plus in my book), the service was attentive rather than intrusive, and the cooking was solid with good quality ingredients and some interesting flourishes. And all this in the first few months of opening too. I also quite liked the contrast between the very traditional setting and the more modern style of cooking. It means that The Hole in the Wall is just a little bit different, and somewhere I'd be happy to go back to in a flash.

The Hole in the Wall
Primrose Farm Road
Little Wilbraham
Cambridgeshire CB21 5JY

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Olive oil chocolate cake from Meemalee's Kitchen

I spotted this recipe for a chocolate cake made with olive oil on one of my favourite blogs Meemalee's Kitchen a few weeks ago. It appealed to me, as with its lack of flour and relatively small amount of sugar, it looked like quite a healthy cake option. And it also seemed to be quite a simple recipe. In fact it is a very simple recipe, but I turned making this cake into a very stressful experience by firstly not being able to locate the motor for my hand-held electric mixer; and then resorting to using the mixer attachment for the food processor but with only the single beater that I could find in the drawer. I do not recommend this methodology. It leads to mid-recipe washing up, swearing, and going red in the face a lot.

However, this cake was totally worth the (self-inflicted) stress. It was densely chocolate-y, but also mousse-like so still very light. Basically it was bloody delicious, and I was very tempted to make it again the next day. I used vanilla as an extra flavouring, rather than the original orange, but I suspect it would work well with a range of others such as cardamon, pistachio or cinnamon.

Recipe (adapted from Meemalee's Kitchen from an original recipe by Jose Pizarro)
Enough for around 6 decent slices, depending on greed

125g very dark chocolate (I used 100g of 90% and 25g of 85% cocoa solids chocolate)
125ml standard olive oil (not extra virgin)
4 large eggs (yolks and whites separated)
50g caster sugar
2 tsp good quality vanilla extract

Firstly put the oven on to pre-heat at gas mark 4. Break the chocolate into pieces and melt it along with the olive oil in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. When fully liquid and melted, set aside to cool. In the meantime cream together the egg yolks and sugar, until they look pale and light. An electric whisk is ideal for this. Once the chocolate mixture has cooled, slowly add it into the eggs and sugar together with the vanilla extract. In a separate clean bowl, whisk up the egg whites until they form stiff peaks and you can do that classic trick of holding the bowl upside down without the contents falling out. An electric whisk is also ideal for this. Gently mix the egg white into the rest of the cake mix, and pour into a 28cm cake tin that has been lined with greaseproof paper. Bake in the middle of the oven for at least 15minutes. Mine was still quite liquid in the centre after this time though, so I gave it an extra 10minutes. Wait until the cake has cooled before taking it out of the tin.
Serve with a splodge of clotted cream, fresh strawberries, or both.

NB The above is how it's supposed to work. In my stressed state I managed to balls things up by adding all the chocolate to the eggs and sugar in one go. Or maybe it hadn't cooled enough. But basically I ended up with one giant lump of sticky chocolate sitting in a pool of pale brown 'water'. I managed to 'rescue' this by slowing adding the egg white to the mix and doing a lot of stirring. It did eventually come back together, but I suspect I knocked most of the air out of the cake mix, so it didn't rise much. But the texture and taste remained fab.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Bill's Cafe and Restaurant, Cambridge, UK

The opening of Bill's Cafe and Restaurant in Cambridge has caused quite a bit of excitement amongst those of us here with a passing interest in food. Bill's is a small chain which started off with locations in Sussex and has now expanded to London, and most recently Green Street in the centre of Cambridge.

While Bill himself remains elusive, his cafes have gone for the Jamie Oliver-esque concept of also being 'stores' where you can buy Bill's jams, chutneys, and books (as well as lots of other stuff). The shelves full of interesting things cover the walls of the cafe, which means the interior looks quite relaxed and funky. And they actually manage to pull off the combo of faux driftwood wall panels with industrial ducting across the ceiling too.

Bill's do quite a wide range of cafe style food from breakfast through to dinner, and when I popped in for lunch with the Male Companion Person the other day we thought we'd try a selection of starters. I had the gazpacho, the MCP had an avocado and bacon salad, and between us we shared the mezze board and some calamari.

Both the salad and the gazpacho were very generously sized for starters. My soup had a great fresh balance of tomato, pepper and cucumber, with just a little onion kick. I suspect some might have preferred a smoother texture but I quite liked the fact that it hadn't been processed to death. This would be perfect to have on a hot and sunny summer's day, but was still pretty fine on a cloudy and overcast summer's day.

The calamari were light and crispy, as described on the menu, and the garlic mayo was particularly good as well.

The mezze board came with lots of little bowls of vegetarian goodness, including an outstanding red pepper hummous with pumpkin seeds, which (I think) was spiced with some cumin as well. The baba ganoush didn't really taste of smokey aubergine though. The strongest flavour was that of citrus, but it was still very tasty. As were the other bowls of roast vegetables, olives and guacamole.

What was particularly impressive, apart from the quality of the food, was the very reasonable pricing. We had a lot of food for two people, but all of the above along with some non-alcoholic drinks, cost just over £31.00 (including service).

So good food, nice atmosphere, reasonable prices- there's very little not to like about Bill's. I'd recommend going before the rest of Cambridge finds out about it.

Bill's Cafe, Restaurant and Store
34-35 Green Street
Cambridge CB2 3JX

Monday, 25 July 2011

Crust-less mini quiches

A quick post on these super-simple mini quiches which are perfect for a summer picnic, afternoon tea or a general snack. As they lack any pastry they are also suitable for people on a gluten-free diet, or for those who can't be bothered to make pastry.

I used the same filling as I've previously written about, caramelised red onion and mushroom, which was divided between 12 cupcake cases lined with grease-proof paper (I was worried about sticking issues but it probably would have been fine without the double layer). The liquid part of the filling was again what I'd use in a regular quiche- 300ml of double cream, 2 eggs, 2 handfuls of emmental cheese, a little salt and a generous grind of black pepper. This was ladled into the cases, and the tray placed into the middle of an oven pre-heated to gas mark 6. The quiches take around 20minutes to cook, and should be golden on top and set, but still have a little bit of a wibble. They also look very light and puffy initially, but will collapse back down as they cool.

Eat hot or cold while being quite surprised that pastry is not absolutely essential for a quiche.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Jerk trout

I have very little experience of Caribbean food. I own a book by Levi Roots and have heard about the classics like jerk chicken and rice and peas, but have never tried them. I don't eat meat so jerk chicken is unlikely to make an appearance on my table any time soon, but I liked the principle of something spicy and grilled. And when a couple of local supermarkets introduced small Afro-Caribbean sections in their ethnic food aisles, I enthusiastically bought some jerk seasoning mix by Dunn's River. Unfortunately this then sat in the cupboard for about six months before I got round to doing something with it.

But eventually I remembered it was there, and decided that jerk trout was the way forward. It's a pretty robust fish that can take strong flavours and is also relatively cheap (always a bonus). So for my jerk marinade I made a paste with one medium onion, a couple of fat cloves of garlic, about a tablespoon of thyme leaves and around two and half generous tablespoons of the jerk seasoning powder. I used a bit of oil to bind everything together too. This was then rubbed onto two whole cleaned trout, that I made some slashes in, and left to marinate for about 45minutes. If I'd planned better I would have left it for longer and maybe overnight. The trout were then drizzled with a little more oil and cooked under a hot grill, until the skin was crisp and beginning to char a little. So around seven or eight minutes on each side (or until cooked through).

And I have to say that I was really impressed with the outcome. I generally don't favour ready made spice mixes, but having no idea what should go in it, this jerk seasoning was a really convenient option and very tasty. Looking at the ingredients it contained coriander, chilli, pepper, pimento, cinnamon, marjoram, bay, and nutmeg, as well as salt and sugar. And I don't think it need any extra spices adding to it at all (unlike with many pre-mixed spice mixes). On a side note- it was quite salty though, so there's no need to add extra salt to this dish. The saltiness on the surface evened out when combined with eating the actual fish though, but if you're sensitive about that sort of thing then maybe use less of the mix than I did.

I served my jerk trout with some steamed broccoli and greens, and as we had one whole fish per person, that was more than enough. The fish was spicy with chilli heat but also had other flavours that I would have been pushed to identify. It was a very different type of spiciness to the Indian food I'm used to, but equally as good. So a definite thumbs up for jerk from me!

Have a look at the Food Stories blog for more information on all things jerk from a true enthusiast.

Dunn's River Jerk Seasoning
I rate it 8/10
Cost: Around £1.40 for a 100g tub

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Anita's dill and mint raitha crisps

So in the search for further snack innovation I stumbled across these crisps by Anita's a few weeks ago. I'm not sure if there really is a little ethnic auntie (Anita) behind it all as claimed, or whether this is just clever marketing, but the unique feature of this brand is its range of Indian flavours.
Their offerings are made up of chicken tikka, mango and lime chutney, achaari paneer, and a dill and mint raitha variety which I tried recently. And I have to say I was very impressed. A bit like the Hairy Bikers coconut prawn crisps, this is a flavour that sounds a bit wrong to combine with fried potatoes but actually works. The herb flavours are not too strong, but still distinguishable, and the yoghurt element of the raitha comes through too. Overall this leads to quite a fresh tasting crisp, with the raitha flavour cutting through any oiliness from the potato.

I'm looking forward to sampling some of the other flavours (all of them except the chicken tikka variety are vegetarian). And though I still a remain a stout (in all senses) advocate of the plain salted crisp, I think I will be adding these to my list of acceptable alternatives.

Anita's Dill and Mint Raitha Crisps
I rate them 8/10
Cost: Around £1.70 for a 150g bag