March, 2010

Mar 10

A traditional Easter – Simnel cake


I’m a big fan of the new simple style of cooking that seems to have been adopted across the board – long gone are the sauces with twenty ingredients that take days to make, the mousses set in aspic and the flamboyantly decorated dishes I see in old family photos.

Somehow everything has become less complex; what we cook has become more about the quality and heritage of what we source and the way we marry flavours in a more down to earth, robust style. There are classic combinations that have been in use in the kitchen for decades, even hundreds of years, but it is the paring back of these things that is shaping what we serve at the dinner table more than ever.

The traditional roast leg of lamb we might have had a few years back has now become a slow-braised shoulder; we still, however, serve it with its bedfellows of either a home made mint sauce, Shrewsbury, or redcurrant jelly. I might now though, as with last year, add a spoonful of so to the gravy for a hint of sweetness.

Some things can’t be messed with though. You can’t better a roast potato, one of the finest culinary inventions in my book. Another great tradition that must not be forgotten is Simnel cake, the moreish, dark fruit cake enriched with marzipan. This recipe comes from one of my favourite London gastropubs, The Coach and Horses in Farringdon.

Click here to read the recipe for The Coach and Horses Easter Simnel cake

Mar 10

Some spice for spring

Salads may seem like food for the warmer months – but sometimes winter cravings must be satisfied – particularly as we edge towards spring. Often it’s just a simple tomato and mozzarella salad to perk up a cold afternoon, served with warm sourdough to mop up the juices and scattered with sea salt flakes.

At other times it might be a wintry salad of pears, rocket, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and honey and a healthy amount of a beautiful blue cheese like Benleigh crumbled in.

Normally, though, I go for something Asian – one of the salads or ‘yam’ in Thai, either served hot or with enough chillies to put some fire in your belly and drive off the coldest weather.

These warm salads sum up all the things I love about Thai food. Spicy with birds’ eye chillies, aromatic with refreshing lemongrass and pungent lime leaves, with a perfectly balanced sweet, sour and salty dressing, savoury with the deep mellow flavour of fish sauce.

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Mar 10

Work some marmalade magic with a rib-sticking steamed pud


Serving a steamed pudding is a brilliant way to end a meal. Not only are they utterly delicious, particularly with lashings of double cream, ice cream or creme fraiche but they are a doddle to prepare and also completely forgiving in terms of cooking time.

They will happily sit on a very, very low heat for quite literally hours – as long as we watch over them occasionally to make sure they don’t boil dry – which I must confess to doing once and redecorated the kitchen in a rather odd shade of sponge!

Marmalade makes a wonderful addition to a dark, moist sponge. In my case I’d always go for a dark, bitter one like a Seville – but then I’m rather spoilt as my mum makes an incredible one!

You could use anything you like here though – raspberry or blackcurrant jam, golden or maple syrup, even a little black treacle – I’d even go as far as Nutella and peanut butter – but that might be a little OTT. Although with a great big dollop of vanilla ice cream I can see the appeal.

The original pud recipe contains elements of Delia – I tend to up the butter content when I’m making something like this as it should be rich, moist and luxurious. After all, what are puds for?

Click here for my recipe for marmalade steamed pudding

Mar 10

Old friends


We all have them in the kitchen. A cookbook that always falls open at a certain, well-loved favourite recipe. A solid cast iron pan, dinged, dented and slightly forlorn at the back of the cupboard that we keep because it sears the perfect steak (and it can go in the oven). The casserole dish that seems to add body and flavour to a stew; a wooden chopping board, smoothed from years of use.

As much as we all enjoy shiny new things in the kitchen it is these older pieces that have history, character and what I think is the most important element of food – nostalgia. Food and its creation are evocative of times, people and places like nothing else – one can be instantly transported just by a taste, smell or sight, the familiar feel of a bowl, the handle of your favourite knife or the curve of a wooden spoon.

I mention all this with glee and trepidation; glee because I’ve moved house and today am taking delivery of all my things that have been in storage for nearly a year, including all my favourite kitchen bits. Trepidation because I’ve managed to live a frugal existence getting by with the bare minimum of things and now the thought of having all these things back, is rather over-awing.

Do you have any kitchen things you couldn’t live without?

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