Monday, 21 October 2013

So, what happens in term time?

I had hopes that during term time I'd be able to post both about stress relieving cooking and some of the funny things I come across teaching teenage boys...

But this past term time has swallowed me up whole! I've been leaving for work at 7.45ish and getting back about 12 hours later. It's been bizarrely intense. I'm wondering if the summer holidays had dulled my mind to the actual realities of the winter term with its crazy amounts of planning, marking, chasing pupils for work...

Anyway, more of that later, but here's a roundup of some of the cooking and food that's been happening and I shamefully haven't been sharing with you.

You'll see an autumnal theme starting: pear tarte tatin, pumpkin pancakes with toasted pecans, pumpkin pie, gingerbread and beer cupcakes. And then there's some left-over-from-summer delights: a hunt for a cronut (which is held by my husband in the picture, hence the manly hand!), a trip to Mishkin's, a meringue and sponge birthday cake made for my mother and an attempt at a meringue coated cake made to celebrate a friend's engagement. Oh yes, and all of these are sweet things...I seem to live on sugar in term time!

I'll be posting recipes for these over the next few days and sharing some of the madness of teaching in a London day school. Do let me know what you've been cooking as autumn has come in!

For now though, he's one of the songs that kept me going through the crazy amounts of marking...

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

A Summer Dinner Party: Caramelised Walnut, Goat's Cheese and Orange Salad, with Sourdough Croutons

What to have at a dinner party when it's really hot - and you don't really feel like standing in a sweltering kitchen? Salad. It's the obvious answer, perhaps, but it can be tricky finding a salad that's enough to constitute a full main course! This one, however, I have tried out on three hungry men and they all seemed to approve...although this time I cooked it for my two sisters-in-law and a female cousin-in-law. One of the sisters-in-law is a professional chef so I was a little intimidated, but she left saying she was inspired by it, so I'm taking that as a compliment! I found the recipe on a snippet from a magazine I'd cut out ages ago, and have amended it slightly.

It might not be the prettiest...but it is totally delicious!

What makes it so lovely is the combination of crunchy sourdough and the tangy goat's cheese along with sweetness of the walnuts and summery-ness of the orange. This recipe does involve a little cooking, but it's so easy and low maintenance that it's totally bearable in the summer heat...

Ingredients - enough to feed 6

  • 100g walnut halves
  • 4 tablespoons clear honey
  • 4 thick slices of sourdough bread, cut into crouton sized cubes
  • 2 tablespoons wholegrain mustard
  • 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 10 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 medium sized oranges
  • 400g salad leaves
  • 250g goat's cheese, cubed
Heat oven to 200C.

1. Peel the oranges using a small sharp knife and cut them in to small segments. Transfer any juice that collects on the chopping board during this process into a small pan - this will form the basis of the salad dressing later!

2. Mix the walnuts with two tablespoons of the honey, and then spread them out on a baking tray covered with greaseproof paper - or alternatively, put them on a silicone baking sheet. In the pictures below I experimented with using foil, but it didn't work brilliantly!
3. Also place the sourdough bread cubes on a baking tray / in a roasting tin and drizzle a little olive oil over.
4. Place both trays into the oven for 15 minutes, checking them half way and turning the trays to make sure that the walnuts and bread are evenly browned.
Click to enlarge.

5. While the walnuts and sourdough bread are in the oven, prepare the dressing. Add the remaining honey, mustard, vinegar and oil to the pan with the orange juice. Stir, heat slowly and season.

6. Assemble the salad. Put the salad leaves in a large bowl and add the orange slices, sourdough croutons, goat's cheese and walnuts. Toss gently with the salad dressing.

Tip: if the walnut halves are too tricky to remove from the tray, place them back in the oven for a minute to soften the honey slightly.

We followed the salad with the raspberry baked cheesecake I've posted about before. I don't often repeat recipes so quickly, but the husband requested it! This time, I made it in a slightly bigger tin (although using the same quantities as in the posted recipes), left it in a little longer (I forgot...!) and dressed it up a bit...

I'm cooking for another dinner party tonight (got to make the most of the dying days of the summer holidays!), but something totally different: chocolate chilli chicken followed by lime souffles: check back later to see those recipes!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

A Musical at Somerset House and a Cheese Board...

My husband always teases me about being signed up to too many email newsletters, but this summer (perhaps for once...?!) it has really paid off as being signed up to Somerset House updates meant we got priority booking for their summer screenings. I'd never been to an outdoor film screening before (it is so often COLD in the evenings during an English summer that they didn't used to happen that much) and this seemed the perfect time to go as they were showing 'Guys and Dolls'. I love musicals and used to have the 'Guys and Dolls' tape when I was little; it probably was also the first musical I ever heard as my parents went to see it in the West End when my mother was pregnant with me (and that probably explains a lot).

You can take supper with you to eat there and considering there's an amazing cheese shop just down the road from where we live I thought it'd be appropriate to take a cheese board and some super tasty bread (I settled on potato and rosemary bread from Gail's).

Here are my picnic cheese board suggestions...

The film, plus the cheese, bread (and later some home made cookies) and a whole pile of blankets and cushions to keep us warm, made a lovely summer's evening!

Friday, 16 August 2013

The Wonders of Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi - a recipe recommendation

My favourite gnocchi are the ones featured in the Polpo cookbook, where you make an amazing cavolo nero sauce to accompanying (sounds weird, tastes delicious). To me, however, these seem more of a wintery food...perhaps because I got the cookbook for Christmas and first made them in that fallow period after boxing day, when I'd come back home. I also made them while singing along to 'The Sound of Music Story' documentary - but perhaps that's not something to be proud of!

BUT there is a great, more summery, and speedier to make, version of gnocchi. It's probably healthier too. I like to think that anything involving spinach is immediately healthy and perhaps that's not always the case, but these are definitely lighter than the usual potato filled gnocchi and it's really satisfying to watch them float to the top of the pan once they're cooked.

Here's a basic overview of the steps:

Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi
(click the picture to enlarge!)

They make a delicious summer lunch, or a light summer supper...or you could have them as a starter.

The recipe itself is here.

Friday, 9 August 2013

The Wonder of Lentils

In general, I am a major lover of lentils. They're comforting, cheap and nutritious! They also make a great addition to salads if you buy the ready cooked Puy Lentils in tins.

This recipe is to go along with the duck confit recipe posted a few days ago...

Serves 2.

  • 200g uncooked Puy or green lentils
  • An onion or shallot
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 2 tablespoons vinaigrette
  1. Put the lentils in a saucepan with cold water, then bring to the boil. 
  2. Add the other ingredients and simmer for 10 mins or so.
  3. Strain the lentils, getting rid of the other ingredients apart from the carrots.
  4. Add the vinaigrette and season.
On another lentil related note, if anyone has a really good recipe for dhal, I'd love to know it...

Summer Joys

So, despite being a little glum about the car vandalism mentioned in the last post, the baked cheesecake and these things cheered my spirits...

1. A chance to chill out with a good book, 'The Quiet American' (which is my mind is counting as 'work' as I might teach it next term), some iced tea and a favourite flavour of crisps. Has anyone seen the film of 'The Quiet American' with Michael Caine? Is it any good?

    Yes, this picture of my balcony is not particularly glamorous!

2. Having an early evening wander around the National Gallery with my husband, where, as ever I'm very predictable in my love of pictures involving the sea...

Pictures from The National Gallery
3. ...and after the gallery we headed to Wahaca on the Southbank for a drink, some tortilla chips and amazing guacamole.

Hibiscus Mojito

4. One thing I'd love to do is see a really good film at the cinema; there hasn't been much interesting on recently, but I must admit that I'm looking forward to this! Mary Poppins, although a bit odd, definitely exemplifies some of the qualities I'd like to have as a teacher: firm but fair and practically perfect in every way!

'Saving Mr Banks', which will be closing the BFI London Film Festival.

Therapeutic Baked Raspberry Cheescake

Apologies for horrendously not keeping my word and not posting about the lentils mentioned in the previous post. Bear with me as the reason will become apparent...

There was a need for therapeutic cheesecake baking and eating. And yes, cheesecake must, must, must be baked. In my youth all I had ever eaten was the far less superior put-in-the-fridge-to-set type. I never particularly liked it, but would eat it on offer as I had a feeling cheesecake should be good. Well, it turns out that what my little self was yearning unknowingly for was baked cheesecake. If you have never tried a baked cheesecake before, please vamoose from this blog, go to the supermarket, buy the ingredients and make this pronto. It will change your view of cheesecake forever - and I'm afraid probably make you a cheesecake snob like me.

So, the reason for the therapeutic nature of this cheesecake: the glass on our car back windscreen was randomly smashed in a couple of nights ago. Nothing was stolen, but dealing with the whole thing wound me up. To the kitchen I went, and baked this. In fact, I am now eating it as I write this post:

Yes, there is a random hat in the back corner of the photo. It's my husband's recent purchase for winter...anyway, back to the cheesecake. I found the recipe years ago in a Waitrose Food magazine; I baked it for one of my first ever dinner parties and now, having admittedly tweaked the recipe a bit, it is up there as one of my favourite recipes. As I have little self control, I usually make this just before going to bed. When the 40 minute cooking time is up, I turn off the oven and go to bed so I can't keep peeking at it...

Ingredients - enough to make a cheesecake to fill a 16cm diameter round cake tin.
  • 50g butter
  • 200g bourbon biscuits, crushed (not sure if you can get these outside of England; if not, just use chocolate cookies!)
  • 400g cream cheese
  • 142ml double cream
  • 75g icing sugar
  • 25g cornflour
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g raspberries (I didn't have that many left and it's fine with fewer!)
Heat oven to 170C and put a baking sheet on the middle shelf of the oven.

  1. Grease and line your cake tin with baking paper.
  2. Set about making your base; melt the butter in a small saucepan while you whizz the biscuits in the food processor to crush them. Add the crushed biscuits to the melted butter, stir to coat them and put this mixture into the bottom of your tin. Push it down with a wooden spoon until you have an even base for your cheesecake. Transfer this to the fridge while you make the rest of the recipe.
  3. Put the cream cheese, cream, icing sugar and cornflour into a bowl and, using an electric whisk, beat to combine.
  4. Add vanilla extract and eggs, then beat again until smooth.
  5. Stir in the raspberries. Then transfer the mixture into the tin, on top of the biscuit base.
  6. Put the cheesecake into the oven, on top of the preheated baking sheet. Cook for 40 minutes or a little longer, until the cheesecake is just set in the centre.
  7. Now is the tricky bit: turn off the oven but leave the cheesecake in there for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Don't keep opening the oven door, or the cheesecake will crack!
  8. After the cheesecake has cooled, transfer it to the fridge to get it really cold.
If you want to be fancy and serve this at a dinner party, decorate the top with extra raspberries and dust with icing sugar.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Dealings with Duck

Something for Sunday lunch or a Saturday supper...

On my first trip to The Wolseley five or so years ago, I'd recently stopped being a vegetarian. I wasn't quite up to the bravery of eating steak tartare (to be honest, not sure I'll ever quite get there!) that my lunching companion was eagerly ordering, so I plumped for the confit of duck. I thought if I didn't particularly like it, at least I knew I'd like the lentils it came with. But I did like it - in fact I liked it so much that when I went to try Brasserie Zedel (created by the same people who are behind The Wolseley) I knew exactly what I'd order.

My other random love involving the bird is the duck gyoza soup from Eat (I am definitely a lover of dumplings, whether in British or more glamorous foreign forms). I'd tried my hand at making vegetable gyoza as it seemed a bit more manageable, but having encountered this recipe suggestion for filling the little parcels with duck comfit, I knew I needed to get over my fears and give it a go. Pronto, in fact.

I had visions that making the duck confit would involve seriously complicated moves on a level with those involved in Julia Child's infamous 'Boned Stuffed Duck Baked in a Pastry Crust' recipe, Julie's nemesis at the end of the film.

Julie, in the film 'Julie and 'Julia', prepares to confront the duck.
Image from cornichon.org
Luckily, it wasn't anywhere near as complicated as I'd feared, which is why, along with its tastiness, I thoroughly recommend it to you! Although, I have to admit, the duck never made it to the dumpling wrappers. Smelling it cooking deliciously for two hours meant that there was no way I was going to faff around with gyoza. The duck had to be eaten.

The Recipe for the Duck Confit 
(or, as I shall be calling it, 'The Duck of Joy')
plus lentils.

I ended up amalgamating a few recipes; the end result was a mix of Nigel Slater's recipe for the Guardian, called 'The Duck Stops Here' (love the name), Raymond Blanc's recipe, which also has a video (probably only available to watch for a short time...) and Daniel Galmiche's recipe in the 'French Brasserie Cookbook'. I looked it up in the index of my Julia Child cookbook but it wasn't included...probably because I only have volume 1 at the moment!

Important note: the duck needs to marinate overnight (or two to three hours minimum!), so this is a recipe that requires a bit of planning ahead!

Ingredients to serve 2:

For the duck
  • 2 duck legs (Nigel Slater would have you chopping up a duck, but that sounded like it veered a bit towards the 'boned stuffed duck' way of doings things to me...)
  • 20g (or thereabouts) sea salt
  • thyme sprigs
  • 4 bay leaves
  • jar of duck fat (295g if you have a narrow cooking pot, perhaps twice that if you don't...you'll see what I mean if you read ahead in the instructions!)
For the lentils
  • Puy or green lentils (Puy would be best, but I only had green to hand)
  • An onion or shallot
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 2 tablespoons vinaigrette
Heat oven to 150C.

1. Prepare the duck! (Or, as in 'Julie and Julia', "Confront the duck!"). Place the duck legs in a fridge safe container (but prob not something plastic!) and rub salt into them - 20g of salt should do it. Recipes seem to range widely in the amount they suggest, but this seems about right. Add bay leaves and sprigs of thyme to duck. Wrap tightly in clingfilm, pressing the clingfilm around the duck legs themselves. Leave in the fridge for two hours, or better, overnight. This, apparently, is lightly curing the duck, which I find rather an excitingly grand concept.

2. Remove duck from fridge and brush the salt from it using some kitchen roll. Some recipes tell you to wash it off, whereas others tell you to not take the duck anywhere near water...I say err on the safe side and just use kitchen roll! Save the bay leaves and thyme.

3. Lightly brown duck in heavy bottomed casserole pot. Remove duck and put it on a piece of kitchen roll. 

4. Add duck fat to casserole pot and heat it to 85C (you can see I used my sugar thermometer to do this...perhaps not the best move!), then put the duck back in the pan with it along with the bay leaves and thyme from earlier. Then put the whole lot into the preheated oven for one and a half to two hours. The fat should cover the duck, which is why if your pan is quite wide (as mine is, see picture) you might need two 295g jars...

5. After the alloted time (during which your kitchen will smell incredibly enticing), remove the duck from the pan and, with some more good old kitchen towels, wipe off most of the fat. Then fry the duck legs, skin side down, over a medium heat in a saucepan. Voila...and if you're anything like me, you'll feel surprised by the success of your culinary efforts!

I'll post the recipe for the lentils tomorrow...and meanwhile I'll go to sleep dreaming of the smell of the duck, my nose lifting away from the bed like in an old fashioned cartoon (not sure that made any sense to anyone but me!).

Saturday, 3 August 2013

A Saturday Summer Lunch

An Unhealthy Salad and an Adult Take on a Childish Pudding!


                                           Camembert and Bacon Salad and Pimmsicle

This salad I found in a 'Good Food' cook book I was given ages ago. It's as uncomplicated as its name suggests - chop up some Camembert, grill some bacon (until it's extremely crispy if you're like me!), fry some chunky white breadcrumbs (yup, this is definitely unhealthy), add to salad along with a white vinegar and mustardy dressing.

Pimmsicle is actually a name conjured by my husband; the ice lolly's official name is English Summer Cup. The lollies were really easy to make; I went for the ginger beer option. Although you can't see it in the picture there was mint in them too, making them a super refreshing end to a meal!

'The Marriage Plot'

I was teaching last term about the marriage plot in Victorian novels and researching some articles when I remembered about this book - I hadn't read it so I marked it down as something to read in the summer holidays (which is always a bit of a hit and miss strategy, to be honest, as everything goes on this list...things to read along with longstanding projects like 'make a headboard for the bed' - unlikely to happen!). I did actually read this one though, while self consciously attempting to bronze my skin on a sun lounger in Greece.

The comment from The Times should have alerted me, to be fair. For some reason, I didn't love 'One Day' - I couldn't find it in me to like the character of Dexter so that sort of ruined things! I had the same sort of pickle with this novel - the characters didn't fully engage my sympathies. This isn't to say that the book is badly written and I did enjoy the characterisation of the Hanna family and Mitchell's love of them (a bit like an American version of 'Brideshead Revisited' perhaps). I also loved Euginides' depictions of different places, especially of India and Pilgrim Lake.

The book is postmodern in its use of different perspectives (sometimes re-telling the same event) and its manipulation of ideas of marriage and their presentation in Victorian novels. This is most obvious in a marriage which takes place half way through the novel. This could have been really interesting, but I struggled to be fully sold on this marriage - I didn't feel that Eugenides fully developed the reasons behind it. I don't want to give a way the conclusion of the novel, but this too was frustrating; I can understand why Euginides might want to subvert what we might have come to expect from a marriage plot, but for a summer holiday reader this didn't make it less annoying!

Despite not proclaiming an ardent love for Victorian novels, perhaps I do like some of their certainties after all; for me, 'The Marriage Plot' was an interesting but not quite satisfying enough read.

A Holiday Breakfast

So, it's a little odd to start a blog that's partially about teaching in the Summer Holidays, but the holidays mean that breakfast can be a bit more exciting than the too-early dash to some cereal. Blueberry pancakes might seem a pretty mundane topic but I promise that these are worth making!

They are a bit of a faff as they involve whisking eggs, but oh, what a result the egg whisking brings! They are super light but also creamy as they include ricotta. I found the recipe in Nigel Slater's 'The Kitchen Diaries' (a brilliant book!) and was a bit dubious, especially when they were really hard to flip, but they were worth it...he suggests raspberries or orange instead of blueberries but I like the way the berries burst and become deliciously juicy!

After making them a few times, this was my preferred recipe...I found they worked better without the addition of melted butter to the recipe.

Serves 2.

Punnet of blueberries
125g ricotta cheese
4 tablespoons sugar
3 separated eggs
50g plain flour

+ A little amount of butter for cooking

Start by mixing together the ricotta, caster sugar and egg yolks, then add the flour and mix.

In a second bowl, using an electric whisk (or by hand if you have the stamina!), beat the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks, then fold this into the mixture in the first bowl.

Heat a non stick pan and melt half a teaspoon of butter in it. Add dollops of the mixture, depositing a handful of blueberries into each pancake-to-be.

Allow the pancakes to cook until they have coloured on the bottom and then very carefully turn them over - for me this means a two spatula arrangement to lift each pancake gingerly away from the hot surface of the pan and upending it!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

About Me

I'm in my late twenties, teaching in an independent (also known as 'private') day school in London....here are some random facts about me:

  • One of my favourite recipes is the one for baked raspberry cheesecake, which you can find here!
  • My favourite authors are Nancy Mitford, P.G. Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh, W. Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene along with John Donne and Byron!
  • I teach boys from the ages of 11 to 16, and boys and girls from 16 to 18.

Here are some things I love as well as cooking, literature and teaching...along with a picture of me.