I’m a deli addict. I can’t pass one without buying some sun-dried tomato paste, sweet chorizo, or lemony marinated anchovies. I go in for one thing, and leave with five (it doesn’t do wonders for my bank balance). But there is one item I refuse to buy—marinated artichoke hearts. Always over-priced, often indistinctive, and so simple to make at home. Really. If you didn’t already know, artichoke hearts can be bought in cans at the supermarket. Nestling amongst the canned carrots and peas, they only cost about 99p, and all of the big stores carry them. After that, all you need is some good olive oil, a lemon, a large garlic clove, and if available some fresh parsley; you could also try adding some diced fresh chilli if you like the zing. It really is that straightforward—once you’ve tried making them once, you’ll never buy the deli version again.
Pondering what to do with over 60 pounds of cherries isn’t an everyday conundrum. Sadly, it’s a question I will never need to address from my very urban flat, in very urban East London, with no garden or cherry tree in sight. It was, however, a topic for discussion at dinner over the weekend.
The boy and I were supping with friends, who are lucky enough to have a bountiful cherry tree in their front garden; I eagerly consumed a generous portion after pudding (a delightful apricot and almond tart), and was delighted to leave with a further serving for us to enjoy at home.
Cherries are probably my favourite summer fruit. On occasion, I’ve successfully made myself slightly sick, greedily eating more than a couple of punnets’ worth. Keen to make the orchard gift last as long as possible, I considered soaking some in brandy, or even freezing half; and then I opened the paper, flicked through the magazine and Nigel Slater’s clafoutis was there, begging to be made. So far so perfect.
I love meringues. They are, for me, a perfect balance of sugar, fluffiness and crunch. Add a splash of alcohol and a handful of flaked almonds, and frankly you’ve got a small mouthful of heaven.
I’m dangerously near to the delicious, but slowly-burning-a-hole-in-my-pocket Ottolenghi on Upper Street. His meringues are the best. Large, decadent, chewy and crunchy—they’re my kind of treat, a perfect mid-afternoon-slump solution. Too many, of course, and I won’t fit into my non-meringue-like wedding dress. Oh well. It’s a delicate balance.
The wonderful thing about Ottolenghi is you can recreate his vision in your own kitchen; I confess some of the recipes are ultra-fiddly, but the meringues are not. The approach however, is a tad unusual, and Swiss, apparently. Normally I would whisk the whites into submission, then add in sugar a bit at a time, then bake. Here, the egg whites are lightly cooked with the sugar first until it dissolves, then whipped for a good eight minutes before baking. This method produces a meringue which is more craggy, its crevasses bursting with brown sugar bubbles; the centres are softer, and the walls are thicker—it’s an altogether different experience.
It’s been a while. Today, right now, in this moment, is the first opportunity I’ve had to sit down and write a little.
To recap: we packed up our Edinburgh life, and my kitchen; hired a large van and drove to London; briefly squatted with my parents; found a flat with a Smeg oven; unpacked our lives, and started living in Dalston.
The flat was unfurnished, so we tackled the kitchen first. Slowly my casserole pans and mixing bowls were unwrapped and housed in their new cupboard. Then the cookbooks found a prominent home beside the stove; and the fridge began to fill with fresh ingredient and essential condiments. I was able to cook again.
And then, last weekend, I discovered Broadway Market. I say discovered—people have been enjoying it for years—but I finally got the chance to browse the stalls, drink coffee, inspect hipster attire and, best of all, indulge in some delicious purchases. Artisan smoked salmon, miniature sponge cakes, venison sausages, and fresh fish from Fin and Flounder.
I hadn’t seen such luscious prawns since travelling through Thailand; a dozen were a must.
Here’s what I know about lobster: my mother loves it; it’s deemed a luxury, which is reflected in cost; you have to boil the creatures alive; it’s an aphrodisiac. I’ve never bought or eaten it myself, so I only really know the first point to be true. My mother loves the stuff. If she could, she’d live on a beach eating coconuts and lobster every day; I’m not sure, however, that she’d find it as appealing if she had to fish for, and kill, them too.
Today is Mother’s Day, and like many dutiful daughters across the country, my sister and I felt it would be nice to spoil our mother with a Sunday lunch. I didn’t fish for my lobsters—I travelled to Oxford for them instead—but I did have to put them asleep in the freezer, and then plunge them head first into boiling water; an activity I don’t wish to repeat too soon.
It seems that while I’ve been consumed by packing boxes and suitcases the world has gone a little bit mad. Liz Taylor is dead; the West is enacting an assault on Libya; and Japan is bravely recovering from a catastrophic earthquake. It certainly makes one pause.
But my week hasn’t been doom and gloom—on the contrary, I got my ass down to London with as few clothes as possible and availed myself of my parents’ hospitality. The sun is shinning; the boy is loving his new job; and I got to meet my new colleagues. On Monday I return to the usual working day, and since I doubt I’ll be rising at 5am just to make pastry, I thought I’d take advantage of my final days of freedom for a long run and some late morning pastry action.
So it turns out there’s only so much mischief a girl can get up to sandwiched between boxes and a mountain of paperwork associated with moving. It’s only another nine days before I join the boy in the big smoke, and there seems to be a lot to get sorted. I like challenges, but it’s clearly madness to move cities, start a new job, and plan a wedding all in a matter of weeks. Right now, the simple instructions in a recipe are my only relief from tricky decisions on multiple fronts.
Financiers have always been a favourite of mine. Petite and sweet, and very rich. The story goes that they were named after their rich ingredients—almonds and butter—and the wealthy patrons who enjoyed eating them in the financial district of Paris. Originally, they were baked in small pans, their shape akin to gold ingots. History aside, Martha Stewart and Pierre Hermé provided the inspiration I was looking for this afternoon.
I’ve never made soufflé before. I’ve certianly enjoyed it, particularly the indulgent chocolate variety. My mother used to serve us a bacon and cheese version; a reliable soufflé supper when she was out at work.
As the kitchen is slowly being boxed up, the one item we’re not short on is eggs and as I’ve not dealt with wrapping the ramekins yet, it seemed like time to overcome my fear of soufflé and get whipping.
It doesn’t take much to put me in the mood for baking. A slight sugar craving, the distant creep of ennui, or some spare eggs knocking around the kitchen—all reason enough to whack the oven on, don an apron, and beat some eggs.
Things have been a little crazy around here lately. We’re moving to London; the boy proposed over wood-roasted sea bream at Moro; I underwent five interviews in 48 hours, and now I’m taking a moment to breath—a little baking in the kitchen seemed like a good place to start.
I’ll do anything to avoid packing. The last week has been filled with box-related activities. Scavenging for boxes, filling boxes and moving boxes—our lives have been neatly packaged and put away.
I had a hankering to bake, and I found some amaretto lurking in the cupboard, begging to be used before we moved. Separating egg whites from yolk seemed like a a perfect way to pass the time, a legitimate excuse to avoid the endless packing and cleaning.
For years I had an irrational fear of seafood—it’s still not entirely cured. I’ve tried oysters once—in the living room of a chef—and I’m still not a convert; mussels and I get along ok when served in a coconut broth and I’ve successfully sampled scallops a few times. I think it comes down to texture, rather than origin. Irrational, I know.
I was passing our local fishmongers and spotted the juicy scallops nestled alongside the swordfish steaks—in the mood to break the everyday, I braved my phobia and purchased a dozen. From what I’ve read, scallops are delcious with Oriential flavours like chilli and ginger; I decided to experiment with a coconut laksa.
One of the things I’ll miss most about this town—aside from the architectural beauty—when I return to London, is the plethora of independent delis dotted around town. There are three a stone’s throw from my doorstep, purveying handmade sausage rolls with caraway-infused puff pastry, delicious almond and orange cakes, or unusual generously-iced pistachio cupcakes. And, all for a decent price. I won’t be so lucky in London.
One store, Broughton Deli always has a tantalizing quiche or baguette on offer. And, last week their pea and sweetcorn fritters caught my eye. Greasy, moreish and delicious, I definitely wanted to recreate it in my own kitchen.