A Gathering for Friends

26 January 2015

I love nothing more than hosting a small informal gathering; inviting friends to my home to share a home-cooked meal together.

Invariably, I will cook a simple supper; unfussy but considered. I will allow myself time to plan and prepare. For occasions such as these I will bypass the busy supermarket and head to a local greengrocers, fishmongers and bakers to purchase what catches my eye. Having done some research browsing through my cook books, food magazine tear-outs and the internet, I'll usually head to the shops with something in mind; a stew, a robust winter salad or something as vague as some locally caught fish, herbs and good bread or maybe just a determination to track down the first of the blood oranges. I’ll probably pick up some flowers from the florist to – nothing grand, just a few pretty blooms to place in an old jam jar or a small vase #littletouches.

The weekend before last we had some friends come down to stay. These were old friends from where we use to live. With kids, work and busy lives we don't see each other as much as we'd all like, so this was an occasion we were all very much looking forward to. I believe times spent with friends sharing food and conversation is so good for you; there really is nothing quite like reconnecting around the dinner table catching up on each others lives, whilst lingering over a meal and a bottle of wine (or two). 

For me every such meal needs to end with a pudding. I often plan my menu from the pudding back. I used this occasion as an excuse to try out a recipe from a new cookbook of mine, Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi. The recipe was Set 'Cheesecake' with Plum Compote. It is a deconstructed cheesecake, where the compote, cake and crumble are made and kept separate. Other than the fact I can never resist a cheesecake, I was drawn to the recipe as its components (which were easy to prepare) could be done so 24 hours in advance. Having pudding ticked off the list the day before appeals to my ‘control' streak. Here are a few pictures of the said pudding. It was delicious and there was enough leftover the next day for photographing and eating (again).

Click here for a link to a greengage compote version of the same recipe.

A New Job + Parmesan & Thyme Popcorn

7 January 2015

Happy new Year. 

I'm starting the year off with some doubly good news. Those regular readers of this blog may recall that  I had some of my work published in The Simple Things back in September. Well not long after that, they commissioned me to create and photograph a series of 'snack' recipes to accompany a feature they were to run on book clubs. The feature is out in all its glory in the January issue of the magazine. I will run the recipes over the next couple of weeks here on the blog, but if you can't wait that long go grab yourself a copy from any good newsagents. I promise you won't be disappointed.

The second bit of news also relates to The Simple Things: I am their new Shopping Editor! The position was given to me back in November when I was launched straight into their February issue. That coupled with the onslaught of Christmas meant I'm only just sharing my news now - not that it has really sunk in quite yet. The roles means that I can indulge in my passion for design - sourcing lovely new products for the home and self and discovering wonderful independent retailers and creatives for my 'Shop of the Month' and 'Designer of the Month' columns that run alongside my product pages every month. My debut issue is the February one, so not too long to wait until see will my work in its good old fashioned print form. I can't wait.

But, back to the recipe. Parmesan & Thyme Popcorn did feature on the blog some time ago, but I am taking the liberty of running it again, along with a couple of the new images that I took for The Simple Things. 

Parmesan & Thyme Popcorn (makes plenty)

This is a super-quick savoury snack to make and one that can be adapted to what you might have in your fridge. Feel free to swap the Parmesan for another hard cheese and the Thyme for another herb – Marjoram or finely chopped rosemary would be perfect. The melted butter, cheese and herbs mix together and form a kind of pesto that coats the popcorn. Warning: these are very moreish.

2 tbsp vegetable oil
6 tbsp popping corn
3 tbsp butter
4 tbsp finely grated parmesan cheese
a good handful of thyme, leaves picked.
salt & pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan. Tip in the popping corn and cover with a lid. Allow the corn to pop over a medium heat, giving the pan a little shake now and again. Once the popping ceases remove the pan from the heat. Take care when removing the lid - there may still be a bit of popping activity going on. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small pan.

Tip the popcorn into a large bowl and add the melted butter, grated parmesan, chopped herbs and seasoning. Mix throughly, taste and add further seasoning, more herbs or cheese depending on taste.

Mince Pie Monday

1 December 2014

Mince pies are my festive weakness. I have a strict rule that mince pies must only be eaten in the month of December. Today, being the 1st of December, sees that invisible (tinseled) bar lifted.
Joy of joys - Mince Pie Monday is here!

I made these mince pies over the weekend to store in the freeze ahead of the festive season. Naturally half a dozen have been put aside for quality control testing. It's the right and responsible thing to do if you intend serving any to guests over the festive proceedings.

Mince Pies

Makes approx 16

200g mincemeat (buy the best you can)
50g dark chocolate chips
250g cold butter, diced
400g plain flour
½ tsp mixed spice
150g golden caster sugar
1 egg, beaten to glaze
icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 200℃ / 180℃ fan / gas 6

Mix the mincemeat and chocolate chips together in a bowl and set to one side.

To make the pastry, tip the butter into a bowl with the flour and spice. Rub together until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and squidge together to make a pastry dough. Don't be tempted to add any liquid - it will come together eventually, I promise.

Once you've formed your pastry into a ball, place it onto a floured surface and halve it. Take one of the halves and roll it out and using a circular cutter, cut out as many rounds as the dough will give you and line a shallow tart tin. Spoon your mincemeat filling into the pies.

Take your second ball of pastry, roll it out and cut rounds as before. Using a pastry brush or your finger, lightly wet the underside edge of the circles and place them on top of your pies. When all your pies have their tops on, brush with some beaten egg.

Place in the oven and cook for approx 20 mins or until golden. Remove the tins from the oven and cool a little before carefully easing the pies out of their individual compartments and leaving them to cool further on a cooling rack. To serve, lightly dusted with some sifted icing sugar.

{Silo Interview} Over On We Heart ...

14 November 2014

Last month, Silo, the UK's first zero waste restaurant opened in Brighton. Housed in an old warehouse in the North Lanes, Silo is a restaurant, bakery and coffee house that adopts a pre-industrial food system that generates zero waste. 

We Heart, a blog that explores the intersections between arts and culture, lifestyle, living and travel, asked me if I fancied popping along to Silo for a chat and coffee with their pioneering chef Douglas McMaster. Naturally, I jumped at the chance. Quite frankly we could have nattered to the cows came home. His food is second to none and his passion infectious and inspirational. Click here to read my post over on We Heart.

Photography: Image 1 & 2 - Lisa Devlin | Image 3 XDB Photography 

A Red Cabbage and Tarragon Slaw with Artichokes + Croutons

20 October 2014

I can remember being in junior school and making coleslaw in a home economics lesson. I can't recall anything else we ever made. I used to love creamy coleslaw as a child; I remember buying tubs of it by weight at the supermarket deli counter and vinaigrette coleslaw too. They were the two options back in then. Whatever happened to the tangy vinaigrette variety? I've not seen it in years. 

I still love a good slaw, though when making it myself I like to go a step or two further than the traditional, white cabbage, onion and carrot combo. This version came about purely by an impulse purchase of a red cabbage and what I had in the fridge that needed to be put to good use. 

I like using red cabbage in the colder months for a slaw and adding some herbs for freshness and  interest: in this instance I used some tarragon for its warm aniseed flavour. The quantities given below will produce a bounty of slaw to keep you going through the week, with enough spare to give a few tubs away to your nearest and dearest. If you want a smaller amount just half or adjust the recipe to suit.

Red Cabbage and Tarragon Slaw with Artichokes + Croutons

½ red cabbage
1 red onion
200g brussel sprouts
4 medium carrots
30g fresh tarragon
50g pumpkin seeds
100g creme fraiche
5 tbsps good quality mayonnaise
2 tsp nigella seeds
juice of ½ a lemon
1½ tbsp cyder vinegar
285g jar of artichoke hearts in oil
1 ciabatta loaf
olive oil
dried basil

Preheat the oven to 200℃ / 180℃ fan ready for baking the croutons.

Thinly slice the cabbage, onion and sprouts and grate the carrots on the coarse side of a grater. Add the shredded vegetables to a large mixing bowl. Finely chop the tarragon adding all but a small handful to the bowl. Next add the pumpkin seeds and give it a quick mix.

Now add the creme fraiche, mayonnaise, nigella seeds, lemon juice and vinegar. Give it all a good stir and taste for seasoning adding salt and black pepper to your taste. Set to one side. 

To make the croutons slice the ciabatta loaf into cubes that are approx 1" square. Place these in a single layer on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle over your reserved tarragon and a shake or two of dried basil. Toss the cubes of bread to ensure all sides are coated in the oil and herb mixture. Place in the oven and bake for approx 10 mins, shaking them gently half way through the cooking to ensure they are golden on all sides.  Remove from the oven and set to one side.

While the croutons are baking fry the artichokes in a small frying pan using a little of the oil from the jar. Once they are golden and slightly crispy remove them onto some kitchen paper.

Serve the slaw topped with the artichokes and croutons. Enjoy.

The Start of Something Savoury: Yellow Beetroot + Feta Tart

8 October 2014

I am going to start featuring savoury recipes on the blog. If you read this blog, you could be forgiven for thinking that I only bake cakes and that I bake them often. I probably do bake cakes more often than the average person, but they are, in most instances, for other people or to share with other people at a gatherings.

The food I most often cook is savoury everyday family food. We're a family of pescetarians who like to eat with the seasons. Today I am sharing this recipe for Yellow Beetroot and Feta Tart. This recipe came about as I had three yellow beetroot on borrowed time and a pack of feta cheese in the fridge. We've been eating it cold with salad for lunch this week, but it can also be served warm for supper maybe with a baked potato and some wilted chard on the side.

Yellow Beetroot + Feta Tart

1 pack of ready rolled shortcrust pastry
3 Beetroot (yellow or regular), peeled and coarsely grated
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely sliced
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
fresh thyme
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
140g feta cheese
2 eggs, beaten
150ml creme fraiche
nigella seeds (optional)
dried purple basil (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180℃ (160℃ Fan). Line a regular flan dish with the pastry, leaving any excess pastry hanging over the rim. Line with baking parchment and fill be baking beans (or other baking weights) and bake blind for 10 mins. Remove the paper and pop it back into the oven for a further 5 mins, or until the pastry is pale and slightly golden. Trim the over hanging pastry and place to one side to cool while you get on with preparing the filling.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the onion over a low-medium heat until soft. Add the beetroot, vinegar, sugar and a splash of water to loosen. Next throw in some thyme leaves picked from several sprigs. Cook, stirring occasionally for 5 - 8 mins, until everything is soft and there is no liquid in the pan.

Cool the filling slightly, then spread over the base of the tart. Next crumble over the feta cheese. Whisk the eggs together with the creme fraiche and season with a little black pepper. Pour this over the feta and spread to cover the surface.

Cook in the oven for approx 30mins, or until set and golden. Leave to cool slightly before scattering with extra thyme sprigs, nigella seeds and dried purple basil.

My Pop Up Tearoom for Macmillan Cancer Care {Year Three}

29 September 2014

On Friday morning I held my annual 'cake spread' for Macmillan Cancer Care. It was my third year and looks set to be the biggest one yet, with £360 raised so far (a few more donations are still to come). As with every year, I had no time to photograph everything properly. These snaps were taken without much care five minutes before my first customer arrived, but it serves as a record of sorts.

This year the offerings were as follows: Lemon Meringue Roulade with Fruits of the Forest Coulis; Blueberry Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting; Lavender & Apricot Biscuits; Orange & Almond Cake; Chocolate Stout Cake with Whisky Frosting and Figs; Blackberry, Almond & Cardamom Cake and Chocolate Brownies.

a BIG thank you to all of you who came. X