>> Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cherry crumble. It sounds pretty and wholesome. Like something they make in the southern states of America in the kitchens of big white houses with verandas and winding, tree-lined driveways. Though actually they make cobblers or crisps in America don’t they? Are crumbles more English? I’m not sure. Anyway, let’s not ruin the image in my head with practicalities!

I have a confession to make. I made this twice. The first time, the day after Fruitcamp; I photographed it, we ate it and found that it didn’t have enough syrup and the cherries were lost within the mountain of topping. Take two; I adjusted the cherry/crumble ratio, added extra water to the cherries and was rewarded with a more satisfyingly juicy dessert. It’s important to remember with crumbles that the topping absorbs at least a 1/3 of the liquid present in the fruit mixture. If the fruit you’re working with doesn’t give off a lot of juice, you’ll have to add a little extra to compensate.

Cherries are a little difficult to cook or bake with. They just don’t really hold their ground when exposed to heat. Basically they lose their magic, their essential cherry-ness. The best way to serve them is the simplest: in a white bowl, freshly rinsed and shiny.

If you’re lucky enough to have an abundance of cherries and eating them fresh is losing it’s appeal, then using them in baking or jam is a good option. This crumble is very light and the cherries remain juicy and plump. A scoop of plain vanilla ice cream or some cream poured on top finishes it off nicely.

Having never cooked fresh cherries this way, what I found really interesting was how the cooked cherries developed a flavour which was distinctly like that of imitation cherry. If you've ever wondered where they derived cherry flavouring from, then this must be it: cooked cherry. Distinctly almondy, almost overly sweet.

The next time we’ve got a bowl of fresh cherries on our kitchen bench I don't think they'll be making it into the oven. They’re just too good to mess with. But come winter when we want a brief reminder of the summer just been, I might pull out some jarred cherries and give this recipe another whirl.

(adapted from the Times website, from a recipe for Apple and Pear Crumble by Jill Dupleix)

450g fresh cherries
25g caster sugar
2/3 cup water


50g butter, chilled
75g plain flour, sifted
35g unrefined demerara sugar (I used golden caster sugar because I read the recipe incorrectly... but demerara or raw sugar creates a much crunchier and more interesting topping. If doubling: add 75g.)
35g ground almonds (If doubling the recipe: add 75g)
pinch of salt

Heat oven to 180C/Gas mark 4. To make the crumble, cut the butter into tiny cubes and rub lightly into the sifted flour with your fingertips. Alternatively, briefly whizz the sifted flour and butter in the blender or food processor until crumbly (although the manual method will give you a crumblier crumble). Stir in the sugar and almonds.

Wash, halve and destone the cherries. Lightly toss with caster sugar and pile into a lightly buttered small ovenproof dish, levelling out the top. Spoon over the water.

Spread the crumble topping evenly and generously over the fruit, and bake for 50 to 60 minutes until the fruit is bubbling hot and the topping is golden.

Serve warm with cream, ice-cream or custard.
Serves 3-4.

If you have more fruit or are cooking for a few more people, just double the recipe. (See notes in the ingredients list above.)



>> Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Two weeks ago I went to Fruitcamp.
There wasn’t really any camping involved, but there sure was a lot of fruit.

I heard about this day-out from a workmate who forwarded an email around the office – I was the only one out of the sixty-odd of us to attend, but all I can say is, everyone else missed out. Big time. When I saw the email I couldn’t resist. I was pretty much sold when I saw it featured fresh cherries. Everything else (baking with fresh fruit, jam-making, a relaxed outdoor country lunch, an orchard tour, fresh apple juicing…. sounds amazing doesn’t it?) was really just a bonus.

I convinced my friend Sarah to come along (convinced is probably the wrong word, she loves food as much as me and this was exactly her cup of tea) and off we went, wellies (or gumboots if you’re from the antipodes) in tow.

We were treated to an indulgent, relaxed day filled with fresh fruit, good food and the great outdoors. It was the perfect day for Londoners wanting to escape the city, slow down a little and take a breath of fresh air.

We started the day with a tour of the Manor House Farm plum, apple and cherry orchards. The cherries were beyond belief. They literally dripped off the trees in big shiny bunches. As we walked through the orchard we were instructed to pick as many as we could for our cooking classes later on that morning, but, let’s be honest, I’m pretty sure more cherries were eaten than what ended up in the fruit bag.

Once back at the farm, we were divided into two groups to bake, make jam and learn about alcoholic fruit infusions and apple pressing.

For someone who had always shied away from making any kind of preserve (I think the sterilising of jars and the fear of ruining an entire supply of fruit in one go, somehow always deterred me) the jam-making was definitely the highlight of the culinary part of the day.

I learnt that: it really is that easy, anyone can do it, and all you need is a lot of good quality fruit, some pectin and a good candy thermometer. Simple.

The baking, on the other hand, while lovely and very enjoyable to watch, was a little on the basic side for Sarah and I who both already love and know how to cook. In saying that, there were others in the group who obviously learnt a great deal, so it just depended on your particular level of skill. If we had been able to get our hands dirty and make our own cherry tart, clafoutis or cherry yoghurt cake, we would have been even happier campers. (However, obviously we were cooking outdoors without the facilities of a commercial kitchen close at hand, so I’m not sure how realistic this would be!)

Lunch was a veritable feast served in the sun as a picnic on the farm’s grass tennis court.

We had: baked mackerel skewers with a fresh sweet cucumber and red onion pickle, pulled pork with a chilli gravy, home-made coleslaw, green salad and cherry frangipane tart and lemon mascarpone all served with sparkling wine from a local Kentish winery. Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos of the food – it was really delicious, but I think I was too busy eating to remember to pull my camera out!

And the cherry on the top? We were each given a bottle of home-made apple juice, a jar of the jam we had made on the day and a bag of full of cherries! Now if that isn’t value for money I don’t know what is.

It sounds like School of Food will be setting up another couple of Fruitcamps later on in the season, and depending on the level of interest, perhaps even a boutique Kentish beer tour. If any of you in England and within easy reach of the South-East, are interested, just visit their website and sign up to their newsletter for future updates.

School of Food: Kent, England


(Did you think I’d cleverly glossed over the fact that it was three months since my last post where I said I was going to be back soon? And, cheekily, with a post that didn’t even include a recipe? Well, to make up for it, I have a lovely recipe made with the cherries I brought home from Fruitcamp lined up and on it’s way by the end of the week. Fingers crossed....)



>> Thursday, April 14, 2011

You might not believe me, (and I don't blame you since I've been gone for so long) but I've missed my blog! We've had a very busy few months with friends and family coming to stay, and in order to get in the mood for cooking and photographing, I usually need a little bit of quiet and a few uninterrupted hours to spare which, lately, have been hard to find.

So never fear, just like Arnie, 'I'll be back'.

Some images below from the extraordinarily beautiful weather London had last weekend. We revelled in the sun and ran around the parks in nothing but shorts and teeshirts! (Shorts and teeshirts!) Overdosed on Vitamin D! And even got a little sunburn! I heart London in the springtime. Beats Paris every time....



>> Thursday, January 20, 2011

Last week the weather was mild enough for us Londoners to think that winter was on the way out. The temperatures were up to 14°C and we were treated to a dose of sticky humidity. I could even walk to the tube without a coat on....

This week is another story. The little weather widget on my computer tells me it’s 4°C, so any illusions I had that spring was on it’s way have been dashed. One and a half more months to go!

But wherever there’s a cloud there’s a silver lining, and this silky cauliflower soup is it. It’s perfectly wintery, indulgent and delicious. Just the ticket for a cold, grey London day. It will warm you up from the inside out.

The original recipe included a teaspoon of mustard powder but I’ve never been completely convinced by mustard powder so chose to leave it out. To compensate I added extra Dijon mustard near the end, tasting the soup as I went to make sure the mustard didn’t overpower the other flavours. If you’re a bit fonder of the powdered stuff than I am, by all means add it to yours! (Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of Colman’s dry mustard powder to the pan before adding the potatoes and cauliflower. I might try this next time just to see what it's like.)

I inevitably eat my soup with hot buttery toast, but if you’re feeling fancy you could serve this in bowls with crunchy blue cheese toasts perched on the side or some homemade croutons fried in garlic butter sprinkled on top.

Even if the weather doesn’t warm up in the next few weeks, at least we have a valid excuse to stay indoors, wrap ourselves in blankets and sit cross-legged on the couch with warm bowls of soup.

(And try to pretend it's not summer back home....)

(adapted from the Cuisine website)

100g butter
1 large brown onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets (or two small)
4 large potatoes, peeled and diced
1 litre chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
200ml milk
salt to taste
4-5 tablespoons Dijon mustard
freshly cracked black pepper

Melt the butter in a large saucepan then add the onion and garlic. Fry until translucent. Add the potatoes and sauté for a few minutes. Stir in the cauliflower. Pour in the stock and milk. Cover, bring to a gentle simmer and cook until the potato is very tender, adding more liquid if necessary.

When the vegetables are cooked, remove from the liquid with a slotted spoon, purée with salt to taste and the mustard. Return to the saucepan with the stock broth and bring back to heat, stirring gently. Serve in bowls with a swirl of cream and sprinkling of freshly cracked pepper.



>> Saturday, December 11, 2010

When I was nineteen, I used to nanny for a family with two children. Tom was twelve and I think Charlotte must’ve been about nine. Such cute kids. Tom was quiet and bookish in the sweetest way, and would be in his room doing homework for most of the evening before he went to bed. But Charlotte was bubbly and loved company and would often sit with me finishing off her homework at the kitchen table or just having a chat.

It was with Charlotte that I discovered this ginger nut biscuit recipe.

One evening she whipped up a batch after dinner. You could tell she knew her stuff. She melted the butter with confidence, drizzling spoons of golden syrup into the pot (and all over the bench) with the most serious expression on her face. And what came out of the oven were delicious honey-coloured discs of goodness. They were so good that I got her to copy me out the recipe which she wrote in pencil on a white sheet of paper. I still have it in my recipe book and every time I see her wonky little kid writing I think of her.

Charlotte always followed the recipe exactly which said to bake them for only 10 minutes, so hers were always chewy and soft: so good eaten warm straight out of the oven for a snack before bedtime with a glass of milk. I like my ginger nuts hard and crunchy and really gingery, so I add extra ginger and leave them in the oven for about 20 minutes until they turn deep brown and little tiny cracks appear all over the surface. (Almost exactly like the shop-bought ones from home - but better!)

What I particularly like about these biscuits is that you’ll probably have all the ingredients already in your cupboards – perfect for spur of the moment baking, as I discovered last Sunday when I had a sudden impulse to do a bit of baking at one in the afternoon still dressed in my pyjamas....

You can even dress them up a bit and serve them for dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some stem ginger preserved in sugar syrup spooned over the top.

Recipes that remind you of someone or evoke particular memories are my favourite kind, and to me these will always be Charlotte’s Ginger Nuts.


100g butter
1 tablespoon golden syrup (I used about 1 ½)
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 ¾ cups plain flour
2 teaspoons ginger (I added 3, but would probably add about 5 next time to get a more intense ginger flavour)
1 teaspoon baking soda

Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in rounded household tablespoon of syrup. Soften then remove from heat.
Add the sugar and egg and beat with a wooden spoon to mix.
Measure dry ingredients into pot through sieve. Stir to mix.
Spoon warm mixture onto greased or sprayed trays, allowing space for spreading. Cool mixture may be shaped into balls if preferred.
Preheat oven to 190°C between tray loads, bake at 180°C for about 10 minutes, until lightly browned. If you prefer, hard, crunchy biscuits, leave them in the oven for approximately 20 minutes or until they turn a deep golden brown.
Lift off tray when cool. Store in airtight container.



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