28 February 2013

Zaalouk: Moroccan Smokey Eggplant (Aubergine) Salad

First it's hot and muggy, now its cold and raining, there is so much humidity that anything crisp becomes chewy in a matter of minutes, not to mention that if I hear the whining of one more mosquito I may actually throw more than the latest issue of New Scientist at the wall. Such is the sleep deprivation that comes with February weather and an old house with gaps under every door. Thick soupy weather calls for full flavours and this smokey, spicy, warm eggplant salad has flavour by the truckload. In Morocco lunch is usually the largest meal of the day and can stretch out for hours starting with the more than substantial mezze course before moving on to the tagine and finished with a cinnamony flaky pastry bastilla... and a nap to escape the heat. Very civilised. The mezze is always generous and consists of several small salads, often of cooked vegetables, served with fresh crusty bread. My favourite is the silky Zaalouk which it is closer in texture to a chunky dip and while it isn't the prettiest of salads it doesn't sit around long enough for anyone to notice.

25 February 2013

Lamb & Eggplant (Aubergine) Moussaka

I have been wanting to do a series of eggplant (aubergine) posts for a while now as there is something so appealing about the glossy purple black form of the globe eggplant that I am drawn to them whenever I see them. It must be something deeply seeded in my brain as growing up we always had an eggplant growing soft in the back of the fridge as my mum too could not go past them without acquiring one. As it happens, this week when I decided it was finally eggplant week - could I find all the different varieties of eggplant I wanted? No, of course not. I did get some lovely glossy globe eggplants though and am holding out hope that there will suddenly be an influx of different eggplant varieties at my local fruit and veggie store by the end of the week...

When I canvassed my friends on what they thought of as quintessential eggplant dishes moussaka came up every time. I very rarely order Moussaka out as I have had too many disappointingly bland huge portions topped with gelatinous béchamel that do not do justice to eggplants, or cooking in general for that matter. I also very rarely make moussaka as it is a dish that is not for a 'quick' dinner as each component is made separately then layered together and cooked further. That said, you can make most of the components the night before then just assemble and bake... this recipe is rich and flavourful, perfect with a zesty salad and glass of wine. 

22 February 2013

Treacle Brandy Snap Cones

Bubbly, buttery, crunchy, heavenly spiced cones… Have I got your attention yet?
I relish brandy snap - baskets, tubular biscuits, cones, any format they care to come in really. At boarding school they were one of the few and far between desserts (along with chocolate self-saucing pudding) that I actually a) wanted to eat  and b) wanted seconds of… needless to say we didn’t get them often. In our little kitchen we had tried a few times to make brandy snap baskets without much success, ending with hot batter (albeit wonderful tasting batter) that wouldn’t hold its shape. The trick is the cooking time.

20 February 2013

Pistachio, Cardamom & Orange Flower Water Ice Cream Cones

When I cook with orange flower water I dab a little on my wrists, or a put a splash behind my ear as it's so fresh, light and perfumed it is the perfect scent for warm summer afternoons. It is also the perfect flavour for summer, in sorbet or a refreshing cocktail, and pairs especially well with pistachios. I wanted a thin buttery cone that could stand alone as a wafer thin biscuit, but would also compliment everything from a good vanilla bean ice cream to a rose sorbet. I ate more of these hot from the oven than made it to 'cone' stage, I kept trying them 'to make sure they were done'. I also persevered with putting three on a tray to bake even though I knew I only had time to roll two of them into cones before they were too cool and cracked. I hate wasting food so I really HAD to eat the cracked ones rather than let them go to waste.

18 February 2013

Homemade Chocolate Waffle Cones

In the words of the soca singer Alphonsus "Arrow" Cassell I'm feeling hot hot hot, feeling hot hot hot; hear it from the top feeling hot, hear it from the top feeling HOT! Although unlike the song the last thing I want to do is party in this heat, instead I'd settle for sitting in a cold bath eating ice cream! I am obsessed with Maggie Beer's Burnt Fig, Honeycomb and Caramel ice cream which I will happily eat from the tub, unfortunately without some form of portion control I will happily eat my way through the whole tub, such is its deliciousness. Enter the Ice Cream Cone. Bowls come in many sizes but ice cream in a cone is limited to the size of the cone, and these chocolate ones are perfect mini-cones.

12 February 2013

Buckwheat 'Galettes' with Asparagus and Gruyere

Happy Pancake Day! If you think you have missed the boat on celebrating with a breakfast pancake, fear not... you have the whole day ahead of you. Years ago when I was still young enough for mum to cook most of our meals, she happened to be away and dad was left in charge of dinner. We all dutifully ate grown up food along the 'meat and three veg' lines every night, except one night when mum called just as we were sitting down to dinner and asked what we were having... pancakes with golden syrup. Sigh, we really should have just had pancakes every night.
In France beautiful savoury crepes made with buckwheat flour are called 'galettes', and are filled with cheese and/or ham and sometimes come with a cracked egg on top, the whites just set and the yolk all runny. Anyone who has ever had breakfast with me knows I cannot abide runny yolks. I would rather cook an egg until it doubles as a bouncy ball than chance softness of any sort, such is my loathing of oozing yolk. As such, I have not gone down the egg route, instead opting for a simple combination of asparagus, béchamel sauce with nutmeg and lots of gruyere topped with freshly cracked black pepper.

11 February 2013

Sesame & Ricotta Hotcakes with Tahini Honey Butter

I am loving experimenting with pancakes in the lead up to Shrove Tuesday, they just may be my ideal food as they are quick to make and can be modified endlessly to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. While I usually tend towards the thin lacy crepe I feel it is my duty (tough though it is) not to neglect the thicker hotcake. Maybe my years of shunning the hotcake is unfair to a 'genre' of pancake but I have eaten a lot more mediocre thick pancakes in my time than I have crepe failures... there is just a lot more that can go wrong with the consistency. These hotcakes are super light and fluffy with the added depth and nuttiness of sesame seeds and tahini, a good source of antioxidants and calcium (these are practically a health supplement!).

10 February 2013

Streusel Crepes with Candied Orange Syrup

It's only 2 days until Pancake Tuesday (aka Shrove Tuesday) and I am going to make pancakes for everyone at work on Tuesday morning as we all hit the ground running this year and it's nice to take time in the morning to a) eat and b) talk... not my usual start to the morning which involves a coffee on the hoof and a "don't talk to me, I'm not ready to face people yet" glare. Pancakes are a staple Sunday breakfast for many as they usually have all the ingredients in the house and are quick to make, but I want to make something that my colleagues wouldn't make themselves. I love streusel topping on most things, it is a simple (and quick) addition that adds so much extra flavour and texture to muffins, cakes, pies.. the list goes on, and now I urge you to try it on pancakes or crepes. The candied orange syrup take a little longer but can be made early and then stored in the fridge for up to a week. It is like the mild, sweet natured cousin of marmalade, with just a hint of rind which stops it being sickly sweet and has the consistency of honey with a golden orange glow.

2 February 2013

Simple Tomato Salsa

Tomato salsa is so basic but so remarkably satisfying. I can demolish a large bowl in a matter of minutes as it hits all the receptors in my brain for good food - it's fast, fresh and full of flavour. My Great Uncle Henry, a strawberry farmer from Watsonville, California, was a gruff man with a penchant for bolo ties, a dead pan humour that terrified me as a child and could make fresh salsa using only tomatoes, fresh jalapeños and red onion that was out of this world. Maybe it was the Californian sunshine, the absolutely ripe red tomatoes or it could be the juxtaposition between the salsa and the crates of sweet fat strawberries we lived on but something about this tomato salsa was memorable.