Sunday, June 26, 2016

Familiar Favorites and novel Interpretations & A Cauliflower, Pomegranate and Pistachio Salad

To me the Now feels like a really good time to start out with a new outlook on things. To get in the kitchen or boost your outdoor grilling season with fresh, healthy ingredients that although they have a strong character and are delicious when they stand alone, are even more delightful when placed together in an extraordinary summer dish. A meal that is without equal.

We can all keep cooking this summer relying on those well-known, much-beloved, tried and true recipes or we can turn our minds and hearts to new challenges ahead of us. As much as I love those family favorites that are guaranteed to please them all (at least at our house and around our table) – I love to see the look on everyone´s faces when they discover new tastes and different, interesting flavor combinations, perhaps some they have never tasted before.

Trying out new ideas is exciting to all of us and discovering new ingredients is always great fun. But discovering new and different ways to cook with ingredients that are already familiar to us, is, however, possibly even more fun. Take this salad recipe, for instance. You will find yourself happily grating raw cauliflower into crumbs and discover that the little white bits are crunchy and fresh and work well in all manner of raw salads, salsas and other dishes. You might then consider mixing grated cauliflower with other chopped raw vegetables such as carrots or even beetroots or dress them with a tangy vinaigrette and dot with some local goat's cheese. Or, as is done in this recipe, mix-up the freshly grated cauliflower with oven-roasted, caramelized cauliflower florets, for an entirely new taste experience.

I have always loved roast cauliflower, and I have cooked many a dish using cauliflower. There was Stir-fried Sesame Cauliflower (you can take a look here) or Cheat´s Cauliflower Cheese (here) to name but a few but I have not really been known to rave about how tasty it is grated raw, so imagine how delighted I was to discover that the combination of the oven-roasted with the freshly grated cauliflower works spectacularly well.

What better place to look for a recipe today than amongst those creations from the endlessly talented, much-admired and tireless Yotam Ottlenghi who is working and creating and cooking in London, England…

When researching, the first recipe that caught my attention before I prepared Yotam Ottolenghi´s Cauliflower, Pomegranate and Pistachio Salad, was his delightful recipe for Roasted whole Cauliflower with Crème Fraîche. Now that is a looker. Once you have removed the beautifully roasted whole cauliflower from the oven, you then serve it with a lemony crème fraîche and a little extra sea salt (my favorite being Maldon sea salt here with its distinct crystals) for sprinkling on top or alongside.

Cauliflower, Pomegranate and Pistachio Salad
(recipe inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi)

  • 60ml sunflower oil
  • 1 white onion, (M), peeled and sliced thin
  • 1 cauliflower, (L) leaves removed and base trimmed
  • 60ml mild olive oil
  • sea salt
  • 25g Italian parsley leaves, chopped
  • 10g mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 7g tarragon leaves, finely chopped
  • seeds from ½ medium pomegranate (about 80g net weight)
  • 35g unsalted pistachios, toasted and lightly crushed
  • ¾ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

  1. Heat the oven to 190°C (375°F).
  2. Put the sunflower oil in a small sauté pan over a medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for eight to 10 minutes, until golden-brown and starting to crisp. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
  3. Coarsely grate a third of the cauliflower (about 160g-worth) and set aside in a large bowl. NOTE: to do this hold the cauliflower by its base and roughly grate the florets on the largest holes of a cheese grater, you should end up with 160g of cauliflower resembling cooked bulgur wheat. The stalks can be discarded or used in crudités.
  4. Break the remaining cauliflower into medium-sized florets about 3cm wide at the top. Toss the florets in half the olive oil and a quarter-teaspoon of salt, then spread out on a baking sheet.
  5. Roast for 20 minutes, until cooked through and a dark golden-brown. Remove and set aside to cool.
  6. Add the onions and their oil to the grated cauliflower, then stir in the remaining olive oil and a quarter-teaspoon of salt.
  7. Add the remaining ingredients apart from the roast florets, mix well, then gently fold in the florets and serve at once.

And, yes, Germans are known to love, love their cauliflower dishes. But times are changing. And to me it is not enough to rely only on known recipes such as the rather bland Boiled Cauliflower with Butter and Table Salt that I ate when I was a child. Do not get me wrong. This was a dish that was alright at the time but that is not satisfactory anymore. And we all know that. We all know that we can do so much more when we take a fresh and unbiased look at everything and everyone around us. So, be bold. Get out there and get those familiar ingredients but give them a fresh, colorful and healthy make-over that might surprise you, your family, friends and guests in more ways than you ever imagined.

And, yes, the pomegranate´s colorful and bold red seeds add juicy bursts of natural sweetness to this salad, and yes, the bright green, somewhat wonderfully sweet pistachios bring crunch to it and yes, the many different herbs add a delicious fresh flavor here…but more importantly, the flavors come together amazingly well in this delightful, unique and healthy summer dish.

Try it, you might like it.

To me, the Now is begging for new perspectives…

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Victoria Sponge with Mixed Berries for the Queen´s 90th Birthday Celebrations

If you are planning to celebrate the Queen´s 90th Birthday in style this weekend, may I suggest doing so with this classic Victoria Sponge which is always a teatime winner, as every bite brings a taste of nostalgia. Based on a rather traduitional recipe, I chose to make a four-layer version instead of two layers and chose to add a bit of vanilla-whipped cream between each layer for that extra bit of indulgence. And I made a quick raspberry jam with loads of fresh raspberries from the market to add between the layers of spongey, buttery goodness.

Victoria Sponge with Mixed Berries

Ingredients for the Sponge
  • 225g unsalted butter, room temperature, plus extra for greasing
  • 225g self-raising flour (get it online or from your favorite English store, like this one here)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 225g superfine (caster) sugar
  • a good pinch of fine sea salt
  • 4 eggs (M), free range or organic NOTE: it is a good idea to weigh the eggs in their shells, their weight should equal the weight of the flour, butter and sugar, hence about 225 grams
  • 2 tbsp milk (I like to use 3.5%)

Ingredients for the Filling

For the Raspberry Jam
  • 500g raspberries
  • 500g  jam sugar
  • ½ lemon, juice only

For the Vanilla Whipped Cream
  • 500ml double cream
  • 4 tbsp icing sugar
  • scraped seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean (keep the remainder for that homemade vanilla sugar)
  • strawberries, blueberries, raspberries fresh, to decorate OR use whatever seasonal fruits are suitable for this type of cake
  • icing sugar, for dusting

  1. Heat oven to 180°C (356° F).
  2. Grease and base-line 2 x 20cm (0.78 x 7.8in) non-stick round cake pans with baking parchment, then lightly grease the parchment.
  3. Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl, then add in the remaining sponge ingredients.
  4. Using an electric whisk, beat everything together until smooth.
  5. Divide the mix between the cake pans, then bake for 20 to 25 mins until cooked and golden.
  6. When cool enough to handle, remove the cakes from the pans, then leave to cool completely on racks.
  7. Meanwhile, make the jam: place the raspberries, the jam sugar and lemon juice into a large heavy-bottomed pan and stir over a moderate heat for 2 to3 minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved.
  8. Turn up the heat and boil for 5 minutes – this is an ‘instant jam’ so you don’t have to check for setting point.
  9. Remove from the heat, pour into a tray and set aside to cool.
  10. To make the vanilla-whipped cream filling: whip the cream with the icing sugar and the scraped vanilla seeds until it holds its shape.
  11. Build the cake by spreading one sponge with jam and the other with cream OR do as I did and cut the two cakes into two layers eachg to create four layers total.
  12. Sandwich the cake layers together, then dust with icing sugar.
  13. Decorate with fresh berries and elderflower blossoms (if you happen to have some on hand).

NOTE: Ovens will vary, so to ensure that your cake is cooked all the way through, test your sponge before removing it from the oven. A cooked sponge will have shrunk away from the sides of the pan and the center will feel springy. Once this has happened, do the skewer test. Insert a skewer in the centre of the sponge – if the cake is cooked, it will come out clean. If there is any cake mix on the skewer, give the cake a few minutes more, then test again.

You can't go wrong with this perfect party cake - full of spongey goodness. Makes a super-simple wedding cake, too. Or plan a get together with your favorite people this summer, host a tea party and serve this lovely cake that combines a soft golden victoria sponge, homemade raspberry jam, softly whipped-vanilla cream, and loads of fresh berries -  best served with a proper cup of tea, my favorite being the utterly delightful Earl Grey's Lady Violet (to be found here.).

During my research, I learned that as a child, Queen Victoria wasn't allowed to indulge in sweet things too often. It is said that on the throne, she certainly made up for lost time. Every week each of Victoria's royal residencies received a rather generous consignment of pastries from the Buckingham Palace kitchens. It is fair to say that the queen adored cake and it is fitting, then, that she should have given her name to the most delicious of all British teatime cakes, the Victoria Sponge.

Opinion differs as to the components of a true Victoria sandwich. To add or not to add vanilla. To dust or not to dust with icing sugar. Should the filling include whipped cream or only jam. Queen Victoria's would have been sandwiched with jam alone, the layer of whipped cream was a 20th-century addition.  Personally, I don't think there is a need to be too purist. And I do fill my Victoria Sponges with different types of jams, depending on the season, not just raspberry or strawberry but also rhubarb or apricot.

A Victoria Sponge is supposed to be 'butter-rich', this is what sets it apart from the whisked fat-free sponges and Genoise cakes invented in the 18th century that lack the sturdy keeping qualities of a Victoria Sponge. The sponge part evolved from the classic pound cakeequal quantities of butter, sugar, eggs and flour. The difference was the Victorian creation of baking powder, which enabled the sponge to rise higher. No matter whether you are a true purist or chose more modern approach to sponges, this cake will always be a cake fit for a queen!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries with these Dark and White Chocolate Cherry Brownies

It is this time of year again, cherries are widely available. And although we have a cherry tree in our garden, they are not quite ripe yet. But on the weekend we not only visited a wonderful "wool market" and watched weavers, sheepshearer, broom makers, pottery makers, and farmers show off their traditional trades but we also bought a lot of fresh regional produce, including sweet, dark cherries. So I decided to make the most of my loot and bake one of my favorite recipes. You can't beat classic and indulgent Dark and white chocolate cherry brownies. Before getting strated baking, sort your cherries and make sure to look for those that are plump, firm, glossy and free of blemishes and their stems should be fresh and green. Cherries benefit most from being stored at cooler temperatures as warmth can compromise not only their flavor but also their texture, so keep them in the fridge in the crisper.

These brownies contain white as well as dark chocolate. White chocolate is technically not real chocolate as it doesn't contain any cocoa solids, but it is made primarily of cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids. White chocolate must contain at least 14% milk solids and high quality brands of white chocolate are made with a high proportion of cocoa butter and real vanilla. White chocolate retains a popularity all of its own as a vanilla-scented indulgence or as a decorative contrast to dark chocolates.

Dark chocolate should contain a minimum of 35% cocoa solids, at least 18% of which should be cocoa butter. However, the cocoa content can be, and often is, much higher than this, and can reach up to 80% and even 90%. High-quality dark chocolate has a more bitter taste than chocolate confectionery. It can be eaten as a snack or incorporated into rich cakes, sauces or desserts like these incredible brownies.

Dark and white chocolate cherry brownies
(recipe inspired by James Martin: Home Comforts)

  • 350g/12oz high quality dark chocolate (minimum 55% cocoa solids - use the best dark chocolate you can afford)
  • 250g/9oz unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the brownie pan
  • 3 eggs (L), free-range or organic 
  • 250g/9oz dark soft brown sugar
  • 110g/4oz plain (AP) flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • a pinch of fine sea salt
  • 150g/5½oz fresh cherries, cut in half, stones removed
  • 150g/5½oz white chocolate, roughly chopped (again, use use the best brand white chocolate you can afford)
  • 1-2 tbsp cocoa powder, for dusting (unsweetened, of course)

  1. Preheat your oven to 170° C (340° F).
  2. Grease a 30x23cm (12x9in) baking pan with butter then line the base and sides with baking paper.
  3. Heat the dark chocolate and butter in a saucepan over a low heat until just melted and well combined, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly (at least 5 minutes).
  4. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the sugar in a large bowl until thick, pale and creamy.
  5. Whisk the cooled chocolate mixture into the egg mixture, then gently fold in the flour, baking powder, salt and half the cherries until just combined.
  6. Spoon the brownie mixture into the prepared tin, then scatter over the white chocolate and the remaining cherries.
  7. Bake the brownies in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the surface is cracked and a skewer inserted into the centre of the brownies comes out with just a little mixture sticking to it.
  8. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely in the pan, on a wire rack.
  9. To serve, dust the brownies with cocoa powder, then cut into squares and remove from the pan.


If fresh cherries are unavailable, you can use frozen cherries instead. Defrost them first, drain and mix in as directed. They are likely to be wetter than fresh cherries, so you may need to cook your brownies for a few minutes longer. You could also use raspberries instead but it remains a fact that chococlate and cherries go fantastically together.

These decadent brownies must be the ultimate grub on the go. They are chewy but cooked. They are gooey in the center, have a soft texture and a crackly top. Just perfect.

These brownies do get better the longer you leave them - so after a day or two they get even better. Forget cookies for a while, this is a treat that can also travel anywhere. Think office, bake sale, birthday surprise....Packed with loads of rich chocolate and moist fresh sweet cherries, it is always advisable to grab one of these brownies before you share them because they will not last. Trust me on this one.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The mistaken Apricots - Oven-Baked Vanilla Nespole

The other day an elderly lady stood in line with me at the greengrocers. There were lots of people in front of us and while we waited I noticed that she kept checking her pre-packaged apricots again and again.  After checking the package for the umpteenth time, she turned to me and asked me wether I was sure that these were in fact apricots, I re-assured her that what she had chosen, were in fact apricots. She gave me a big smile and answered "I certainly do not want to buy these strange looking apricots again that I bought last week, they were tangy and they tasted nothing like real apricots". In fact, she must have bought nespole not apricots, I told her. "Ohhhh", she sighed, "that´s why..."

Nespole, in Italiannefles in French, Mispeln in German, or nisperos in Spanish, are round and a little reminiscent of apricots were it not for their shiny skin. They are delicious eaten raw or can be turned into jam or chutney. This slightly bitter fruit that looks like an apricot and is similar to a loquat is popular in spring in Tuscany. Though they may be a bit difficult for some to track down, nespole make their appearance in spring all over markets or neighbourhood trees in Italy. Apricots, though sweeter, could be a good substitute in this recipe if you can’t get a hold of nespole.

This small plain looking orange fruit’s season starts early in April. Nespole were introduced in Italy at the end of the 18th century and spread quickly across the country. Perhaps, the popular believe in nespole´s magic powers helped its proliferation: almost every household in the Italian countryside had a nespolo tree as it was said to keep evil witches and bad luck away. Not sure about the witches and the bad luck sort of stuff, but it makes for a nice little story to tell to your family and guests.

While their short season lasts, I buy nespole at my local markets, especially the Middle Eastern greengrocers carry these beauties. The darker shade of orange the better. When choosing nespole, do not worry about small bruises. Once they are ripe, just peel the skin and enjoy their refreshing tangy juicy flesh with a hint of citrus.

In a typical Italian manner nothing goes to waste and the stones from the fruit are even used to make Nespolino, a bitter sweet type of liquor. I know exactly which friend of mine will be the happy recipient of a lovely little bottle of Nespolino liquor soon!

Oven-Baked Vanilla Nespole

Ingredients for the Nespole
  • 12 ripe nespole
  • 1 vanilla pod (get the best quality you can afford)
  • 4 tbsp superfine (caster) sugar
  • juice of one lemon, organic please
  • 100g Amaretto
  • 300g Greek yogurt, natural yogurt, homemade vanilla pudding, high quality vanilla ice cream, ricotta or crème fraîche, to serve

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180°C (350°F)
  2. Line a roasting dish with baking parchment.
  3. Cut the nespole in half and take out the stones along with the tough skin that surrounds them. Place the fruits cut-side up in the dish. Put the vanilla seeds and pod on top of the nespole. OR: slit the vanilla pods lenghtways and scrape out the seeds, then mix the seeds with the caster sugar and sprinkle over the fruit.
  4. Sprinkle with the sugar and lemon juice.
  5. Lastly, pour over the Amaretto and place the tray in the oven to bake for 15-20 minutes or until the fruit is starting to caramelize on the edges.
  6. Remove the fruit from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
  7. To serve, scoop a generous portion of Greek yogurt on to a plate, and spoon the fruit alongside it.

So, next time you think you are buying what looks like apricots but in fact are nespole, go ahead and give them a try. To bake them in the oven brings out their natural sweetness which is not overwhelming, you will still taste a certain tang. And they are utterly amazing with fresh Greek yogurt, natural yogurt, ricotta or even some crème fraîche or homemade vanilla pudding. Or make jelly with them or some lovely jam, capturing that early summer taste for later in the year.