Thursday, 28 March 2013

Double-barrelled duck eggs

Its Easter soon so here is my egg-themed recipe. I am a massive glutton for Hollandaise sauce, so I am often torn between Eggs Benedict, Florentine or Arlington. I recently discovered I could have two of them at once by using delicate Parmaham with Spinach. My eggs Bennedict-Florentine uses duck eggs instead of regular eggs which both makes one egg big enough to have just one per person and intensifies the richness of the dish.

The Hollandaise recipe below isn't the one I usually use since I like it thick with a mayonnaise-like consistency, but I think this dish works better with it being more saucy. Adding the vinegar and lemon before the butter seems to create this effect and also makes it much less likely to split. People tend not to make Hollandaise at home and even think its a bit cheffy but it really is the simplest thing and usually better when you make it at home from scratch.

Ingredients (serves 2)
2 duck eggs
1 small pack of baby spinach
4 slices of Parmaham
2-4 slices of nice bread (to be toasted)
A knob of butter

For the Hollandaise
1 egg yolk (duck or normal)
1 dessert spoon of lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon of white wine vinegar
55g salted butter

Put a pan of water on to boil and then tackle the sauce: place the egg yolk in a small bowl and whisk, ideally with an electric whisk, for 6 seconds until pale and airy.

Then heat the lemon and vinegar in a little pan and reduce by half.

Trickle this into the egg yolk while mixing on a high heat.

Now melt the butter in the same pan as you heated the vinegar.

Slowly drizzle the melted butter into the egg while whisking on a high speed until its all amalgamated. Add a good sprinkling of pepper and mix on.  You should end up with a delicious glossy, buttery sauce that is thick but pourable.

Now you can poach your egg. In my previous post on poaching eggs I was very precise but nowadays I just get a pan to the boil then add about 1/6th of its volume of cold water. I then return the pan to the heat and straight away crack the egg into it or pour it in carefully from a teacup. I don't do any of the vortex or rolling boil stuff since I find it unreliable. 

Meanwhile heat a very small knob of butter in a frying pan. When it begins to sizzle add your spinach and cover so that it wilts.

By now a foam will probably have formed in the egg pan. Skim it off.

Cover a plate with kitchen roll and check if the egg is done. The white should be set and no longer transparent, and the yolk should look a bit cloudy. Scoop it out very carefully with a slotted spoon and place on the kitchen roll to drain.

Put your toast on, butter it and assemble your ingredients - toast, spinach, Parmaham and egg. Give your sauce one last stir, drizzle over and enjoy.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Racing Minds

Last night I went to a friend's comedy night in the cosy setting of Aces and Eight's basement room (Tufnell Park). Racing Minds, a group of four comedians, set the scene of a gentlemen's clubs where their scrooge-like friend doesn't believe in the point of Easter any more. The first half of the show parodies Dickens' Christmas Carol, (there, an Easter Carol) whilst the second half, friend now converted, reenacts an Easter story that a humorously Alzheimers-stricken old man recalls, the details filled in by the audience. 

This sets up the framework for the comedy, and a challenging framework too - on our night, they had to tell the story of 'The Creaking of the Rusty Door', set in a Turkish Delight shop on the Anatolian side of Istanbul, about a man named something like Cummerbund, whose great secret was that he collected chocolate buttons. Try finding multi-faceted puns about that! 

I won't try to retell the comedy since I wouldn't do it justice, and have a habit of remembering the punchline but not the joke. But I will say that it was refreshingly witty, absurd and good-natured, as the group allows you to steer them into pretty choppy waters. 

Their next show is on Tuesday 16th April, only a fiver, and, as is the wonderful way with improvised comedy, guaranteed to be totally bespoke! You can follow them on Twitter here

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Life, Death, and Ice Cream

A detail from a garden fresco originally found in the House of the Golden Bracelet in Pompeii. © Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei

In a couple of days 'Life and Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum' is to be unveiled at the British Museum. Sponsored by Goldman Sachs, it seems they were able to move mountains in getting so many pieces exhibited outside of Italy for the first time. An incredible feat, it brings together a lot more than is available to the public at both Pompei and Herculaneum - I have been to both yet was constantly surprised by new things - and curates it in a novel way, illustrating the day to day existence of these wiped out communities.

The exhibition is fascinating and poignant, giving you the real sense of these people being frozen in time. We have a political inscription asking you to vote for 'Samellius, an outstanding young man' , running for election a few months before the eruption. There is a beautifully constructed wooden cradle, carbonised in the heat of the ash, found with the remains of a baby in it. 

Carbonised wooden cradle. From the House of M.P.P.Granianus, Herculaneum, 1st century AD. © Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei

We can see the plaster casts of a whole family huddling together as they died, who had commissioned the most idyllic frescoed garden room just a few years earlier (also in the exhibition).

garden fresco originally found in the House of the Golden Bracelet in Pompeii. © Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompeii

Despite these examples, the exhibition thankfully places more emphasis on everyday life: it is organised around the various rooms of the house or around certain individuals whose fragmented histories have been pieced together by archeologists. We have, for example, the kitchen with a terracotta implement for fattening up dormice and a specific dormouse frying pan; an initialed loaf of carbonised bread and a peculiar skinned hare jelly mold. 

These rooms are shown alongside story-enhancing details, such as a recreation of a private bath that belonged to a commercially minded fish sauce merchant, adorned with mosaics of his signature sardine concoctions.

The whole experience, sound effects and all, is designed to give you a sense of the bustling city life that prefaced the disaster, the panic, horror and hope as many rushed to the shore with their house keys, money, good luck charms or whatever might be useful to them, and finally the end, the pathetic figure of a contorted dog, or fallen woman, the void of whose decomposed bodies have been filled with plaster or resin.

Plaster cast of a dog. From the House of Orpheus, Pompeii, AD 79. © Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompeii

It may be morbid, but you leave with a sense of how rich a culture theirs was, of how 'designed' even the most mundane of objects could be: a beautifully simple curtain holder that echoes the bough of a ship (made, no doubt, for a family with nautical connections); a food warming device with little hands warming themselves as handles; and a pestle and mortar in which the pestle is a big marble thumb! You get the feeling that a whole lot of care and ironic humour went into each trade - a sense that we have sadly lost today.

If, like me, you nonetheless leave feeling a bit forlorn, then go for a consolatory ice cream at Gelupo's (about a 12 minute walk away) which is exactly what I did!

Life and Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum runs from the 28th March to the 29th September. 
Book tickets here

Monday, 25 March 2013

Celebratory 3 course dinner for 8

This weekend was our mum's birthday so I decided to cook a meal for friends and family. The menu I decided upon was based on previous recipes of mine but tweaked so that they contain no dairy since she doesn't eat any. I aimed to start off light, fresh and green tasting before descending into irony, meaty richness and then chocolate, bringing it back again with citric blood orange. 

Pea and fresh mint soup

Lavender roast duck legs with a red wine jus, pomme purée, honey-thyme glazed beetroot and spinach

Chocolate chestnut cake with blood orange sorbet from Gelupo

My pea and mint soup was a good start because the mint doesn't get cooked for very long so keeps that refreshing taste. The duck is my fail safe since its hard to overcook and takes on the rich, perfumed flavours of the marinade. This time I added my honey and thyme glazed beetroot to balance the meat and the spinach. 

The real revelation was the pudding since it is dairy, egg yolk and wheat free and absolutely delicious. Unlike those health food cakes that are sort of nice despite what they cut out, this is scrumptious in its own right (thanks Nigella!) and elevated by the blood orange sorbet, well worth the £20 I spent on a 1L tub. 


Pea and Mint Soup

4 tablespoons of olive oil
2 fat shallots, chopped
2 stems celery, finely chopped
1 leek chopped
1.3L chicken stock
800g frozen peas (1kg in pods)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
50g pack mint, leaves only, roughly chopped

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the shallots, leek and celery, season, cover and sweat very gently, without colouring, for 15 minutes or until completely soft, stirring every few minutes.

Add the stock and bring to a gentle simmer, then add the peas, bring to the boil  again and simmer for 10 minutes until the peas are soft. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Add the chopped mint, and purée. Push through a sieve if you want a very smooth finish. However, if you have a really good handheld blender such as the Kenwood Triblade, the blending process is effortless and you won’t need a sieve at all. (P.s. this is not very unsubtle product placement, it is the one I have and it is AMAZING!).

Taste and adjust the seasoning. Keep covered and refrigerate overnight, and then serve with a mint leaf to garnish and toast of your choice.

Chestnut Chocolate Cake (adapted from Nigella's 'Feast')

I used my Nordic warecake mold after very carefully oiling it, and dusting it with cocoa powder but you can also use a regular 20cm cake tin.If you do use a mold, wait for it to cool completely before you turn it out - I had a few disasters the first time round! 

225g dark chocolate

6 eggs, separated

1 pinch salt

125g Pure dairy-free sunflower spread (you can use butter instead)

435g sweetened chestnut puree

2 tablespoons hazelnut liquor (or rum)

15g sugar

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C, gas mark 4. Grease a 23 cm spring form or cake tin.

Break the chocolate into pieces and melt in the microwave or in a double boiler (or bain-marie), and set aside.

Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff, but not dry.

In another bowl, whisk butter and chestnut puree with the sugar. Gradually whisk in the egg yolks, then add the rum and chocolate.

Stir in a dollop of the egg white, whisk well to mix everything together, then carefully fold the rest of the egg white in the chestnut mixture.

Pour the batter into the tin and let bake for 40 to 60 minutes. You could do the toothpick test, but it should not come out completely clean. Let the cake cool in it's tin on a rack before you unmold it on to a plate.

Serve with Gelupo blood ice cream of your choice (or sorbet if you are going dairy-free)!


For the Duck and Sauce

8 duck legs with the bone trimmed (see below)

4 tbsp dried lavender, if not, rosemary

3 ½ tbspn fennel seeds

4 star anise

2 bulbs of garlic

750ml red wine 

8 tbsp plum jam, redcurrant, quince or crab apple jelly… marmalade can work too. (Less if you don’t like it too sweet)
1/2 tablespoon cornflour

Pomme Puree

1.2g mashing potato such as maris piper, scrubbed. 

400ml olive oil

400ml stock

Braised Honey Thyme Beetroot

4 Beetroot, peeled and diced into 1cm x 1cm cubes

1 tablespoon of thyme

1 tablespoon of honey

800 ml stock


2 big packs of spinach

1 tablespoon of olive oil


Marinate the duck in the lavender, fennel seeds, anise, garlic, sliced lengthways, and enough of the wine to cover it. Cover and refrigerate overnight, for a day, or, if last minute 15 minutes will make a difference.


Prepare all your ingredients: trim the duck legs by scraping all the skin up the leg and snipping the sinews with some scissors and then chopping the top of the joint off with a cleaver.

Peel and chop the beetroot

Wash the spinach if necessary and cut up your potatoes, leaving them in a bowl of water


Preheat the oven to 200c (or 180 fan).

Once preheated (hopefully after 15mins), sprinkle chopped garlic and lavender on a foil lined baking tray and cover with the duck legs, having shaken off the wine into the marinating bowl. Sprinkle with salt.  Place in the oven for 1 hour (set a timer!)

SAUCE: do this in 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour all the wine from the marinade along with the rest of the wine into a little saucepan. Add the jelly or jam, bring to a simmer and reduce for 5 minutes then strain and put aside.

POTATO PREP: 4 minutes

Start bringing a pan of water to the boil.

Make sure the potatoes are around 1inch x 1inch or less - cutting them up when necessary. 

Place them in the boiling water.

Beetroot: do this in 10 minutes 

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the pan and fry the beetroot, covered and stirring every minute or so for 5 minutes. Then add a couple of cups of stock and leave covered again, to check in 7 or 8 minutes. (The Beetroot should have around 40 minutes cooking time in total)

POTATOES REMAINING COOKING TIME: 5-10 minutes: Check the potatoes - they should be soft enough that you can poke a knife through them with no resistance. They will probably need 5-10 more minutes. 

Give the beetroot a stir, add the thyme and honey and a couple more cups of stock.

POTATO PEELING: 10 minutes

Once soft enough, strain them and leave them to cool a bit. Once cool enough, peel them with your hands by rubbing the skin off. If this is too difficult you can use a knife to skin them instead.

BEETROOT: Give the beetroot a stir and if the liquid has mainly evaporated, add another wine glass of stock.

Return them to the dry pan and mash them up. Place over a very very low heat to warm up whilst stirring in the oil bit by bit. It should begin to form a doughy puree.

The puree will be very thick. Slowly stir in as stock as it takes to bring it to the consistency that you like. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Once it is right, take it off the heat.

BEETROOT:Give the beetroot a stir and if the liquid has mainly evaporated, add another wine glass of stock.

Put the soup on the hob to warm up. Adding water if it is too thick. Also remember to take your sorbet out of the freezer so it has time to warm up a little. 


Push the potato through a sieve. Do this twice if you want it really smooth.

When you have sieved it, you can put it in a Pyrex bowl over boiling water and heat it up, stirring it every now and again.

BEETROOT: Check the beetroot and if nicely tender, reduce the liquid to a glaze and turn off the heat. Leave covered until needed. 


Serve up your soup

BACK TO THE DUCK: 10 minutes

The timer should now ring for a second time and the duck should have had 1 hour. Remove the duck from the oven and spoon off almost all the fat (save it for roast potatoes).

Pour the wine mixture around it and return to the oven for 10 minutes to finish cooking and reduce the sauce.

In this ten minutes, quickly give your mash a stir and check it is getting hot.


After the last 10 minutes, take the duck out, put the legs on a plate and rest in the oven (that you have just switched off) for a few minutes.

Pour the sauce through a sieve into a little pot to reduce further. Mix the cornflour with half a tablespoon of water in a teacup so that there are no lumps). Reduce vigorously until thick enough - You want it to be liquidy but with a good viscosity – like a good old balsamic – not quite syrup though, since it thickens as it cools anyway.


Serve by neatly forming a circle of pomme puree to the side of the plate and place the spinach next to it. Rest the leg on top and then dot the beetroot around it. Give it a good dash of sauce and put the rest in a gravy dish for your guests to serve themselves.

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Friday, 22 March 2013

Damp Apple and Vanilla Almond Cake with Blueberry Lavender Coulis

Anyone with Nigella's Feast will probably recognise this recipe instantly, but I reckon I have improved it a little by intensifying the almond flavour and adding a bit of vanilla (everything else is the same). The mix is very eggy - 8 eggs! - and makes a slightly marzipan-like cake. It is absolutely delicious half an hour after it is out of the oven, when it exhales a puff of steam when you slice into its centre. I like it with some vanilla ice cream and my blueberry lavender coulis, which I haven't photographed since I was too lazy to make it on this occasion. I have however included a gratuitous picture of lavender, and posted the recipe below!  

Damp Apple and Almond Cake
Recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson

For the apple purée
3 tart eating apples, such as Braeburns
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons caster sugar

For the cake
Almond oil/flavourless vegetable oil to grease tin
8 eggs
325 g ground almonds
275 g caster sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon of almond extract
The seeds of one vanilla pod
80 g flaked almonds

To decorate icing sugar

Peel, core and chop the apples roughly. Put them in a saucepan with the lemon juice, sugar vanilla seeds (scraped out) and pod, and bring the pan to a bubble over a medium heat. Cover the pan and cook over a low heat for about 10 minutes or until you can mash the apple to a rough purée with a wooden spoon or fork. If you caramelize it a little it adds a syrupy to the flavour but whether you are able to do this depends on how wet/dry your apples are. Remove the vanilla pod. You should have about 285 g of purée  Leave to cool. 

Preheat the oven to 180 C; oil a 25 cm springform tin with the oil and line the bottom with baking parchment. 

Put the cooled purée in the food processor with the eggs, ground almonds, almond extract, caster sugar and lemon juice and blitz to a purée. 

Pour and scrape into the prepared tin, sprinkle the flaked almonds as evenly as possible on top and bake for about 45 minutes. It's worth checking after 35 minutes, as ovens do vary, and you might find it's cooked earlier - or indeed you may need to give it few minutes longer.

Put on a wire rack to cool slightly, the spring open. Push a teaspoon of icing sugar through a fine sieve to give a light dusting. If you'd like, by all means, mix in a pinch or so of ground cinnamon with the icing sugar before you sieve it onto the cake at the end.

Blueberry Lavender Coulis
250g blueberries
50g caster sugar
Your left over, scraped-out vanilla pod of half a teaspoon of essence
1 heaped teaspoon of dried lavender flowers

Put the blackberries and sugar into a small pan with 100ml/31⁄2fl oz water with the lavendar. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 5 mins until the fruit is soft. Stir in the vanilla, remove and cool a little

Tip the contents of the pan into a blender or food processor, and whizz to a purée, then strain through a fine sieve, rubbing it through with the back of a ladle or spoon. Serve warm or chilled. 

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Thursday, 21 March 2013

Roast Chicken, Stuffing and Vibrant Root Vegetables

This is a Sunday roast with a difference since I decided to put a lot more effort into the most neglected part of it - the vegetables. The carrot and parsnip are diced and roasted beneath the chicken, soaking up its delicious juices while the red and yellow beetroot are braised separately with thyme and a little honey. They are then dotted among the other roots providing colourful bursts of herby-honeyed flavour.

This is served alongside a sage, apple and apricot stuffing, a gravy made up from the giblets, and a sourdough bread sauce. For pudding I made a variation of Nigella's Damp Apple Cake which I will post tomorrow. 

My beautiful guest!

Ingredients (serves 4)

The Chicken

I used a Fosse Meadows farm chicken from the Parliament Hill Farmers' Market which comes with giblets. My timings are for a 1.5kg bird

1 good quality Chicken
Oil, salt and pepper
Ras el Hanout
Half a lemon
1/2 a bulb of garlic
1 crushed clove of garlic
A handful of rosemary

The Gravy
2-3 teacups of white wine
1 cube of chicken stock (or the real thing if you have any to hand)
1 onion
1 tablespoon of cornflour

Root vegetables
2 big carrots, peeled and diced into triangles around 1x1x1cm and about 5mm thick.
3 parsnips peeled and diced as the carrot is

This beetroot was absolutely delicious mixed in with the carrot and parsnip. Unfortunately, the secret to their success is a whole lot of butter!

2 red beetroots
1 yellow beetroots, all diced like the carrots
Water for basting
1 teaspoon of honey
1 tablespoon of dried thyme

I used some delicious chesnut sausages from the Giggly Pig, again at the Parliament Hill farmers' market
340g sausages or sausage meat 55g breadcrumbs
60g pine nuts
100g apricots
1 small onion
1 apple
A handful of fresh sage, finely chopped (or a tablespoon of dried)

Sourdough Bread Sauce
For the sourdough breadcrumbs - use stale bread if you have any or slice and deceits some and dry it out in the oven at around 60 degrees for half an hour to an hour and then blitz in a food processor.

300g Milk
1 medium Onion
6 Peppercorns
6 Cloves
1 blade Mace
50g breadcrumbs 
2 tablespoons butter

I have put timings in as a guide because I find it easier to be organized that way but a lot of it should be instinctive and depends on the type of pan or hob you are using so just make sure you keep checking everything.

11.30: Chop the apricots into little pieces around 3x3mm or so. Toast the pine nuts in a pan with a drop of oil taking care that they go a nice bronze colour in places but don't burn - they are so expensive it is really annoying when they do! If you are anything like as absent minded as me, just stand over them the whole time, as boring as that is. Put aside.

11.40: Peel, core and dice your apple into nice little chunks and dice your onion finely. Heat a teaspoon of olive oil and fry your onions over a gentle heat for 5 minutes. Add the apple to the pan and cook for a further 8 minutes,  stirring frequently over a gentle heat.

11.55: allow to cool, then mix up all the ingredients (having taken the skin off the sausages), before pressing into a heat proof dish.

12.00: Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius (200 for fan). Then put all the spices in with the milk and bring to just before boiling point, taking care it doesn't boil over and mess up your hob. Leave to infuse for half an hour or so.

12.05: Rub the chicken with the seasoning, spice, garlic and oil and place the garlic and lemon in the cavity.

12.10: Peel and dice all of your root vegetables into triangles around 1x1x1cm and about 5mm thick, keeping the beetroot separate.

Toss the carrot and parsnip in a tablespoon of oil and seasoning too, and place in a baking dish.

12.20:  Place the chicken on top of these vegetables, legs up and put in the preheated oven at 220 for 15 minutes.

12.25: Cover the giblets with water and a stock cube and put on the boil.

12:30: Place the stuffing in the oven along with the chicken.

12.35: Turn oven down to 165 degrees. 

Check gravy and top up if necessary.

12.36: Melt a 15g knob of butter in the pan and add the beetroot, giving them a good coating. Add a tea cup full of water, sprinkle over the thyme, and cover.

Check every 5 minutes or so and add more water when necessary.

12.50: Turn the chicken  over and give the parsnips and carrots a stir.

12.55: The beetroot should have had 20 minutes by now. Add the honey and another 5-10g butter. Cover again and keep basting for another 20-25 minutes until tender. 

1.00: Strain your infused milk and return it to the pan, then tip in your breadcrumbs and leave for half an hour.

1.15: Taste the beetroot and if soft enough, take off the heat, so it is ready to be heated before eating

1.20: Turn your chicken over again, untie and open up its legs so it cooks around the thighs.

1.40: Add the wine to your gravy and reduce until you have around a gravy dish's worth of gravy, then leave on a very low heat.

1.45: Heat up the bread sauce to a gentle simmer, whisking often, and adding more milk if necessary. Simmer gently for 20 minutes. 

1.50: Take your chicken out and leave to rest on a dish for 20 minutes. 

Turn the oven off and leave the stuffing and carrots/parsnips in it. 

Reheat your beetroot.

2.00: Meanwhile, onto the gravy: gradually turn the cornflour into a paste by gradually adding water and then diluting with the gravy and stirring it in. Simmer it for 5 minutes and then decant it into a gravy dish.

2.05: Finally stir the butter into your bread sauce and take it off the heat.

2.10: Everything should now be ready to serve.