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.