Monday, 29 September 2008

The evolution of a cake

Everybody who knows me will sooner or later get a taste, or many tastes of my favourite cake of all times. A French chocolate cake which I refer to as the Mother of all chocolate cakes. So delicious, yet so simple. 30mins from unpacking the ingredients to having a slice of heavenly gooeyness. As with my pates, I try to to re-invent the cake from time to time to avoid boredome amongst my friends. My latest and so far bestest enhancement was swirling a little bit of good quality raspberry jam into the dough before baking in. I then covered the top of the cake with more raspberry jam before pouring over a lush chocolate ganache. the icing on the cake wasn't the actual icing though, it was the handful of crushed pink peppercorns which did not only add an unexpected kick to the cake, but also took the edge of the overall sweetness and heaviness of this indulgent piece of chocolate heaven.

Red velvet cake

This isn't actually a recipe, it's more an homage at a cake. Having said that, it's more about the look than the actual taste.
When I went to New York, I stayed with friends in Greenwich Village. It was the perfect location in an otherwise imperfect city. I didn't enjoy New York per se much, but Greenwich Village with all its continental bakeries, eateries and Marc Jacobs outlets was different. Bleaker Street was my favourite. Not only because that's where out apartment was, but that's where almost everything else was as well. Especially all the nice bakeries and cake shops.
On cake shop in particular caught my attention. I cannot remember its name, but the long queue outside this little shop. Long queues always look promising,
so I expected a lot when I joined it to get a taste of the famous red velvet cake.It was ok. As ok as if Betty Crocker herself made it.
So I couldn't help but wonder: did they really just use a white cake mix and spike it with some colouring?

Ginger spiced pate

I haven't been cooking a lot recently which worked really well for my waistline, but not so well for my blog. But I volunteered to bring food to some of my friends parties lately. Whether I did it to help them with their preparations or whether I did ot for the sake of having something to add to my blog remains a secret :-)
When my friend Laurent celebrated his 34th birthday, I brought round the biggest block of pate ever, thinking that there will be around 20 guests. As it turned out, 2/3 of the people didn't show up. So I am sure that he and his boyfriend are still having pate every evening.
Whenever there is an occasion, I make pate. Pate and salami are the two reasons why I
couldn't become a vegetarian. Salami I buy in the shops, pate is something though I usually make myself: It's cheaper, better and more animal-friendly as I only use organic duck or chicken liver. Also, it's less boring than shop bought pate as I play around with flavours quite a bit. I have tried many variations, but my favourite one uses spring onion, chilli, ginger, soy sauce and garlic. Once the chicken liver is nicely brown on the outside but still pink in the centre, I add the spices and a few splashes of soy sauce, put it all in a blender, add butter and mix until smooth and creamy.
To make it look more fancy, I decorated my latest pate with some jellied ginger by simply boiling some ginger with water, then adding gelatine. I poured the mixture into a pound cake tin and let it cool in the fridge for an hour before filling the tin up to the rim with pate.

Friday, 16 May 2008

An awesome birthday cake

I came across a similar cake in a party-food book and was immediately taken by it ignoring the more than obvious fact that it was meant for a kids birthday party. Kids have fairly simple taste buds: as long as it's sweet and with extra sugar icing on top, they'll love it. So the dense quatre quarts dough should do the trick for them. Adults are a bit more fussy, or at least my friends are. Some of them criticised the density of heaviness of the cake. But let's face it: I didn't bake the cake for it's culinary quality but simply for the look. And damn, it did look good.
An awesome birthday cake:
: 1 kg self raising flour
: 1 kg castor sugar
: 1 kg butter
: 15 eggs

: 250ml strawberry jam
: 250g butter
: 500g icing sugar

: 500g icing sugar
: Smarties, strawberry laces, Jellie Babies, sugar hearts, Maltesters, Jelly Beans etc.

Make the dough in two batches (easier than making it all at once) and divided it between a 25cm, 20cm and 15cm cake tin and a muffin cup. Bake until ready and let cool on a wire rack.
Heat the jam with a little raspberry vodka, then spread it evenly over every cake. Now make the butter cream by mixing the softened butter and 3 tbsp of hot water with the icing sugar. Spread on top of the jam. Finally stack the cakes on top of each other (obviously starting with the largest cake at the bottom).
For the icing, mix the icing sugar with just enough water to make the mixture slightly runny, then cover the entire cake with the icing before adding the decoration.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Wheat free ricotta muffins

It's not always easy to cook for friends who are on a special diet. Especially if you try to throw a dinner party for a bunch of friends that all happen to be on a different diet. That's what happened lately when one of my friends was fasting for lent and wouldn't have chocolate and the other one is allergic to gluten.
Of course, there would have been an easy way out with simply making something like mascarpone, cream and fruits served in a martini glass. But then: I don't like the easy way out. Plus I really wanted to bake something. My usual wheat free winner, the
melt-in-the-mouth chocolate cake was a no go due to its main ingredient. So I looked for some ideas in a few magazines and finally came across the perfect dessert in a German housewives' cooking magazine: Quark and cornflakes muffins.
Quark is not always easy to get in London, so I had to substitute it with some ricotta which worked equally well.
Wheat free ricotta muffins, makes 12 muffins
: 250g ricotta
: 250g cream cheese
: 2 organic eggs
: 75g ground hazelnuts
: 100g castor sugar
: 2 tbsp corn flour
: 10 Physalis, quartered
: 100g white chocolate
: cornflakes

For the topping:
: 75g hazelnut flakes
: 100g castor sugar
: 12 capsicum

Beat the ricotta and cream cheese until smooth, then add the sugar. Beat in the corn flour and slowly add the eggs, one by one. Finally, blend in the ground hazelnuts and the Physalis.
Melt the chocolate over a bain-marie. Mix with a few handfuls of cornflakes. Make sure all cornflakes are well covered with chocolate. Full a tablespoon of the cornflake mixture in each muffin cup, then pour over the cream cheese filling. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for about 25 minutes.
When ready, decorate each muffin with a spoon full of hazelnut crunch.
Melt the castor sugar in a pan until golden brown, add the hazelnut flakes, then drizzle the mixture over the muffins. Finally, decorate each muffin with a Physalis. If necessary, dip the Physalis in some of the melted sugar (that will make them stick to the top of the muffin).

Monday, 18 February 2008

Steamed little gems in Oyster sauce

Ever since my not-so-new-anymore flatmate Qian moved in, I haven’t been updating my blog anymore. The reason is very simple: it seems to be her who now does all the cooking in my house. Even if I have friends round, she would cook for them.
And if she doesn’t cook… then I cook Qian-style dishes. I never really enjoyed Chinese food, but that girl’s culinary skills totally converted me. Maybe it is the distinct lack of monosodium glutamate in her dishes that make them so much more delightful than all the stuff you can get in China Town. Or it is the mere simplicity that makes re-creating her dishes so tempting.
Take steamed lettuce in oyster sauce. Man, that’s good. And on the table in less than 5 minutes. My fridge is packed with little gems at the moment and I have a daily fight with my Guineas over who gets to eat them. I loose out most of the time as I am too lazy to go and get some other stuff for them, but whenever I can I would prepare them as a side dish for prawn dumplings, which are about the only ready meal I have in my freezer.
Steamed little gems in Oyster sauce, for 2
: leaves of 2-3 little gems
: 1 clove of garlic, thinly sliced
: vegetable oil
: 2-3 tsp Oyster sauce
: splash of Soy sauce

Blanch the lettuce in some boiling water. In the meantime, heat a little vegetable oil in a pan and fry the garlic for a minute or two before adding the blanched lettuce leaves together with the Oyster sauce and little water if necessary. Finish off with a splash of Soy sauce and serve immediately.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Devouring a fat duck

If they made me pay 500 Pounds, I wouldn't hesitate for a second to take out my wallet. But then, El Bulli refused me and my money, so I had to settle for the second best (literally): The Fat Duck in Bray. And Heston Blumenthal's crew made every single one of the 377 Pounds we paid for the two of us worth while. The food is not only an experience, but also excellent. Actually, it is pretty hard to discribe what we had, so I let the menu speak for itself: it tasted at least as good as it reads...
It took us 4 hours to eat all of the above. At the end we started to worry whether we would get the last train into London. But apparently a second Fat Duck will open in London any time soon. Will I go there too? Not unlikely :-)

Monday, 19 November 2007

Steamed green shells Qian's way

I am really lucky with my new flatmate. In fact, she's much better than having a boyfriend. She can cook, cleans, is incredibly polite and lovely, yet independent.
When she first came round to view the flat Qian told me she couldn't cook. That must have been Chinese modesty speaking there because in fact she is a brilliant cook.
When a friend of hers came round the other day, she did not only cook one dish but four. And all of them were super tasty. My favourite were her green shells with black bean and garlic sauce, fresh garlic and spring onions. So yummy and so simple!
Steamed green shells Qian's way, for 1-2
: 8 frozen green shells, defrosted
: 1/2 tsp freshly chopped garlic
: 1 tsp chopped spring onions
: 1/2 tsp black bean paste with garlic

Brush the mussels with a little black bean paste, then sprinkle with garlic and spring onions.
Place them with the shell side down in bamboo or metal steamer and steam for 3-5 minutes.
Serve with some rice vermicelli (steamed with the mussels) and a drizzle of soy sauce.
That's it really, couldn't be simpler. According to Qian one should take off the garlic and onions before eating the mussles, but since I like both garlic and onions I simply devoured the whole thing (ok, not the shell though ;-)

Thursday, 1 November 2007

An ode to a cocktail

New York is not my favourite city, but it's the city that hosts my favourite cocktail.
I cannot even remember the name of this heavenly creation, but I remember how it's made and where to get it from. But I reckon it must have been called something like Tomartini... the list of ingredients is nice and short: tomato water, vodka, pickles.
Alright, it sounds revolting. I admit, it was sheer curiosity that made me order this cocktail and I rememer even enquiring about the degree of its revoltingness with our waiter, who just replied: "Very good choice, it is lovely". And so it was.

The place to get it from is the Savoy in Soho. Or my place, if I ever find out about how to make tomato water. Trust me, try it. You will not regret it (like the Olive Martini in the Soho Grand Hotel which basically consists of nothing but cheap olive brine and vodka. Yuk.)

Monday, 29 October 2007

Asian spiced steamed lamb with green tea dressed noodles and mango salsa

I haven't had the chance to cook a lot recently as I have been travelling the world for weeks now. I like to travel, but I have the feeling that my digestive system disagrees with me on this one. A few days of restaurant food only are ok and very enjoyable indeed, but when we starting talking weeks rather then days, then I really start missing my own food. I guess it is all part of a routine I have acquired over the years. My eating pattern is rather specific: a slice of bread and a diet coke for breakfast, small sushi for lunch and a large salad with pumpkinseed oil dressing and a side plate of pasta, noodles, rice and/or meat for dinner.

But in the last two weeks I didn't really get any of the above. I spent over two weeks in the US. My first ten days in New York were more easily digestible then the adjacent week in Dayton, Ohio.
I wasn't too impressed with New York in general, but there is one thing the city can be proud of: bakeries. Especially those that are located in Greenwich Village. The sourdough twist with dark chocolate is reason enough for me to return to NY.

Dayton is a different story. There is only one kind of bread the city seems to offer: Bagels. I am not a huge fan of bagels as they have a ridiculously high amount of calories packed and baked into a small bread roll. Lunch as well represented a challenge: not many sushi places in sight. As for dinner: meat and fish always seem to come in a creamy sauce and salad is obligatory served with a huge topping of cheese and bacon.

But the travelling days are over for the moment and I happily returned to my malfunctioning oven this weekend to compensate for 2 weeks of unhealthiness with steamed organic lamb served on carrot noodles. Yum.
Asian spiced steamed lamb with green tea dressed noodles and mango salsa, for 4
For the lamb
: 500g organic shoulder of lamb, cut into portions
: 4 Kaffir lime leaves
: 5 juniper berries, crushed
: 1 large chilli, chopped
: 1 lime-sized piece of ginger, sliced
: 1/2 tsp tamarind paste
: 1/2 tsp minced garlic
: 3 tbsp light soy sauce
: 1 tsp dark soy sauce
: juice of 1 small organic orange

For the noodles
: 4 portions/parcels of dried carrot noodles
: 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
: 1 tbsp chopped ginger
: 1 handful of dried red dates, stone removed
: 1tsp matcha powder
: 2- 3 tbsp light soy sauce
: zest and juice of 1/2 lime
: 1 tsp sugar
: vegetable oil
: sesame oil

For the mango salsa
: 1/2 ripe organic mango, diced
: 1 handful of finely chopped spring onions
: 1 small red chilli, chopped
: 1/2 tsp sugar
: juice and zest of 1/2 lime
: 1 handful of chopped coriander

Marinate the lamb in a mixture of all the ingredients above for at least 4 hours. Dissolve the matcha powder in 100ml hot water, then add the dates and let soak until needed.

For the mango salsa, mix the mango with the chilli, lime zest and juice and the sugar. Finish off with a sprinkle of coriander and spring onions.

Cook the noodles according to the instructions on the pack. Drain and drizzle with a little sesame oil to prevent them from sticking together.

Fill the bottom of a large pan with water and bring to the boil. Put the lamb into a bamboo or metal steamer, then place the steamer in the pan and cover with a lid. Depending on the size of the lamb slices, it will take 10-15 minutes until the meat is cooked (still pink in the middle)

Whilst steaming the lamb, finish off the noodles. Sautee the onion and ginger in a little vegetable oil for around 3 minutes, then add the drained noodles. Season with soy sauce, sugar and lime, then add the soaked dates, followed by the soaking liquid (green tea). Finally, finish with a little more sesame oil.

Arrange the noodles on a plate, place the meat in the middle, then add a tablespoon or two of mango salsa to each plate. Serve immediately.