1. Smooth Operator

    Smoothies remind me of my more energetic days in high school when I played every sport imaginable AND did dance after that for three hours each day. It was hard to get enough protein in my body because, well I’m tall and my metabolism was ridiculously high (please come back!) and for some crazy reason I decided to be vegetarian (copied my best friend). The joys and adventures of teenage life…

    Green Smoothies

    Anyway my sweet mother did indulge me and made me smoothies in the mornings, mainly consisting of fruit, frozen berries and some tofu or yogurt for protein. I never was allowed to go the route of the powdered stuff, not the kind of thing a teenage girl should be consuming, as my mama said, but then they were kind of awful! Now it’s all a trend again and the powders are back, but this time there are way better options. Not just for big muscle builders or the elderly, though hopefully theirs are improving too, there are actually some proteins out there that taste OK and aren’t so bad for the body or the planet.

    We’ve been testing smoothies at work to possibly have in one of our restaurants, which is really near a pilates studio, and I thought I’d share what I loved about it (mainly cashew butter!) and what I didn’t.

    Pea Protein is the most interesting to me because it’s vegetarian, vegan, allergen-friendly and it’s better for the environment than milk or egg based proteins because it requires less space and minimal resources. If you’ve grown peas you’ll know they need little tending to or space!

    Pea protein is great when you use it with something thick and still nice when you have something that covers up the slightly grainy effect of a powder in liquid, an issue you can’t really get away from (this I don’t like). It’s without a strong colour, so works with red and green based smoothies both.

    So here is what I recommend:

    Put these ingredients in the size glass you want to use

    A handful of green veg – spinach or kale, a scoop of cashew butter, a tiny bit of honey, a half banana, two tablespoons of oats and a tablespoon of pea protein.

    Top this with almond milk filling the glass and then pour the lot into your super duper speedy blender.

    Blend it until totally smooth and allow it to sit for five minutes. If you need to top up the almond milk to make it more liquid, go for it. Top it with a few flax seeds and then drink up.

    But please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t give up bacon if you really don’t want to. It’s just too good.

     

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  2. Roasted Pumpkin and St Agur Salad

     The end of summer is here. We are feeling the cold seep into London, which in unfortunate because my relationship with Gelato was just getting exciting, but with the cold comes changing leaves, crisp aired walks, that feeling of excitement like school is starting (yes I know I’m in my 30’s, but I still love stationary shopping). This salad makes me think of summer but uses delicious pumpkin ripe and ready for autumn. Add in a rich blue cheese, toasted nuts and cranberries and you have something really simple but special.

    The sweet roasted pumpkin is matched up against the savoury, salty tang of the blue cheese, the bitter toasted walnuts and the sour dried cranberries and pomegranate  molasses. The serving size is perfect  as dinner for two and to be enjoyed with a glass of lightly sweet Riesling or a rich Sauternes. For best results, use a soft shelled pumpkin, which can still be found at good green grocers. Alternatively peel a culinary pumpkin before roasting or use butternut squash.

    Roasted Pumpkin and St Agur Salad

    IMG_9185

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  3. Lazy Almond Cake

    This is a ‘well I really want cake but I refuse to go to the shop for anything’ kind of cake. And I don’t have any baking powder… I am always running out of something. What the heck, let’s give it a go!

    It turns out it’s amazing what you can do with what is lying around in your cupboard. Phew! I don’t have to go outside… The result of this laziness is a dense, moist almond cake that works perfectly with tea and even better with coffee and a book. Tah dah!

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  4. Ode to Sourdough Bread

    I just did two weeks without gluten just to see what would happen. Nothing, thank gawd. My respect goes out to all those with a real gluten problem, I know it’s not pretty and it’s sure as hell not easy!!! 

    Anyway since I’ve been thinking about bread nonstop for 14 days but not been able to eat it, I thought I’d eat it with my mind, so here are some ramblings on sourdough. Thank you heaven and earth for letting me have it again…. 

    It all starts with yeast, this really fabulous one celled organism that reproduces quickly and converts sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. It’s a delicious bubble making machine and we have been using it for centuries (we’re talking Neolithic era, as early as 4000 B.C.) to make booze and bread – still two of the consumable pillars of our society. Yeast is essentially man’s first industrial microorganism. Respect! 
    Sourdough is made using natural yeast and lactobacilli, those fabulously useful bacteria found in yogurt and other fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut.

    Fermented foods are responsible for feeding and multiplying all the good bacteria that play a vital role in balancing not only our digestive system but possibly all of our body, even our mind. (Double wow for sourdough!) According to growing numbers of experts in the medical field, “microbes (for example, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species) associated with fermented foods may also influence brain health via direct and indirect pathways”(1). Pretty great stuff!

    IMG_5078 I am a seriously lucky woman in that my husband took up baking sourdough bread as a hobby a few years ago – I showed him the New York Times ‘No-knead bread’ recipe (still a go-to) by Mark Bittman and said, “Here honey, give this a try!”. The result has been freshly baked sourdough almost every weekend! 

    Sometimes he even lets me join in the fun of the process. The above photo is a loaf I made recently. I won’t pretend it’s as perfect – you get used to analysing the rise and texture of a loaf in our house but at least we’re only really discerning about taste. But here is the greatest thing about baking sourdough at home – it’s rustic defined, each loaf looks a little different and perfection is to taste – some like it soft and some like sour to the max (like me!), but there is no wrong way.

    It’s fun to play around with different recipes, experiment with different methods, hydration levels, flours and yeasts. It’s really a messy science. Once you’ve got it down though, it doesn’t have to take too much effort, just a bit of time around the house to work the dough, and being nearby when you’ve got to throw it in the oven. That easy and it’s lovely knowing that you’re creating something in your kitchen that humans have been making for eons. A little bit of history right at home.

    I have played around with four methods and recipes: Richard Bertinet’s ‘Sourdough Baguettes’ from his book ‘Crust‘, an old sourdough recipe card I found in a battered file filed by a woman from the 1940’s on, a handout from my time at Leith’s School of Food and Wine, and our household favourite – Tartine by Chad Robertson. I’ll share it with you soon, but it’s still in the testing stages.

    If you haven’t gathered yet, sourdough can be a bit complicated… but the good kind of complicated. For me it has been a love affair turned into a marriage – something I’ll be working on for a long time and from which I will enjoy wonderful benefits.

    Stay tuned…

    (1) A. Selhub, A Logan, A. Bested, Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry (J Physiol Anthropol. 2014; 33(1):2, published online January 2014.

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  5. Carrot soup with sour cream, dill and pine nuts

    This carrot soup has a certain farm-like decadence to it. It is rich while nourishing and looks beautiful. You can make it vegetarian if you wish, but the chicken stock does add another layer of flavour. Punchy caraway and mustard seed add depth of flavour to the sweetness of the carrot while the garnishes – sour cream, dill and pine nuts – add a creamy richness.

    Carrot Soup

    I imagined myself eating this dish at an outdoor table on a warm summer evening, watching the stars begin to glimmer. However, as it is made from a lasting root vegetable it is also seasonally versatile – it just happens to taste the best when the carrots have been pulled straight out of the ground. Serve with a cool glass of California chardonnay.

    CARROT SOUP WITH SOUR CREAM, DILL AND PINE NUTS

    Serves 3-4

    INGREDIENTS

    1kg carrots, peeled and cut into 1inch rounds

    2 sticks celery, cut into chunks

    3 banana shallots, sliced

    2tbs olive oil

    Splash of white wine

    500ml chicken or vegetable stock

    1tsp dried dill

    1tbs mustard seeds

    1tbs caraway seeds

    salt and pepper

    To garnish

    4 dessert spoons sour cream

    4tbs pine nuts

    4tbs fresh chopped dill

    METHOD

    Start by sweating the vegetables and dry spices in a medium saucepan in a dessert spoonful of olive oil with a teaspoon of salt stirred through, which helps the vegetables break down. It’s great to get a bit of colour on the shallots as their caramelised flavour lends beautifully to the sweet carrots.

    Once the vegetables have a bit of colour on them, pour in the white wine followed by the chicken stock. If the vegetables aren’t covered with liquid, top it up with water. Bring the pot to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer. Cook until the carrots are completely soft, about 30-45mins.

    When the carrots are soft, take the soup of the heat and blend it until it is a fine puree. Let it down with a bit of water until it is the desired consistency. You don’t want it to thick, nor too thin. Think the of the body of double cream, that’s what you’re going for. Add plenty of fresh cracked pepper and a bit of salt if the flavour needs a bit more oomph.

    To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, drizzle with a little olive oil and add a dallop of sour cream in the middle, laying it down gently so it rests on top of the soup. The sour cream really boosts and balances the flavour of the sweet carrots. Sprinkle over the dill and finally scatter the pine nuts.

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  6. Smoked Mackerel Potato Salad

    I learned a version of this recipe from my mom’s Parisian cousin, so it’s gotta be good. Paris has such style. Even their casual is pulled together, which basically sums up this salad too.

    Great for a BBQ, mid-week dinner or picnic lunch, this is a go-to recipe and it’s so simple a small child could knock it together. Woohoo!

    SMOKED MACKEREL POTATO SALAD

    Serves 4-6 as a side, 3-4 as a main

    INGREDIENTS

    250-300g smoked peppered mackerel

    500g new potatoes, boiled or steamed

    4TBS mayonnaise

    1 lemon

    20g chives, finely chopped


    METHOD

    Zest the lemon into a small bowl and keep it to the side. Juice the rest.

    Cut the potatoes into quarters and place in a large bowl. Skin the mackerel and break it into generous chunks.

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  7. Pizza Dough

    Pizza dough is a fantastically easy bread to make at home. It’s versatile and freezes beautifully. Make pizza, calzones, rolls or breadsticks. Do use ’00’ flour, which is very finely milled and high in gluten to give your bread a deliciously chewy texture. Simply shape, allow to prove for about 20 minutes and then cook in a high heat oven, around 220ºc/420ºf for the recommended time for whatever you are making.

    The classics are always nice, but try to go a little wild with flavours! I, for example, love it with a little rosemary, topped with gorgonzola and pears. The sky is the limit! Well, maybe not anchovies and chocolate…

    Pizza Dough

    PIZZA DOUGH

    Prep time: 20mins plus 1 hour for rising

    INGREDIENTS

    500g ’00’ flour

    500g plain, all purpose flour

    1tsp fine sea salt

    1.5tbs quick yeast

    650ml water, warm to touch

    1tbsp sugar, caster or granulated

    4tbsp extra virgin olive oil

    METHOD

    Whisk the flours and salt together in a large bowl – the largest in your kitchen, big enough for the whole mixture to double in size.

    Fill a jug with the water and add the yeast, sugar and oil. Allow the yeast to bloom out and activate by leaving it for at least 5 minutes. It should foam vigorously.

    Make a well in the bottom of the flour, pour in the liquid and stir with a large fork from the centre to the outside, slowly bringing in all the flour until a smooth, sticky dough forms. When it starts to get to difficult to use the fork, reach in with a clean, floured hand and work the dough together.

    Tip the dough out onto a clean, lightly floured surface – a countertop is usually the best – and knead for 5 to 10 minutes until the dough becomes silky and springy. There should be some resistance as the gluten starts to develop, which will give it a wonderful chewy texture.

    Lightly flour the bowl you used to mix the dough in and lay the dough in the bottom, dust the top with flour and cover the bowl with a damp tea towel. Leave it in a warm place to rise until it has doubled in size – it should take about an hour.

    Once risen, scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a floured countertop and knock back, removing much of the air but not all. Using a scraper or a butter knife, portion the dough into 6 portions for medium pizzas, 8 portions for small.

    Either use immediately or wrap the portions in clingfilm for the fridge or freezer. If freezing, wrap double.

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  8. Good Morning Vietnam!

    It really is morning here in Vietnam, so in this case use of this cliche line is appropriate, and it is absolutely beautiful here on the lagoon where we are staying near Hue.

    The fishing boats wake me up at 4:30AM with their putt-putt-putting and the swooshing of their net very near to our bedroom. I don’t mind at all. The sun is a glowing orb of red, typical of this part of the world and we enjoy being awake when it rises over the mountains in the distance.

    Vietnam is an amazing country. The people are friendly and humorous and they work incredibly hard everyday. The landscape is magical and the history is fascinating. I feel I’ll never want to leave.

    Naturally one of the biggest parts of this adventure is the food. Vietnamese has been a favourite of mine for many years, being a staple in Seattle and an slight obsession of my step-dad, but eating the real deal here surpasses any expectations I could ever have dreamed up.

    I plan to write more posts about Vietnam and the fabulous food adventure I am having here because my obsession just got deeper!

    Let’s start wish breakfast, a steaming bowl of Pho Ga ( said Ph-oa G-ah).

    There is something so satisfying about rice noodles in clear broth. It’s the chicken noodle soup of Vietnam but for breakfast, so it really clears your head and mind for the day (and your sinuses, depending on how many chillies you add).

    So here is the rundown for Pho – it’s like any culture’s chicken soup: your mom makes it best, your grandma even better; it starts with great stock; it makes you feel better even if you feel good; it’s comforting; it’s pretty cheap to make.

    This recipe can be adapted to your taste. I learned to make a better version than I have before at a fabulous cooking school near Hoi An.

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  9. I feel this needs a second round… Porter Chocolate Cake – it’s still so good.

    I recently went out for dinner and we had this chocolate stout cake. It was dense, sweet, malty, moist, bitter (maybe slightly too bitter) – but mainly just a delicious piece of cake. Something worth baking at home, with a couple of little changes.

    First thing’s first – it’s the beer that gives this cake depth of flavour by introducing some of its fruity and malty notes, so the beer is one of the most important ingredients to think about.

    In Harold McGee’s book ‘On Food and Cooking’, the beer style chart lists stout as being mainly dark and bitter. Porter on the other hand has a bit of caramel sweetness to balance the bitterness from the dark roasted malt. It also has a bit more fizz, which might help to leaven the cake. I’ll tell you what – it works. I’ll never again bake a chocolate cake without it… and the whisky in the frosting? Well, it’s the icing on the, you know, cake.

    Porter Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Whisky Frosting

    chocolate-porter-cake-whole-after-the-market

     

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  10. Project Wedding Cake – Dave and Mel

    Crafting this rather large wedding cake was hard work but so much fun that I would do it again and again. I thought I would share a few details of the adventure so here it goes! Let’s start with the final result:

    Wedding Cake Kiss

    Wedding Cake Kiss

    Wedding Cake Tiers

    I know you might be thinking ‘it’s only 12 inches, that’s the size of a pizza’, but it’s not like a pizza at all. I have never seen such a large cake tin in my life. You could practically bath an infant in it, though of course I wouldn’t recommend this multipurpose use! The depth feels like an abyss that ingredients might disappear into. If you’ve ever made a cake you might understand the anxiety…

    It fit in my oven by some miracle and by one even greater it cooked through. I can’t express the fear felt as you take a cake out of the oven that is four times an original recipe with lots of expensive ingredients. If doing this at home I recommend classical music, camomile tea and maybe a tranquilliser. Phew!

    12-Inch-carrot-cake

     

    But oh the bliss when it comes out perfect. BLISS. Only 5 more layers to go…

    Frosting is another adventure. I can’t tell you the grief of finding that your go-to icing sugar company had switched to a new emulsifier that doesn’t do its job, yielding grainy buttercream no matter the method. 2 kilos of sugar later and I finally decide to switch from a classic to a Swiss-style buttercream. The result was ace! Soft, cloud-like and sturdy all at the same time. Perhaps the sugar gods had a plan for me after all. I’ll never use another frosting again!

    meringue-whisking

    Essentially, you start with a Swiss meringue, where you heat caster sugar and egg whites over a bain-marie until the sugar dissolves, then whisk to stiff peaks, add flavour and a ton of butter. It turns into a lumpy mess at first but with more whisking you end up with heaven.

    It takes more frosting than you would imagine to cover a wedding cake. I try to go for enough to cover a VW Beetle – I think I might just make it…

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