Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

O, I do like to be beside the sea

Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to Danda!
Happy birthday to you!

Hip hip hooray and all that.

As you’ve probably guessed, it was Danda’s birthday yesterday so, in true birthday style, we ran off to the beach for the day. And it was glorious. The weather stayed warm enough to spend all day walking around but breezy enough to not be uncomfortable.

The day started with fancy lunch. I love a fancy lunch, as some of you may already know. I love fancy lunching. I love Michelin stars. I love pretty food.

This lunch did not disappoint.

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It started with bread, after which we were presented with calf’s tongue with piccalilli. Did I ever mention how much I love the free extras at nice restaurants?
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We had the same starter, a leek and potato soup with white truffle cream. My goodness, do I love a truffle! I love a truffle. I went crazy for this soup. It was really really good with some of the fresh bread dipped into it.
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Next up, Danda’s main was mackerel with mashed potatoes, spinach and tomatoes.
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Mine was a confit duck leg on a bed of lentils and bacon with cavolo nero and thinly cut, fried potatoes.
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It was easily the best duck I’ve ever eaten. It was so soft and fell off the bone without any resistance at all. The skin, which I worried about because it can be quite fatty and disappointing, was crispy and beautiful. The jus was fantastic too. I just ate and ate and hoped it would never end. Sadly, it did so off we went, out into the daylight, to seek our next adventure.

We found it on the Brighton Wheel, looking down at the seaside town from the sky.
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We then went for the longest walk ever in search of the Naturist Beach. O, what? Wait. I mean. I meant. I didn’t mean we went looking for it. I meant we were walking and then we saw it. By accident.

There was one bloke with a cap on chatting to a fully dressed couple and that was it. Disappointing.

We headed out to the marina to see what fun could be had there.
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There were a lot of generic could-be-anywhere shops near the marina so we decided to wander back to the beach but not after spotting an amazing ‘5D’ ride thing that we just had to go on. It was one of those rollercoaster simulator things and it was really good. We got given 3D glasses and were splashed with water or blown with wind. It was fast and furious and I yelped quite a lot!

We finished the day by splashing about in the water and lying on the beach looking at the sky.
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Things I have recently made at Ham House

The other day I was talking about the lovely fresh fruit and vegetables that the gardeners bring us at the Ham House cafe. Today, I’m going to show you that food in action. This is just a few of the things we have done with the garden produce.

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A fig and greengage tart

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An almond cake with blackcurrants and raspberries

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A gooseberry and apricot tart

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Mixture of dried herbs to flavour soups and risottos and stews

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Edible flowers decorating the cake section. The tart on the bottom left is with blackcurrants from the garden

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One of the table displays that a gardener made for the cafe

Doing the Big Shop (Ham House style)

Yesterday was harvest day at Ham House. The day before, the kitchen staff had given the gardeners the shopping list and yesterday, bright and early, the shopping started to be delivered…

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…fresh from the ground! Have I showed you all the Ham House kitchen garden? I can’t remember if I’ve talked about it much before. Anyway, here’s some photos of the ‘supermarket’ where we get our vegetables and herbs and fruit.

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One of the most noticeable differences of working in a kitchen where the produce is fresh and  organic and homegrown, is the time it takes to get the food kitchen-ready.

The raspberries still have teeny tiny bugs wiggling around trying to eat a bit before they get washed off.

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The sorrel takes f o r e v e r to get dry. Even after a pat-dry, a spin and an air dry, each leaf still needs dabbing with dry paper…

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The green and purple beans have a kind of sticky furry layer on the outside that dirt refuses to come out of…

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The red orache has a shiny veneer on the leaves that makes it hard to figure out whether it’s still wet or not and so requires a sort through and a feel of every single leaf…

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The nasturtiums, on the other hand, are easy as pie. They arrive pretty clean anyway. Give em a rinse, spin em, they’re good to go.

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It took a good few hours but eventually all the perishable green leafy salad stuff was in the kitchen fridge, all the big vegetables had been washed and the kitchen staff were steadily getting them sliced and chopped and ready for the weekend’s meals and all the more durable greens were in a box of water waiting for their chance to shine in a quiche.

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From left to right, we have a huge marrow, some lovely out-of-shape carrots, round yellow cucumbers, long green cucumbers and a cauliflower. In the box of greenery we have lovage, chard, cavolo nero, sage and kale.

And that is how we do the Big Shop at Ham House.

Things I have learned in the kitchen (part 2)

1. Sometimes, when the world is spinning around you and there are deliveries being piled up next to you and coffees to make and soup to stir and salad leaves to wash, sometimes the best thing is to just take some butter and flour and sugar and make a cake of Ham House.

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2. Rewording a cake name can cover up any mistakes you may have made e.g. calling it a ‘Light chocolate sponge with a hint of orange’ instead of ‘I squeezed loads of oranges in and still can’t taste a damn thing.’ Or ‘Spiced scones’ instead of ‘Why didn’t my yeast work and why are they so flat and doughy?’

3. Being the sandwich girl for a day will give you new found respect for the sandwich boy.

4. Occasionally, people who seem to leave their brains at the door when they come in, will surprise you by knowing where something is that you have lost all hope of finding. This one incident will make you see them in a different light.

5. When the going gets tough, some people will step up and some people will run off. The people who run off will remain in your bad books for a very long time.

6. Mixing raspberries in to the cake mix at any time apart from the very end will make your cake mix pink. Same with blackcurrants turning your mix blue-ish.

7. A tart always looks impressive (I’m talking about cakes there, by the way).

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8. Banana cake smells and tastes wonderful. Looks boring as mud.

9. Sometimes things which work at home, will refuse to work in a professional kitchen. One of these things is apple bread.

10. Blackcurrants smell amazing when they are baked into a cake/tart.

11. Whisking double cream into butter by hand will give you very very achy arms.

P.S. Part 1 can be found here.

My kitchen rules

Well, they’re not rules as such. It’s more of a theory on how I cook/bake. It’s not even a theory. That makes it sound like a well reasoned method with some philosophy behind it. It’s actually more of a control freak thing. I hate people sneakily adding things to my food that I didn’t ask them to put there.

Things I do not use in my kitchen.

1. Self raising flour
What an abomination! If I wanted baking powder in my flour, I’d bloody well put it there myself. By using plain flour and bicarb, I can regulate how much is in there and control the end result. With self raising, I know they probably mix it together pretty well, but the proportions of flour to raising agent aren’t going to be exactly the same in each batch so you lose control of the end result. I also find my otherwise smooth cake gets bumps all over the surface when I use self raising. Urgh.

2. Baking powder
Again, someone else has mixed bicarb with something else and packaged it for me. If I wanted my bicarb mixed with other stuff, I’ll do it myself, thank you.

3. Salted butter
Stop adding stuff to my food! If I wanted salt in there, I’d have put it myself. Actually, I make my own butter at home most of the time, by whipping double cream, so I know there’s no salt in it anyway.

4. Pre-mixed spice mixes
A generic ‘piri-piri’ spice makes me cringe. A curry powder sets me on edge. When did we start having to conserve our arm energy to the extent where taking five or six spices down from the cupboard became too exhausting and we opted for the catch-all curry powders? If you have some curry powder or garam masala or dried herb mix in your cupboard, I’d like you to go and get it out. Read the ingredients on the label. Next time you go shopping, just buy those herbs/spices individually. You may find there’s something in there you like loads, oregano, for example. Next time you make something that requires dried herb mix, you can put in more of the oregano and less of the other stuff. Take back control of your dinner! These generic spice mixes mean giving control of the taste of your dinner to someone who has no idea what you like eating. I do have a few mixes I’ve made myself in a salt and pepper mill. A Moroccan one, for example, which had cracked nutmeg, blades of mace, chilli flakes, whole allspice, whole peppercorns, etc, so when I’m making Moroccan food, it gets all crunched in there, fresh, and hasn’t been ground months ago, half way across the world.

5. Table salt
Another energy-conserving thing, I think. It’s far too much effort to have lovely chunks of rock salt and crush them over a plate of food or use a grinder. One must have it pre-ground into tiny dots and just sprinkle it. I despair. Let’s get back to grinding.

6. Margerine/vegetable/olive oil spread
The spread things that are a mix between butter and vegetable oil are pretty atrocious. If I wanted vegetable fat in my butter, I’d bloody well put it there myself. The olive oil spreads that are being advertised as super healthy, eurgh. If the olive oil in there was good high quality, they’d be selling it as proper olive oil and getting a lot more money for it. The olive oil that makes it’s way into the spreads is like the offcuts of cake that you nibble to test it. It’s the waste product. If I wanted to eat olive oil so much, I’d just get the good stuff out of the bottle in my kitchen.

7. Bolognese sauce
Omg, the easiest thing ever to make at home. Half tomatoes into a pan and heat gently til they break down. And any herbs or spices that you like and season well. Done.

8. Vanilla extract
Easiest. Thing. Ever. And so much cheaper to make the proper way. Enough of this £10 fancy Dr. Oetker stuff. The amount of extra ingredients in that stuff is ridiculous. Vanilla extract is just vanilla pods preserved in vodka. On my shelf is a bottle of good quality vodka jammed with scored vanilla pods which has been slowly brewing for over a year now. It’s that simple. When it gets low, I add more vodka. When it starts to look pale, I add more vanilla pods.

9. Grated cheese
Pre grated cheese… Vomit! What an awful awful invention. It’s dry, the texture is hard and plasticky. I mean, it’s just an atrocity. Take a block of cheese and grate it. It takes about 30 seconds. Are our lives really so busy that we need this time saving device? The cheese that you get pre grated is barely even worth it. It’s a waste. I’d much rather have no cheese at all. There’s no flavour. There’s no freshness. Pre grated cheese is like one big sorry mess. Can we ban this via an act of parliament please?

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the end of my little rant against the food industry. I’d like to think it’s because I’m terribly Mother Earth-y and love to make things from scratch but I think it’s more personal than that. I think it’s more about being annoyed when people think they know what I want. How dare people put salt in my butter?! Did they ask me?! No! How rude!

Cake day

I bet you’re all hanging on the edge of your seat, wondering what happened after my gluten free failure the other day? Well, you’ll be pleased to know that I arrived in the kitchen the next day, eggs in hand, and rectified the mistake. The result was a nice light fluffy sponge with moisture from the plums and texture from the ground almonds and it all went fabulously.

Yesterday, I went into work a bit early and I thought I’d give those gluten free members of the public a bit of choice so I made a chocolate torte. My phone had a freak out so I couldn’t take any photos of that cake but you’ll have to trust me that the experiment was successful. I’ll give you the recipe at the end. I added raspberries and it went down quite well with the public. The first one sold out in an hour! Then I got a bit crazy and adapted the recipe to make a chocolate, orange and almond torte.

Now I tend to think of gluten free cake as Compromise Cake, cause it’s usually a rubbish version of real cake. I resolved to change this in my kitchen and to make cake that is actually nice, not just gluten free nice, which we all know, means ‘rubbish.’

I also attacked the Overripe Fruit bowl and made a banana and plum cake, an apple upside down cake and a savoury apple bread thing that we served with cheese.

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I made a total of 18 cakes yesterday. It was a pretty good day.

Chocolate almond torte
(adapted from BBC Goodfood recipe)
250g dark chocolate
210g unsalted butter
250g caster sugar
75g ground almonds
5 eggs, whisked

Preheat the oven to 170c. Grease a round cake tin then line the bottom with baking paper and grease again. Melt the chocolate, butter and sugar down. Take it off the heat and let it cool while you whisk the eggs. Mix them in to the chocolate mixture then fold in the almonds. Bake on 170c for about 45 minutes or until it looks done. Let it cool in the tin. It will sink a bit and the end result is something denser than a sponge and lovely and rich. It is pretty when decorated with icing sugar and small edible flowers.

Adaption 1 – Chocolate raspberry torte

Everything is the same as above except you add the raspberries at the end and when it is finished, decorate the top with raspberries. There’s no hard and fast rule about how many raspberries to add. If you LOVE raspberries, then add loads. If you just want a little hint of something else, only add a few.

Adaption 2 – Chocolate orange almond cake
This one is spongier than the torte as I have added bicarb to rise it and rice flour to give it a lighter texture.

200g dark chocolate
210g unsalted butter
250g caster sugar
60g any gluten free flour (I used rice flour)
5 eggs
75g ground almonds
1.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 large orange or 2 small clementine/mandarin type things

Do the same as above by melting the chocolate, butter and sugar together. Then add the whisked eggs once mixture has cooled a bit. Add the flour and the bicarb then zest and juice your orange(s) in. Now here is where you have to use some initiative. Stick a teaspoon into the mixture (or your finger) and taste it. Does it taste orangey enough? If it’s orangey enough for you, then put it into the tin and bake. If not, grab another orange and get zesting and juicing til it tastes how you want it to. 

And so, my dears, go forth and bake! Be plentiful, be chocolatey and be gluten free!

My gluten free failure

There was a disaster, people. A disaster! Yesterday morning, in work, the customers kept asking about gluten free options and I kept on saying, earnestly, “I’m going to make some this afternoon, just a few hours!”

As part of my Apple Challenge, I had made an almond cake with apples and gooseberries and it only had 40g of flour in it. So I figured it wasn’t that far off being gluten free. All I had to do was replace the plain flour with rice flour and I’d have a decent gluten free cake that was actually nice, as opposed to gluten free nice.

The afternoon came, I got my chef’s whites on and I approached the kitchen with gusto. I made shortbread biscuits and flapjacks and got some bread dough ready to start proving. Then I let my imagination run wild. Well, not really. I just got started on the gluten free recipe I’ve mentioned above. I was doing it from memory so I knew it might not be perfect.

I put in butter, sugar, ground almonds, rice flour, almond essence, plums, bicarb. It all seemed to be going ok. I put it in a cake tin and stuck it in the oven to bake then got back to my bread.

I looked in the oven at the half way point and it had risen a lot. I worried that it might spill out of the tin. When I checked ten minutes later, it had sunk and looked ridiculously flat. I took it out after it had finished baking and drizzled white chocolate on it and decided to rename it an ‘almond slice.’ It seems like it’s supposed to be flat then…. Doesn’t it?

As I walked home, I wrangled with myself about how to get on top of the gluten free challenge, about whether the rice flour ruined it or something else. Did I not put enough ground almonds in? Did I use too much bicarb? Why was it so flat?

I got home and went straight to the cookbook to figure out the mystery….

EGGS! I forgot the eggs. Dang it. What a schoolboy error. The bloody eggs.

So today, I will try again. Wish me luck!

The Apple Challenge

One of my neighbours has fruit trees in his garden. A little while ago, he gave me some cherries, which I put into a cake. Since then, he has given me bits of fruit and I have caked them.

About ten days ago, he knocked on the door in the morning and delivered a plastic bag full of apples for me to cake. And so, the Apple Challenge began.

Day one was an apple bread, a kind of cidery, honey-sweetened brown bread with grated apples that was crying out for some cheese. Day two was an apple crumble cake, which consisted of a sponge cake with apple chunks and slivers of apricot, with a light buttery crumble mixture on the top. Day three was apple scones, which let me down the first day but I attempted them again on day four and hit the nail on the head. Day five was an apple tray bake which had jostaberries and a mashed banana in it. Day six was a nutty appley raisiny loaf, spiced with cinnamon, which filled the whole house with lovely rich aromas. Day seven was an almond tart with apples and gooseberries.

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And so it goes on, the apple cakes. Every morning. I get up, bake a cake, leave some on my neighbour’s doorstep then head for Ham House, where I leave the cakes in the mess room for the volunteers to eat.

I have enough apples left for about four more days and I’m running low on ideas. Does anybody have any apple cake ideas? Apple pie and apple crumble are out as they are hard to portion out without getting runny. Tomorrow is an almond cake with apples and blueberries.

But what next, people? What next?! Help me in my Apple Challenge or I shall be ideas-less and I refuse, refuse, to repeat a recipe.

The first blackberry

A few days ago, I was walking home and I spotted a single ripe blackberry.

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In my excitement, I thought about giving it to Danda…. But then I remembered what happened last year so I ate it myself….

(I posted this in October last year.)

This is a story. A story that I am calling Danda And The Blackberry. It contains adventure, daring, far away lands and valiant mission.

One day, a few months ago, I was out walking. I was listening to Vanessa Paradis’ ridiculous but catchy hit, Joe Le Taxi as I roved. I was pottering up and down hills and following the river through London and having a lovely time. The summer was at that lovely not-too-hot, just-a-slight-breeze stage. The leaves on the trees were green and I stopped often to photograph the beautiful flowers.

I was having a lovely time. That’s when I saw it. The single ripe blackberry on the blackberry bush…

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Ah! I thought. Look what the summer day hath delivered unto me. I shall pick this single ripe blackberry and present it as a gift to somebody.

But to whom should I give this beautiful gift of the summer’s first blackberry? Hmmm.

And that’s when I thought, I shall give it to Danda. Because he is a taxi driver, he is quite often on the move and I thought he might be in the area. I gave him a quick call and he was nearby but he was taking someone to the top of the hill that I was at the bottom of. So, thought I, I shall race to the top of the hill and hopefully see him there.

Off I sped, bearing the summer’s first blackberry aloft. It was quite a long walk and really quite steep but I was on a Blackberry Mission and determined. As Danda drove up the hill, I walked as quickly as my legs would take me. He was held at a red light for ten seconds or so. This gave me the edge. Holding the blackberry gently, I power-walked through fields and past trees. I was determined. Danda’s taxi was approaching the top of the hill just as I hurried to the end of the path and out onto the pavement.

It was like someone had organised us, like chess peices, to collide at exactly the right moment. We reached the bend in the road at the same time and waved. Danda drove a little further down the road to drop the person in his taxi off while I stood panting a little and trying to regain my composure.

A minute or two later, Danda was back. He pulled over and I climbed in the back.

“Danda!” I declared with great aplomb, “I have brought you this blackberry from the Alaskan wilds, from whence I have come after my long exploration there.” (Not really, I had just been wandering around aimlessly by the Thames but that’s beside the point. Stick with me on this one.) “I have brought this, the first blackberry of the summer, to you, as it reminds me of your summery disposition and your great love of blackberries.” (He once said he’d had an apple and blackberry crumble which was tasty.)

He looked a little uncertain about the grandness with which I presented the blackberry to him but nevertheless, he took it, popped it in his mouth and ate it.

I waited, with baited breath for his verdict.

Silence.

“Danda. What of the beauty of the blackberry? Do you approve of it?”

“Mmm….” He said, nonchalantly. “It’s a bit sharp….”

Silence.

“Do you want a lift anywhere?”

Memories of a smoothie maker

Smoothies make me think of two things. I first discovered them, while travelling round Asia with two friends. I had known of smoothies before then, probably drunk quite a few. But these were different. They were fresh and lovely and cold and perfect for a hot humid day in Thailand. I went crazy for these smoothies. We had at least one every day, sometimes two or three. It was a real treat.

Enter the second memory. I got home from Asia and the taste of the smoothies lingered so I went out and bought a smoothie machine and got smoothie-ing. Bananas were a staple. They went into every smoothie because their texture was so fantastic and smoothie-able. The rest was anyone’s game. Strawberries one day, blueberries the next. Kiwis in the morning, raspberries in the evening. I loved it. Couldn’t get enough of it.

One morning, after a bit of a crazy night dancing on chairs in the flat I shared with friends and, inexplicably, waving towels in the air, I woke up parched. I needed a smoothie. Needed one. So I shuffled to the kitchen, bleary-eyed, threw two bananas, some yoghurt and a blueberry or two into the smoothie machine and whizzed.

It was the loudest bloody sound in the world! And it was 7am. Everyone was asleep. But it was important for me to have the smoothie. I needed it. I poured it into a mug, shuffled back to bed and lay, cradling the mug and trying to keep my eyes awake. On finishing the smoothie, I promptly fell asleep again.

Then one day, I felt ill. Quite seriously ill. I kept vomiting. I was weak and exhausted. I got in a taxi and headed for A&E and they ummed and ahhed and stuck needles in my bum and asked what I’d been eating.

“Smoothies!” I panted, exhausted. “It can’t be that. They’re really good for you.”

“Yeh, you’ve probably gone a bit too crazy with them, I think,” was the doctor’s scientific diagnoses.

Something to do with acid…? Too much citric acid…? 500 bananas a day isn’t good for you apparently…?