1. Cooking Adventures

    My goodness how time flies! I can’t believe my last post was in September! I have been getting all sorts of experience in the food, including a fabulously beautiful trip to the Amalfi Coast where I ate my weight in pizza, pasta and gelato. Definitely put this on your bucket list. Visit Positano, you will not regret it. The beauty almost hurts your eyes.

    IMG_8595

    I have worked a month as a chef at Kome, a marvelous pop-up restaurant and catering company with food crossing the divide between Korean and Mexican flavours. Then a few more work experiences starting with 10 Greek Street in their pastry section,  a few days with Southerden bakery right near me in Peckham, followed by a life changing week at Restaurant Story with Tom Sellers, who I owe a lot to for nudging my towards starting a career in food. Check out some of the snacks I helped make while I was there:

    Crispy cod skins with emulsion and gin botanicals

    IMG_2741

    Eel flavoured take on the Oreo with vinegar dust, delicious I swear!

    IMG_2739

    And the beautiful Egg with salmon roe and egg emulsion

    IMG_2738

    You would not believe the amount of prep work that goes into making these little snacks. Now just imagine how much work goes into creating one of their main dishes. Snacks of the Sea for example (I think they like the word ‘snack’…

    IMG_2734

    Or Almond and Dill (I got to make the dill oil!)

    IMG_2769

    There are 10 courses on the tasting menu with 6 additional snacks and every dish is magical. The Story team is so talented and they are more dedicated than most, hence the Michelin star. They are also some of the most thoughtful and humble. I am so lucky to have learned some of the magic. Phew, it’s almost emotional!

    In between all that I have done some exciting private catering and before you know it here we are in November. Very little sleep but a whole lot of fun!

    Anyway now that I’ve swiftly updated you all with the new notches in my CV, on to an updated version of one of my favourite foods in the whole world… pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner (OMG I HAVE NOT EVEN THOUGHT ABOUT THIS YET) and the only thing that could possibly make us feel better about the flames bursting from our pockets as our wallets spontaneously combust is to eat delicious things like pie. So here we are: Vanilla Pumpkin Pie

    [SHARE]
  2. Vanilla Pumpkin Pie

    My goodness how time flies! I can’t believe my last post was in September! I have been getting all sorts of experience in the food, including a fabulously beautiful trip to the Amalfi Coast where I ate my weight in pizza, pasta and gelato. Definitely put this on your bucket list. Visit Positano, you will not regret it. The beauty almost hurts your eyes.

    IMG_8595

    I have worked a month as a chef at Kome, a marvelous pop-up restaurant and catering company with food crossing the divide between Korean and Mexican flavours. Then a few more work experiences starting with 10 Greek Street in their pastry section,  a few days with Southerden bakery right near me in Peckham, followed by a life changing week at Restaurant Story with Tom Sellers, who I owe a lot to for nudging my towards starting a career in food. Check out some of the snacks I helped make while I was there:

    Crispy cod skins with emulsion and gin botanicals

    IMG_2741

    Eel flavoured take on the Oreo with vinegar dust, delicious I swear!

    IMG_2739

    And the beautiful Egg with salmon roe and egg emulsion

    IMG_2738

    You would not believe the amount of prep work that goes into making these little snacks. Now just imagine how much work goes into creating one of their main dishes. Snacks of the Sea for example (I think they like the word ‘snack’…

    IMG_2734

    Or Almond and Dill (I got to make the dill oil!)

    IMG_2769

    There are 10 courses on the tasting menu with 6 additional snacks and every dish is magical. The Story team is so talented and they are more dedicated than most, hence the Michelin star. They are also some of the most thoughtful and humble. I am so lucky to have learned some of the magic. Phew, it’s almost emotional!

    In between all that I have done some exciting private catering and before you know it here we are in November. Very little sleep but a whole lot of fun!

    Anyway now that I’ve swiftly updated you all with the new notches in my CV, on to an updated version of one of my favourite foods in the whole world… pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner (OMG I HAVE NOT EVEN THOUGHT ABOUT THIS YET) and the only thing that could possibly make us feel better about the flames bursting from our pockets as our wallets spontaneously combust is to eat delicious things like pie. So here we are:

    Vanilla Pumpkin Pie

    Damn I miss home this time of year. The crashing of pans followed by the clinking of glasses and catching up with my American family… This time of year is when London really does feel a bit sad in comparison. Y’all just don’t know what Thanksgiving means! And you’re missing out…

    At home, Thanksgiving is the time when we invite our whole family including every possible cousin within a 100 mile radius around our table to gorge on my mother’s fabulous turkey and stuffing. We break out the old linens, the silver, the china and we try our best to pay homage to the past generation’s parties through a balance of grandeur and generosity fit for such an important occasion. In a world where Christmas is often quiet and close, Thanksgiving makes up for it by swinging open the arms of the home and inviting everyone in we can fit. We gorge ourselves to the brim with chat and turkey until we can’t possibly fit anymore… and then comes the pie.

    Pumpkin pie is one of those sacred American dishes. You have to have it, no ifs, ands or buts. However, sometimes it can be more of an after thought to all that turkey and stuffing. So, I’ve opted to shake it up a bit, adding a vanilla pod to the mix to ramp up the warming aromatics that make this pie so deserving of centre stage. It’s one of the acts, not an encore! The culinary rules say that since dessert is the last thing to cross our pallets, it had better be impressive, with flavour that beats out everything you’ve eaten thus far this meal. I think this Vanilla Pumpking Pie is just the ticket.

    INGREDIENTS

    One Quantity Basic Pie Crust (See my post on Short Crust and follow directions for Basic Pie Crust)

    425g Solid Pack Pumpkin Puree

    2 Large Eggs

    284ml Single Cream (or Evaporated Milk)

    180g Caster Sugar

    1/2 Teaspoon Table Salt

    1 Vanilla Pod, seeds stripped for use

    1 1/4 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon

    1 Teaspoon Fresh Grate Ginger

    1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves

    METHOD

    First thing, preheat your oven to 200°c / 400°f

    Pumpkin pie is terribly easy because all you do is mix your spices and vanilla seeds together with your sugar in a bowl, stir in the pumpkin, then stir in lightly beaten eggs. Try not to incorporate too much air as you want zero bubbles with any baked custard (yes, that is what this technically is). Don’t throw away that vanilla pod case! Put it in a jar of sugar and use this in whatever you like. It add extra oomph to pancakes especially.

    Cover the pumpkin mixture and pop it in the fridge to infuse while you sort out your pie crust. Ta dah!

    Roll out chilled pie crust and line a fluted 28cm pie tin. Excuse the horrible lighting/sharpness of this photo… I have been playing with a new lens. Cover this with cling film and pop it in the freezer for 5 minutes or the fridge for 15 if you, like me have zero room for anything in your freezer, not even ice. Keep the scraps of dough for patching after blind baking.

    IMG_8859

    After chilling the pastry until firm, line it with a parchment paper cartouche ( a round piece of paper used in cooking), crinkled so it can be pushed into the corners well, and fill with baking beans to the rim. Blind bake (without filling) at 200°c/400°f for 15 minutes or until the sides are set up. Then remove the beans with a large spoon and the cartouche and bake for another 5-10 minutes until lightly golden with no gray patches of raw pastry left behind. You don’t want a soggy bottom! Lower the temprature of your oven to 160°c/325°f.

    IMG_8861

    Now patch up any cracks with scraps from the raw pastry and pour in the pumpkin mixture until it is full as you can make it without slopping over. As this is custard, you don’t need to worry about it rising but it could souffle if cooked at too high a temperature or for too long. So leave about a half cm or quarter inch of pastry at the top. Bake this for 40-50 minutes until the center of the filling wobbles only slightly or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

    IMG_8893

    This is definitely one to practice before Thanksgiving since it’s so delicious and a perfect dessert to follow any special autumn meal. Serve with a generous dollop of whipped cream or for even more excitement, cinnamon ice cream.

    Recipe adapted from Libby’s Famous Pumpkin Pie Recipe

    [SHARE]
  3. Carrot Cake with Apricots and Pecans

    Carrot cake is an all American classic and a signature of Autumn, with its orange and brown colours reflecting the changes in the trees. We had it as our wedding cake two Septembers ago we love it so much, so I suppose I get a hankering for it this time of year in part out of reminiscing… Here is a photo of that gorgeous wedding cake, made by Sugar Rush Bakery in West Seattle, sadly now closed. It was so delicious!

    Maggie and Hugo wedding 2-198-Edit
    Photo by Marla Smith Photography

    There are hundreds of wonderful recipes out there filled with raisins and walnuts but I prefer to make mine with apricots and pecans. My recipe doesn’t make as big as the one above but it is just as delicious. Sweet but not sickly and good enough to eat for breakfast. Come on, it’s got veg in it!

    Oh, and just a little hint – if you want it to be really moist make the cake the day before, cool it and wrap it in cling film and leave it out, then frost it the next day. If you have time, it’s worth the wait. Doing this allows the flavours and the moisture to develop.

    This cake also freezes wonderfully if well wrapped so you can make it far in advance. Just leave it wrapped and out on the counter for at least 12 hours to defrost fully before use and frost it on the day.

    IMG_8381

    Top it with a generous amount of cream cheese frosting and eat it within three days for best results (as if it will last that long!).  Refrigerate it if it is at all hot out and you aren’t eating it within the day of making. The frosting will keep up better this way anyway.

    (more…)

    [SHARE]
  4. Short Crust and Cherry Pie

    It’s that time of year when we are all getting just a little tired of the fresh fruit bowl… pie season! Let’s start with making the perfect pie pastry, then fill it with what you like. Today, I’ll be filling my pie with cherries, which have been in amazing abundance this year.

    IMG_7788

    Below are my favorite recipes and methods for perfect short crust pastries. Like my grandma’s recipes, the base of these start with a combination of butter, flour and salt with additions of lard, egg yolk and sugar to make them as flakey, rich or sweet as you want them for different recipes. For the purposes of this lesson, I will be making the Double Rich Pie Crust recipe.

    RECIPES

    Basic Pie Crust 250g plain flour, 1 large pinch salt, 140g cold unsalted butter or 100g cold unsalted butter and 40g cold lard, 2 large egg yolks, 3 TBS chilled water (or 5 TBS chilled water, no egg yolks)

    Double Rich Pie Crust 500g plain flour, 1/8 tsp salt, 280g cold unsalted butter/200g cold unsalted butter and 80g lard, 4 large egg yolks, 5-6 TBS chilled water (plus extra)

    Sweet Rich Pie Crust To the 250g flour recipe, add 1 TBS caster sugar with salt.

    Cherry Pie Filling About 1kg/2lbs fresh, tart, whole cherries 1 TBS Almond Liqueur 3 TBS Corn Flour 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon 150-200g/1 cup-1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (depending how tart cherries are) 2 TBS granulated sugar (for topping)

    METHOD

    First thing’s first – pop a small jug or cup of water in the fridge to chill down. You’ll need it very cold. Now, follow this same method for each pie pastry recipe and you’ll get there. Start by choosing either the slow manual or quick machine method for rubbing fat into flour, then follow the steps after. For now, let’s focus mainly on the quick method. I’ll add some more photographs of the slow method a bit later… To start, measure flour and salt into a large bowl and cut up cold unsalted butter into cubes. If you don’t have unsalted, for heaven’s sake just use salted and omit the salt in the recipe. Life’s too short for needless extra trips to the grocery store…

    IMG_7700

    (more…)

    [SHARE]
  5. Pâte sucrée

    The patisseries of Paris make everyone swoon and Pâte sucrée is the base for those fabulous tarts and biscuits that stand at the front of the shop window. Rich yet light, works perfectly with chocolate, fruit, cream, custard, cheese cake, citrus filling and tastes as delicious raw as it does cooked – it really is a wonder of the pastry world. Trust me, when you learn to make this pastry you might not go back to any other! Save for the near-holy american apple pie that is, which undoubtedly calls for short crust… or does it?

    It’s not the easiest to make but when you get it right it is oh so satisfying. The recipe and method I am using is adapted from the Leith’s How to Cook book, which I highly recommend. You can of course make it in a Magimix or other food processor if you want to, or bung the wet ingredients in a bowl and knead in the dry, but it won’t be as good. Besides, pastry making really is for those who get pleasure out of the cooking process as much as the eating, so I’m going to show you the old fashioned way.

    As with most good things baked, butter, eggs and sugar enrich this dough to decadence. Use it for mini fruit pies as I have here, citrus or chocolate tarts, accompaniment biscuits… anything you think needs a sweet base really. One thing to remember though: as this pastry has more sugar than a usual one it should be blind baked (i.e. without filling) at a slightly lower temprature of 190°c/375°f and on the top shelf of your oven for high heat. If you are using a fan oven adjust accordingly, usually down 20°c.

    IMG_6295

    INGREDIENTS
    (Adapted from Leith’s HTC)

    250g plain flour
    1/8 tsp salt
    125g unsalted butter (cool but slightly soft)
    125g caster sugar
    3 large egg yolks (cold)
    3 drops vanilla extract

    METHOD
    (Adapted from Leith’s HTC)

    Have out: weighed ingredients, a pallet knife, cling film (two layers) and a butter knife for the initial stages.

    Start by sifting the flour and salt onto a clean smooth surface, then use your fist to make it into a large ring. You’ll be working in the middle of the ring so make sure to leave plenty of space. Now for some hand movement instructions. Remember when you used to make shadow puppets when you were a kid? Make a goose. Ok now you are going to keep the goose’s beak almost all the way shut while you push down with the pads of your fingers rather than your nails. Once you get started you’ll get what I mean… a bit like pecking.

    First separate cold eggs, reserve whites if you like and keep egg yolks cold until ready to use.

    Put the cool butter in the centre of the circle of flour and push it into the surface with the pads of your fingers so it is smooshed down. Then pour the sugar over the butter and, using only one hand, mix it it in with your finger tips.

    IMG_6296

    Use a few scooping motions if needed to flip sugar back over the butter and pinching motions to smoosh it together. You want to do this step efficiently so that the butter does not melt or become greasy.

    Peck in sugar

    If necessary use your second hand to help move more quickly but ideally keep it to one so you have your other hand free to move flour away if you need to.

    (more…)

    [SHARE]
  6. Sweet Potatoes Dauphinoise

    Happy New Year 2014!!! 2013 was busy and exciting for me and the final 3 months were the busiest of all! My greatest accomplishments of 2013 was to finally start cooking school in September. My life-long desire to put my passion for food into action has finally come to life and I couldn’t be happier.

    Eight weeks at Leith’s School of Food and Wine has showed me I am doing exactly what I should do but I am here to report that I have been dog tired, as in can’t even lift my head up off the floor to scratch at the flee behind my ear dog tired. But who cares?! I have never been so happy as I am in chef’s whites merrily cooking or learning techniques and theory involving food. I have learned a million new skills and to do almost everything I have ever done in the kitchen the right way instead of the sloppy way. Just to give you an idea, here are a few examples:

    I have learned to fillet a fish, joint a chicken, scramble, bake, fry, poach, scramble, and boil eggs, whip meringues, pipe icing, brown meat, congeal custard, make a million kinds of pie pastry, whip cream, aerate flour, make choux into eclairs, gougers and profiteroles, whip, fold and cream cakes, render fat, temper chocolate, froth mousse, deep fry goujons, wield a pastry, filleting, boning, santoku, office and fruit knife, bake fruit, roast everything, split curds and whey, baton, chop, dice, concasse, julienne and slice every vegetable imaginable (including my fingers) and bake simple breads.

    I will admit though that as my standards sky rocket in the kitchen at school, my standards at home have slipped into an abyss of quick noodles and scrambled eggs, hence the lack of posts! Not to mention an endless house hunt which has finally come to a moving date – now! But never mind that, let’s start the new year off right and as we mean to go on! Back to regular posts courtesy of more time on my greedy little hands. Yippee!

    IMG_6253

    I have been on and off obsessed with sweet potatoes and now I’m on again. Sweet potatoes are versatile and interesting although often over looked. Let’s start with a dauphinoise shall we?

    Sweet Potatoes Dauphinoise

    Preheat oven to 200c/400f/gas mark 6

    Ingredients

    3 medium sweet potatoes (about 500g)
    1/2 large white onion
    2 cloves of garlic, crushed
    handful of fresh or dried thyme, stripped from the stalks
    400 ml whole milk (can be alternated with double cream but not single cream)

    Method

    Peel and thinly slice onions

    IMG_6233

    and put into a saucepan with milk. The milk should be enough to just cover the onions when they are laying flat as they can in the pan. Crush garlic and add to the pan.

    (more…)

    [SHARE]
  7. Easy Roast Tomato and Aubergine with Chickpeas

    These days I am so busy back being a student there is little to no time for cooking at home! Thank goodness I get to cook half the day at school or I would be going crazy.

    Speaking of students – my brother-in-law, who just started university, has asked for some cheap, simple recipes with little washing up. He can already cook basically anything but I hope this dish of tomatoes and aubergine (eggplant) will add some vitamins to his friend’s repertoire! I remember what I ate at university – a whole lot of grilled cheese… I mean a whole lot. Like, everyday.

    The easiest thing to cook while at university other than grilling a sandwich with an iron is probably cous cous. You can make it using just a kettle and a bowl and by chance it’s the perfect accompaniment to this dish, which is cheap, easy, vegetarian and full of flavour. Oh and only one roasting tin used!

    Roast Tomato and Aubergine with Chickpeas

    Serve with Cous Cous

    Serves 2 or 1 seriously hungry person

    Ingredients

    1 eggplant/aubergine
    4-5 medium tomatoes or roughly 200g+ cherry tomatoes, off their stems
    1 head of garlic
    olive oil
    1-2 teaspoons cumin
    1 can chickpeas
    salt and pepper
    1/2 lemon

    IMG_1726

    For the Cous Cous

    1 coffee mug of cous cous
    1/4 lemon
    1/2 stock cube

    Method

    Preheat the oven to 180°c/350°f

    Quarter tomatoes and cut eggplants into relative size chunks according to size of tomatoes. You want even sizes here. Juice the lemon.

    photo 2

    Peel garlic – here is a tip that will change your life if you have a microwave:

    Top Tip: As learned from Cooks Illustrated – If you want skins off garlic for a recipe, pop the whole head of garlic in the microwave for 20 seconds. the cloves will pop out of their skins due to the steam breaking the membrane. The garlic will be slightly less pungent but will still taste great.

    Put all veggies in a roasting tin and toss evenly with olive oil, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon salt and ground black pepper to your taste. I use lots of black pepper because I’m a fiend for it.

    IMG_1995

    (more…)

    [SHARE]
  8. Plate Presentation… and other news

    Hello all! Sorry things have been a bit quiet this week. I’ve got some fabulous news though! I am now enrolled for a Diploma in Food and Wine at Leith’s! This means more recipes and lessons with refined technique to teach you all! I’ll tell you what, I’ve been having some serious fun in the kitchen!

    First up – a lesson on presentation.

    Ever feel as though you’ve put in all the work and yet it just looks like slop on a plate? Never fear! There are a few tips that will revolutionise your presentation.

    Have a look at this plate of vegetables and hummus…

    20131009-185045.jpg

    I never knew how to make crudités look so lovely and yet on learning this simple lesson I now see how easily any plate can be made beautiful.

    It takes a bit of thought, but the results are ace! In both my two examples, 5 tips have been used to make what might have been a bit of a mess into edible bursts of colour.

    Presentation works a bit like a painting, where the eye is drawn to look at the object in a pleasing way. Think about presenting the following when you plate your dish:

    1) center height

    2) blocks of color

    3) diagonal or circular lines

    4) where possible, use odd numbers

    5) clean plate boarder

    You can try using these tips next time you’re making a snack for your guests! I promise they’ll appreciate your efforts, and they may even think the dish is more delicious for it.

    The truth for most is, presentation is really just as important as taste when it comes to how you feel about eating something.

    20131009-190135.jpg

    This fruit salad may seem a bit fussy, but it looks beautiful, which makes eating it a more pleasurable experience. We do eat to live, but I think we live to eat too. Am I right? I personally might be drawn to the above instead of a chopped fruit salad, for example.

    As is per usual, it’s all a matter of personal taste but see what you think about these tricks next time you put something together to serve your friends. I bet you 100 kiwis they’ll notice!

    I’ll be incorporating more presentation technique into future posts, that way we can all eat tasty AND beautiful food!

    [SHARE]
  9. Good Ol’ Fashioned Lemon and Mustard Dressing

    photo

    OK, we live in a modern world of many dressings. Many choices for many tastes. Some are full of goodness and some are full of stuff like hydrogenated oil and high fructose corn syrup. No jokes, you might want to look at the back of that bottle before you pour it on your lettuce, or anything else for that matter.

    So, I’m a bit old fashioned about my dressing and I like to keep it simple. I usually go for Cardini’s Caesar or this – Hugo’s Lemon and Mustard. Hugo is my other half. He has to get credit for something once in a while!

    It’s based on the classic French lemon dressing but without the vinegar, you get a little of that in the mustard anyway. Also, it’s not to be confused with American French dressing, which has ketchup in it… always thought that was weird. Anyhoo, you can put this dressing on practically anything. Salad, grilled veggies, brown rice, hummus, warm potatoes, string beans, chicken, fish, avocados, etc… This dressing is delicious.

    (more…)

    [SHARE]