1. Happy New Year 2016! (and a 2015 round up)

    Now that we are in 2016 (holy moly how did that happen so fast?!) I am feeling a little reflective, a little proud even. I can look back at my many projects in 2015 and see that I really stretched myself as far as I could, though I’ll admit I missed having time to do more of my own writing on this blog. Thank you for keeping in touch via my Instagram and Twitter, I have really appreciated the feedback and encouragement!

    My goals for 2016:

    First – I want to write more and get back to regularly posting here!
    Second – Start on my first cookbook (Yes! But no promises for publishing in 2016…or 2017)
    Third – Learn to sketch.
    Fourth – First pop-up.

    Fingers crossed I can check all those off come January next year!

    To wrap up 2015, here is what I did while I was busy not writing this blog (again, see first resolution for 2016):

    I continued to work for the Good Housekeeping Institute Cookery School, where I have now worked for over a year, helping to run classes and testing tons of recipes. Here I am on the team page of the website among some of the cookery teachers I most admire in London. So proud!

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    At Good Housekeeping I also learned more about food styling and writing for a monthly publication and other nifty things like SEO (Search Engine Optimization). I had quite a few articles published on their website and even had a photo of my cooking published in the magazine’s September issue, on which I worked as a styling assistant. SO MUCH FUN!

    Maggie Rayfield Food Styling

    Good Housekeeping UK, September 2015, p. 261

    Good Housekeeping has been an amazing experience and I met the goals I set for myself from the start of working there within a year. A couple of my online articles that got the highest number of hits for food on their website that day, I learned to teach and run classes and events in a high end cooking school and I met loads of interesting people in the field that I can look forward to doing work with in the future.

    In addition to my work at Good Housekeeping, I also started branching out with my own projects. Working as a freelance chef has opened up doors to fantastic opportunities. Oh have I been busy!

    Most rewarding has been teaching autistic kids to trust their abilities through cooking at a special needs school. They are absolutely brilliant and it’s a joy to see the immediate reward they get from finishing a dish. I also started teaching at a snazzy school in Clerkenwell called Food at 52. I love the team there and get to teach some of my favourite cuisines – Italian, Vietnamese and South Indian.

    I have also worked in corporate catering, cooking for chairmen, directors and team members of private banks and firms in the City of London. Playing with fabulous ingredients and allowing my creativity to flow has been so awesome.

    One of the most exciting (and down right terrifying) opportunities I was given in 2015 was to make my first wedding cake. I’ll tell you about that soon!

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    In between the hard work I got to go to Amsterdam and Paris (spoiled I know!) and in both countries cheese seemed to be the centre of attention.

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    But their markets came close second. The fruits and vegetables on the continent are absolutely incredible.

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    By the way, don’t let anyone tell you that all Parisians dislike Americans again – I was eyeing up some delicious looking apples at a stall and asked the lady running the stand (in my best possible French,which is borderline OK but not great) how much it would be for one apple, as I’m so hungry I can’t wait for lunch. She smiled and said, “Thank you for trying to speak properly, have it for free.” So there you go – it does pay to try!

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    You  know what Eleanor Rooseavelt said – “Do one thing everyday that scares you”. Well, I’ll tell you what, I spent a lot of days rolling on that mantra in 2015. What the universe passed to me in exchange was incredible! I plan to keep it up this year and I can’t wait for the adventures 2016 will bring.

     

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  2. Apple and Pear Crisp with Oat Praline

    Were it not for waning sunshine, Autumn would be my favourite season. I love jeans, sweaters, scarves and boots. I love Halloween and all the pumpkins that come with it. I love the colour orange, crisp morning air and crunching leaves. I love that subtle quiet that comes when all the tourists head back home. Well almost – this is London after all, they tend to keep on coming! More the proud am I to live in such an awesome city.

    Speaking of ‘crisp’ and ‘crunch’, how about apples and pears coming into season? How about apple and pear crisp?! Or crumble, for the British lexicon. Crisp and crumble are one in the same and yet another reason to absolutely love Autumn!

    Any of you who have searched out a recipe for crisp or crumble will know that there are a million and one ways to make it. Everyone has their own version and is usually at least slightly sentimental about it. It is nuanced dish and rightly so, as is true with any ‘family recipe’.

    Sweet and tart with a hint of salt, this staple dessert can be as simple as chopping up some fruit and chucking it into a baking dish with a layer of buttery crumb on the top, but it can also be something a bit more special…

    I am dressing mine up a bit by separating out the components to create a more beautiful dish with a blast of colour, suited to a dinner party rather than a standard weeknight supper. I cook the fruit in one step, the crumble in another and then add a couple of very easy bits to make the final dish even more gorgeous.

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    Apple and Pear Crisp with Raspberry Coulis and Oat Praline

    Serves 6

    Preheat oven to 180

    INGREDIENTS

    Filling

    3 eating apples, cut into chunks

    3 conference pears, cut into chunks

    50g butter, cubed

    40g light brown soft sugar

    40g caster sugar

    1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

    1/2 tsp good quality vanilla extract

    1 lemon, zested

    grating of nutmeg

    Praline

    50g pecans

    50g blanched almonds

    50g caster sugar

    Crumble

    250g butter

    250g flour

    1tbsp caster sugar

    100g oats

    Raspberry Coulis

    300g frozen raspberries

    2tbs icing sugar

    1tsp lemon juice (to taste)

    METHOD

    For the filling:

    Mix spices with sugar. Toss chopped fruit and cubed butter in spiced sugar, vanilla and lemon zest and spread evenly in a roasting tin. Bake on the middle level of the oven until just soft and lightly golden, stirring occasionally. It should take about half an hour to fourty minutes.

    Take the raspberries out of the freezer.

    For the crumble:

    Whiz up the cubed butter, flour and a pinch of in a food processor, or alternatively cut in and rub in until like fine breadcrumbs. See my ‘Shortcrust and Cherry Pie’ post for instructions. Mix through the sugar and oats, spread over a baking sheet and bake on the top shelf of the oven for twenty to thirty minutes until golden and crispy, a bit like crumbled shortbread.

    For the praline:

    Oil a baking sheet and set aside. Turn on the extractor as cooking sugar always creates smoke, put the sugar and nuts in a frying pan and gently melt the sugar over a low heat. Once fully melted, swirl and cook to a caramel. It should be a dark golden but not burned.  Pour the caramel and nuts onto the oiled baking sheet and allow to cool.

    Once cooled completely, whizz up in the food processor or put in a plastic bag, wrap in a tea towel and bash up with a rolling pin. Don’t be tempted to do this while warm, you’ll end up with a sticky mess!

    While the caramel is cooling, check the fruit and the crumble. If done, break up the crumble and leave both it and the fruit in the oven, turned down to warm.

    For the coulis:

    Whizz up frozen raspberries, now close to defrosted, with lemon juice and sifted icing sugar. Because the raspberries are still half frozen, the coulis should look a bright pink colour rather than deep red. Think of a smoothie. The ice crystals have this affect by creating tiny bubbles as they cut through the fruit. Let out with water to desired consistency. Put into a squeeze bottle. If you don’t have one, a spoon will do the job too.

    For the styling:

    Start by squeezing a design on the bottom of the plate. Think of a messy grid. Do leave a border around the food as a frame, it will make the whole dish look more appealing.

    Next spoon the apple and pear mixture into the centre, making sure there is some height to the middle – always good for any dish.

    Sprinkle over a layer of crumble and then the praline.

    Serve with an optional jug of cream or custard on the side, or if you’re me – a neat little ball of vanilla ice cream in a small glass.

    There it is – the humble crumble, but so much better.

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  3. Jumbo Oat and Chia Seed Porridge with Maple Syrup

    Back in London to the grey and rain after a wonderful weekend in Amsterdam. Have you ever been? I highly recommend you go.

    When you do, don’t go for the legalised substances and the liberal attitude to sex, though these are both fascinating culturally to observe. Go for the art, the scenery, the architecture and the fabulous bike rides on roads made for cyclists with a side of cars. I can’t tell you how free it makes you feel to ride a bike everywhere. Bliss! And of course the magical canals with beautiful bridges.

    Oh and if you are wondering, yes I did go to the red light district but only at 11am and yes I did see those little windows and no I did not linger. Though I will tell you it made me a little cheerful to see so many shapes and sizes available, demonstrating that most people are not turned on by sticks. I also went into a coffee shop, and though I don’t smoke anything as I have asthma, I liked how civilised it was – like a specialist tea shop, nothing more exciting than that.
    Speaking of civilised, the art really was fantastic and one of the paintings, a bucket list viewing for me (just look at the use of light and colour!), actually made me crave a wholesome food I imagined I would find inside that kitchen…


    (The Milkmaid – Vermeer)

    Oatmeal is one of those breakfasts that people either see as slop or comfort – usually dependent on whether it was served at school or by a caring parent on a cold day. Lucky for me, it has always been comfort. Here is my recipe for porridge success:

    Ingredients

    (Per person)

    50g jumbo oats

    1 tsp chia seeds

    100ml water

    100ml milk

    Pinch salt

    Knob of butter

    1 tbsp maple syrup or honey

    Pinch of cinnamon

    Method

    The perfect oatmeal takes time, but not much effort! Start by putting 50g of jumbo oats per person in a small saucepan, cover with 100ml water and soak either overnight or while you start your coffee – about 10 minutes for best results

    Turn on a medium heat and add 100ml milk, a pinch of salt and 1 tsp chia seeds. Bring to a boil then down to a simmer and stir a lot for a minutes then occasionally, cooking for 10 minutes or as directed on your oats packet.

    Turn off the heat and cover, leaving it for a few minutes (I do 5 but I know every minute counts in the morning). This does three marvellous things – the porridge continues to soak up liquid while cooling slightly to stop you burning the top of your mouth off and, most importantly, it magically unsticks from the bottom of the pan (what I am sure is the only real reason any haters hate).

    Serve in a bowl with a knob of butter, maple syrup or honey and a pinch of cinnamon. Some people like to add more milk but I think it’s creamy enough.
    Voila! Perfect porridge! Not to hot, not a bit cold, not crunchy or too chewy, not to dry or too wet, not too sweet or salty, and with a bit of added chia protein to get your through the (we hope) most productive part of the day!

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  4. Foxcroft and Ginger

    When I first heard of Foxcroft and Ginger it was because of the introduction of their new hybrid pastry the Cruffin – a croissant/muffin crossbreed both flaky and chewy,  filled with ganache or custard. I thought it a triumph and spread the word via an article for Good Housekeeping.

    Today I had to stop myself ordering another, as I am here to sample some of there other goods. After all, one cannot live on pastry alone! (Though I am always tempted to try…) 

    The shelves are teaming with beautiful Viennoiserie and cakes, including the gorgeous pistachio lemon loaf (on of those please!) and individual Victoria sponge (and one of those!). So that’s dessert sorted then, now how about lunch…

    The menu has everything you would hope to find at an artisan cafe – showcasing the baked goods they are known so well for with a bit of imagination thrown in for the food adventurer. The Kimchi  Burger immediately catches my eye. A few salads thrown in and we are good to go.

    Service is quick and my burger is delivered stacked high. The kimchi is not overly fermented or hot – it tastes fresh and adds a welcome kick to the juicy (obviously high quality) meat. However, the real winner in each bite comes as no surprise given the roots of this bakery cum cafe. The bun has all the desirable elements of a fresh, chewy roll baked this morning, with a crisp crust, just enough sour from the ferment and salt to give each crumb full flavour. It’s very easy to eat the whole thing, even if there is a lot of it!

    The salads are fresh and crunchy, but lacking a little flavour. A bit more seasoning would really bring out the best in these vibrant vegetables, but then, maybe I like things a bit more on the salty side. They do make me feel healthy, and it’s a nice touch that you can get all three on the same plate when you order. Variety is the spice of life in my book, particularly when it comes to salads.

    On to my favourite course. I nearly consider dessert as an essential part of the meal, though of course in moderation… only once a day.  

      

    The pistachio lemon loaf nearly glows green the pistachios are so fresh. It’s moist and packed with flavour. But the really fabulous treat is the individual Victoria sponge. Thick cream holds the top and bottom together and creates a moat for the sweet strawberry jam. It’s a simple recipe made decadent. 

      

    Served with beautifully brewed flat whites in adorable mismatched tea cups to end a perfectly lovely lunch. 

    In a nutshell – you can taste the effort. 

    Foxcroft and Ginger have two more cafes, one in Whitechapel and one opening in Dalston that promise all their Soho branch offers and more. As one who is inclined to top almost anything with a poached egg, I am desperate to try their new Dalston poached egg bar, a venture I can only applaud. It launches on Thursday 18 June 2015.

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  5. My Home From Umbria with Grub Club

    It’s warm, the sun is still bright at 6pm and Exmouth Market is buzzing in a manner I would normally associate with a European market square. Londoners are happy! All chattering away over glasses of wine or beer, sat under this large and beautiful church, which is the venue for tonights event. It’s the perfect setting for an Italian feast.

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    And speaking of buzz, our host Assia is the kind of person who makes excitement fizz in your blood. She is warm as today is, and as energetic and positive as any other Italian I have met. Is it just me, or does a certain friendly mischief seem to beam from every Italian’s face, as if to invite you out to play and break the rules? Maybe it’s all that sunshine.

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  6. Roasted Pumpkin and St Agur Salad

     This salad is all about balancing bold flavours while also letting the ingredients speak for themselves. Nothing fancy, just a little bit of thought.

    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. All the flavours are covered. The serving size is perfect  as dinner for two, sat out on the patio as the nights turn long and warm, and to be enjoyed with a glass of soft Sauvignon Blanc, a crisp wine to cut through the rich flavours. For best results, use whichever pumpkin and greens are in season.

    Roasted Pumpkin and St Agur Salad

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  7. Porter Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Whisky Frosting

    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

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  8. Smoked Mackerel, Grapefruit and Avocado Salad

    I just had the blissful experience of having my mom and step dad come to stay with us in London. It had been a year since I last saw them and oh my days was that way too long. They stayed for a month and it was bliss.

    Having people to visit is such a wonderful opportunity to go out and enjoy London for her best attributes, especially in her bleakest months. I’ve got to hand it to you, London, when given a chance you really know how to show a girl a good time in January!

    We learned a heartbreaking and eye opening story of India’s past with Dara at the National Theatre, Emily Carr showed us the importance of the forest, the coast, legends and the totem pole to the NW Native American at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, we stood aghast yet again in front of the many historical pieces in the National Gallery and had a modern look at art through Taylor Wessing’s Photographic Portrait Prize. To say the least, I feel enriched! As does my waistline because the other thing everyone loves about a visitor is having the excuse to ride with them on their holiday, eating rich foods and drinking wine on weekdays (‘I don’t ever do this normally’…she lies) and having dessert after every meal.

    I also had foot surgery… so have been laid up, unable to stand long enough to cook and itching to get back into the kitchen. Though I have managed to meditate (staring aimlessly at the wall is a good pastime if you’ve really got nowhere to go!) and read quite a lot, so it’s not been all bad.

    Suffice to say I am well rested and looking to come out of this forced hibernation into the spring with gusto! … and perhaps eat a few dishes to help me feel remotely healthy after three weeks on the couch. Bring on the fresh stuff!

    I’ll not say that I am a ‘Super Food’ fanatic but there really is something to be said about packing in the vitamins, so here is a salad that’s pretty much ‘all that’ (the 90’s are back in right?).

    It’s got a balance of bitterness from the radicchio, sweetness from the roast parsnips that are still sticking with us for the rest of winter, sulfur from the broccoli, oily and salty umami from the fish and zing from the grapefruit. Serve it with rye crisp breads or sourdough toast and pomegranate vinaigrette and you’ll feel as zingy as the grapefruit yourself!

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    Smoked Mackerel, Grapefruit and Avocado Salad

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  9. Garlic Roast Chicken

    In my book roast chicken should be top on a cook’s basic recipes list. Not only is it delicious comfort food but you can make so much with the leftovers! Sandwiches, salads and curry can be made with leftover meat while stock made from the bones of a whole chicken can be used for any number of soups, gravies, and risottos. Talk about a good investment- one chicken can make up to 4 meals!

    Since it’s far more cost effective than buying separate pieces of chicken, you have no excuse but to but free range. By not supporting factory farms that are responsible for some real environmental hazards (It’s pretty unreal…) and putting the poor chickens through short yet ghastly lives you can take small steps toward making a difference.

    It’s worth it to promote sustainable farming and animal welfare and you can really taste the difference too. The meat of a free range bird has much tighter fibres because it has exercised, which tends to lead to richer flavour.

    I like to roast chicken with garlic and knobs of butter stuffed under the skin to make it especially juicy and full of flavour. This method helps make the skin crispy too. Yum. Alright, let’s get started!

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  10. Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be Perfect

    It’s Thanksgiving week. Some of you will be celebrating “Friendsgiving” while others fly across country or ocean to join family. I have done my fair share of both. Some will be the family others fly to. It’s all about getting together.

    I remember my first Thanksgiving here in London seven years ago. I was living as a lodger so had no kitchen, but I was utterly homesick so I had to do something. I asked my English cousin if I could cook at her flat and was grateful she said yes. The kitchen was tiny and we didn’t eat until 10pm as I remember, but it was wonderful. There were only six of us around the table but we still cooked a whole turkey. Three Americans and three Brits. I made the cranberry sauce last minute while my husband, then boyfriend, tried to explain cricket to our American guests.

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    One of the Americans that year was a dear friend of mine from the University of Oregon. She was doing her MA at the LSE. Just yesterday she wrote to ask for my cranberry sauce recipe from that year. This made me so happy. The memory of that day is not just mine. It’s a shared memory. A feast is special because it has to be shared.  Who cares if it’s not perfect, it brings us together! It’s Thanksgiving, not “Perfect Food Day”.

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