Saving the best until (almost) last

It is the measure of a good chef when he can assess just how to pitch each dish in a multi course menu. Each plate should pique the interest of the palate so that it eagerly anticipates the next offering. Wow the tastebuds too early in the meal and it can make subsequent courses seem like the dowdy wallflowers at a ball filled with beautiful debutantes. Fail to grab the diner’s attention early on and they may simply lose interest in the entire experience (or is that just jaded restaurant reviewers?).

Chef Felix Zhou (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Chef Felix Zhou (Photo: Julia Claxton)

One of the joys of dining at Terre à Terre in Brighton is the playful words used to describe each dish on the menu. I take great pleasure in the often confounding descriptions not always entirely sure of what I will be served but secure in the knowledge that it will be good. Chef Matty Bowling sets the bar very high particularly if you are taking over his domain for an evening as part of the International Chef Exchange. This pleasure fell to Felix Zhou of The Parker in Vancouver during National Vegetarian Week. By contrast the language of his menu was pared back although his dishes were far from simple.

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Blackdown Black Cherry Sour (Photo: Julia Claxton)

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Radish & Olives (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Shortly after a dangerous drinkable Blackdown BlackCherry Sour we received an amuse bouche of radish and olives. I’m not a fan of radishes but these delicate peppery slices served with olive ‘soil’ were very pleasant (this lack lustre description reflects my antipathy to this particular vegetable rather than the skill of Chef Zhou). The following roasted cauliflower served with a ketchup-sweet, red pepper puree was much more to my liking. Char grilling is one the finest treatments for fresh asparagus and Felix served his with the classic poached egg enveloped in a velvety mustard emulsion scattered with edible flowers. A true picture on a plate where the vibrancy in colour was equalled in taste. So good was the sauce our table requested some bread to mop up the remnants.

Roast Cauliflower with Textures and Red Pepper Puree (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Roast Cauliflower with Textures and Red Pepper Puree (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Char-grilled Asparagus, Mustard Emulsion, Poached Egg & Edible Flowers (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Char-grilled Asparagus, Mustard Emulsion, Poached Egg & Edible Flowers (Photo: Julia Claxton)

So far, so good. Each course had superseded the last in terms of expectation and delivered on the flavour front. Next up was the succinct Gnocchi with Broccoli, the former being another of my rare food foes. My initial fear of stodgy lumps was thankfully not realised. Served with a broccoli puree as well a florets the seared gnocchi were feather light pillows scattered with fresh peas and purple fronds (micro basil perhaps). Chef Zhou called on his far eastern heritage for his final savoury course of Aubergine Dumplings with Spring Onion and Pine Nut Thai Curry. Like the gnocchi the dumplings were far from heavy. Airy pockets filled with a light mousse considerately doused in a carefully spiced, fragrant green curry sauce with just the right amount of heat. Billy said it was one of the best things he has ever eaten (high praise indeed coming from a confirmed carnivore). Frankly, I could have eaten it again for dessert and the following morning for breakfast.

Gnocchi with Broccoli (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Gnocchi with Broccoli (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Simply the best- Aubergine Dumplings, Spring Onion, Pine Nut Thai Curry (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Simply the best- Aubergine Dumplings, Spring Onion, Pine Nut Thai Curry (Photo: Julia Claxton)

And so on to dessert. The dumplings were a hard act to follow. Despite the lightly whipped not too sweet quenelle of soft cheese, the melt in the mouth soft crumb of the shortbread and the surprisingly good endive jam with it’s pleasant bitter undertones, dessert just couldn’t top the previous course. Those dumplings will stay with me for a long time. Hopefully, long enough to lure me to Vancouver and search out Chef Zhou at The Parker.

Cheesecake, Endive Jam, Shortbread (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Cheesecake, Endive Jam, Shortbread (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Terre à Terre was participating in the return visit of International Chef Exchange, an on-going initiative delivered by the Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Festival team and supported by Travel Bag to promote gastronomic tourism, share best practice between chefs and create a platform for the export of artisan food and drink. The meal was accompanied by artisan silver birch gin cocktails from Blackdown Sussex Spirits, the distinctive Okanagan style BC wines from Summerhill Pyramid Winery and also acclaimed organic English wine from Davenport Winery

Cipes Brut from Summerhill Pyramid Winery. This was the first time Summerhill Pyramid Winery exported to the UK, the beginning of a new and wonderful journey for them. (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Cipes Brut from Summerhill Pyramid Winery. This was the first time Summerhill Pyramid Winery exported to the UK, the beginning of a new and wonderful journey for them. (Photo: Julia Claxton)

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Caramelised Spiced Onion & Olive Tart

Makes 8 slices

Onion Tart 1

This tart has a dough base rather than a pastry case and contains no animal fat. Think of it more of a vegan version of pissaladière than a quiche. This can be served hot or cold.

Ingredients

900g onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp each ground coriander and ground cardamom
1tbsp dark brown sugar
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
300g strong plain white flour
1 tsp fast action dried yeast
½ tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp black onion seeds
1 tbsp tahini
200ml luke warm water
90g jar chopped black or green olives
10 – 15 pitted black or green olives
3 tsp sesame seeds

Onion Tart 2

Method

  1. Heat the oil over a medium to low heat in a large frying pan. Add the onions and gently cook stirring from time to time until they begin to caramelise and take on a lovely chestnut colour. This will take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes so I often do this the day before I intend to make the tart. As the onions begin to brown you will need to stir them more frequently to prevent them from burning. Once the onions are nicely coloured add the ground spices and cook for a further minute before adding the sugar and vinegar. Stir to deglaze the pan and allow the vinegar to evaporate then transfer to a bowl until required.
  2. To make the base, place the flour, yeast, salt, onion seeds and tahini in a food mixer with a dough hook attached or a large bowl. Stir briefly then gradually mix in water. If you are using a mixer you will need to knead the dough for 5 – 8 minutes. If kneading by hand this will take around 10 – 15 minutes. The dough should be firm and springy. Return to a bowl and allow to prove in a warm place for 60 – 90 minutes until doubled in size.
  3. Grease a 20 x 30 cm rectangular loose bottomed flan tin. If you don’t have a tin like this you can just use a baking tray which is large enough to accommodate a rectangle of dough of roughly the same size. Knead the dough briefly on a lightly floured board then roll it out into a rough rectangle that will fit into the tin (or on the baking tray). I’m sure there is a knack to creating a perfect rectangle but I have to confess I haven’t discovered what it is (please feel free to enlighten me if you know!). As this is a fairly rustic tart personally I don’t think it matters if the shape is a little haphazard. Spread the chopped olives over the base of the tart followed by the caramelised spiced onions. Scatter with whole pitted olives and sesame seeds then leave the tart to prove further while you preheat the oven to 200℃. Bake for 20 minutes until well risen and the edges are golden brown.

Variation

If you are not vegan this is also good topped with some thick rounds of goat’s cheese. Add them 5 – 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time to ensure they are just melted when the tart comes out of the oven.

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Smoked Trout and Watercress Frittata

Serves 1 as a hearty brunch or lunch

Watercress & trout fritatta 2

Ingredients

  • 15g unsalted butter
  • 2 spring onions, chopped
  • 100g cooked, new potatoes (e.g. Charlotte), diced into 1cm cubes
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 40g soft goat or sheep cheese (or 2 tbsp crème fraîche)
  • 1 smoked trout fillet, about 60g broken into flakes (or use hot smoked salmon instead)
  • 25g watercress, washed and roughly chopped

Method

  1. Melt the butter in a small frying pan or cast iron skillet. Gently fry the spring onions until softened (about 2 minutes). Add the potatoes and continue to cook for a minute or two, stirring frequently.
  2. Combine the eggs with the soft cheese or crème fraîche. Add the trout flakes and chopped watercress then season with a little salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into the pan and stir until all the ingredients are combined and you can see the frittata beginning to set. Reduce the heat and cook until you see bubbles forming on the surface. Transfer to a preheated grill to finish cooking the top of the frittata. Delicious eaten hot or cold.

Watercress & trout fritatta 1

 

 

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A Simple Watercress Sandwich

Watercress sandwhich

Peppery and pungent watercress deserves it’s super food status. It’s a potent source of iron, calcium, beta-carotene, vitamin E and boasts more vitamin C than oranges. Popular in the Victorian era bunches of watercress were eaten like ice cream cones, the original “food on the go”.

Although it’s popularity waned in the 20th century fortunately the days when watercress was relegated to the side of the plate as a garnish for a piece of steak are gone. It’s mustardy flavour goes well with fish, particularly salmon. Try it as a sandwich filling with mild goats cheese on sun dried tomato bread or in a simple frittata (I’ll be posting a recipe for the latter soon). If you’re a fan of this spicy vegetable then you may want to head over to Hampshire for the Arlesford Watercress Festival on Sunday 17th May 2015.

Sun dried tomato loaf

Sun Dried Tomato Bread

  • 600g strong white bread flour
  • 7g packet of quick action dried yeast
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 60g sun dried tomato puree
  • 380ml warm water
  • 50g sun dried tomatoes in oil, drained and roughly chopped

Method

  1. Place the flour, dried yeast, salt and sun dried tomato paste into the bowl of a food mixer with a dough hook attached. (If you are using a bread machine follow the manufacturers instructions).
  2. Using a low speed (I use setting 2 on the Kitchenaid) slowly add the water. Once the ingredients have combined “knead” for around 5 minutes until smooth and elastic. This will take about 10 minutes or so if you are doing it by hand. Cover and leave to rise in a warm place for 1½ – 2 hours.
  3. After the dough has risen place on a floured board and knead again for a few minutes this time incorporating the chopped sun dried tomatoes as you go. You could shape this into a free form loaf or put it in a greased and floured 900g loaf tin as I have done here. Leave to rise again in a warm place for 30 – 45 minutes.
  4. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C. Bake for 10 minutes then reduce the heat to 180°C and continue to cook for a further 25 minutes. Allow to cool before making the sandwich.
  5. For the sandwich I usually allow around 50g soft goats or sheep cheese (I particularly like Sussex Slipcote from the High Weald Dairy) and a small handful of watercress per sandwich although the quantity you use of each is entirely up to you.
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The Umbrian Thursday Night Supper Club by Marlena de Blasi (Book Review)

Umbria low res

What is the essence of the book?

The Umbrian Thursday Night Supper Club is about five women who meet one a month in the hills above Orvieto in Italy to cook, eat and drink together. My natural assumption was that they would be bitching about their husbands/kids/colleagues/friends, or all of the above, which in my experience is what usually happens when women get together over a bottle or two of wine (or is that just me?). Fortunately, this book is a bit deeper than that without being heavy going or morose (another effect of women and too much wine). In between the descriptions of the food and wine we learn about the lives of four Umbrian women as they share their stories of love, sadness and encounters with the local mafia with the American author, a relative new comer to their gathering. For her part, Marlena de Blasi has to work hard to overcome the prejudices of these ladies when she volunteers to take over the cooking at these meetings from the matriarch, Miranda. As she states early on in the book “If you want to discover new lands you must consent to stay a very long time at sea.” But win them over she does with dishes like Red Wine Braised Pasta with Chocolate combining her style of food with local traditions and ingredients.

About the author

Marlena de Blasi has worn many hats in her time. She has been a journalist, chef, restaurant critic and food and wine consultant. She is the author of A Thousand Days in Venice, four memoirs and a novel, Amandine. She lives in Orvieto with her husband.

Who will like it?

If you’re a foodie who likes reading then you’re onto a winner here. That said I think there is enough to engage anyone who likes reading memoir style books and even more so if you have an interest in Italy.

Who won’t like it?

If you’re the sort of person who says ‘I can’t be bothered to read the book. I’ll just wait for the movie to come out.’ then you’re unlikely to read this. Equally, if you want an Umbrian cookery book you’ll find it lacking on the recipe front.

What do I like about the book?

Food memoirs can be fairly stilted, filled with endless descriptions of food and a bit of stodgy stuffing in between, but this one is very engaging. Yes, food is at the heart of the stories but the lives of these seemingly simple women are far more complex than you expect and are all the more fascinating for it. De Blasi’s descriptions of the food mingle easily with the narrative without being laboured. At first I thought I wouldn’t want to finish this book (I’m a notoriously fickle reader and loose interest alarmingly quickly). But within a few pages I was engrossed and really wanted to find out what happened to Miranda et al.

What do I dislike about the book?

A small, perhaps petty, gripe but I really don’t like the title. Surely the publisher or author could have come up with something a bit more tantalising? It’s a shame because, without a recommendation, I wouldn’t pick this up in a book shop based on the cover alone which would mean missing out on a good read.

Would I cook from it?

This isn’t a cookbook but yes, I think I would try some of the recipes in the book. De Blasi’s descriptions of the food in situ, like the Winemakers Flatbread Laid with Grapes, some how makes it seem all the more delicious. Although I’m not sure my efforts would taste quiet as delicious without the rustico or her companions to enjoy it with!

Where can you buy it?

The Umbrian Thursday Night Supper Club by Marlena de Blasi (Hutchinson) is currently available on Amazon for £11.89 (RRP £16.99)

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Earl Grey Lamingtons

(Makes 16 squares)

Lamingtons1

In her late 70s my nan decided to take herself off to Western Australia to visit some distant relatives. This may not sound strange but this was a woman who had never travelled further than Scotland by car and had never set foot outside the British Isles let alone travel by plane. And she did it on her own.

She returned with tales of the rugged countryside and the warm Aussie hospitality. She also had stuffed her suitcase with the most enormous lemons I had ever seen (which evidently grew in one of the relative’s garden) and several envelopes of wild flower seeds. I’m pretty sure it’s illegal (or at least frowned upon) to bring these items into the country but as she assured us ‘they’re not gong to stop a little old lady like me at customs, are they?’. She’s 98 now and to this day you can still see kangaroo paws growing in her garden.

She also brought back a recipe for Lamingtons. She would make these cakes as a treat for my brother and I who much preferred them to her usual Victoria Sandwich. Lamingtons are straightforward if messy to make. You can use a basic 4 egg sponge mix baked in a 23cm² square cake tin. Traditionally they are coated in chocolate icing or sometimes dipped in red jelly before being coated in desiccated coconut. I’ve made mine using a citrus Earl Grey sponge in deference to those lemons she smuggled into the country all those years ago. I’ve also used two coatings – dark chocolate for the grown ups and raspberry jam for the kids. If you would rather use one coating just double the ingredients for either the chocolate or jam below. It seems fitting to post this recipe today on the weekend that our antipodean cousins commemorated the 100th anniversary of the battle of Gallipoli, now known as ANZAC day.

Lamingtons rasp

Ingredients

  • 125ml whole milk
  • 4 x Earl Grey Tea Bags
  • 250g softened unsalted butter
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 250g self raising flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 250g dark chocolate
  • 250g seedless raspberry or strawberry jam
  • 300g desiccated coconut

Lamingtons choc

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180℃. Grease and line the base of a 23cm² square brownie tin.
  2. Heat the milk in a small saucepan to boiling point. Remove from the heat and add the tea bags. Infuse for 10 minutes then remove the tea bags squeezing out as much liquid as possible.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time beating well after each addition. Mix in the flour and baking powder followed by the infused milk and lemon zest.
  4. Spoon into the prepared tin and bake for around 25 minutes or until an skewer comes out clean when inserted. Allow to cool in the tin for a while before turning out onto a cooling rack. When completely cool cut into 16 squares.
  5. Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a heat proof bowl above a small pan of barely simmering water (do not allow the bowl to touch the water). Meanwhile, microwave the jam for 10-30 seconds until it is runny (or heat gently in a pan). Divide the coconut between two plates. Take a cube of cake and dip one side into the liquid chocolate or jam (be aware that both of these substances will be hot) then dip the jammy or chocolaty side into the coconut. Repeat with the remaining sides. If you don’t like getting your fingers sticky then you probably won’t like doing this. Kids, however, love getting involved. Once the whole cube is covered in jam/chocolate and coconut return to the wire rack to set.

Lamingtons2

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Tea: A Miscellany Steeped with Trivia, History and Recipes (Book Review)

Tea - A Miscellany_COVER_JACKET_NEW.indd

Like many of my generation I was raised on tea. To this day the best cup of tea I’ve ever had was made by my Nan in a battered stainless steel teapot (a blatant disregard for George Orwell’s rules who believed tea should always be brewed in a teapot made of ‘china or earthenware’) using loose leaves, never bags, and served in a porcelain mug. Nothing I have ever prepared myself or drunk elsewhere (even in swanky hotels) has ever compared to my Nan’s tea.

I weaned myself off tea when I went travelling in the firm belief (which I still hold) that it is impossible to get a decent cuppa outside of the British isles. I have been a resolute coffee drinker ever since. So I would say I am an occasional tea drinker at best. But this doesn’t mean I don’t find the history of this beverage fascinating.

What is the essence of this book?

Tea: A Miscellany is a pocket size treasure trove of trivia and history on one of the nations favourite brews. It explains what tea is; it’s provenance; how and where it is consumed (Turkey evidently has the highest consumption per capita worldwide) with a few recipes thrown in for good measure. It’s filled with quotes from well known (and not so well known) historical personages from Lu Yu to Agatha Christie and contains some surprising revelations. Did you know that PG Tips was first introduced to Britain in the 1930s as a pre dinner digestive aid called ‘Pre-Gest-Tee’? Well, I didn’t.

About the author

This is the second book from Emily Kearns, a freelance writer and editor. Apparently she loves all teas but her favourite is the delicate and citrusy Earl Grey.

Who will like it?

Tea aficionados and fans of QI type trivia.

Who won’t like it?

I would say tea haters but I’m not a tea lover myself and I rather like it.

What do I like about the book?

Kearns’ style is light hearted and easy going making this book perfect to dip in and out of. The information is presented in bite size pieces requiring minimal time commitment to absorb. In the best possible sense it would make great lavatory literature.

Is there anything I dislike about the book?

For me, the recipes, like Green Tea Cupcakes and Tea Smoked Mackerel, aren’t particularly inspiring but as this isn’t primarily a recipe book it’s not a major gripe. If nothing else it has spurred me on to create my own tea recipe which I will post this weekend.

Would I cook from it?

No, but then I wouldn’t really class this as a cookbook. I would rephrase this question and say am I likely to pick up this book again? The answer is, yes, absolutely. I think it’s interesting, fun and incredibly well researched.

Where can you buy it?

Tea: A Miscellany Steeped with Trivia, History and Recipes (Summersdale) is available from Amazon priced £9.99

Look out for my forthcoming post on Earl Grey Lamingtons!

 

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A Very Merry Ploughman’s (ish)

Plougmans 1

Despite the romantic notions that farmers have been eating a classic ploughman’s lunch of bread, cheese and beer for centuries, it’s rather disappointing to read that this dish was a PR gimmick initiated by the Milk Marketing Board in the 1960s. That said it is a much loved pub grub staple and can be found all over the British Isles in various guises. Sometimes it includes multiple cheeses, others ham or perhaps a meaty pork pie or even a Scotch egg. For this reason I had no qualms about putting my own spin on it when Merrydown cider invited me to create a ploughman’s as part of a Sussex food blogger challenge. It’s not your traditional ploughman’s but does include all the elements you would expect to find in a ploughman’s namely bread, cheese, chutney and cider.

If you like it, please tweet and Facebook about it or post it on Pinterest using the hashtag #comfortablyhungry.

Merrydown Rarebit with Pineapple Chutney and Cider Glazed Shallots

As far as I’m concerned there’s no hard and fast rule that says your ploughman’s has to be cold. We have some great cheeses in Sussex and they are equally delicious when melted on hot toast and washed down by a lovely glass of Sussex cider. I’ve used St Giles from the High Weald Dairy as it is wonderfully creamy when melted paired with a punchy Broad Oak Cheddar from The Traditional Cheese Dairy. Alternatively, you could use 225g of any strong flavoured hard cheese.

Merrydown Rarebit

Serves 4

Plougmans 2

Ingredients

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 4 tbsp Merrydown Medium Cider
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 100g St Giles Cheese, grated
  • 125g Broad Oak Cheddar, grated
  • A dash of Worcestershire sauce and a pinch of Cayenne pepper, according to taste
  • 4 thick slices of rustic country style bread (I used a walnut loaf). You may need more than this as it depends on the size of the loaf.

Method

  1. Melt the butter in a small pan. Add the cider, mustard powder and cheese. Return to the heat and cook the cheese until just melted (DO NOT LET IT BOIL). Season with a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce and a pinch of Cayenne pepper. It will look fairly gloopy and unappetising at this stage but it will be fine in the end. At this point you can transfer the mixture to a bowl and refrigerate until you are ready to use it (I actually prefer doing this as it is easier to handle when cooler).
  2. Lightly toast your bread on both sides. Divide the mixture between the slices then grill until golden and bubbling. Serve immediately with the chutney and shallots on the side.

Alterative: Spread a little of the chutney on each slice before spreading the cheese mix on top then grilling.

Pineapple Chutney

Makes around 2 x 500ml jars

Chutney

A ubiquitous combo in the 70s, cheese and pineapple are great friends. Pineapple also loves pork, particularly gammon, and this is lovely with a pork pie. I like my chutneys to have a bit of a kick but you can omit the chillies for a milder condiment.

Ingredients

  • 1kg fresh pineapple chunks (prepared weight – roughly 2 medium pineapples)
  • 300g onions, finely chopped
  • 25g knob of ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 – 2 red chillies, finely chopped (optional)
  • 200g demerara sugar
  • 200ml cider vinegar
  • 150ml Medium cider (I used Merrydown)
  • 1 tsp ground tumeric
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt

Spice bag (wrap the following in muslin tied with some plain string)

  • 10cm cinnamon stick, broken in two
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds

Method

  1. Use a food processor to finely chop the pineapple (and onions if you wish). The fruit doesn’t need to be pulverised to a puree but it is good to have a variety of fairly small pieces.
  2. Place the pineapple and onions in a large pan with the remaining ingredients and spice bag. Bring to the boil then simmer for about 2 hours until most of the liquid has evaporated and the chutney is thick. You should be able to see the base of the pan when you draw a spoon through it.
  3. Remove the spice bag and store in sterilised jars. You can eat this chutney immediately but as with most pickles it will mellow with age so is best left a month or two before consumption. Once opened store in the fridge and consume within 6 weeks.

Pork pie

Cider Glazed Shallots

Serves 4

I’ve never been a fan of pickled onions but I do like shallots cooked in this way. This recipe is adapted from Delia Smith’s Winter Collection.

Shallots

Ingredients

  • 400g shallots
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 200ml medium cider (I used Merrydown)
  • Sprig of thyme
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp runny honey

Method

  1. Peel the shallots and place them in a wide shallow pan with the vinegar, cider, thyme and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil then barely simmer for around an hour (this will depend on the ferocity of your cooker). Stir regularly to baste the onions. When the liquid has virtually disappeared, add the honey then stir until the shallots are glossy. These can be eaten warm or cold.

 

 

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Choccywoccydoodah: Chocolate, Cake & Curses (Preface) – Book Review

Choccywoccydoodah lowres

COMPETITION

I have one copy of Choccywoccydoodah: Chocolate, Cake & Curses to give away. I’ll even throw in a copy of Chocolate Modelling Cake Toppers by Ramla Khan in case you want to get super creative. Just Like on the ComfortablyHungry Facebook page (not the post on this write up) to enter.

Terms & Conditions

  • Sorry I can only accept entries from people who live in the UK.
  • Closing date: midnight on 3 April 2015.
Celebration Refrigerator Cake

Celebration Refrigerator Cake

Being a frequent visitor to Brighton I have long been enthralled by the breathtaking displays in the Choccywoccydoodah shop. Brash, unconventional and occasionally a tad ghoulish (around Halloween at any rate) their designs appeal to my fascination with all things quirky.

What is the essence of the book?

Opening this book was something of a new experience for me. I’ve read plenty of food memoirs that include recipes but never anything quite like this. Imagine reading Grimm’s tale of Hansel and Grettel with a recipe for the gingerbread house at the end. It’s loud, proud and outlandishly colourful, just like their famous creations. A word of warning though. If you’re expecting a tome on how to recreate their designs then you will be sorely disappointed. This is a book that celebrates chocolate and cake. It is not an instruction manual.

About the author

Christine Taylor is the co-founder of Choccywoccydoodah which she established over 20 years ago with Christine Garratt. This is their story about how the idea for a chocolate shop was conceived with the aid of a bottle of gin, hard slog and, it has to be said, a great deal of talent.

Who will like it?

Chocoholics and fans of their TV series’ (the last of which apparently had over 2 million viewers world wide) will love it. If you have a sweet tooth and like things that are slightly left-field then this will be right up your street.

Who won’t like it?

If you are of a more staid disposition preferring things to be in black in white (quite literally) and lack a sweet tooth then it’s probably best to steer clear. As Christine states “Anyone who doesn’t celebrate with cake won’t be reading this book.”

Choccy Chestnut Roulade

Choccy Chestnut Roulade

What do I like about the book?

It has quite an unconventional feel to it. The edges of the pages are rough and unfinished, which I rather like. Subtle it isn’t but the garishness of the illustrations is most definitely needed in a book that would have been very brown (and very dull looking) without them. For the most part, the recipes are straightforward and easy to follow meaning that kids will adore using it as well.

What do I dislike about the book?

OK, I get that this book is about spreading the magic of chocolate and making dreams come true but frankly there is a bit too much talk of fairy dust, princesses and other worldliness for my liking.

Would I cook from it?

Christine says “chocolate and I quickly established ourselves as life long friends, mutually committed to bringing pleasure to those around us.”

I would describe chocolate as more of an acquaintance. I don’t mind chocolate and have had many pleasurable experiences with the brown stuff. But frankly I can take it or leave it. I like this book because (fairy tales aside) it’s fun and different. Would I cook from it personally? Probably not. It would, however, make a cracking Easter gift for a chocolate lover.

Where can you buy it?

Choccywoccydoodah: Chocolate, Cake and Curses (Hardcover) £25 from Amazon.

Dark Stuff

Dark Stuff

 

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Boiled Fruit Cake

Spring cleaning (or any sort of cleaning for that matter) is something I know I should do more often but rarely can muster any enthusiasm for it. It’s usually something that gets done when ‘needs must’ i.e. when I can no longer find anything in the ‘organised’ chaos I work in. At various times during the year my larder reaches the point where there is no room for an anchovy fillet let alone a sardine and the contents have to be reassessed. This is when I discover half full jars of chutney’s and the like that are bordering on antique so far are they from their use by date. There is also invariably an array of dried fruit which is begging to be used before it reaches a state of permanent mummification. This recipe is perfect for just that. It’s adapted from a recipe my mother has been making for years. Don’t be put off by the title. It’s actually very light and not in the least bit stodgy (despite what the name may imply). It’s incredibly quick and easy to make and great for recharging the batteries after a bout of spring cleaning.

Boiled Fruit Cake

Makes 1 23cm square cake (about 8 – 10 generous slices)

Ingredients

  • 240g dried fruit (any will do but chop larger fruit like figs, dates, apricots and prunes into smaller pieces)
  • 140g light brown sugar
  • 70g runny honey
  • 230ml milk
  • 110g unsalted butter
  • zest of an orange (unless you are using mixed fruit that already contains peel)
  • 225g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • A little caster or Demerara sugar for decoration (optional)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 160℃. Grease and line a 23cm square brownie tin or a 20cm round cake tin.
  2. Put the fruit, sugar, honey, milk, butter and orange zest (if using) into a large saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 4 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.
  3. Sieve the flour, baking powder and mixed spice into the boiled fruit mixture. Mix together thoroughly then add the ground almonds followed by the eggs.
  4. Spoon into the prepared tine and bake for 30-35 minutes (possibly a bit longer if using a 20cm round tin) or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted. Allow to cool for a while in the tin before transferring to a cooling rack. Sprinkle with caster or Demerara sugar before serving.
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