Recipes, baking - you name it, I'm cooking it. Probably with butter

Pork cheek, armagnac prune and leek broth
It feels like the right time of year to move away from heavy casseroles to light, herby spring broths. I used pork cheeks here for the first time - they’re not only incredibly good value for money, but possibly the tastiest, meltiest cut of pork too. And as I had a box of Armagnac prunes about (born of my compulsive need to buy anything in the Sainsbury’s baking aisle labelled ‘Taste the Difference’- it’s a problem) I decided to pop them in too, remembering that they’re a classic French flavour combination with pork, and understandably so. Flavour the broth with whatever fresh herbs you have to hand, and serve it with a good dollop of strong Dijon mustard and - if you’re me - a cold glass of sauvignon blanc.
Preheat your oven to 150C. In a large casserole dish, soften a roughly chopped onion in butter for five to ten minutes, before adding two sliced cloves of garlic, a grated carrot and a sliced stick of celery. Stir and soften for a further ten minutes. Meanwhile in a large frying pan, brown eight pork cheeks (around 550g) in two batches. You want them well browned on each side, not to seal the meat, but to add lots of lovely caramelised flavour to the dish. Once you’ve browned all the pork cheeks, set them aside on a plate, and deglaze the pan by throwing in half a large sliced leek along with a knob of butter. Leave the leeks to soften for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once they’re soft, throw in 125ml white wine, and let it bubble down until you can’t smell the alcohol anymore. 
Tip the leeks, wine and pork cheeks into the casserole dish with the vegetables, and tuck in 150g armagnac prunes around the meat along with your fresh herbs. Pour over 450ml good quality chicken stock, bring it to a simmer on the hob, then transfer it to the oven to cook for 1 1/2 hours. Half an hour before the casserole is ready, slice the other half of the leek, a carrot and a stick of celery into 1/2 cm pieces, and tip them into the casserole dish to cook with the pork for the final 25 minutes, so you’ll get a lovely textural contrast between the melting pork and crisp vegetables. After an hour and a half, remove the casserole dish from the oven, prod the pork to check that it’s completely tender (it should threaten to fall apart), and taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve with a good grind of black pepper and smooth Dijon mustard. The broth is rich and filling enough that you don’t really need much to go with it, but buttery mashed potatoes or a nice crusty baguette wouldn’t go amiss. 

Pork cheek, armagnac prune and leek broth

It feels like the right time of year to move away from heavy casseroles to light, herby spring broths. I used pork cheeks here for the first time - they’re not only incredibly good value for money, but possibly the tastiest, meltiest cut of pork too. And as I had a box of Armagnac prunes about (born of my compulsive need to buy anything in the Sainsbury’s baking aisle labelled ‘Taste the Difference’- it’s a problem) I decided to pop them in too, remembering that they’re a classic French flavour combination with pork, and understandably so. Flavour the broth with whatever fresh herbs you have to hand, and serve it with a good dollop of strong Dijon mustard and - if you’re me - a cold glass of sauvignon blanc.

Preheat your oven to 150C. In a large casserole dish, soften a roughly chopped onion in butter for five to ten minutes, before adding two sliced cloves of garlic, a grated carrot and a sliced stick of celery. Stir and soften for a further ten minutes. Meanwhile in a large frying pan, brown eight pork cheeks (around 550g) in two batches. You want them well browned on each side, not to seal the meat, but to add lots of lovely caramelised flavour to the dish. Once you’ve browned all the pork cheeks, set them aside on a plate, and deglaze the pan by throwing in half a large sliced leek along with a knob of butter. Leave the leeks to soften for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once they’re soft, throw in 125ml white wine, and let it bubble down until you can’t smell the alcohol anymore. 

Tip the leeks, wine and pork cheeks into the casserole dish with the vegetables, and tuck in 150g armagnac prunes around the meat along with your fresh herbs. Pour over 450ml good quality chicken stock, bring it to a simmer on the hob, then transfer it to the oven to cook for 1 1/2 hours. Half an hour before the casserole is ready, slice the other half of the leek, a carrot and a stick of celery into 1/2 cm pieces, and tip them into the casserole dish to cook with the pork for the final 25 minutes, so you’ll get a lovely textural contrast between the melting pork and crisp vegetables. After an hour and a half, remove the casserole dish from the oven, prod the pork to check that it’s completely tender (it should threaten to fall apart), and taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve with a good grind of black pepper and smooth Dijon mustard. The broth is rich and filling enough that you don’t really need much to go with it, but buttery mashed potatoes or a nice crusty baguette wouldn’t go amiss. 

27 notes
Rhubarb Curd 
This went down so spectacularly well with my fiancé this week that I did, briefly, consider making litres of it to pour into miniature jam jars as wedding favours. Then I realised that for an August wedding, this was a) mad and b) unseasonal. And that I should stop daydreaming about scaling down every foodstuff known to man into miniature form and wondering if it would make a good wedding favour. Because that way, insanity lies.
So instead, for the months that rhubarb is in season, consider putting aside part of your rhubarb crop for normal sized jars of this absolutely delicious curd. It’s perfect with pancakes, as a cake filling, on toast, or spooned out of the jar by itself. Alas, the colour won’t ever be as vibrantly pink as you’d wish, unless you use a little artificial help, but with my technique below, you should get a decent shade of rosé. 
Start off by making a batch of the rhubarb cordial as in my previous recipe below. Pop 400ml of the cordial into a saucepan, and stirring occasionally, reduce it down to 100ml. This intensifies the flavour, as well as giving you a much pinker curd. Allow the reduction to cool down for ten minutes. Then set a large glass bowl over a smaller saucepan of boiling water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl, and start to whisk two eggs over the heat until foamy. Pour in the cooled, reduced cordial, and whisk continuously for ten minutes or until the curd has thickened up nicely and forms ribbons when you trail the mixture over the surface. You can check by coating the back of the spoon too, and running your finger through it - if the curd stays in place on the spoon, it’s done. Reduce the heat, stir in 20g of cold, cubed unsalted butter, one cube at a time, and you’re done. Pour the curd into a jar and let it cool down completely before refrigerating. If it doesn’t all get eaten the first day you make it - which is unlikely - it will last for a few days in the fridge.

Rhubarb Curd 

This went down so spectacularly well with my fiancé this week that I did, briefly, consider making litres of it to pour into miniature jam jars as wedding favours. Then I realised that for an August wedding, this was a) mad and b) unseasonal. And that I should stop daydreaming about scaling down every foodstuff known to man into miniature form and wondering if it would make a good wedding favour. Because that way, insanity lies.

So instead, for the months that rhubarb is in season, consider putting aside part of your rhubarb crop for normal sized jars of this absolutely delicious curd. It’s perfect with pancakes, as a cake filling, on toast, or spooned out of the jar by itself. Alas, the colour won’t ever be as vibrantly pink as you’d wish, unless you use a little artificial help, but with my technique below, you should get a decent shade of rosé. 

Start off by making a batch of the rhubarb cordial as in my previous recipe below. Pop 400ml of the cordial into a saucepan, and stirring occasionally, reduce it down to 100ml. This intensifies the flavour, as well as giving you a much pinker curd. Allow the reduction to cool down for ten minutes. Then set a large glass bowl over a smaller saucepan of boiling water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl, and start to whisk two eggs over the heat until foamy. Pour in the cooled, reduced cordial, and whisk continuously for ten minutes or until the curd has thickened up nicely and forms ribbons when you trail the mixture over the surface. You can check by coating the back of the spoon too, and running your finger through it - if the curd stays in place on the spoon, it’s done. Reduce the heat, stir in 20g of cold, cubed unsalted butter, one cube at a time, and you’re done. Pour the curd into a jar and let it cool down completely before refrigerating. If it doesn’t all get eaten the first day you make it - which is unlikely - it will last for a few days in the fridge.

18 notes
Pink Rhubarb Cordial
I couldn’t resist buying a massive bunch of pink stemmed rhubarb at Borough Market last week, and managed to accidentally acquire more after this week’s food styling shoot. If you find yourself in the same position, rhubarb wise, you could do worse than settle down for an afternoon of cordial, curd and compote making, and then you’ll have a satisfying array of jars and bottles in various shades of pink for the week to come. 
For the cordial, cut your rhubarb into 1cm pieces and place in a large saucepan with sugar. I had 1kg rhurbarb, and added 400g sugar, which is my preferred level of sweetness, but you can scale the proportions up or down depending on how much rhubarb you have and how sweet you like it. If you add less sugar and find the cordial too tart, you could always make a quick sugar syrup at the end and add it in. Stir the rhubarb and sugar together in the pan, then leave on a low heat covered for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb is completely soft. Pour the lot into a sieve set over a large bowl, and gently stir to push the wonderful pink cordial through the sieve. Don’t push too hard, as you don’t want to get lots of the green pulp through. Save the leftover rhubarb pulp for crumbles, pies, or to have with yoghurt and granola for breakfast. Keep the cordial in a bottle and store it in the fridge until needed, and dilute to taste with iced lemon water, cloudy lemonade or ginger beer. Now that I think of it, you could also use it as an excellent base for a pleasingly pink gin cocktail.

Pink Rhubarb Cordial

I couldn’t resist buying a massive bunch of pink stemmed rhubarb at Borough Market last week, and managed to accidentally acquire more after this week’s food styling shoot. If you find yourself in the same position, rhubarb wise, you could do worse than settle down for an afternoon of cordial, curd and compote making, and then you’ll have a satisfying array of jars and bottles in various shades of pink for the week to come. 

For the cordial, cut your rhubarb into 1cm pieces and place in a large saucepan with sugar. I had 1kg rhurbarb, and added 400g sugar, which is my preferred level of sweetness, but you can scale the proportions up or down depending on how much rhubarb you have and how sweet you like it. If you add less sugar and find the cordial too tart, you could always make a quick sugar syrup at the end and add it in. Stir the rhubarb and sugar together in the pan, then leave on a low heat covered for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb is completely soft. Pour the lot into a sieve set over a large bowl, and gently stir to push the wonderful pink cordial through the sieve. Don’t push too hard, as you don’t want to get lots of the green pulp through. Save the leftover rhubarb pulp for crumbles, pies, or to have with yoghurt and granola for breakfast. Keep the cordial in a bottle and store it in the fridge until needed, and dilute to taste with iced lemon water, cloudy lemonade or ginger beer. Now that I think of it, you could also use it as an excellent base for a pleasingly pink gin cocktail.

17 notes
French Lavender, Red Onion and Goats Cheese Tarts 
These tarts are just the thing for a relaxed weekend potter about the kitchen. Leave the onions to slowly caramelise by themselves while you get on with the pastry, and use goat’s cheese or feta to finish the tarts off. You can make one large tart or several small ones for the week ahead - they reheat beautifully. 
Start off by thickly slicing six red onions, then melt 25g butter in a large pan with a little oil to stop it from burning. Once you’ve got the pan nice and hot, tip in the onions, mix them thoroughly with the hot butter, and let them cook on high for about six to ten minutes until very lightly browned at the edges. Then turn the heat right down, and add two teaspoons of dried lavender flowers, one teaspoon of finely chopped rosemary, a big pinch of sea salt and a grind of black pepper. Stir the mixture well, then leave it uncovered to cook for about half an hour. As with a french onion soup, you want a lovely caramelised layer to form underneath the onions, so once you’ve given it that initial stir, resist the temptation to prod at it over the next thirty minutes.
Preheat your oven to 200C. For the pastry, follow my recipe and instructions for blind baking pastry cases in my previous post here, to make one large or several small tart cases.
For the filling, whisk 150g creme fraiche with 3 eggs in a jug, and season. Give the onions a good stir after half an hour, check for seasoning, and allow them to cool a little. Fill your cooled, blind baked pastry cases with the onion mixture, then generously crumble either goat’s cheese or feta over the onions. Carefully pour the creme fraiche filling over the onions, then bake the tarts in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until the filling has just set, and the tops are golden brown. You don’t want to overcook the filling, so if it wobbles gently after 20 minutes but hasn’t browned, take the tarts out and flash them quickly under a hot grill. These go beatifully with a watercress salad and roasted honey parsnips. 

French Lavender, Red Onion and Goats Cheese Tarts 

These tarts are just the thing for a relaxed weekend potter about the kitchen. Leave the onions to slowly caramelise by themselves while you get on with the pastry, and use goat’s cheese or feta to finish the tarts off. You can make one large tart or several small ones for the week ahead - they reheat beautifully. 

Start off by thickly slicing six red onions, then melt 25g butter in a large pan with a little oil to stop it from burning. Once you’ve got the pan nice and hot, tip in the onions, mix them thoroughly with the hot butter, and let them cook on high for about six to ten minutes until very lightly browned at the edges. Then turn the heat right down, and add two teaspoons of dried lavender flowers, one teaspoon of finely chopped rosemary, a big pinch of sea salt and a grind of black pepper. Stir the mixture well, then leave it uncovered to cook for about half an hour. As with a french onion soup, you want a lovely caramelised layer to form underneath the onions, so once you’ve given it that initial stir, resist the temptation to prod at it over the next thirty minutes.

Preheat your oven to 200C. For the pastry, follow my recipe and instructions for blind baking pastry cases in my previous post here, to make one large or several small tart cases.

For the filling, whisk 150g creme fraiche with 3 eggs in a jug, and season. Give the onions a good stir after half an hour, check for seasoning, and allow them to cool a little. Fill your cooled, blind baked pastry cases with the onion mixture, then generously crumble either goat’s cheese or feta over the onions. Carefully pour the creme fraiche filling over the onions, then bake the tarts in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until the filling has just set, and the tops are golden brown. You don’t want to overcook the filling, so if it wobbles gently after 20 minutes but hasn’t browned, take the tarts out and flash them quickly under a hot grill. These go beatifully with a watercress salad and roasted honey parsnips. 

116 notes
Rose, Pistachio & Lemon Cakes
Food Photography: Holly Pickering
Food Styling: Rukmini Iyer
These tiny cakes taste like something out of the Arabian nights - a soft, dense mouthful of pistachio and rose flavoured sponge, topped with a sharp lemon icing. Pile them into a vintage box as a gift for a friend, or if you’re feeling less generous, arrange them on an exquisite plate and take them with you to recline on a pile of cushions with your best illustrated book and a glass tumbler of fresh mint tea. 
For the cakes, preheat your oven to 180C. Lightly oil a 24 hole mini muffin tin - I use that 1cal oil spray as it’s the quickest (but assure you that is the only thing it’s used for in my kitchen). Cream 8oz butter with 8oz sugar, and beat in 4 medium eggs vigorously one at a time. Grate in the zest of one orange and add a teaspoon of rosewater, then gently fold in 2oz plain flour, 3oz ground almonds, and 3oz ground pistachio (use a coffee grinder to blitz your own, and sieve it if you want a really smooth texture). Taste and check if the batter is at your preferred level of rosiness, add a tiny drop more rosewater if not, but don’t overdo it. Carefully spoon the mixture into your mini muffin tins - you will probably have some extra batter, so pop any excess into cupcake cases to bake after the smaller cakes are done. Pop them into the oven and bake for 15 minutes, turning the tin half way to make sure they cook evenly. Check them by gently prodding the tops, and bake for a further 4-5 minutes if needed until golden brown on top. Let them cool on a wire rack.
For the icing, shake about a cupful of icing sugar into a large bowl, then mix gently with freshly squeezed lemon juice a couple of tablespoons at a time - you want a very thick, glossy icing, rather than a transparently thin one. Once the cakes are cool, spoon the icing over the cakes, and decorate with chopped pistachio, and crystallised rose petals if you have them. 

Rose, Pistachio & Lemon Cakes

Food Photography: Holly Pickering

Food Styling: Rukmini Iyer

These tiny cakes taste like something out of the Arabian nights - a soft, dense mouthful of pistachio and rose flavoured sponge, topped with a sharp lemon icing. Pile them into a vintage box as a gift for a friend, or if you’re feeling less generous, arrange them on an exquisite plate and take them with you to recline on a pile of cushions with your best illustrated book and a glass tumbler of fresh mint tea. 

For the cakes, preheat your oven to 180C. Lightly oil a 24 hole mini muffin tin - I use that 1cal oil spray as it’s the quickest (but assure you that is the only thing it’s used for in my kitchen). Cream 8oz butter with 8oz sugar, and beat in 4 medium eggs vigorously one at a time. Grate in the zest of one orange and add a teaspoon of rosewater, then gently fold in 2oz plain flour, 3oz ground almonds, and 3oz ground pistachio (use a coffee grinder to blitz your own, and sieve it if you want a really smooth texture). Taste and check if the batter is at your preferred level of rosiness, add a tiny drop more rosewater if not, but don’t overdo it. Carefully spoon the mixture into your mini muffin tins - you will probably have some extra batter, so pop any excess into cupcake cases to bake after the smaller cakes are done. Pop them into the oven and bake for 15 minutes, turning the tin half way to make sure they cook evenly. Check them by gently prodding the tops, and bake for a further 4-5 minutes if needed until golden brown on top. Let them cool on a wire rack.

For the icing, shake about a cupful of icing sugar into a large bowl, then mix gently with freshly squeezed lemon juice a couple of tablespoons at a time - you want a very thick, glossy icing, rather than a transparently thin one. Once the cakes are cool, spoon the icing over the cakes, and decorate with chopped pistachio, and crystallised rose petals if you have them. 

163 notes

Triple Layer Chocolate Fudge Cake

Food Photography: Holly Pickering

Food Styling: Rukmini Iyer

You could pretend that the berries make this cake one of your five a day - but why bother? Make it and be happy. And if you’re feeling particularly generous, make it for someone you like quite a lot.

For the cake, make a standard 10 x 10 x 10 chocolate sponge with five eggs, replacing 1 3/4 oz of the flour with cocoa powder. (Follow my basic cake method in the ‘Misc Recipe' section). Add a good splash of milk to the batter, before dividing it evenly between three cake tins and baking in a preheated oven at 180C for about 25 minutes. Leave the cakes to cool on a wire rack while you get on with the icing. Melt 175g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids minimum) in the microwave or in a bain marie, then leave it aside to cool for a few minutes. In a food processor or in a teatowel covered KitchenAid (trust me, you'll need this to prevent your kitchen turning into an icing sugar cloud) beat together 250g butter with 250g icing sugar. Once the mixture's light and fluffy, pour in the melted chocolate and beat until smooth. The icing will stay spreadable for about half an hour, so once your cake has cooled, assemble on a cake stand, scattering your favourite berries over each layer and on top.

11,518 notes
Almond and Cinnamon Meringue Cloud Cake 
Food Photography: Holly Pickering 
Food Styling: Rukmini Iyer
This ethereal cake is far easier to make than it looks, although I had my doubts when I saw the recipe with its yolk-only batter and baked meringue topping - particularly since every instruction I’ve ever followed for meringues specifies an extremely low heat and long cooking time. But Holly, the lovely photographer who collaborated with me on this and the upcoming series of cake photographs, was happy to take the gamble on this recipe, and it turned out my fears were groundless. As you can see, the cake comes out beautifully, and sandwiched with a lightly sweetened whipped cream and chopped almonds, it’s perfect for a special afternoon tea. 
The recipe comes from Tessa Kiros’s ‘Falling Cloudberries’, which if you don’t already own, you need to get hold of - it’s one of my favourite cookbooks, with the most spectacular food photography. We decided to leave out the raspberries in the filling, and use more chopped almonds instead, but by all means squash some fresh raspberries or other berries in if you have any about. 
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees, and line two small springform cake tins. Beat 90g butter with 130g sugar until white and fluffy - we used Holly’s cherry red KitchenAid for this and it was an absolute revelation. Separate four eggs, and pop the yolks in with the butter and sugar, along with a teaspoon of good quality vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth, then sift in 170g self raising flour and a teaspoon of baking powder. Fold in gently along with 60ml milk, then divide the batter evenly between the two cake tins, smoothing it right to the edges. Don’t worry about how thick the batter is - it’ll still bake normally. Using a scrupulously clean bowl and (electric) whisk, whisk the two leftover egg whites until fluffy. Sprinkle in another 130g caster sugar over the egg whites while whisking continuously, until the meringue mix forms a stiff swan’s neck shape when you lift the beaters out. Smooth the meringue mix over the cake batter in the two tins, then sprinkle with ground cinnamon and chopped almonds. Bake for 30 minutes, then let the cakes cool completely. Sandwich with lightly whipped cream and more chopped almonds (add a couple of tablespoons of icing sugar to the whipped cream if you like) and serve on your best cake stand. 

Almond and Cinnamon Meringue Cloud Cake 

Food Photography: Holly Pickering 

Food Styling: Rukmini Iyer

This ethereal cake is far easier to make than it looks, although I had my doubts when I saw the recipe with its yolk-only batter and baked meringue topping - particularly since every instruction I’ve ever followed for meringues specifies an extremely low heat and long cooking time. But Holly, the lovely photographer who collaborated with me on this and the upcoming series of cake photographs, was happy to take the gamble on this recipe, and it turned out my fears were groundless. As you can see, the cake comes out beautifully, and sandwiched with a lightly sweetened whipped cream and chopped almonds, it’s perfect for a special afternoon tea. 

The recipe comes from Tessa Kiros’s ‘Falling Cloudberries’, which if you don’t already own, you need to get hold of - it’s one of my favourite cookbooks, with the most spectacular food photography. We decided to leave out the raspberries in the filling, and use more chopped almonds instead, but by all means squash some fresh raspberries or other berries in if you have any about. 

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees, and line two small springform cake tins. Beat 90g butter with 130g sugar until white and fluffy - we used Holly’s cherry red KitchenAid for this and it was an absolute revelation. Separate four eggs, and pop the yolks in with the butter and sugar, along with a teaspoon of good quality vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth, then sift in 170g self raising flour and a teaspoon of baking powder. Fold in gently along with 60ml milk, then divide the batter evenly between the two cake tins, smoothing it right to the edges. Don’t worry about how thick the batter is - it’ll still bake normally. Using a scrupulously clean bowl and (electric) whisk, whisk the two leftover egg whites until fluffy. Sprinkle in another 130g caster sugar over the egg whites while whisking continuously, until the meringue mix forms a stiff swan’s neck shape when you lift the beaters out. Smooth the meringue mix over the cake batter in the two tins, then sprinkle with ground cinnamon and chopped almonds. Bake for 30 minutes, then let the cakes cool completely. Sandwich with lightly whipped cream and more chopped almonds (add a couple of tablespoons of icing sugar to the whipped cream if you like) and serve on your best cake stand. 

69 notes
Sugar-free Indian Sweet Lime (Nimbu Pani) 
For some inexplicable reason, I decided to walk the six miles home from Central London yesterday along the riverside. By the time I was two miles away, legs seizing up (I am very unfit) there was only one thing I wanted when I got home - a large glass of freshly made sweet lime. If you haven’t had the pleasure of trying this on a visit to India, I strongly urge you to make it next time you pass a bag of limes at the supermarket. It’s the most refreshing drink you can think of, which is probably why it’s so popular in India, and like lassi, you can have it sweet or salted (though you’d put a good pinch of salt in the sweet version too). My grandmother makes an excellent version of this, which I’ve adapted to the recipe below. 
Don’t be put off by the sugar free label at the top of this post - I dislike artificial sweeteners intensely, but am a complete convert to xylitol after cooking with it on a shoot for Daisy Lowe last year. Xylitol is natural birch sugar, and very good for your teeth - who knew? And best of all, you’d never know it wasn’t real sugar from the taste of it, which is more than you can say for aspartame based products. So if you want to guzzle litres of this without fear for your teeth, or are making it for a diabetic friend, do get hold of the xylitol, which is readily available from Sainsbury’s, otherwise just substitute sugar. 
Start off by juicing 7 limes over a sieve into a measuring jug - you should have about 160ml. Weigh out 100g xylitol (or sugar) into a saucepan along with the zest of one lime, and add enough water to just cover the xylitol. Stir the mixture on a low heat for about 4 minutes, until the crystals have dissolved completely into a syrup. Let the syrup cool down a bit, then pour almost all of it into the lime juice, along with 1/2 pint cold water and a large pinch of salt. Give it a good stir, and add more salt and syrup to taste. Chill and serve over ice. You will want more than one glass….

Sugar-free Indian Sweet Lime (Nimbu Pani) 

For some inexplicable reason, I decided to walk the six miles home from Central London yesterday along the riverside. By the time I was two miles away, legs seizing up (I am very unfit) there was only one thing I wanted when I got home - a large glass of freshly made sweet lime. If you haven’t had the pleasure of trying this on a visit to India, I strongly urge you to make it next time you pass a bag of limes at the supermarket. It’s the most refreshing drink you can think of, which is probably why it’s so popular in India, and like lassi, you can have it sweet or salted (though you’d put a good pinch of salt in the sweet version too). My grandmother makes an excellent version of this, which I’ve adapted to the recipe below. 

Don’t be put off by the sugar free label at the top of this post - I dislike artificial sweeteners intensely, but am a complete convert to xylitol after cooking with it on a shoot for Daisy Lowe last year. Xylitol is natural birch sugar, and very good for your teeth - who knew? And best of all, you’d never know it wasn’t real sugar from the taste of it, which is more than you can say for aspartame based products. So if you want to guzzle litres of this without fear for your teeth, or are making it for a diabetic friend, do get hold of the xylitol, which is readily available from Sainsbury’s, otherwise just substitute sugar. 

Start off by juicing 7 limes over a sieve into a measuring jug - you should have about 160ml. Weigh out 100g xylitol (or sugar) into a saucepan along with the zest of one lime, and add enough water to just cover the xylitol. Stir the mixture on a low heat for about 4 minutes, until the crystals have dissolved completely into a syrup. Let the syrup cool down a bit, then pour almost all of it into the lime juice, along with 1/2 pint cold water and a large pinch of salt. Give it a good stir, and add more salt and syrup to taste. Chill and serve over ice. You will want more than one glass….

69 notes
South Indian Tamarind and Black Pepper Soup (Milagu Rasam)
This soup, or rasam, is the ten-minute South Indian culinary equivalent of chicken soup with kneidlach - absolutely perfect for when you’re run down, coldy and in need of something hot and comforting to drink. Even without a cold, the depth of flavour that you get from essentially three ingredients - tamarind, water and pepper - is incredible. Traditionally, you’d serve it poured over freshly cooked fluffy white rice, but I invariably remember it from childhood as a drink; Dad used to make it for my little sister and I whenever we were sniffly or flu-ish, and on request when we weren’t. Although the level of pepper occasionally sent us into violent coughing fits, much to the alarm of our Mum, we absolutely loved it. Here, I infused the rasam with plenty of coarsely ground black and green peppercorns as per my grandmother’s original recipe, but then sieved it before serving, so you get all the wonderful heat from the peppercorns without the risk of choking on a pepper fragment. 
My favourite part of this recipe, as with so many South Indian recipes, is the seasoning. Seasoning doesn’t mean just salt and pepper - it’s the finishing touch to a dish which is, as far as I’m aware, completely unique to South Indian cooking. To season a dish, you take a tiny deep sided saucepan, sold just for this purpose, and heat a little vegetable oil in it until very hot. Then you drop in a teaspoon of mustard seeds, sometimes with curry leaves, sometimes with cumin or white lentils or whole dried red chilis, and let the spices splutter and pop (covered with a lid) until you get a wonderful toasty scent from the pan. At this point, it’s ready, and you chuck the lot into whatever completed dish it is that needs seasoning - it could be rasam, or daal, or rice and yoghurt, or chutney. As soon as the hot oil and spices hit the dish - and this is my favourite part - the whole thing crackles like mad for a couple of seconds, and leaves your dish beautifully finished. You just have to be careful not to burn the mustard seeds, because believe me, it smells absolutely awful and you’ll have to start again. I use my tiny seasoning pan to fry chili and garlic for spaghetti aglio e olio too, but if you don’t have one, just use the smallest saucepan you have, and make sure it’s dry before you start.
To make your ten minute rasam, measure out 500ml just-boiled water into a large bowl. Add a golf ball sized piece of dried tamarind, and let it soften for 3-4 minutes. While you’re waiting, coarsely grind one heaped teaspoon of black peppercorns - you can use green peppercorns as well if you have any about. Once the tamarind has softened, sieve the tamarind water into a saucepan, and squeeze the tamarind through the sieve to get all the juice out. Add a pinch of turmeric, 1 teaspoon of sea salt and the coarsely ground pepper to the saucepan, and simmer for 2-3 minutes. After that, add a further 300ml just-boiled water to the pan half at a time, depending on how strong you want it - if you’re going to drink it, you’ll need all 300ml, if you’re going to have it with rice, 150ml should be fine. Taste for salt, and add a pinch of ground cumin. Let it simmer for half a minute, then sieve into a clean bowl. For the seasoning, heat two tablespoons of vegetable oil in a small clean saucepan, then add half a teaspoon of mustard seeds and three curry leaves. Stand well back, shielded with a lid, to avoid the popping mustard seeds, and as soon as you smell the lovely toasty scent from the pan, tip the spices and oil into the rasam. Give it a stir, and serve warm, ideally under a blanket.

South Indian Tamarind and Black Pepper Soup (Milagu Rasam)

This soup, or rasam, is the ten-minute South Indian culinary equivalent of chicken soup with kneidlach - absolutely perfect for when you’re run down, coldy and in need of something hot and comforting to drink. Even without a cold, the depth of flavour that you get from essentially three ingredients - tamarind, water and pepper - is incredible. Traditionally, you’d serve it poured over freshly cooked fluffy white rice, but I invariably remember it from childhood as a drink; Dad used to make it for my little sister and I whenever we were sniffly or flu-ish, and on request when we weren’t. Although the level of pepper occasionally sent us into violent coughing fits, much to the alarm of our Mum, we absolutely loved it. Here, I infused the rasam with plenty of coarsely ground black and green peppercorns as per my grandmother’s original recipe, but then sieved it before serving, so you get all the wonderful heat from the peppercorns without the risk of choking on a pepper fragment.

My favourite part of this recipe, as with so many South Indian recipes, is the seasoning. Seasoning doesn’t mean just salt and pepper - it’s the finishing touch to a dish which is, as far as I’m aware, completely unique to South Indian cooking. To season a dish, you take a tiny deep sided saucepan, sold just for this purpose, and heat a little vegetable oil in it until very hot. Then you drop in a teaspoon of mustard seeds, sometimes with curry leaves, sometimes with cumin or white lentils or whole dried red chilis, and let the spices splutter and pop (covered with a lid) until you get a wonderful toasty scent from the pan. At this point, it’s ready, and you chuck the lot into whatever completed dish it is that needs seasoning - it could be rasam, or daal, or rice and yoghurt, or chutney. As soon as the hot oil and spices hit the dish - and this is my favourite part - the whole thing crackles like mad for a couple of seconds, and leaves your dish beautifully finished. You just have to be careful not to burn the mustard seeds, because believe me, it smells absolutely awful and you’ll have to start again. I use my tiny seasoning pan to fry chili and garlic for spaghetti aglio e olio too, but if you don’t have one, just use the smallest saucepan you have, and make sure it’s dry before you start.

To make your ten minute rasam, measure out 500ml just-boiled water into a large bowl. Add a golf ball sized piece of dried tamarind, and let it soften for 3-4 minutes. While you’re waiting, coarsely grind one heaped teaspoon of black peppercorns - you can use green peppercorns as well if you have any about. Once the tamarind has softened, sieve the tamarind water into a saucepan, and squeeze the tamarind through the sieve to get all the juice out. Add a pinch of turmeric, 1 teaspoon of sea salt and the coarsely ground pepper to the saucepan, and simmer for 2-3 minutes. After that, add a further 300ml just-boiled water to the pan half at a time, depending on how strong you want it - if you’re going to drink it, you’ll need all 300ml, if you’re going to have it with rice, 150ml should be fine. Taste for salt, and add a pinch of ground cumin. Let it simmer for half a minute, then sieve into a clean bowl. For the seasoning, heat two tablespoons of vegetable oil in a small clean saucepan, then add half a teaspoon of mustard seeds and three curry leaves. Stand well back, shielded with a lid, to avoid the popping mustard seeds, and as soon as you smell the lovely toasty scent from the pan, tip the spices and oil into the rasam. Give it a stir, and serve warm, ideally under a blanket.

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Chop chop

Every year, without fail, I ask for chop as part of my birthday meal. Now I don’t mean what you think I mean by chop, because it ain’t a lamb or pork chop. This kind of chop is not even necessarily meaty – you can have fish chop, cheese chop, chop with jackfruit, or chop stuffed with spiced banana flowers. They’re as versatile and as comforting as scotch eggs – to which mine bear an accidental resemblance, as I completely misinterpreted my mum’s instructions on how to make a flattened teardrop. Ah well. So what is a chop?

Well – it’s a hybrid dish that evolved under colonial rule in Calcutta. As the British who settled in Calcutta employed local Bengali cooks in their households, an entire sub-species of Anglo-Indian dishes started to develop – a sort of early fusion cuisine, if you like. The Bengali cooks invariably added an Indian twist to the British classics they were asked to prepare, using their knowledge to spice up existing dishes and create entirely new ones - which unsurprisingly, went down extremely well with their employers. And so dishes like the typically Northern mince and mash tumbled together with potato rissoles and scotch eggs and generous amount of coriander, chilli, garlic, ginger, cumin and garam masala - and turned into the hybrid and completely delicious chop. Just as for scotch eggs, where a soft boiled egg is folded into a sausagemeat jacket, for chop, a mixture of spiced mince and onions is stuffed into a blanket of mashed potato, then crumbed and deep fried to golden. Traditionally, the mince would have been beef, but in Bengali households, baby goat was used instead, which my mother assures me tastes like suckling pig. That’s me sold. It’s still an extremely popular snack food in Bengal, where workers might stop at a tea stall on their way home to drink chai, chat, and eat chop before heading home - and if the chop prove to be particularly delicious, a few extra might make it home for their families.

If you’re inspired to make your own chop, here’s my great grandmother’s recipe as remembered by my mum, who watched them being made in her Calcutta home as a young child. First boil and mash some potatoes, season them with salt, pepper and ground roasted cumin powder, and leave them aside to cool. Fry a finely chopped onion in sunflower oil until nicely brown, then turn the heat right down and add a teaspoon of ground cumin, a teaspoon of ground coriander, a crushed garlic clove, an inch of grated ginger, a pinch of chilli or chopped fresh chilli (make it as hot or mild as you want) and a pinch of salt. Fry the spices into the onions on a low heat for a couple of minutes, stirring continuously. Then add your mince to the pan in batches to brown- I used lamb, as free range baby goat wasn’t available on short notice. As a vegetarian variation, use canned jackfruit, or fresh chestnut mushrooms, or red peppers - you can fill these with anything. One of my favourites is still a large chunk of Cheddar cheese. But if you’re using mince, break it up and brown it well – you want it lovely and crispy, and then tip each batch into a sieve set over a bowl to drain off the excess fat. Check it for seasoning, sprinkle over some garam masala and stir through some freshly chopped coriander, then let it cool a bit. Take a heaped wooden spoonful of mash, form it into a cup shape in your hand, pop a tablespoon of meat into the cup, seal it carefully and shape it into a flat fishcake, or a flattened teardrop, or my variation, an upside down cone. My mum was allowed to help with this part when she was about eight or nine- but not the next bit, as it gets messy. Once you’ve used up all the mashed potato, dip the shapes into beaten egg, then into breadcrumbs (I used Panko), and deep fry until golden. Mum didn’t attempt that part until she was an adult with her own house, and similarly it’s with some trepidation that I deep fry anything now in my own flat (where’s the responsible adult?). But just follow the standard rules for safe deep frying and don’t leave the pan unattended, etc. Serve the chop warm with raita, or indeed ketchup. They taste even better warmed up in the oven the next day.

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Why I don’t cook Indian food- and why that’s about to change.

It occurred to me the other day, after a conversation with another food stylist, that I don’t write about or even cook Indian food very often. My go-to dinner, if I’m tired and not making an effort, is pasta with whatever I can find in the cupboard. Bonus points if there are any artichoke hearts about. For a more effortful dinner a deux, I’ll make a slow cooked ragu or meatballs and serve it with tagiatelle - and if it’s a special occasion or I’m in the mood, I’ll make the tagiatelle from scratch too.  But whether I’ve got all afternoon to cook or just fifteen minutes, dinner is hardly ever Indian food. I could probably count on one hand the number of Indian dishes that I can make from memory, and they’re my childhood favourites - cashew nut pulao rice, chick pea curry, cucumber raita, griddled aubergines with yoghurt; not even five. Of course, I’ve got Indian cookery books and could cook from them as well as anyone else with a fully stocked spice cupboard, but it’s far more rare than, say, my getting excited about a new recipe for chili or an Ottolenghi style salad.

So why don’t I cook Indian food more often? It’s partly laziness- the best Indian food I could ever eat is cooked beautifully at home by my Mum, who makes everything from Calcutta snack food to South Indian dosas. It’s the first type of food that I learned to cook, but one that I hardly ever turn to now – why would I cook something that I could eat better at the weekend at home? But also, and particularly after going into cooking professionally, I’ve not wanted to be pigeon holed. The type of food that I enjoy cooking is the same as anyone else who grew up hungrily watching Nigella Lawson or Jamie Oliver throw together beautiful, casual, effortless looking food. As students, our flat library of cookbooks consisted of pretty much everything Jamie or Nigella had ever published. If we were inviting friends for a dinner party, we’d ‘hit the books’, and armed with large mugs of tea and butter yellow post-it notes, flick through the entire collection between us on the scrubbed pine kitchen table. I have fond memories of a much loved chicken and mushroom pasta bake from Nigella’s ‘Feast’ (we were students, after all), a chocolate truffle cake with hot chocolate from Tessa Kiros’s ‘Falling Cloudberries’, and my first painstaking attempt at home-made pasta from Jamie’s ‘The Naked Chef’.

But pasta bakes and chocolate cake aren’t really my culinary heritage, much as I would like to imagine that I am actually Italian/Sofia Loren while making vast pans of spaghetti and meatballs. While I wouldn’t trade in the cake or the meatballs as part of my repertoire (never!), it does seem a shame that the only type of food that I don’t have real confidence cooking is the food I grew up eating. So I’ve decided, over the next few months, to take a crash course in Indian cookery, tutored by my Mum (with the odd guest appearance from my Dad). We’ll go through my favourite dishes, recipe at a time, photograph them, and you can read along and learn with me (or just look at the photographs).  And as an aside to my culinary change of heart - as some of you many know, I recently accepted my boyfriend’s proposal, and we’re getting married late next year. It seems a perfect time to start to re-learn how to cook Indian food, so that my new family can share some of my culinary heritage the dinner table - alongside all that pasta. And cake.

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Nigel Slater’s Hot Chocolate Puddings
These were so quick to make, and absolutely delicious. The recipe comes from Slater’s ‘Kitchen Diaries’, which you need to put on your Christmas list if you don’t already have it. Just the weight of the paper makes me happy, let alone the beautiful photography and recipes.

Nigel Slater’s Hot Chocolate Puddings

These were so quick to make, and absolutely delicious. The recipe comes from Slater’s ‘Kitchen Diaries’, which you need to put on your Christmas list if you don’t already have it. Just the weight of the paper makes me happy, let alone the beautiful photography and recipes.

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Figs: Staying in, Going out

It wasn’t until well into my twenties that I tasted my first fig – unless you count fig rolls from the office biscuit tin. A girlfriend made me the most wonderful canapé of fresh figs, sliced over tiny warm goat’s cheese crostini, drizzled with honey and freshly made basil pesto – utterly delicious. It’s still the fig dish I’m most likely turn to, piling the lot onto generous rounds of toasted baguette for a more substantial snack, perhaps adding a few shards of crispy prosciutto crudo. But faced with a box of impulse bought figs last week, I decided it was time to think of something a little different, something more dessert based, perhaps along the lines of a day-to-night feature in a fashion magazine. You know the genre - here’s one dress, wear it to work like this, then cleverly style and accessorise it as evening wear like this. The figs, much like the dress, are a beautiful thing in themselves, but equally good in a warming dessert for a cosy at-home weekend lunch, or with a little more effort, as the star of a more complex, restaurant style dessert.

Staying in: Fig & Frangipane Tart

You can make this tart ahead of time, and warm it through in the oven before serving with mascarpone or vanilla ice cream. It’s also lovely at room temperature as an afternoon snack. For more dainty, patisserie style tarts, use tiny fluted tartlet tins instead of a large tin.

For the pastry, put 200g flour and 100g cubed butter (make sure the butter is fridge cold) into a food processor and blitz until the mixture looks like fine sand. Add one egg yolk and one tablespoon of the water and pulse very briefly until the mixture comes together in a ball, adding another tablespoon of water if needed. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and chill for fifteen minutes in the fridge. Don’t wash out the food processor, as you can use it for the frangipane. Pop 250g ground almonds or hazelnuts, 250g sugar, 250g butter and 75g flour into the food processor and process until fluffy. Add in five eggs, one at a time, blitzing between each egg, until the mixture is completely smooth. Chill the frangipane in the fridge until needed.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Remove the pastry from the fridge, roll it out to the thickness of an £1 coin, and use it to line your 25cm fluted tart tin, pricking the base with a fork. Put the tin in the freezer for 10 minutes. Carefully press crumpled greaseproof paper over the chilled pastry, fill the tin with baking beans and blind bake the pastry case for 10 minutes, until the sides are sandy to touch. Remove the baking beans and bake for a further 5 minutes until the base is sandy to touch. Allow the pastry case to cool, then fill the pastry case with the chilled frangipane mixture, and top with quartered figs. Bake for 25-35 minutes until the top is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean. 

Going Out: Honey Savarin with Thyme Poached Figs & Home Made Ricotta

These look far more impressive than their level of difficulty warrants, and once you’ve tried the home made ricotta once, you’ll start making it to go with everything. You can make up all the elements of this dish in advance, and just put them together before you serve dessert. The recipe makes about 18 savarin, so you can freeze any leftovers or warm them up for breakfast the next day, dipped in leftover honey.

For the ricotta, bring 600ml double cream to the boil in a large saucepan. Just as it reaches boiling point, add the juice of one lemon and stir vigorously. Remove from the heat and keep the lid handy, as the mixture will try to bubble violently out of the pan. Once the mixture has cooled a little and stopped bubbling, pour it into a sieve lined with damp muslin or J cloth, then pull up the sides of the cloth and twist the material tightly to form an enclosed ball. Tie the top of the ball with string, and hang it from a hook set over a bowl (I use the handle of a kitchen cupboard). The whey will drip out, leaving the ricotta inside. You can eat the ricotta at room temperature after making it, or for a firmer set, allow the ball to cool then refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

For the savarin, beat together 200g flour, 70g butter, 7g dried yeast, 30g honey, the juice & zest of one orange and a pinch of salt until smooth. Add five eggs one by one, beating thoroughly between each egg. Leave the mixture to rise in the bowl covered in clingfilm for one hour, or until doubled in size. Meanwhile, bring 200ml honey to the boil in a pan with a few lemon thyme sprigs. Remove from the heat. Thinly slice four figs and allow them to infuse in the honey for an hour or until they are needed.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Spoon the risen savarin mixture into your lightly oiled savarin moulds, filling them to just over half way, and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown and risen. Tip them out onto a wire rack, and repeat with the rest of the savarin mixture until you’ve used it all up. Traditionally, you would then dip the warm savarins into sugar syrup or honey, as with a rum baba, but I find this makes them a) too sweet and b) too soggy - when I tested the recipe on my parents, it reminded them of Indian syrup soaked gulab jamun. But if you do like very sweet desserts, then by all means leave this step in. To serve: fill the centre of the savarins with the ricotta mixture, and top with a piece of infused fig. Spoon some of the honey over, and serve with more infused figs, garnished with lemon thyme leaves. 

Food photography: Patricia Niven

Food Styling: Rukmini Iyer

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Figs
Food photography: Patricia Niven
Food Styling: Rukmini Iyer
I was absolutely delighted to cook & style the food for a recent photo shoot with photographer Patricia Niven. Here’s a preview above - coincidentally timed as my 200th post since starting this blog in April 2012. Recipes to follow soon!

Figs

Food photography: Patricia Niven

Food Styling: Rukmini Iyer

I was absolutely delighted to cook & style the food for a recent photo shoot with photographer Patricia Niven. Here’s a preview above - coincidentally timed as my 200th post since starting this blog in April 2012. Recipes to follow soon!

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Many thanks to the lovely people at @pixelunion for this article about my new website and the blog!

pixelunion-staff:

User Spotlight: Rukmini Iyer

It’s been a while since we last saw a food blog running Aperture. Alongside our other horizontally-scrolling theme Kodiak, Aperture seemed to thrive mostly among landscape and fashion photographers, which makes perfect sense. Rukmini Iyer's blog is a delightful anomaly.

There’s a kind of parallelism in using Aperture for food photography, one that I hadn’t really realized until drooling over Iyer’s work. Shooting food involves careful plating (obviously)—it’s a compositional strategy that focuses on keeping the surrounding visual noise to a minimum and completely spotlighting the central content of the shot (the food). The idea behind Aperture is almost identical, focusing on a feed that essentially “plates” images and otherwise backs off. Iyer’s porftolio, then, is a kind of plating of plating: a happy stacking of her work and our design in a way that totally complements the work itself.

We’re also honored to see that Rukmini’s more traditionally personal and recipe-oriented blog Fabric, Frocks, Food is using our illustrative and antiquarian-textured Nautical theme, lightly framing her incredibly engaging culinary writing with the papery textures of antiquarian illustration.

Check out Rukmini on Twitter and Instagram too.

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