Bring and share – two salads for summer

July 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

Help! Three words that bring on a panic attack. You know the kind of thing I mean – a communal summer event, maybe a club or choir social evening, a music teacher’s summer pupils’ concert, perhaps even a street party. Some people you’ll know well, others less so, and everyone is asked to bring a dish to create an inpromptu meal.

What to bring? It’s got to be transportable; capable of sitting around on a warm buffet table without melting/disintegrating/giving everyone food poisoning; taste good; look a teeny bit impressive but not as if you’v tried too hard, and finally not something that’s going to take all day to prepare.

My suggestion is to avoid little canapé nibble type things at all costs as these take forever to put together and to go for a generous bowl of colourful salad instead. I have two reliable standby recipes, the first an old favourite and the second a recent discovery.

My first recipe is for tabbouleh, the much-loved middle-Eastern parsley and mint salad mixed with chewy grains of burghul.

I learned how to make this from one of my all time favourite cookery books, Claudia Roden’s “A New Book of Middle Eastern Food”. My cookery book collection has grown over the years and has had to have a whole bookcase of its own set aside for it in our study. Neverthless, a selection of just ten books has crept back downstairs into the kitchen because I refer to them so often. ” A New Book of Middle Eastern Food” is one of those ten. It’s a book with no glossy photos (aside from the weird close-up of spring onions and vine leaves on the cover) yet manages to conjure up all sorts of evocative images of the Middle East in its imaginative and well-informed writing. A sort of Arabian Nights of the kitchen. And this small battered paperback is full of meticulously researched, concisely written recipes that actually work.

Tabbouleh, as Ms Roden explains, is essentially a herb salad, a mass of dense green freshness speckled with the pale grains of burghul. Quite often you’ll see something described as tabbouleh which is this idea reversed – lots of pale grains flecked with specks of grain. Salads like this may be good, but to me now they’re just not tabbouleh.

I grew up reading 1970s recipe books where herbs were mostly dried and strictly rationed – a teaspoon of chopped parsley in a white sauce to accompany boiled ham perhaps. I think that’s why I love the hugely generous quantities of fresh herbs you need for this recipe – think handfuls rather than teaspoons. Even with 2 big bunches of parsley, you need still more…

All the salad ingredients can be prepped beforehand which makes it very convenient to put together for a party. I’ve included some walnuts in this version:

You can very the garnishes according to your mood, what you have in the cupboard or fridge and what’s in season. I decorated this version with a few snipped chives and tasty chive flowers from the garden:

Is there any downside to this salad? Well, being honest, it will almost certainly leave green herby flecks on you and your guests’ teeth.

If having to check yourself in the mirror doesn’t appeal, then my second suggestion is a salad of blanched mangetout and French beans livened up with orange zest, toasted hazelnuts and freshly snipped chives. It comes from “Ottolenghi – The Cookbook”, one of those books where I turn the pages and want to eat everything in there.

This isn’t a salad you can throw together in a couple of minutes – each element has to be prepared quite carefully, be it the accurate and separate blanching and refreshing of the vegetables;

the roasting of the hazelnuts to just the right degree of toastiness without burning them;

or the careful preparation of the orange zest to give visually appealing long, thin strips without any pith.

Your efforts spent on preparation will be rewarded in a crunchy salad with a harmonious mix of intriguing flavours – the orange, hazelnut and mild onion flavour of the chives work really well together without overpowering the beans and sugar snaps.

Recipe for tabbouleh

Adapted from Claudia Roden’s “A New Book of Middle Eastern Food”. Serves 10 or more as part of a selection of dishes.


250g bunched flat leaf parsley – approx. 3 supermarket LARGE bunches
100g bunched mint
100g burghul
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 2 lemons
80 ml extra virgin olive oil
200g spring onions

Garnish – standard
2 little gem letttuces
3 medium tomatoes or 8 cherry tomatoes
2 inches cucumber

Garnish – optional additions
Handful of roughly chopped walnuts
Chive flowers, wild garlic flowers
Handful of pomegranate seeds

Wash the mint and parsley and dry carefully using a salad spinner. Pull out the thickest of the parsley stems and any discoloured leaves. The thinner parsley stalks can stay in as they are fine to eat once chopped. Remove the mint leaves from their coarse stems as these are generally too fibrous to make pleasant eating.

Chop the herbs either in a food processor or by hand as you prefer. I tend to use a food processor, pulsing carefully to chop the herbs to a medium degree without turning them into too fine a mix or worse of all, a mush. Set the chopped herbs aside in a tightly sealed plastic box and place in the fridge. If you’re preparing this dish ahead of time, the herbs will keep quite well in the fridge for 24 hours, even longer. Given that freshness is the essence of this salad, I don’t like to leave the herbs in the fridge too long though.

Finely slice the spring onions and set these aside in the fridge.

Meanwhile, prepare the burghul. Covering with cold water and leave to soak for half an hour or so. Tip into a sieve and leave to drain for 10 minutes or so, pressing out any excess water. Put in a mixing bowl and add half the lemon juice and olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Let it absorb the dressing for a further 30 minutes or so.

While the burghul is soaking, prepare your chosen garnishes. Carefully remove perfect whole leaves from the little gem lettuces and wash and dry them thoroughly. Dice the tomato and cucumber. If using, roughly chop the walnuts and/or remove seeds from a pomegranate.

Now assemble the salad. It’s best to assemble it no more than 30 minutes before you plan to serve it as otherwise the lemon juice in the dressing begins to blacken the mint leaves. Add the chopped herbs and spring onions to the dressed burghul in the mixing bowl. Add the remaining lemon juice and olive oil and more salt an pepper. Taste and check flavours. You need plenty of lemon juice and salt to make the salad really sing. Once you’re happy with the balance of flavours, line your chosen serving bowl with the prepared lettuce leaves, pile in the tabbouleh and scatter your garnish of tomato and cucumber, plus any optional additions, over the top.

Recipe for French bean and mangetout salad with orange and toasted hazelnuts

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s “The Ottolenghi Cookbook”. Serves 8 or more as part of a selection of salads and other dishes.


400g French beans (trimmed weight)
400g Mangetout peas (trimmed weight)
60-80g skinned hazelnuts (use the higher quantity if you like hazelnuts)
1 unwaxed orange
1 clove garlic, crushed
5 tablespoons hazelnut oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
10-20g chives, snipped into small pieces with a pair of scissors (plenty of chives perk up the flavour of this salad – use fewer if you prefer)
squeeze of lemon juice

Begin by blanching the vegetables. Bring a large pot of water to a fast rolling boil and add a little salt. Throw in the French beans and, using an accurate timer, cook them for 4 minutes, until just cooked. Using a slotted spoon, remove all the beans and throw them into a big bowl of iced water to refresh. Take the bowl to the sink and allow the cold tap to run over the beans until they are completely cold. Drain in a colander and tackle the mangetout in a similar fashion but the mangetout require just 60 seconds blanching time.

Pat the vegetables dry with kitchen paper and store in a sealed container in the fridge until needed. You can do this up to 24 hours ahead of time.

Scatter the hazelnuts on a shallow baking tray (I use a battered old Swiss roll tin) and bake in an oven preheated to 180 degrees C for 10 minutes until toasted to an even golden brown. Watch the nuts carefully as they bake and check them before 10 minutes is up to make sure they don’t burn. Chop roughly and set aside to cool.

Now prepare the dressing. I use a lidded jam jar to do this. Add to the jar the nut oil, the crushed clove of garlic and the zest of he orange. To prepare the orange zest, you need either to peel off a thin layer of orange skin without any pith using a swivel peeler. Having done this, using a sharp knife, cut the peel into long thin shreds. Much easier is to buy a special little zesting tool which you scrape over the surface of the orange which produces the desirable orange shreds in an instant. Add the juice of just half of the orange to the jar together with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice to taste. Don’t add the chives at this stage as the fruit juices will make them go soggy and dark coloured.

When you’re ready to serve, tip the beans and peas and snipped chives into a handsome serving dish. Pour over the dressing and toss lightly. Scatter over the toasted hazelnuts and serve.

Parisian dark (chocolate) secrets

May 22, 2011 § 1 Comment

Daybreak in Paris last Sunday. The public shame. The disgrace. The furtive attempts to conceal the evidence. The seedy story of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s New York exploits hits the newsstands perhaps?

No, this was me, rising at dawn to try and dispose of 1kg best quality Tanzanian 75% cocoa solids chocolate, a further kg of unsalted alpine butter, lashings of organic double cream and a generous slug of cognac, the whole lot coalesced into a greasy solidified mass of split ganache which should have graced a celebratory chocolate cake, the centrepiece of my cousin Pierre’s birthday party the night before. I finally found an empty public bin by a bus stop, deposited my sorry double-bagged chocolate mess and jogged away, lightened in load and spirit.

So what was the occasion?

A Saturday Night Fever birthday party to celebrate a Significant Birthday. The cake to match was a scaled down (2 layers rather than 3) version of spectacular chocolate-raspberry wedding cake selected from my new favourite baking book “Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes” by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne.

The book is American through and through and completely over the top in terms of the sheer number of generously proportioned and imaginatively filled and frosted celebratory cakes it describes. Other bloggers have raved about it so I just had to get hold of a copy. Apart from the Bittersweet Brandied Ganache débacle, it hasn’t disappointed.

The book’s strengths are the seductiveness of its drop-dead gorgeous full page glossy colour photos, its generosity of spirit and the imagination of its flavour combinations. Where it falls short is perhaps in a lack of precision – for that you have to go to Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake Bible, another American classic on my bookshelf.

It all started so well. The choice of a classic American chocolate cake, seemed perfect for a party for a chocoholic into American disco nostalgia. The edible elements needed for the cake were 6 layers of Chocolate Butter Cake, generous quantities of seedless raspberry jam to sandwich the layers together, an unspeakably large quantity of Bittersweet Brandied Ganache to frost and a punnet of ripe raspberries scattered over the top to finish.

I have neither the time nor the space to give the complete recipe here – you’ll have to buy the book for that – the instructions for the full 3 tier wedding cake go on for 6 pages. However I do give the recipe for the Lenôtre chocolate ganache which eventually saved the day I’ve tried it 3 times now (albeit using European ingredients) and it’s been spot-on every time. A ganache to lean on, so to speak.

Here is the end result, finished just minutes before the first guests arrived at 7.30 pm. Not bad given the stresses of the afternoon of which more later…

The baking of the cake itself was fine. I followed the recipe to the letter, eschewing my favourite Green & Black’s cocoa powder in favour of Hershey’s obtained here in the UK via Amazon Marketplace.

This wasn’t just for reasons of American authenticity. The recipe specifies a non-Dutch Process cocoa powder in order to ensure the right chemical reaction with the recipe’s raising agent, bicarbonate of soda, to make the cake rise properly. Reading the Green & Black’s small print, you’ll see that this cocoa powder has been through the so-called Dutch process whereby the beans are treated with an alkaline agent to produce a milder flavour and, counter-intuitively, a darker colour. The Hershey’s stuff is paler but in theory contains more “roasty, caramel-like molecules…and…astringent, bitter, phenolics” (quoting from Harold McGee’s indispensable kitchen reference work On Food and Cooking).

The recipe is not a chocolate sponge made by the familiar creaming method but requires softened butter and buttermilk to be beaten into the sifted dry ingredients before the eggs and more liquid in the form of strong coffee are incorporated into the mixture. I would not attempt this recipe without the help of a Kenwood or Kitchenaid-type mixer as it requires a lot of heavy-duty beating.

After the addition of butter and buttermilk the mixture looks like a moist and friable garden loam:

Once the eggs and coffee were incorporated, it became soft, thick and lusciously silky, like a chocolate version of mayonnaise:

Baked, the cake rose well but not too aggressively. Don’t worry, the dome that forms in the oven settles down once the cake is cooled leaving a firm, glossy and flat cake which holds its shape well, eminently well-suited to the architectural task ahead.

The finished cake was firm, rich, dense and crumbly. It had an intense chocolate flavour pointed up by the addition of cinnamon and coffee in the recipe though neither flavour is perceptible. This is a cake designed for filling and frosting as eaten on its own it would be a tad dry.

The cakes were mixed and baked first thing Friday morning. Once cooled and carefully wrapped and packed, the cake’s 6 layers travelled as hand luggage, sitting obediently beside me on the short Flybe flight to Paris. Cake assembly began in situ at the party venue at about 2.00pm on Saturday afternoon. First the layers were spread with seedless raspberry jam (Tiptree brand), then sandwiched together with each triple layer cake having a slim silver cardboard base:

If I were to make this cake again, I would be more generous with the raspberry jam and I would leave the cake to mature overnight as the recipe instructs. The quantity of jam shown in the picture may look generous but is far less than the recipe suggests and when the cake was cut into later that evening, it had practically disappeared. More jam would have made for a moister cake I think as, being self-critical, it was just a little on the dry side (easily remedied on the night by serving it with extra fresh raspberries and a dollop of crème fraîche).

The next potentially tricky step was the positioning of the 4 transparent plastic dowels which supported the top layer. I measured, cut to size and positioned the dowels. This bit of the assembly worked like a dream – a relief as I’d never worked with dowels before. I know you shouldn’t experiment when baking for a special occasion, especially someone else’s special occasion, but I just couldn’t help myself:

Now for the ganache. How hard could it be to whip up a batch of ganache and slather it on all over the cake? I’d preweighed all the ingredients so it was quick work to set the vast quantities of best quality dark chocolate and unsalted butter (a kilogramme of each no less) to melt over a pan of barely simmering water.

I was patient and careful, never letting the mixture become too warm, not letting a drop of water near it lest it seize up and going easy on the stirring. On the home strait now. All I had to do was whisk in the warmed cream, then the brandy, just like the recipe said and I was home and dry. Blithely, I tipped them in and whisked away. That’s when disaster struck as the previously smooth glossy mix began to separate out into particulates and oil before my very eyes. 30 minutes and frantic whisking and cooling later, I pronounced the mixture officially beyond redemption, tipped it into a big plastic box for subsequent disposal and confessed my error to my slightly alarmed host and his family. The public shame and humiliation!

Having checked Harold McGee subsequently, I think that where I went wrong was in using chocolate with too high a cocoa content – 75% in my case. When liquid is added, the cocoa solids absorb the water releasing the fats out of emulsion and hey presto the mixture splits. His advice is to follow a recipe which sets out precisely the fat contents of the various ingredients and to follow it to the letter. The Sky High recipe was a bit on the sketchy side – ie just bittersweet chocolate, heavy cream and American ingredients are not quite the same as those we can buy in Europe which can make for misunderstandings.

Back to the party. Remembering Corporal Jones’ advice from Dad’s Army (Don’t Panic), using my host’s computer, I quickly retrieved the tried, tested and reassuringly precise ganache recipe I’d learned at the Lenôtre cookery school in Paris over Easter. Next, an emergency dash to the local supermarket for yet more cream and chocolate (just 600g of chocolate this time as 1kg was way too much, even for the most enthusiastic chocoholic) and I was back in business:

I followed the Lenôtre recipe as accurately as I could, though without scales or thermometer to hand I had rely on educated guesswork and prayer. To my immense relief, the ganache behaved itself perfectly and after 20 minutes’ or so cooling, it had reached the perfect consistency for spreading. The first house guests were just arriving at this point so I smiled and pretended to be part of the evening’s entertainment, a sort of cake artist installation.

The final step was piping a bold decorative border of what I can best describe as chocolate blobs to hide the joins between cake and board. Very effective though I say so myself. By the time the cake was served, the blobs had firmed up to become in effect mini chocolate truffles which could be detached and discreetly popped into the mouth while the cake was being sliced and served. Cook’s prerogative!

Cake complete, it was time to enjoy the party with the host rather than the cake the centre of attention – just as it should be. Great party Peter!

Recipe for foolproof chocolate ganache

With thanks to Philippe from the Lenôtre cookery school in Paris. I scaled this up by a factor of three to use to coat the birthday cake which comprised a 7 inch square stacked onto a 9 inch square.


200g cream 32% fat (equates to UK whipping cream – this is liquid cream not thick crème fraîche)
250g dark chocolate 50% cocoa solids (buttons are ideal for quick melting but bar broken into square is OK too)
50g unsalted butter

Heat the cream to 85 degrees C. Break up the chocolate and place into a large heatproof bowl. Pour over the hot cream and leave to stand for 10 minutes. Once the chocolate has melted, stir with a rubber spatula to incorporate the cream into the chocolate. Keep a ball of molten chocolate in the centre whilst incorporating the cream at the edges of the chocolate. Reduce the temperature to 30 degrees C then beat in the butter previously softened and tempered at 22 degrees C.

Cover with cling film and reduce the temperature to 17 degrees C when it will be the right consistency to use.

A birthday Zuger Kirschtorte for Vivienne

January 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

After a teeny bit of excess over Christmas, it seems it’s the time for reinvention and self improvement which in food terms seems to mean restraint and raw vegetables. Well I’m going to buck the trend and write about a cake I made in December for a friend’s special birthday. This was a Zuger Kirschtorte, a traditional almond and cherry liqueur flavoured cake from the canton of Zug in central Switzerland.

Click here to view a short movie featuring the whole process. The kitchen scenes were shot by my son George who provides that authentic edgy camera wobble.

The cake idea came from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s amazing book “The Cake Bible” and she calls it “A Taste of Heaven”, a light as air heart-shaped confection of crisp almond meringue discs sandwiching a cherry liqueur-sprinkled sponge, frosted with cherry-flavoured buttercream and finished with toasted almonds.

I discovered The Cake Bible a decade or so ago on the shelves of the Mayfair library on South Audley Street in London round the corner from where I worked at GEC’s head office on Stanhope Gate. When work pressures became too much I would occasionally seek sanctuary here at lunchtimes, leafing through the pages of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s book and marvelling at her descriptions of pistachio marzipan, white spice pound cake, orange fruit mousseline and the like.

It turns out that “A Taste of Heaven” is Ms Beranbaum’s version of the classic Swiss cake, a Zuger Kirschtorte. I find myself drawn to all things Swiss so it was funny I’d picked this cake not knowing its Swiss origins at the time.

The different components of the cake are two heart-shaped Dacquoise (nut meringue) discs; 1 Génoise Classique (whisked sponge) heart-shaped cake; syrup flavoured with kirsch for moistening the Génoise; kirsch flavoured buttercream; and finally a handful or so of toasted flaked almonds.

The crisp Dacquoise discs were spread with a thin layer of buttercream and used to sandwich the kirsch-syrup moistened Génoise. The top and sides of the cake were frosted with the remaining buttercream and the flaked toasted almonds were gently pressed around the sides of the cake.

I suggest just two changes to Ms Beranbaum’s recipe:

1) To halve the quantity of buttercream from the full heart attack-inducing 1 pound 9.25 ounces to a more modest 12.5 ounces.

2) If, like me, you like to avoid artificial food colouring, you can achieve a pink buttercream by beating into the mix 4-6 tablespoons of puréed cherry compôte instead of a few drops of red food colouring. This gives a gorgeous ever so slightly sour true cherry flavour to the buttercream.

I went ever so slightly over the top when I added the cherry purée to my buttercream and ended up with an in-your-face pink frosting which, I assure you, despite its garish looks, is 100% natural.

I give the recipe for the Génoise Classique below as this is arguably the most useful and versatile component of the cake. Ms Beranbaum’s special twists to the classic French recipe are to substitute browned butter (beurre noisette) for the usual plain melted butter and to use half cornflour half cake flour rather than just cake flour. If I were to attempt to reproduce here the recipes for all the cake components, plus all the advice and troubleshooting tips in the Cake Bible I’d be writing this post for days. If you are at all serious about baking I’d urge you to buy or borrow a copy.

I started by making the Dacquoise (nut meringue) discs. There was nowhere near enough mixture to pipe the heart shaped discs so instead I piped a border a few millimetres inside the template I’d drawn (to allow for a slight spreading of the mixture as it bakes) and spooned the meringue mixture into the centre and gently spread it to fill the outline using a small crank-handled palette knife.

This is how the cooked Dacquoise disc looked:

The next step was to make the Génoise Classique whisked egg sponge. Ms Beranbaum’s special twist is to fold in not ordinary melted butter but browned clarified butter. This imparts a subtle nutty depth of flavour to the finished cake. Here’s my browned butter and the dregs left behind to show the depth of toasting achieved without going so far as to burn the butter:

Ms Beranbaum’s other handy tips when making Génoise are to use a mixture of cornflour and cake flour and is to whisk a spoonful or so of the beaten egg mix into the melted butter before adding the butter to the main bowl. This certainly helps incorporation of the butter. Whenever I’ve made Génoise before I’ve always encountered the problem of the melted butter sinking to the bottom of the bowl which didn’t happen this time.

Here’s the bowl of butter and egg mix ready for incorporation, along with the flours, into the big bowl of super-foamy whisked egg:

The cake batter was carefully spooned into the prepared heart-shaped cake tin, base lined with a double thickness of baking paper. This is how the finished cake looked:

It wasn’t quite as deep as I was expecting so I decided not to attempt trimming it before drizzling with the kirsch-flavoured syrup.

The next major cake component was the cherry buttercream. Here are some of the raw ingredients – note the authentic Alpine butter for this Alpine cake (though my butter was in fact German rather than Swiss).

The Bonne Maman cherry compôte was a real find – intense sour cherry flavour, gorgeous colour and not too sweet. Definitely a new store-cupboard standby for whipping up a sauce for duck or adding to a pudding.

The buttercream is no mere amalgamation of icing sugar and butter. Looking at the recipe it’s immediately apparent that there is quite a low ratio of sugar to butter which means that the end result is silkily textured yet not too sweet. I began by beating a hot sugar syrup into my egg yolks, a slightly tense step without a sugar thermometer relying on the cold water test, speed and a bit of luck. The resulting mix if it all turns out right is a pale, foamy mass. The picture shows a 6 egg yolk quantity which turned out to be way too much for one cake.

The next step involves combining the egg yolk foam with the softened butter:

And the final step was to beat in the kirsch and sieved cherry compôte to flavour the buttercream and tint it a 100% natural totally girly pink:

A word of warning – do stick to Ms Beranbaum’s guidelines when it comes to beating in extras to buttercream: I went above her recommended ratios when beating in the water-based cherry compôte to the fat-based buttercream. Although it was fine at first, I set the bowl aside in a cool room to use later and, horror of horrors, when I attempted to beat the mixture to soften it it split! I managed to re-emulsify it by warming the bowl very gently, adding a little more sifted icing sugar and beating like crazy.

The end result was a beautifully flavoured, unusual cake, a welcome change from the current surfeit of chocolate (and would be a great choice for a Valentine’s Day treat too).

Recipe for Génoise Classique

From Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “The Cake Bible”. She says “Since this recipe first appeared in print in 1981, I have received more calls about it from readers than for any other recipe. Many say that for the first time in their lives they have succeeded in making the perfect génoise”. Praise indeed.

For a 9 inch by 2 inch round or heart shaped cake tin or 8 inch by 2 inch square cake tin, greased, bottom lined with parchment, and then greased again and floured.


37g clarified beurre noisette*
4 g vanilla extract
4 whole large eggs, 200g weighed without shells
100g sugar
50g sifted cake flour (not self raising)
50g cornflour

*In a heavy saucepan melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat, partially covered to prevent splattering. When the butter looks clear, cook uncovered, watching carefully until the solids drop and begin to brown. Pour immediately through a fine strainer or a strainer lined with cheesecloth.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Warm the beurre noisette until almost hot. Add the vanilla and keep warm.

In a large mixing bowl set over a pan of simmering water heat the eggs and sugar until just lukewarm, stirring constantly to prevent curdling.

Using the whisk beater, beat the mixture on high speed for 5 minutes or until triple in volume.

While the eggs are beating, sift together the flour and cornflour.

Remove 1 scant cup of the egg mixture and thoroughly whisk it into the beurre noisette.

Sift half the flour mixture over the remaining egg mixture and fold it in gently but rapidly with a large balloon whisk, slotted skimmer, or rubber spatula until almost all the flour has disappeared. Repeat with the remaining flour mixture until the flour has disappeared completely. Fold in the butter mixture until just incorporated.

Pour immediately into the prepared tin (it will be about 2/3 full) and bake 25-35 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and starts to shrink slightly from the sides of the pan. (No need for a cake tester. Once the sides shrink the cake is done.) Avoid opening the oven door before the minimum time or the cake could fall. Test toward the end of baking by opening the door slightly and, if at a quick glance it does not appear done, close door back at once and check again in 5 minutes.

Loosen the sides of the cake with a small metal spatula and turn out at once onto a lightly greased rack.

Many Happy Returns Vivienne and here’s to the next decade!

Tour de France around the North Circular

January 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

We’ve been celebrating New Year’s Eve with two other families for a number of years now – in fact over a pre-dinner glass of champagne we worked out that 2010/2011 would be unbelievably our twelfth such celebration.

This year it fell to Shelley and Neal to host the event at their home in North London and the chosen theme was “Tour de France”. This left the dress code wide open and host Neal led the way by sporting slinky black and white lycra…

Fortunately Shelley had decided not to continue in this vein by serving up carbohydrate gels, bananas and a cocktail of hard drugs. We began in a very civilised manner with the silkiest Côte Atlantique smoked salmon mousse canapés to accompany our Laurent Perrier champagne:

Our first course looked to the mountains for inspiration – charcuterie from the Alps accompanied by rustic pain de campagne. The delicious ham was snaffled up too quickly for me to take a photo but here’s the batch of pain de campagne I made earlier – using the pain au levain recipe learned on my School of Artisan food baking course in October 2010.

The race now headed south with bouillabaisse à la marseillaise served en verrine. This was the course Shelley had tasked me with preparing so I’m able to give the recipe below. Verrines (small glass containers for serving food) are all the rage in France so we just had to give them a try.

We continued our tour clockwise with the next stage ending in the Aveyron département of Southern France, home to the limestone caves where Roquefort cheese is matured. Our next course was a crunchy salade d’endive, noix et roquefort prepared by Shelley using a Raymond Blanc recipe:

It was then onwards and upwards to red wine country with Shelley’s deeply savoury Coq au vin, again using a Raymond Blanc recipe:

Next up was France’s favourite English cheese, le stilton – yes I know we departed from our theme somewhat but stilton this good (Colston Bassett from Neal’s Yard (no relation) Dairy) is too good not to serve at a special dinner. And of course the 2007 prologue was in London wasn’t it?

Next we recalled France’s Atlantic coast islands (Belle Île, the Archipel des Glénans and the like) with Îles flottantes, façon Maman Blanc – yes you guessed it, a Raymond Blanc favourite. Janet prepared this technically demanding course involving poached meringue and egg custard thickened without the aid of stabilising cornflour. She also had to handle deftly the caramelised sugar final decoration at close to midnight:

The final stage is always in Paris around the Arc de Triomphe which we recalled in culinary fashion with a dainty plateful of pistachio flavoured macarons parisiens :

As we nibbled on a macaroon at midnight we heard he patter of not-so-tiny feet as 8 children celebrated a real midnight feast – a landmark occasion as they’ve been fast asleep by midnight in previous years.

Happy new year to all and huge thanks to our generous hosts Neal and Shelley once again for a magnificent meal. Now we’re off the tour it’s on to the wagon for my annual no alcohol January semi-detox. Fantasising already about what my first glass of wine will be in February…

To conclude here’s the recipe for bouillabaisse – I know it’s lengthy but it’s really not as complex as it looks.

Recipe for bouillabaisse cooked and served en verrine

I used as my starting point the fish soup and rouille recipes from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle and tweaked them to turn them into a refined version of bouillabaisse suitable for serving as part of a multi-course dinner.

Using the kilner jars is not merely a modish presentation but is an easy and stress-free way of gently cooking the pieces of fish in the broth, sealing in all the flavours and ensuring that the delicate fish like bass does not break up when cooked and served.

These ingredients will fill 8 small (12 oz) kilner jars and leave you with plenty of fish soup left over which sets to a gelatinous firmness and freezes well.

Ingredients for the fish soup base

4 oz chopped onions
3 oz chopped leek
2 oz chopped celery (my addition, no celery in Julia Child recipe)
1/4 pint olive oil
4 cloves mashed garlic
1 lb ripe tomatoes roughly chopped or 1 tin tomatoes roughly chopped (I used a standard tin of tomatoes – 14 oz/400g including all the juice whereas Julia Child recipe suggests draining the tomatoes)
3 and 1/2 pints water
6 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon thyme or basil (I used fresh thyme leaves stripped from the stalk)
1/8 teaspoon fennel (not sure whether original recipe wants dried fennel, fennel seeds – I used a few leaves of fresh tarragon for a similar aniseedy hit)
A 2 inch piece of orange peel (I used a vegetable peeler to remove this)
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon salt (I added this gradually to taste rather than all at once as salt is a personal thing)
3 to 4 lb lean fish heads, bones and trimmings, raw shellfish remains, lean fish or frozen raw fish.

Note on fish choice

Julia Child, catering for her US and Northern European readership suggests choosing fish from the following list: cod, conger or sea eel, gurnard, haddock, hake or whiting, halibut, John Dory, lemon sole, perch, plaice, pollack, coalfish or saithe, red or grey mullet, rock or sea bass, sea bream, sea devil, frogfish or angler, freshwater trout, sea trout, turbot, weever, wrasse, shellfish – scallops, mussels, crab, lobster. Many will tell you that an authentic bouillabaisse can’t be made without rascasse – by all means add this to the list if you can get hold of it but providing you include plenty of lean bony fish in the soup it will turn out just fine.

Making this recipe in the dark period (in food distribution terms) between Christmas and New Year all that was available at my local fishmonger was sea bass and sea bream bones heads and trimmings. Despite the lack of variety of fish, the soup was nevertheless suitably flavoursome – it need not be an enormous production and can be varied according to what you have. It’s probably best to avoid oily fish such as salmon and mackerel though as these won’t give the right flavour to the soup.

In a large saucepan, cook the onions, leeks and celery slowly in the olive oil for 5 minutes or untll almost tender but not browned. Stir in the garlic and tomatoes. Raise heat to moderate and cook 5 minutes more. Add the water, herbs, seasonings and fish to the pan and cook uncovered at a moderate boil for 30 to 40 minutes.

The Julia Child recipe specifies straining the soup at this point, pressing the juice out of the ingredients. I wanted a slightly thickened soup but without resorting to flour so I lifted out the fish bones and heads with a slotted spoon and gave the soup a blast with a stick blender to liquidise partially the soup vegetables. I then strained the resulting soup through a coarse sieve, pressing it through as per the original recipe.

Correct seasoning adding a bit more saffron if you feel it necessary.

Soup can be cooled at this stage until you are ready to complete the bouillabaisse. I froze my soup and took it down to London with me and defrosted it a couple of days later to turn it into my finished dish.

Additional ingredients to turn the soup into bouillabaisse

Purchased from the redoubtable Walter Purkis & Sons fishmongers in Crouch End

6 fish fillets (I used 2 sea bass and 1 sea bream – again all that was available in the intra Christmas and New Year dark period) cut on the diagonal into generous bite-sized pieces
8 giant raw prawns, peeled except for tail and deveined
Sufficient mussels to allow 3 per serving once any duds discarded – scrubbed and debearded
a tablespoon each of chopped onion and celery plus generous glass of white wine for steaming the mussels
generous pinch saffron strands
zest of 1 orange
tablespoon shredded basil
tablespoon pernod

small slices of pain de campagne drizzled lightly with olive oil and baked until crisp plus a bowl of rouille to serve (recipe below)

Set the kilner jars into a deep roasting tin. Divide the fish fillet pieces evenly between the jars and drop in 1 giant prawn per jar, tail pointing upwards for easy removal. Ladle in reheated fish stock to cover. Season each jar with a few saffron strands, a couple of drops of pernod and a couple of shreds of orange zest and seal the kilner jars. Pour boiling water from the kettle into the roasting tin. The jars should be at least half covered. Put the roasting tin into an oven preheated to 125 degrees C and bake for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, steam the mussels for a few minutes in a lidded sauté pan or large saucepan with the chopped onion and celery and glass of white wine until they open. Discard any that do not open. Set aside until you are ready to serve.

Remove the kilner jars from the oven. Using rubber gloves or similar to protect your hands from the heat remove each jar from the water bath roasting tin, flip open the lid and drop in 3 cooked mussels in their shell. Half close lid but do not reseal and place the hot jar on an individual serving plate. Place 2 baked bread croutons onto each plate and serve.

Pass the bowl of rouille separately. Diners can spread the rouille on the croutons and dip into the soup and/or drop a spoonful of rouille directly into their soup once it’s half eaten to enrich the remaining broth.

As this was a party, I decorated my plates with seashells and a few fronds of fennel arranged artfully to look like strands of seaweed on the shore…

Ingredients for the red pepper and garlic sauce – rouille

For about 1/2 pint sauce

1 oz chopped red pepper simmered for several minutes in salted water and drained or tinned pimento
(these days one might bake a red pepper until charred and remove the skin – I cheated as time was short on New Year’s Eve and used a couple of pieces of chargrilled red pepper preserved in oil from a jar)
A small chilli pepper boiled until tender, or drops of Tabasco sauce
1 peeled medium potato cooked in the soup
4 cloves mashed garlic
1 teaspoon chopped basil, thyme or savory
4-6 tablespoons fruity olive oil
Salt and pepper

Pound all the ingredients in a large pestle and mortar for several minutes to form a very smooth, sticky paste. I found it difficult to achieve a smooth paste so went with a slightly rough, rustic paste which was fine. I avoided using a food processor as this would turn the potato into a gloopy paste.

Drop by drop, pound or beat in the olive oil as for making a mayonnaise. Season to taste.

If liked, just before serving, beat in drop by drop 2-3 tablespoons hot fish soup before decanting sauce into serving bowl or sauceboat.

In celebration of Chopin

July 5, 2010 § 1 Comment

2010 has been a big year for devotees of the composer Frédéric Chopin as it is the 200th anniversary of his birth. There have been all sorts of celebrations of his music going on all over the world. Last month I was lucky enough to be able to host a Chopin evening at home with my friend Andrew Wilde performing some of Chopin’s music. The format of the evening was for 20 friends to come over for drinks and canapés with Andrew playing a mini-recital for 20-25 minutes. Andrew is a concert pianist and was preparing for his all-Chopin Bridgewater Hall recital.

Given the time of year (late spring) and the weather (glorious), we decided to go for a multi-sensory experience focusing on a high point in Chopin’s life, the seven summers he spent at Nohant between 1839 and 1846. Nohant was his lover George Sand’s country house in the Berry district of central France. Chopin composed some of his finest music there, inspired by the beautiful and peaceful surroundings away from the hustle and bustle of Paris.

Here is a picture of the exterior of George Sand’s house at Nohant which we visited last summer:

For our Manchester-based Chopin evening, Andrew would take care of the music but it was over to me to take care of the visual, smell and of course taste side of things. In terms of the visuals, I went for flowers and candles, including some potted hydrangeas outside, just like in the picture. Favourite shop L’Occitane helped provide a subtle hint of cherry blossom room fragrance to help conjure up the rural French idyll.

Now for the menu. I offered the following drinks:

Kir Berrichonne – an unusual kir which is a speciality of the Berry region – it’s crème de mûre (blackberry rather than the more usual blackcurrant) mixed with chilled red wine – a local pinot noir. It sounds weird, but trust me, it’s good. As my friend Vivienne put it, “like a mulled wine for the summer”

Kir Royale – the same crème de mûre but mixed with champagne, after all this was a birthday celebration for Chopin

Citron pressé – the ultimate French café soft drink

Raspberry and rose cordial – one of Belvoir’s cordials – a non-alcoholic version of the kir

Volvic mineral water – the Volvic spring is a couple of hours drive south from Nohant in the volcano country of the Auvergne. We visited the Auvergne volcanoes on the trip to France which took in Nohant last summer. Here am Itogether with son George drinking directly from the Volvic source:

For the canapés, after a little research, I came up with the following:

Rillettes de canard with cornichons on toasted French bread

The classic rillettes du Tours is a speciality of central France and is made from slow-cooked shredded pork belly. The duck version is similar and equally good. The duck shreds very easily with a pair of forks and so, once the long slow cooking in the oven is done, there is very little for the cook to do.

Fresh goat cheese and chives on toasted French bread

Goat cheese can be found all over France but is a particular speciality of the Berry region.

Mini croque-monsieurs – a French café classic. It’s always nice to have something hot when serving nibbles with drinks. I give my recipe for the cheese mixture (in fact a modified Welsh rarebit!) which forms the foundation of a croque- monsieur and instructions for how to turn it into a toasted sandwich below.

Pistachio macaroons and madeleines – it feels good to round-off the evening with something sweet. Dainty macaroons and madeleines seem to marry well with the refined nature of Chopin’s compositions.

Here are several batches of madeleines fresh from the oven cooling on a wire rack. They are quick and easy to make and, though I say so myself, put the Bonne Maman ones to shame. The one thing you have to do is invest in a couple sets of moulds. The flexible silicone ones which are on offer nowadays work just fine.

The music Andrew played that evening was:

Piano sonata no. 2 in B flat minor, Opus 35 – 1st movement only
Berceuse in D flat, Opus 57
Polonaise in A flat, Opus 35

It was amazing to hear our modest upright piano transformed at the hands of a virtuoso pianist! I hope that my efforts to recreate the mood of Nohant helped to enhance the music and sense of atmosphere that evening.

To conclude, here are the recipes I promised earlier:

Recipe for Welsh Rarebit

This is a really useful recipe which I discovered in Gary Rhodes’ cookbook “Rhodes Around Britain” published back in 1994 to accompany the BBC TV series of the same name. It makes a very superior cheese on toast, which cut into small pieces makes a delectable and easy canapé to serve with drinks. The recipe requires 1 and 1/2 lb cheese which sounds like a lock, but as the original recipe advises, this is really the minimum for a successful mixture. It keeps well in the fridge for a week or so and also freezes well.


700g (1 and 1/2 lb) mature hard cheese, grated – Cheddar in the original recipe but I used Comté for my French version
150 ml (5 fl oz) milk
25g (1 oz) plain flour
50g (2 oz) fresh white breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon English mustard powder (I used 2 tablespoons prepared smooth Dijon mustard for French version)
2 shakes Worcester sauce (I used an alternative flavouring of grated nutmeg and a tablespoon of dry vermouth for my French version)
salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste (very little or no salt will be needed depending on the type of cheese used)
2 eggs
2 egg yolks

Put the grated cheese into a medium heavy based saucepan and add the milk. Slowly melt them together over a low heat but do not allow the mix to boil as this will separate the cheese, a frustrating not to say expensive mistake! When the mixture is smooth and just begins to bubble, add the flour, breadcrumbs and mustard and cook for a few minutes, stirring, over a low heat until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan and begins to form a ball shape. Add the Worcestershire sauce (or alternative flavourings) salt (if necessary) and pepper and leave to cool.

When cold, place the mixture in a food processor, turn on the motor and slowly add the whole eggs and yolks. You can beat vigorously with a wooden spoon instead if you don’t have a food processor but I haven’t ever tried the manual method. Once the eggs have been mixed in, chill for a few hours before using.

Recipe for Croque-Monsieur

A recipe of my own devising based on a Frenchified Welsh rarebit (see above) and memories of many croque monsieurs eaten in French cafés.


For each sandwich:

2 slices good white bread, generously buttered
1 slice cooked ham
ball of rarebit mixture about the size of a small tangerine
1 tablespoon finely grated Comté cheese

Make a ham sandwich with the buttered bread and slice of cooked ham. Take the ball of rarebit mixture and flatten it into a rectangle the same size as the sandwich. Place on top of the sandwich and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Bake in an oven preheated to 180 degrees C for 8-10 minutes until the bread is lightly toasted and the rarebit mixture has puffed up a little and is golden brown. Trim of the crusts and cut into squares or fingers for a dainty canapé, otherwise just cut into half and serve for a lunchtime snack.

Open season for Haggis – ideas for a Burns supper

January 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

Today is 25 January, Robert Burns’ birthday which means that the traditional Burns supper of haggis, neeps, tatties (mashed swede and mashed potatoes)and of course plenty of Scotch whisky will be served up to Scots both at home and abroad tonight.  We Sassenachs got in on the act early this year, on Saturday night in fact, when we were invited to a Burns supper at nearby Manchester Grammar School.

You might well ask why would anyone voluntarily go and spend an evening eating school dinners?  In fact the school did us proud and produced food of a high standard. Pride of place went to a splendidly proportioned haggis (Macsweens of course – I did check with the catering manager!) which was preceded by a bagpiper and ceremonially stabbed with the Skean dhu/Sgian Dubh (the dagger a Scotsman tucks into his sock).  You can clearly see the victim’s entry and exit wounds…

I realise this picture may not look appealing to those of a nervous disposition but, honestly, it was delicious.

Eating my meal on Saturday night, it occurred to me that hosting a Burns supper at home would be a fun evening and the food would be pretty straightforward.  To start, the obvious choice would be Scottish smoked salmon.  You could serve this as a canapé beforehand on tiny oatcakes and dispense with a starter if that suited.  Smoked venison too with redcurrant or, better still, rowanberry jelly would be good if you could source some.  A smoked loch trout or kipper pâté with oatcakes would be another option.  Don’t turn your nose up at kipper pâté – it may not sound glamorous but I can still remember some that I ate in Tiddy Dol’s (sadly now closed) restaurant in Mayfair some 20 years ago – velvety smooth and absolutely delicious with just a hint of  a peaty malt whisky in the background.

The main course would obviously be a haggis (there are vegetarian versions too to cater for all tastes) and the aforementioned neeps and tatties – these can be prepped in advance and heated through when you are ready to serve.  A little whisky poured over the haggis is all the sauce you need but you could serve a little gravy (or jus as restaurants insist on calling it) if you liked.  I like Francis Bissell’s idea from her book “Entertaining” of serving haggis Parmentier, a Scottish take on the bistro classic hachis Parmentier (a French version of shepherd’s pie). Cooked haggis, carefully spooned out of its casing forms the based of the dish with a smooth mixture of mashed potato and swede forming the top. Some finely shredded curly Scots  kale, steamed for just a minute or two to retain its vibrant greenness, would make a good accompaniment.

Pudding is a little bit of a challenge given the quantity of food you will already have consumed.  Cranachan (a combination of whipped cream, toasted oatmeal, whisky, heather honey and raspberries) would be traditionally Scottish and you could use very acceptable frozen Scottish raspberries.  If you wanted something very light and refreshing then a raspberry water ice or sorbet would fit the bill.  An individual baked or steamed pudding made with whisky and Dundee marmalade would be good for traditional pudding lovers.  My final pudding thoughts would be a Caledonian ice cream as served at Glasgow’s Ubiquitous Chip.  This is a witty take on a French style praline ice cream with frugal toasted oatmeal taking the place of the usual almonds.  You could serve this with a sauce of melted Mars bars – a nod to that other most traditional of Scots puddings, the deep-fried Mars bar….

I also give a recipe for an oatmeal shortbread biscuit as featured in the BBC Great British Menu programme.  Chef Jeremy Lee turned them into a neat stack with cream and raspberries but they are a good crisp biscuit either to eat on their own or to  provide a contrasting texture to a creamy pudding.

Recipe for Caledonian ice cream

This is a recipe from Glasgow’s Ubiquitous Chip restaurant brought to the masses by Delia Smith in her Summer Collection book.  Serves 8.  I’ve tried this recipe at home and it works well with our without an ice cream maker.


For the caramelised oatmeal

3 oz (75g) caster sugar
4 tablespoons water
2 oz (50g) pinhead oatmeal

For the syrup

4 oz (110g) caster sugar
4 tablespoons water

For the ice cream

1 pint whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Start by making the caramelised oatmeal. Put the caster sugar and water into a small saucepan over a low heat and leave it for 5 minutes. Then take a medium sized frying pan, place it on a medium heat and when the pan is hot, add the oatmeal and swirl it round the pan constantly so that it browns evenly – which it will do in about 5 minutes. Remove the oatmeal to a plate to prevent it becoming over-brown. By now the sugar in the saucepan will have dissolved so you can turn the heat up and let it boil. Watch it very closely until it becomes a rich brown caramel colour. Stir in the toasted oatmeal, remove from the heat and quickly pour the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Put to one side to get cold and firm (about 15 minutes).  Then take off small pieces at a time and pound them in a pestle and mortar until they are the size of large salt crystals (you could do this carefully in a food processor too but don’t overdo it and reduce it to too fine a powder).  Put to one side in an airtight container until you are ready to make the ice cream.

To make the sugar syrup, measure the sugar and water into a small saucepan, place it over a gentle heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved – about 5 minutes. Then remove from the heat and allow to become completely cold.

To make the ice cream, pour the cold syrup into a mixing bowl along with the whipping cream and vanilla extract.  Whisk with an electric whisk or mixer until the mixture just begins to thicken and hold its shape. Then pour into an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions until firm but still pliable.  If you don’t have an ice cream maker, freeze the mixture until firm but pliable in a large plastic container, beating vigorously every half hour or so with a wooden spoon. Transfer to a bowl, stir in the oatmeal mixture, fold it in then spoon the ice cream into a loaf tin 7 1/2 by 4 1/2 by 3 1/2 inches.  Cover with a double thickness of foil and freeze until needed.

To serve, remove from the freezer to the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you need it. Dip the base and sides of the loaf tin into hot water for 10 seconds or so, loosen round the edges with a palette knife, then turn onto a plate.  Using a sharp knife dipped in hot water, cut into neat slices.

Recipe for almond shortbread thins

The original recipe title is for raspberry shortcake but I think this is confusing as shortcake to me means the American scone type soft cake.  It comes from The Great British Menu Cookbook accompanying the BBC TV series of the same name.  This recipe was cooked by chef Jeremy Lee.  Jeremy is a native Scot who is the longstanding head chef at London’s Blueprint café.  I have tried this recipe at home and it does work – the biscuits are delicious. It makes about 20 biscuits from memory (recipe says serves 4).


125g soft unsalted butter
40g caster sugar
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
40g best quality blanched almonds such as Marcona ground in a food processor quite fine but still with some texture
40 g toasted white breadcrumbs (from 70g bread chopped up, crusts on, baked at 150 degrees C/fan 130 degrees C/gas mark 2 for 30 minutes or until lightly toasted then processed to crumbs in a food processor)

To serve

250 ml double cream, softly whipped; a great bowl of raspberries, a small bowl of caster sugar, a little icing sugar for sifting

Beat the butter and sugar together well until pale. Pop in the orange zest and beat very well. Add the flour, ground almonds and breadcrumbs, and mix thoroughly into a soft dough.

Cut a large piece of baking parchment. Place the dough at one end of the paper, then roll it in the paper to make a sausage shape roughly 5cm in diameter. Seal the sausage in the paper and chill for a few hours or ideally overnight.

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C/fan 150 degrees C/gas mark 3.  Line a large baking sheet with baking parchment. Cut the roll of dough into 3mm thick slices (about the thickness of a UK £1 coin) and lay them on a baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool and become crisp.

You can eat them as they are or sandwich 3 of them together with raspberries and whipped cream to form a neat stack for pudding.

Producer/other details

Macsween’s haggis

Stockan and Garden oatcakes from Orkney

Glasgow’s Ubiquitous Chip restaurant

Please do leave a comment if you have Burns supper experiences or Scottish recipe ideas to share

Swiss food in London

January 18, 2010 § 1 Comment

After the New Year’s Eve feast (see previous post) it was our turn to rustle up a meal for 14 (6 adults, 8 children) on New Year’s Day. We’d prepared in advance by doing all the shopping, except for the salad ingredients, in Switzerland. Even the bread came from a lovely bakery in Zürich airport terminal. Swiss wine, an essential component of the meal, would have been too heavy to carry so we’d arranged an advance delivery to our hosts’ address by UK wine merchant Nick Dobson Wines. Nick is a man after my own heart who specialises in wines from Austria, Switzerland and Beaujolais. I’ve bought a number of items from him over the years both for home consumption and as gifts and he’s been really efficient, helpful and knowledgeable every time, plus supplied some really enjoyable wines so I would definitely recommend him if you are looking for something unusual. I give his contact details below at the end of this post.

Our Swiss themed menu was:

Bündnerfleisch (dried cured meat from Graubünden) – a mixture of beef and venison

Mixed salad

Cheese fondue

Bündner Nusstorte (caramel walnut pie from Graubünden)

We indulged in a bit of judicious cheating (or careful purchasing depending on your point of view!) and brought back from Klosters a bag of ready grated weighed and blended cheese for the fondue and the Nusstorte too.  I give recipes both for cheese fondue and Nusstorte below if you want to have a go at home. Both recipes have been tried and tested more than once back home in the UK.

Our Bündnerfleisch came from an artisanal manufacturer in Klosters, a little shop on the main Landstrasse road close to the Heid ski lift.  Bündnerfleisch is salted and cured meat, usually beef but we bought the venison version as well – similar but darker red with a background gamey flavour.  The raw meat is first salted and mixed with a secret recipe of herbs and spices before being hung up to dry for several weeks.  The meat is then pressed into a distinctive rectangular shape before being very thinly sliced and served.  Bündernerfleisch is similar to the better known Italian bresaola which itself comes from the nearby Valtellina.

The people who run the Klosters business very kindly showed me round their processing and drying rooms where I was able to sea the beef pieces maturing slowly in the rafters:

You can read more about Bündnerflesich by following this link: I just wish we could get hold of it more readily over here as it’s delicious.

This was a really easy meal to feed a crowd of people, fun for both grown-ups an children.  Neither the truly authentic Bündnerfleisch nor a pre-prepared Nusstorte are readily available here but you could easily substitute a platter of  other cured meats and procure a tart from your local bakery to recreate the idea.  Here is the grown-ups’ table (the riotous childrens’ table is just next door).

And here’s the beautiful Nusstorte fresh (well almost) from Charly’s in Klosters:

Recipe for cheese fondue “moitié-moitié” (half and half)

This recipe comes from my trusty little Betty Bossi Swiss Specialities cook book, a little ringbound volume with one recipe per page, clear simple and instructions and a photo of every dish.  The half and half in the recipe title refers to the mixture of 2 cheeses used in this fondue.  This recipe serves 4 people generously.


600g day-old bread from a cob or chunky baguette type of loaf (you need the right ratio of crust to crumb – a tin loaf would give too much crumb) cut into cubes
300g mature gruyère cheese
300g vacherin fribourgeois cheese (substitute emmental if vacherin fribourgeois is not available)
300 ml white wine, ideally a Swiss chasselas, otherwise whatever dry white wine you have to hand
1 peeled clove of garlic left whole
1 small glass (liqueur glass) of kirsch
1 tablespoon cornflour
a pinch each of freshly ground black pepper, paprika, freshly grated nutmeg

Grate the cheese using a coarse grater and place into the fondue pan. A traditional fondue pan is referred to as a caquelon.  If, like me you bought a ready grated fondue mix of cheeses, simply tip the contents of the packet into the fondue pan. In a separate bowl, mix together the cornflour and white wine.  Pour the mixture over the cheese in the fondue pan.  Place the pan over a low heat and slowly bring the mixture up to boiling point, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  Add the whole garlic clove, kirsch and seasoning to the mix.  Once the mixture is smooth, creamy and bubbling, bring the fondue pan to the table and set your table burner on low.  You are now ready to serve.  Give the bottom of the pan a stir every so often with a bread cube on the end of your skewer to stop the cheese crust which forms on the base (known as la religieuse) from burning.

Recipe for Bündner Nusstorte

This recipe comes from a little ringbound paperback “Bündner Landfrauen Kochen” (Graubünden farmers’ wives cookbook) and was submitted both by Mrs Annina Mengiardi of Ardez (Swiss German version) and by Mrs Marta Padrun of Lavin (Romansch version) so it is certainly authentic.  My Romansch is limited but as far as I can tell, the recipes are identical. The translation from Swiss German is mine as are one or two additions. I’ve made the recipe twice now so can confirm that it works.  The sweet pastry dough is a little difficult to handle so be gentle with it. Caramelising the sugar for the filling has to be done carefully as well. The key thing is to seal in the filling thoroughly otherwise it bubbles out when baked.  A small slice of the pie is enough so on that basis the recipe would serve 12 people. It’s usually served on its own without cream or ice-cream and is just as good with a cup of tea or coffee as it is for pudding. I wonder if this is the European precursor to the American pecan pie?


300g plain flour
150g caster sugar
150g butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
pinch of salt


300g caster sugar
50 ml water
250g roughly chopped walnuts
200 ml double cream
1 dessertspoon of honey

Rub the butter into the flour to which you have added the pinch of salt until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar then the beaten egg and work into a dough handling as lightly as you can. Wrap and chill the dough for half an hour.  Roll out 2/3 of the dough and use it to line a loose bottomed flan tin 24-26cm in diameter. Do not trim the excess pastry as you should aim to leave an overlap of 3 cm. Wrap and return the remaining pastry dough to the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

For the filling, melt together the sugar and water in a heavy based saucepan and allow to caramelise to a brown colour. Add the chopped walnuts, cream and honey, stir well and allow to cool to room temperature.

Fill the pie base, then roll out a lid and place it over the tart.  Seal the edges well.  I recommend leaving the pie edges untrimmed at this stage as you can neaten up the edges after baking.  Prick the surface with a fork all over decoratively if you like (see picture above) but don’t overdo it as the filling will leak out.

Bake at 220 degrees C for the first 10 minutes then reduce the heat to 180 degrees C and bake until the tart is a light golden brown (approx another 30 minutes.

Contact details for Nick Dobson Wines

Telephone 0800 849 3078

An Antipodean New Year in London

January 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

For the past 10 years we have spent New Year’s Eve with a group of friends, taking turns to host and organise a special meal.  All of us enjoy good food and wine and we make a bit of an effort each year to come up with a different theme. In the past we’ve covered French, Italian, Middle Eastern, Spanish and American cuisines to name but a few.  This year we were in Highgate, North London and our hosts decided to choose an Australian theme.

This was a real eye-opener for me as I’ve never visited Australia.  I know there’s a lively food scene down under particularly in Sydney but my knowledge of Australian chefs and cookery writers was, until last week, restricted to Bill Granger’s books (of which I have seven at last count!), Jill Dupleix’s magazine articles and of course those handy little Australian Womens’ Weekly cookbooks.

Here is our fabulous menu:

Wasabi almonds and macadamia nuts

Fillet of wild kangaroo with anchovy butter; olive and bush tomato focaccia

Barbecued giant prawns; tarator; pepperberry bark

Spiced orange granita; orange, date and mint salad

Neil Perry’s slow-roast rib of beef; potato and celeriac gratin; green beans

Kiwi, blueberry and strawberry Pavlova; macadamia tuiles

It tasted as brilliant as it sounds and I discovered some brand new ingredients (bush tomatoes and pepperberry as well as the more obvious kangaroo), two new chefs/cookery writers (Neil Perry and Juleigh Robins) and a better tarator recipe than the previous one I’ve posted.

This is the amazing looking pepperberry bark, a paper thin crispbread which has dried Australian pepperberries both in the dough and sprinkled on top.  I give the recipe later on in this post.

According to cookery writer Juleigh Robins (whose book “Wild Food” was the source of some of the evening’s recipes) the pepperberry bush Tasmannia Lanceolata grows in the subalpine rainforests and gullies of Tasmania.  It can be used like black pepper – it has a distinctive spicy taste, a bit like a Szechuan peppercorn.  Juleigh Robins’ book lists other exotic and enticing ingredients too – anisata, bush tomato, Davidson’s plum, and best of all the miraculously chocolate flavoured wattleseed. Only two of her ingredients were familiar to me, the macadamia nut and wild rosella. I have come across wild rosella flowers referred to as hibiscus. They are preserved in syrup and make a superior edible garnish for champagne or soft drinks.

The pepperberry bark accompanied giant prawns which were cooked in true Australian style on the barbie, despite freezing temperatures outside.  You’ll see from the work-in-progress photo below that we dressed appropriately for the occasion:

The orange granita which followed made a refreshing palate cleanser before we moved on to the rare beef and then pudding.  Here’s a picture of the granita and I’m afraid this is the last photo as the evening was too much fun to stop and take pictures.

Recipe for pepperberry bark

This recipe for a paper thin crispbread akin to Sardinian carta da musica comes from Juleigh Robins’ book “Wild Food.”  The dried pepperberries impart a subtle purple colour to the dough and warm aromatic flavour to the  finished bread.


375g plain flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons caster sugar
2 teaspoons dried crushed pepperberries
40g butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons milk
100 ml water
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
extra crushed pepperberry for sprinkling

Using the paddle attachment on an electric mixer, mix the flour, salt, sugar, crushed pepperberry and butter together. Once the butter is well incorporated into the flour, add the milk, water and egg yolk and work until the mixture forms a firm dough. Cover and rest in the refrigerator for one hour or so.

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C and line a large baking tray with baking paper.

Divide the dough into four.  Roll each piece as thinly as possible preferably using a pasta machine. It should be as thick as a tortilla/corn chip.  Work quickly not overworking the dough. Let it rest for 20 minutes. Tear each sheet of dough into 5 or 6 lengths making 20-30 pieces in all.  Carefully place the dough strips on the lined baking tray. With a pastry brush dipped in water lightly brush the surface of the bread. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and crushed pepperberries.  Bake for 15 minutes until a light golden brown.

Recipe for barbecued marinated giant or king prawns

This recipe and the two that follow are from star Australian chef Neil Perry’s book “The Food I Love”. Neil Perry is the chef behind Sydney’s legendary Rockpool restaurant but his book is full of recipes designed to cook at home without too much restaurant-style frippery.  Just checked and it’s readily available on Amazon if you’re interested.  This recipe serves 4.


for the marinade

2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
1 lemongrass stalk peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped coriander
2 tablespoons chopped mint
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 red chillies
zest of half a lemon plus juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon sea salt
125 ml extra virgin olive oil

to grill and serve the prawns

20 large king prawns cut in half lengthways and deveined (for our multi-course meal we made do with just 3 monster prawns, half per person, each the size of a small lobster!)
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
125 ml tarator (see next recipe)
lemon wedges

To make the marinade, put all the marinade ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Put the prawns into a large bowl, pour over the marinade, cover and leave for 30-45 minutes.

Preheat the barbecue to hot.  Make sure the grill bars are clean. Put the prawns on the grill cut side down. Cook for one minute (a little longer for a giant prawn).  Turn and cook for one minute  more (again a little longer for a giant prawn).

Remove the prawns from the grill and pile onto four plates. Drizzle with olive oil, season with a few twists of pepper and serve with a dollop of tarator and a lemon wedge or two.

Recipe for tarator

Another Neil Perry recipe.  This is a better tasting tarator than the one I posted back in September.  It calls for pounding by hand in a pestle and mortar.  I’m not sure if our hostess did this on new year’s eve – I would be tempted to use a food processor.


50g walnuts, lightly roasted
sea salt
2 garlic cloves
40g fresh breadcrumbs
freshly ground black pepper
juice of a lemon
125 ml extra virgin olive oil

Put the walnuts, salt and garlic in a mortar. Pound to a paste.  Add breadcrumbs and a dash of water and pound to mix through. Add pepper and lemon juice then slowly add the olive oil a little at a time, pounding to a creamy consistency.

Recipe for date, orange and mint salad with orange granita

A final Neil Perry recipe.  This makes a zingy and refreshing intermediate course or pudding.  On new year’s eve we had a simplified version with just the granita and a few dates scattered on the side. This recipe serves 8.


for the granita

550 ml orange juice, freshly squeezed
115g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch ground cardamom
5 drops orange flower water
125 ml water

for the salad

16 fresh dates soaked in hot water for 10 minutes then skins removed and pitted
4 segmented oranges
8 finely sliced mint leaves

Strain the juice through a fine sieve and put in a bowl with the sugar, spices,orange flower water and 125ml water. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Strain into a container such that the mixture is approximately 2 inches deep. Freeze.  Fork through every 30 minutes or so.  The mixture will take 4-5 hours to freeze into granular crystals.

To make the salad, quarter the dates and mix together with the segmented oranges and sliced mint leaves.  Divide between 8 glasses and add a spoonful of granita.

If you had a special meal on New Year’s Eve I would love to hear about it.

Wild West Party in Paris

September 22, 2009 § Leave a comment

My aunt’s 70th birthday bash on Saturday night was the raison d’être for my trip to Paris this weekend so I’d better say a few words about the main event.  The party had been organised by Auntie Madge’s lovely group of friends who go under the name of the Golden Girls.  They’d done her proud putting on a Wild West party (exactly why they chose this theme remains a mystery) complete with line dancing, a Clint Eastwood look-alike, friends and family from around the world, and of course lots of lovely things to eat and drink.

My own contribution was a couple of very simple salads put together from my purchases at Joël Thiébault’s beautiful market stall earlier that day (see previous post).  People often try too hard when asked to prepare something for a party – there are too many stars of the show – stunning terrines, tarts, three-bird roasts and the like and not enough simple salads.  I decided to put this right and threw together very quickly at my aunt’s apartment before the party a simple potato salad dressed with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar.  What made it special was the purple potatoes I’d used plus generous quantities of herbs – chervil and chives.  I also sliced up the motley bag of tomatoes I’d bought earlier, dressing them with olive oil, basil, salt and just a touch of lemon.  I’m gratified to say that both salads disappeared pretty quickly.

Here is an attractive way of serving a dip with crudités for a party.  That French sense of style just can’t be held back.

I mentioned that there were friends and family from all over the world.  My cousins Pierre and Alain are married to Meryanti (Indonesian) and Yuko (Japanese) respectively.  I have a great recipe for Beef Rendang from Mery (as she is usually known) which I will share one of these days.  Yuko is a fabulous cook and I will certainly be asking for some of her recipes too.

Yuko had pushed the boat out for the party and had come with a tray of what the French call verrines.  I was horrified at first thinking this might be something to do with earthworms.  The root of the word is verre – glass, not ver – earthworm and it turns out that verrines are dinky little shot-type glasses of filled with artfully constructed layers of delicious things to eat.  Yuko is both practical as well as talented so her verrines were in fact made of disposable plastic (plasticines perhaps?).  She’d filled them with layers of chopped prawns, fromage frais mixed with herbs and diced tomato.

It transpires that verrines are all the rage in France.  There are whole books, devoted to them and they can inspire flights of fancy leading to obsession.  Just have a look here for starters:

and if that appeals, try this:

Enough of this aside on verrines.  Not sure if they’ll catch on in the UK but if they do remember you read it first here!

My cousin’s wives Mery and Yuko really are from the far east (as opposed to Wild West) but stealing the show was second cousin Arthur who has reinvented himself as a Buddhist monk and now goes under the name Topgyal.  The purple and saffron robes certainly look good at a party.

Sadly my sister Jane couldn’t make it over for the weekend but it was good to have the chance to catch up with my dad.  Here we are both in matching cowboy check shirts, the cheat’s answer to fancy dress.

That’s the last of my Parisian posts – back home on Eurostar now with lots of new food ideas.

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