Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Wild garlic leaves & mackerel

Wild garlic leaves; not something I'd ever come across in Australia. Since buying them 2 weeks ago I've used them in risotto, frittata, salads and for this dish, laid across fillets of mackerel (I was going to wrap the fillets with the leaves, but wanted to crispen the skin when pan frying).
We enjoyed a lovely Saturday early dinner - the first of the year eaten on our terrace! Fillets of mackerel with wild garlic leaves, pan fried in butter, blanched purple sprouting broccoli, and organic puy lentils (cooked with pancetta & onion, with fresh parsley from the garden) - the perfect seasonal dish!
You may have noticed I've been very lazy with my darling blog of late, so to continue the theme, I'll just stop yapping and let the photos do the talking.

Monday, 19 April 2010

A new find!

On Saturday we had one of those exciting moments when you discover a new, slightly hidden cafe just around the corner from your house. Y and I walked past LITRO on Drayton Park, opposite Arsenal Stadium, on Friday night and returned very excited the next morning. When we arrived at 11.30am armed with papers LITRO was closed, but as we pressed our noses against the glass to peer inside, the owner came and opened the door and welcomed us in.
The fit out of this place is uber cool. The walls are covered in recycled materials, there are large glass bottles hanging as lights, pots of rosemary on the tables, wooden bench seats and random chairs. The menu is written on blackboards on the wall. There's an area out the back that's being turned into a courtyard and was in full sun on Saturday.
We started with coffees and they were excellent. The place is Italian so we shouldn't have been so surprised. As LITRO didn't officially open for another half hour, we settled in and read our papers until the kitchen was open, at which time we ordered one of the several organic lagers on offer and a 1/2 litre of prosecco, along with bruschetta and the charcuterie plate. Everything was delicious. The toasted bread with the ripe tomatoes was particularly yummy.
LITRO is open for dinner and polenta, pasta and other simple Italian staples are on the blackboard menu. The kitchen is very tiny so they seem to be relying on great uncomplicated produce - a recipe for success we hope! The little postcard we picked up says they'll be opening for breakfast and lunch soon - can't wait!

Saturday, 17 April 2010

How to feel better (or at least numb the disappointment)

I'm meant to be in Sydney right now. Our close friends, Carrie & Isuru, are getting married in about 2 hours. All my friends (most of whom I haven't seen in at least a year) will be there. Sydney is also where my family is and both Y's and my family (most of whom we also haven't seen for a year) have arranged, somehow or other, to be in Sydney for a quick catch up with us.
We had hatched a crazy scheme to fly into Sydney Saturday morning and then out again Monday night - going to Australia for a long weekend! But then ... Icelandic volcanic ash hit. Bye bye Australia.
Having discovered on Thursday afternoon that our flights for that night had been cancelled and that we'd be missing several family engagements and our friends' wedding, we were plunged into the depths of disappointment. To make matters worse, I had taken all my luggage to work so that I could go straight to the airport. Struggling home with your luggage is far less bearable when you've only actually been to Wood Green (and to make matters even worse, the elevators at our tube station were broken, so I had to lug my bag up the tiny spiral stairwell of 68 steps, only to be abused by a fellow passenger "You should be using the lift with that bag" - "Yeah thanks mate. If it were working, I'd be in it").
We still had a day of annual leave booked for Friday and there was no way we were going to work. So instead, we planned a day to cheer us up. Here's how it went (as you may have picked up, it wasn't the mood for photos, so there are none. Sorry):
First stop, Bea's of Bloomsbury for delicious coffee and gorgeous cupcakes. I devoured a carrot cupcake with cream cheese icing, whilst Y inhaled a vanilla and raspberry one. We sat right near the very open kitchen and watched all the baking. - cheer up rating: 7/10 (until we went to pay and the girl working there asked why we weren't at work ...)
Next up we headed to Old Street, as we had beauty treatments booked. We had spare time though so ducked into Three Threads (on the recommendation of Smell My Kitchen). I bought these cute little navy suede pumps. - cheer up rating: 6.5/10. (oh, shoes were on special - half price) - cheer up rating: 8/10
Off to CowShed at Shoreditch House - their spa rooms there have just been redone and are stunning. 1 hour facial for me, 1 hour massage for Y. - cheer up rating: 9/10
We then strolled around the corner for lunch at Albion. Service was patchy as usual, but the comfort food of white bread sandwiches with (for me) chicken and mayo and (for Y) roast pork with sage butter was delish, plus I always love the fit out at Albion. - cheer up rating: 7.5/10
A stroll down Brick Lane to check out some vintage clothes stores - Y got a funky cardigan. Then to Spitalfields Market where we got a new record for our record player. - cheer up rating: 7/10
Sat on a bench in the sun opposite Spitalfields and devoured several of the mini passionfruit meringues we'd picked up at Bea's of Bloomsbury. - cheer up rating: 7.5/10
Went to HMV and bought several DVDs, went home and sat in bed and watched a movie. - cheer up rating: 6.5/10 (singing the songs to Chicago always helps)
Walked down the street to Vietnamese at Au Lac. We had Vietnamese crispy pancake, and were planning on having beef pho, but changed our minds when we discovered Vietnamese BBQ (they cook the thinly sliced beef at your table and then you make your own fresh rice paper rolls with the beef, vermicelli noodles, cucumber, herbs). - cheer up rating: 8/10
Home, bed, Will & Grace DVDs, cookie dough ice cream and milky bar chocolate. Fell asleep without brushing teeth. - cheer up rating: 7.5/10
Woke up Saturday morning to fuzzy teeth and a photo my best friend sent me of the beautiful bride getting ready in Sydney. - cheer up rating: priceless

Thursday, 8 April 2010

An Easter weekend of food

Ah, what a lovely foodie filled 4 day weekend! Lots of cooking and eating. We were lucky enough to enjoy several meals at the hands of others and had gorgeous roast lamb, home made falafel, potatoes roasted in goose fat, the first asparagus of the season, poached chicken breast with lemony olive oil, gooey brownies with ice cream, rich chocolate fondant cake with bitter chocolate icing, Eton Mess, individually decorated cup cakes, pecan and chocolate fudge, cheese with home made quince jelly, and best of all my favourite 2 & 1/2 year old who insisted not only on feeding me a steady stream of Easter eggs, but peeling each and every one. At home I made fresh tortellini, cock-a-leekie soup, stem ginger ice cream, and coconut milk & lemongrass sorbet. But the highlights of the weekend were:
1. Courgette & pea soup
I learnt both my love of food and how to cook, from my mother, and she learnt both those things from her mother. So when talking to my mum recently she mentioned she'd made this soup for 2 separate sets of guests, and I then heard from my grandma that she'd tried the soup too and it was delicious, I knew I had to try it!
It was very easy to make, such a pretty colour, and lovely served at room temperature for lunch on Good Friday. I had made bread stuffed with leftover caramlised onion the night before to go with our cock-a-leekie soup, so I sliced up the leftover bread and fried it - the perfect thing to offset such a virtuous soup!

Here's the recipe, in my Mum's words:
Zucchini and Pea Soup (served hot or cold) - serves 6 easily
1 large onion chopped (I used a small onion + leek as well + stalk of celery)
little olive oil
400g zucchini (or courgette for the English amongst us)
400g peas
4C vegetable stock (I used Campbells stock in a box and added a good tspn of powdered veg stock as well)
Saute onion till soft. Add remaining ingredients and bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer until cooked. Cool slighty and then blend with magic stick. Season if necessary.
Just prior to serving, I squeezed half a lemon into the soup (to serve cold).
For serving, I swirled some cream and added either some cooked peas as a garnish, or yesterday I added macro herbs sprinkled on the top which gave an interesting texture to the smooth soup.
Easy peasy

2. Fish pie with home made flaky pastry

I recently won the new cookbook from Kitchen Aid, celebrating 90 years of those fabulous mix-masters. I have wanted to try making my own flaky pastry for a while, and I was going to be making fish pie for dinner on Good Friday - what better opportunity! I've mentioned this amazing fish pie before, as we first tried it at our friends & cousins, G & A's place in December last year. Since then I made it for the first time when I had an alarming number of pescetarians turn up at one supper club, but I'd never made it for my own consumption.I made the dough for the pastry and over the space of a couple of hours, folded and rolled it every 10 minutes, sometimes adding little dollops of butter. Of course, when you go to that much trouble to make your pastry, the best thing to do when you finally get it in the oven (after carefully shaping fish and boats on top of the pies) is to completely forget about it and burn it if at all possible.As you can see, I achieved the blackened look rather well, but fortunately the pastry still tasted delicious, not to mention the gorgeous creamy fish pie.

Here's the recipe. It's an Australian recipe, so just substitute a combo of cod, smoked cod & haddock if you're in the UK.

3. Cooking class at The Kitchen, Fulham
Saturday night, glasses of prosecco in hand, music playing, 12 happy & excited faces. We were about to cook our own dinner!
The occasion was the aforementioned G's birthday (I won't mention which one, b/c she's so beautiful and youthful you wouldn't believe me) and as a surprise a group of her lovely friends all turned up to be involved in a group cooking class.
We were greeted by Jimmy (originally from Melbourne) who would be our chef instructor for the night and he quickly put many minds at ease by informing us we'd be doing the prep for the 3 course meal and he would then cook it and serve it and all we had to do was then eat it. The class was to be super informal, not big on technique, but just a fun night. And this it was. It was the perfect thing to do with a big group of people with varying cooking abilities - if you cook frequently, you won't learn anything ground breaking, but you will definitely have a fun night.
We made spinach & feta spanikopita to start, moussaka and then tiramisu. Not the most adventurous menu, but easy to put together whilst clutching a glass of wine, having a dig at the (quite frankly, inferior) efforts of your neighbours and posing for photos.
The food was rather delicious, and my only gripe was that I would have preferred to have eaten my moussaka and dessert from china ramekins/bowls rather than plastic. However using plastic containers did facilitate taking home what we couldn't eat - which was essential as servings were generous.
I've since heard from a couple of people that The Kitchen run great cooking classes during the day for young children and young adults. It's a fun place to go for a birthday party or hens night and we certainly enjoyed it. (With special special thanks to A for the photos) 4. Earl grey & chiffon cake with marscapone icing
When I won the Kitchen Aid cookbook I mentioned above, the first thing the people from @KitchenAidUK, via Twitter, told me to make was this cake. So doing what I was told, I did just that.
I couldn't help but feel a little like the poor relation when reading the instructions to beat my mixture on a certain setting with a certain type of beater on my gleaming Kitchen Aid mixer, whilst in reality making a complete mess with my Dualit magic wand beater, which is rather more like using an extremely energetic jack hammer. Whilst I'd like to insist that I really do need a Kitchen Aid in order to use the book, unfortunately the cake came out beautifully with my hand held appliance.
The cake is to be served with the marscapone cream, however I slightly burnt mine (a reoccurring theme ...) so had to "trim" it slightly, so piled the cream on top as icing instead, to cover up my mistakes. The top was then sprinkled with pistachios and lemon zest. The cake was lemony with a subtle taste of tea. It looked rather different and tasted quite yummy. I even had a second piece, just to make sure.
(I've been too lazy to give the recipe, but let me know if you want to give it a try. I can already hear my mother typing away an email wanting to cook this one for her regular Friday meetings of girlfriends)
Hope you also had a lovely Easter weekend. I fear it will take more than Tuesday's gym visit to erase the memory of mine ...

Here's the recipe:
250g self raising flour
1T baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
300g sugar
2T Earl Grey tea leaves
125ml vegetable oil
5 egg yolks
grated zest of 1 lemon
grated zest of 2 limes
100ml lemon juice
8 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

mascarpone cream (or icing in my case):
500g mascarpone
4T icing sugar
1tsp finely ground Earl Grey tea
grated zest of 1 lemon
50g crushed pistachio nuts

preheat oven to 170 degrees C. seive the flour, baking powder + salt in bowl. Blitz 100g sugar with the tea (Kitchen Aid said in a coffee mill, but I used the tea from tea bags and it was already so fine I didn't need to wizz - I just mixed the tea with the sugar). Stir the sugar into the flour with the remaining sugar.

Make a well in the centre and add oil, egg yolks, lemon and lime zest. Mix and then add lemon juice, and then beat for another minute.

In another bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff. Gently fold the batter into the egg whites and pour into ungreased (I ignored the "ungreased" part and found it hard to get the cake out of the tin - could this be why?)25cm ring mould tin (I used a square tin, so any shape would do).

Bake for 55minutes then increase the oven temp to 180 degrees C for 10 more minutes. When you take the cake out of the oven, place upside down on a wire rack and leave to cool in the tin.

For the cream/icing - beat icing sugar into mascarpone and Earl Grey until smooth.

Tip cake out of tin, either ice with icing or serve with mascarpone cream, sprinkle with lemon zest and pistachios.