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Showing posts from September, 2010

NAUGHTY LUNCH FOR ONE

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I have a great liking for seafood ("I see food and eat it!" ha ha de ha ha). A good friend of mine, who has known me all my life, still refers to the incident when I declared to her, aged about 5, "I love prawns!" and proceed to eat about a pound of prawns, and then be violently sick. Luckily, the experience did not put me off prawns.... I love mussels and other shellfish (though I do drawn the line at oysters - I simply cannot see the point of them), langoustines, lobster, crab; I have even eaten sea urchins in Croatia! And, aside from the Prawn Incident, I have never been ill from eating seafood. One of my favourite restaurant starters is scallops with black pudding.

In my local Tesco, the little roe-less scallops were on offer today (along with jumbo prawns), so I bought a packet for my lunch. I had a single boiled Charlotte potato left over from last night's supper, so I sliced it and fried it, added a few strips of chorizo, and the scallops, cooked until t…

PUMPKIN RAVIOLI

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My recent visit to Liguria has inspired me! I dusted off my pasta machine - not a hand-cranked one, but a neat automatic device which runs off the motor of my trusty Kitchenaid mixer - and made my own pasta dough. And then I went one step further, and made my own ravioli! I was so chuffed with the result, I had to blog it.

Homemade pasta is relatively easy to make, but it takes a bit of practice, patience and a light touch. It's a little like bread-making, or playing the piano: if you practice, you get better at it! It is also cheap and nutritious, and keeps well when dried.

I use Jamie Oliver's recipe for egg pasta, and I buy pasta flour in Tesco (in the Special section). I used to use strong white bread flour, but its high protein content made the pasta rather chewy. Italian Tipo '00' is the correct flour for pasta. Eggs make it rich. And it needs nothing more: no oil, no water.

Basic pasta recipe:
600g/1lb 6oz Tipo ‘00’ flour
6 large free-range or organic eggs or 1…

CAKES AND CONVERSATION

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I hosted my annual charity coffee morning to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support. Billed as the World's Biggest Coffee Morning, it's an event held on the last Friday of September to bring people together for coffee, cakes and conversation and to raise funds to enable Macmillan Cancer Support. I always try to entice people to my home by offering homemade cakes and over the past three years, my chocolate brownies, or rather Nigella's chocolate brownies (I use her recipe - it's the best I know), have become very popular. I'm not a great cake-maker, but brownies are so easy that I always make them. I also made Forgotten Cookies (see separate post) and could not resist buying a Battenberg cake from M&S, as it's one of my favourites.

It was lovely to gather a small group of friends together for coffee, cakes and conversation, and I was struck, not for the first time, at how lucky I am to have such a nice group of friends: many are women I have met through th…

LONG WEEKEND IN LIGURIA, Part 2

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The Ristorante Ca' Mea, a kilometre or so south of Badalucco in Liguria, is easily identifiable, thanks to the giant fibre-glass porcini mushroom near the bridge. The restaurant itself is an old mill with two vaulted rooms painted with colourful cherubs serving wine, mushrooms and other delights, and a gazebo/garden room overlooking the Argentina river.

The evening I visit Ca' Mea there is a sagra (local festival) in Badalucco, the nearest town, in honour of stoccafisso, or dried cod. Because of the festival, I expected the restaurant to be busy, but when I arrived, a large christening party was just leaving, and there were plenty of empty tables. Like the Hotel Santo Spirito in Molini, Ca' Mea has no menu. You arrive, are seated, offered still or sparkling water and a bottle of red wine. On the table is the local rye bread and grissini. The dishes come out of the kitchen with the most perfunctory of explanations of what you are about to eat; as you finish one dish, anothe…

LONG WEEKEND IN LIGURIA, Part 1

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The road from Arma di Taggia snakes up the steep valley of the torrente Argentina. The landscape, which is lush and green with deciduous trees and those tall thin cypresses that are so characteristic of Italy and the southern Mediterranean, is striated with farmed terraces: swags of vines, grey-green olive trees, fruit trees, maize, climbing beans. In the villages that cling to the sides of the valley nearly every house has a strip of garden that is given over to vegetables: knobbly green-and-red tomatoes, curly pale green zucchini, bulbous orange squashes and pumpkins. One has the sense of people making the best of the landscape which limits more conventional farming. It is no accident that this region of Italy is famous for its very distinctive and unique food.



Liguria is the narrow region of Italy just across the border from France and the chic resorts of Nice and the French Riviera, bound by the sea to the south and the mountains to the north. Its most famous city is Genoa, while P…

IN SEASON NOW - FIGS

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My local market is awash with figs, from Turkey and Spain, which are suddenly in season for a few short weeks. Check for ripeness by gently squeezing their velvety mauve skins, as you would an avocado, drop a few into a brown paper bag and take home to eat raw with Parma ham or a sharp cheese, or bake or pan-fry with honey and rosewater to make a succulent pudding. Figs do not ripen after picking, so be sure to check for ripeness: they should have a rich colouring.

When I was only holiday in Turkey two summers ago, I ate perfectly ripe little green figs straight from the tree, or purchased them from a roadside fruit and veg stall (which also sold wonderful melons, small green peppers, cherries and peaches). A few delicately flavoured figs and a bowl of fresh yoghurt made a delicious, healthy breakfast before a day spent on a sunlounger, reading, sleeping, swimming.

Ripe figs are great quartered and made into a salad with Parma ham, curls of Parmesan, or a good Mozzarella, roughly shre…

FRIDAY NIGHT SUPPER WITH GOOD FRIENDS

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Demon Cook loves to cook, but Demon Cook also loves to dine out, especially in the company of good friends and fellow foodies. In a role-reversal, my regular dinner guests Jacky and Nick, hosted supper on Friday. The theme was Venice, the wine was, appropriately, Pinot Grigio, the food was delicious, varied and plentiful, and a fine evening was topped off with a hard-fought game of Scrabble (Nick won - again).

Inspired by Italian 'tapas' (is there an equivalent word in Italian for tapa? There must be.....) eaten at Soho bar and "bacaro" Polpo (the premises was once the home of Italian painter, Canaletto), Jacky produced a wonderful starter of chickpea and anchovy crostini, and green beans with mozzarella and toasted hazelnuts, both dishes bursting with interesting and unusual flavours, and combinations of flavours. For the main course, we ate fennel risotto, which was perfectly cooked, with just a little bite left in the rice and a lovely creaminess. We all concurred…

MARMITE SPAGHETTI

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Marmite is one of those foods, like oysters, which divides people. You either love it or hate it. There's no middle ground. And just for the record, I loathe oysters. I can't see the point of them at all. But I LOVE Marmite! Always have, always will. I particularly like it on hot, buttered toast (good toast, preferably sourdough or my homemade bread), a thin smear of the shiny brown stuff. It is especially good on toast soldiers, dipped in a soft-boiled egg. My cat Freddy is also rather partial to it; he loves its faux-meaty saltiness and a tiny dob of it on his front paws will keep him quiet for ages.

This recipe comes from Nigella Lawson's new book Kitchen, a fat, well-illustrated tome celebrating homely food. Alongside the pictures of the food, are some rather fetching shots of Herself, in a red silk robe, or her signature little cashmere cardis. I read the recipe and thought "hmmmm", but I was also intrigued, and, having just eaten a plate of Marmite Spaghett…

THE WORLD'S BIGGEST COFFEE MORNING

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I have mentioned this event, in support of Macmillan Cancer Support, in the previous post. I have successfully hosted a charity coffee morning for the past three years. It's a lovely opportunity for friends to come together for coffee, cake and chat, and a chance to raise money for a very important and worthwhile cancer charity. One year, I combined the event with a book swap which was great fun - it's amazing what sort of books people bring - and everyone went home with a good haul of new reading matter.

This year's coffee morning is on Friday 24th September and I will be hosting it as usual at my home. There will be homemade cakes and good company. This year's event has a special resonance for me as a friend, and former colleague from my publishing days, Karen Stafford, died on 19th July after a year-long battle with cancer. She was in her forties, a wonderful, vivacious person, a talented graphic designer, and a great mum. She leaves behind her partner, Keith, and he…

BENEDICT BARS

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With a definite tinge of autumn in the air now, especially first thing in the morning (there was dew on the grass and mist in the air when I set off for work last Tuesday morning), and in the evening, my culinary thoughts start turning to homely, comforting recipes: cakes and cookies which go well with steaming cups of tea and a toes-up on the sofa.

Benedict Bars originate from South Africa,wedges of shortbread with an almond and raspberry jam topping, but I first discovered them in Dorset, at a little artisan bakery called Long Crichel Bakery, which is hidden away down a lane with grass growing up the middle of it, in the village of Long Crichel, near Blandford Forum. You can buy bread and cakes from the bakery, or sample them at Long Crichel Tea Rooms in Wimborne. (for more information visit http://www.longcrichelbakery.co.uk/). There a many hidden foodie gems in Dorset - you just have to know where to look for them.

Benedict Bars are reminiscent of Bakewell Tart in their combination…

"FRAN"-GIPANE

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Frangipane is a filling for tarts and pastries made from ground almonds, butter, eggs and sugar, and goes wonderfully with fruit such as apples, pears, cherries and raspberries. It's dead easy to make and once cooked, a tart with a frangipane filling has a lovely crisp, slightly chewy 'macaroony' top with a deliciously soft centre. I think the picture of my pear and frangipane tart is a testament to its success when served for supper the other night. Needless to say, everyone had seconds.




Serves 4, generously

For the frangipane filling
125g butter
125g caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
125g ground almonds
a few drops of almond extract (optional)

Oven 180 C

This will make sufficient quantity to fill a medium-sized tart tin. I used bought puff pastry for this tart, but homemade sweet crust pastry is good too. I follow Jamie Oliver's tip for pastry: line the tin with the pastry and then put in the freezer for about 20 mins before using. This results in lovely crisp past…

SOCCA DE NICE

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Not a football team, but a speciality of south-eastern France, in particular, the city of Nice, Socca is a kind of crepe or flatbread. It is made with chickpea (gram) flour (farinata in Italian) and olive oil, and is baked in a hot oven, often in a cast-iron pan more than a metre in diameter. It is traditionally served hot and eaten with the fingers. It makes a very good tapa as it can be used as a base for other things, such as tapenade or cheese. I sometimes make it instead of focaccia as an accompaniment to a meal, and I like to scatter it with fresh rosemary and fine shards of sea salt. It is a glorious yellow colour and has an unusual nutty flavour.

No longer the preserve of health-food shops or Indian stores, chickpea flour is easily available these days in the supermarket. My Tesco 'Local' sells it in the speciality section (near the veg) in big 2 kg bags. I use it for making onion bhajis and falafels as well.

Socca is easy to make. You just need to let the batter stand f…