Now, A Reason to Use Up That Sherry....

If you have ever wondered what to do with the bottle of sherry that your friend brought back from Spain, I (or rather Delia Smith) have the perfect recipe.
I am not a big sherry drinker, finding it too heavy and sweet for sipping purposes. However, it is an excellent all-round alcohol for cooking with, whether you want to add a bit of depth to a stir-fry or gravy, bolster a rich, meaty ragu or to bring out the natural sweetness of berries. You might even use it in a trifle.
Sherry, or particularly Marsala, is used to it's greatest success though in that most traditional of all Italian sweets, Zabaglione. A simple mousse-like dessert, comprising of egg yolks, sugar and Marsala (but other sweet wines can be used for different flavour) whisked in a double boiler, until light and fluffy. There is a charming story from 15th Century Italy that describes the initial process of how Zabaglione was discovered. A skillful and fierce Umbrian nobleman called Giovan Baglioni (known locally as Zvan Bajoun) was forced to keep his army of men happy (apparently they would switch sides if they were not given suitable rations – a case of politics being ruled by the stomach) when they were fighting and, discovering that he only had some eggs, honey and sweet wine at his disposal, ordered his cooks to boil everything in a pan and serve up the resulting dish. The solders so enjoyed this sweetened, slightly frothy mixture that they asked for seconds, slept soundly that night and fought with such vigour the next day that the surviving opposition asked them what was their secret. They simply replied Zwanbajoun. Over time, the name has been refined to Zabaglione, the method has been made simpler and the honey replaced with sugar. However, It is still considered as a “pick-me-up”, no doubt due to the high alcohol content, although I am not sure if the Italian army are still served it as part of their daily menu!

Delia Smith, Britain’s first true TV domestic goddess, has generously visited Harry's Bar in Venice on our behalf, sampled the many Venetian treats they have to offer and returned with a truly stunning torte that is both simple and wonderfully delicious, Harry's Bar Torta di Zabaglione.
An all in one, featherlight sponge cake, so light as to be almost of pudding texture, filled generously with a rich, thick Zabaglione-inspired cream.
The cream needs to be chilled for at least two hours, so make this first. The cake can also be made a few hours in advance and wrapped in clingfilm when cooled, ready to cut in half when you are.
It is simple enough to serve for a casual afternoon tea on Sunday but looks glamorously pale enough to be served for a special occasion too. In her book, How to Cook Pt.3, Delia ices the sides but leaves the golden top plain, just dusted with icing sugar. However, you may find, as I did, that this was a little hard to achieve. Despite being chilled, the filling remains just a bit too creamy to give a perfect presentation to the cake. I simply slathered it on all over. And you will have cream left over. Just eat it with a spoon. Cooks treat, of course.

Oh, and it is just as good a couple of days later, providing it has been well fridged. At this point, heavily laden with the boozy cream, it really does become pudding like. And terribly, wonderfully, moreish.
The perfect Pick-Me-Up!

HARRYS BAR TORTA DI ZABAGLIONE from Delia Smiths How to Cook Book 3
Ingredients:
For the Zabaglione filling:
3 large egg yolks
3 oz (75 g) golden caster sugar
1½ oz (40 g) plain flour, sifted
9 fl oz (250 ml) Marsala
12 fl oz (340 ml) double cream
For the cake:
4 oz (110 g) self-raising flour
½ level teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs, at room temperature
4 oz (110 g) very soft butter
4 oz (110 g) golden caster sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
a little sifted icing sugar, to dust

You will also need a 1½ in (4 cm) deep sponge tin, 8 in (20 cm) in diameter, lightly greased and the base lined with silicone paper (baking parchment).
First of all make the Zabaglione filling. Using an electric hand whisk, beat the egg yolks for 1 minute in a medium bowl, then add the sugar and beat until the mixture is thick and pale yellow (about 3 minutes). Next, whisk in the flour a tablespoon at a time, mixing in very thoroughly, then gradually whisk in the Marsala.
Now tip the mixture into a medium heavy-based saucepan and place over a medium heat. Then, cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until it has thickened and is just about to boil; this will take about 5 minutes. Don't worry if it looks a bit lumpy, just tip it into a clean bowl, then whisk until smooth again. Let the custard cool, whisking it from time to time to stop a skin forming. When it is cold, cover with clingfilm and pop in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 3, 325°F (170°C).
Meanwhile, make the cake. To do this, take a large mixing bowl, place the flour and baking powder in a sieve and sift into the bowl, holding the sieve high to give them a good airing as they go down. Now all you do is simply add the other cake ingredients to the bowl and, provided the butter is really soft, just go in with the electric hand whisk and whisk everything together until you have a smooth, well-combined mixture, which will take about 1 minute. What you will now end up with is a mixture that drops off a spoon when you give it a tap on the side of the bowl. If it seems a bit stiff, add a little water and mix again.
Now spoon the mixture into the tin, level it out with the back of a spoon and place the tin on the centre shelf of the oven. The cake will take 30-35 minutes to cook, but don't open the oven door until 30 minutes have elapsed. To test whether it is cooked or not, touch the centre lightly with a finger: if it leaves no impression and the sponge springs back, it is ready. Remove it from the oven, then wait about 5 minutes before turning it out on to a wire cooling rack. Carefully peel off the base paper, which is easier if you make a fold in the paper first, then pull it gently away without trying to lift it off. Now leave the sponge to cool completely.
To assemble the torta, whip the double cream in a large bowl until stiff, then add the Zabaglione custard to the bowl and whisk again until thoroughly mixed. Place the cake flat on a board, then, holding a serrated palette knife horizontally, carefully slice it into 2 thin halves. Next, reserve 2-3 heaped tablespoons of the Zabaglione filling to decorate the sides of the cake and spread the rest of the filling over the bottom half, easing it gently to the edges. Place the other cake half on top and press down very gently. Before you spread the mixture on the sides of the cake, it's a good idea to brush away any loose crumbs, so they don't get mixed up in it. Now, using a small palette knife, spread the reserved filling evenly all around the sides of the cake. Finally, dust the top with the icing sugar before serving. If the cake is made and decorated ahead of time, store it, covered, in the fridge (to keep it firm), but remove it half an hour before serving
(recipe taken from directly from Delia's website, as I cannot possibly improve on it!)

A Sweet Thanksgiving Pt.2

The second of our Sweet Thanksgiving desserts, Banana Cream Pudding, holds a very special place in my heart for two reasons. Going way back to my childhood, a stripped down version of Banana Cream Pudding, sliced banana smothered in packet custard. A virtually instant and gratifying finish to a homely meal. I feel particularly fond of Banana Custard because it is my grandfather’s favourite pudding; in fact anything with bananas is his favourite. My grandad was the one who first showed me how to slice a banana before peeling it, and afterwards he would have to feign mock surprise as I demonstrated my new trick to him.
The second reason I am so fond of Banana Cream Pudding is that the true ingredients of the dish, Vanilla Pudding and Nila Wafers remind me of my first road trip to the US with my then-to-be husband, Paul. We put on pounds travelling around US, eating Nilla Wafers from the box and scooping out various flavours of Pudding with our our already Cheetoe-orange strained fingers. I later returned to the UK with boxes of powdered pudding in all sorts of lurid flavours and broken Nilla Wafers that hadn’t entirely survived the manhandling of the luggage handlers.
I hadn’t eaten banana custard OR Nilla wafers OR pudding for some time and Paul had requested that his Mom send us a box of the wafers over in a large care box containing several now-well thumbed issues of Gourmet Magazine. Suffice to say, the request for Banana Cream Pudding was soon demanded but I was given one proviso: I cannot use custard, I have to find a recipe for Vanilla Pudding. Just between me and the UK readers, custard is a fairly good representation of Pudding, particularly if you make it really quite thick, or use a cartoned brand (they keep forever – literally – in the pantry).
However, in this instance, I conceded and found a recipe on the Nabisco (home of the Nilla Wafer) website. Pudding is easy to make, flour, sugar, milk, egg yolks whisked up in a double boiler until the lumpy gloop turns smooth and thickens. It is then liberally, generously blanketed over sliced bananas and Nilla Wafers (there is no UK substitute for these – and, even though I am a biscuit connoisseur, I cannot think of a similar alternative. Some of those fancy Breton-style Butter rich shortcake biscuits would be just as yummy though), covered with Meringue and flashed briefly in a hot oven to brown. I thought that a sweet meringue topping would be too much sugar so replaced this with another childhood favourite, Dream Topping.
Dream Topping is our nearest equivalent to America’s Cool Whip, an amazing demonstration of what a evil genius with a craving for whipped cream but no refrigerator and open access to a cupboard full of chemicals, can produce. Both Dream Topping (a powder that you whisk up with milk) and Cool Whip are airy creams, with no hint of dairy flavour and a slightly sweet demeanour. I find both of them completely alluring and perfect for this already calorie laden pudding.
You can, of course, use regular whipped cream or go for the meringue option.
For a real retro treat, here’s how to whip up Banana Cream Pudding:
BANANA CREAM PUDDING
serves at least 6-8
Ingredients:
5 Bananas, peeled and sliced, sprinkled with a little 7-up or lemon juice to stop them browning
1/2 Cup Sugar
1/3 Cup Plain Flour
Pinch Salt
3 Egg Yolks (reserve the whites for meringue topping, if making)
2 Cups Milk
½ Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Box Nilla Wafers (or similar buttery-style biscuit)
Whipped Cream or a Sachet of Dream Topping or Cool Whip (if not making the meringue)
METHOD:
In the top half of a double boiler, whisk together the flour, sugar and pinch of salt. Then whisk in the milk and egg yolks. Place over the bottom half of the double boiler (which will need to be quarter filled with water and brought to a brisk simmer).
Whisk mixture for 10-12 minutes, or until thickens.
Pour a little of the mixture into a heatproof serving dish, layer with the Nilla Wafers or biscuits, then a layer of sliced bananas.
Repeat this layering twice more, ending with the Pudding.
If you are going for the cream topping, slather all over the top and decorate with some more Nilla Wafers and slices of banana.
If you want to make the meringue topping, whisk the egg whites until stiff, pour in a quarter of a cup of sugar and whisk until stiff and glossy. Spoon over the pudding, taking care to cover over all the edges and bake in a pre-heated oven (175c) until browned, about 15-20 minutes.
Spoon into large bowls and straight into mouth.
Enjoy!

Pot Stickers

Dim Sum are not particularly popular over here in the UK yet. I mean, it took us more than 40 years to catch onto sushi and I still can’t imagine anyone over the age of 70 relishing a delicious Salmon Skin Roll. My own grandfathers’ face, contorted into a mask of disgust at the thought of cold rice AND raw fish, will be forever etched into my mind when I first introduced him to the joys of supermarket sushi (and, as our dear old Coney would say, leave ‘em be).
Dim Sum is another matter altogether though. There is no searingly hot chilli to contend with, no raw fish to dice with and the chopsticks are entirely optional. Add all these winning factors to the irrefutable fact that they taste mighty fine and you’re onto a winner.
Or so you would think.
A local Dim Sum restaurant has opened up near us. Keen to visit, we checked out their website, only to be greeted with incredibly expensive delicacies that will surely mean that the death knell of this local restaurant is looming with great rapidity.
Why so expensive though? Sure, Dim Sum are fiddly, they are delicate and dainty. But the ingredients are dirt cheap. Pork Mince? Prawns, and seasonings. We are not talking about lobster and caviar folks, just honest, decent ingredients served in whimsical (to a Brit) steamers. Alas, in this instance, the name Dim Sum (roughly translated: Order to your Hearts’ Content) is – as usual - betrayed by British commercialism and greed.
But, there is hope for those of us who are not fortunate to live near a Dim Sum restaurant that offers great value as well as great food: make your own!
Don’t be shocked, it’s easy to wrap things in, er, wrappers. You’ve made egg rolls, right? Used Filo pastry? Wrapped a Band-Aid around your bleeding finger, using your non-dominant hand? Dim Sum are, therefore, a piece of metaphorical cake.
And, if you’re scared of wrappers, then take heart. Not all Dim Sum is fiddly. Chicken Feet, Spare Ribs, Congee Rice all take the form of Dim Sum. And for the sweet-toothed among you, there are the delicious dumplings, tarts and puddings, made with Red Bean Paste, Mango, Tapioca and, curiously, very little chocolate at all.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can organise a Dim Sum feast for friends and get most of the prep work completed the day before.
As for us, sitting here all smug proselytising about the joys of Dim Sum, we can confirm that yes, we have made some and yes, they were entirely successful, if not aesthetically pleasing (although for a first attempt, still quite cute really): Savoury Dumplins’, known in China as Jiaozi and in Japan as Gyoza.
The dumplings, little savoury morsels of ground pork, prawn, water chestnuts, cabbage, ginger etc, encased in Wonton Wrappers can be poached, steamed or shallow fried (Pot Stickers), served with a dipping sauce or dropped into broth. I favour the Pot Sticker method. It gives a delicious triple texture: the tender upper half of the dumpling which is steamed, the bronzed derriere and the innards, both soft and crisp, depending on the filling. Pot Stickers are traditionally served at special occasions and when turned out, they certainly look stunning when turned out onto a serving platter.

And, despite them looking complex, they are simple to prepare (Paul even made his own Wonton Wrapper dough, which was incredibly quick, simple and easy to work with) and it would be fun to get your guests in the kitchen, forming the little dumplings and arranging them in the frying pan, then digging in with chopsticks around the cooker.
We served our Pot Stickers with some takeaway noodles and rice, but they make a filling treat by themselves.
To make your own Dim Sum Delight, here's how:
SHRIMP AND PORK POT STICKERS (from Gourmet Magazine Feb 2006)
Ingredients:
Dough:
(or you can use ready made Wonton Wrappers which are available on your local Asian supermarket or deli in the chiller)
1.5 Cups Plain Flour
1/2 Cup Lukewarm Water
Filling:
3 or 4 Water Chestnuts (I used canned), chopped into small dice
1/2Lb Prawns, chopped
1/4Lb Ground Pork
3/4 Cup Chopped Spring Onion (about 4-5)
1.5 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 Teaspoons Minced Ginger
1 Teaspoon Sesame Oil
METHOD:
To make the dough, stir together the flour and water in a bowl until roughly combined. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and kneed until a smooth dough is formed. Add a little more flour if the dough is too sticky.
Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes to an hour.
Whilst waiting for the dough to chill, you can mix the filling together by throwing all the ingredients into a large bowl and mixing well. The filling will be sticky. Refrigerate until ready to use.
To make the wrappers, roll out the dough until very thin, the thickness of a sheet of kitchen roll, cut into 3.5" rounds using a smooth biscuit cutter, lightly dusting them to avoid them sticking together. You should get 24 rounds out, reusing scraps.
To form the dumplings, hold a round wrapper in the palm of your slightly cupped hand and, using a measuring tablespoon (rather than a serving tablespoon), scoop some mixture onto the middle of the wrapper. Wet one half of the edge with some water and bring the edges up to the middle and crimp with your finger tips until completely sealed. We did this part wrong and folded them in half, like little Empanadas. If you find this easier, you will still get an impressive looking turnout in the end.
Once you have made the 24 dumplings, heat 1 tablespoon of peanut oil in a 10" frying pan over medium high heat.
To arrange the dumplings, place 7 in the middle of the pan in a simple Chrysanthemum shape, then arrange the remaining dumplings around the outside. You may have to jiggle them around a little to fit, but they will go.
Cook over relatively high heat for 3-5 minutes (depending on how hot your hotplate gets) until the bottoms are browned. We actually needed longer than this because our oven is very temperamental.
Once evenly and deliciously browned, pour over 1/2 cup warm water. It will sizzle a little. Tilt the pan to ensure that the water is evenly distributed, cover and steam for about 10 minutes.
To turn out, carefully get a large plate with no tilting edges, hold over the frying pan and flip over quickly but carefully.
Serve with some dipping sauce, Sweet Chilli is always popular but I mix up my own with a little Soy, a little Nam Pla (Fish Sauce), some Lime Juice, a sliced red chilli, minced garlic and ginger and some sugar to taste. Leave for at least an hour for the flavours to mingle. This sauce keeps really well in the fridge too.
Enjoy!

Another Daring Weekend

This month's Daring Bakers challenge comes courtesy of baker extraordinaire, Peabody and of course, it wasn't an easy one.

After last month's gentle Bagel challenge, the Strawberry Mirror Cake sounds pretty fancy, right? A swiss roll sponge adding gentle support to a Barbie pink Strawberry Bavarian Cream, topped with the mirror element: a ruby clear jelly, flavoured with strawberry juice and a liberal dash of Kirsch.
I would never have dreamt of making this cake, imagining it to be horribly complex but, aside from being time-consuming and a bit fiddly, it was actually very simple.
Having a fear of gelatine after several nightmarish experiences with leaf gelatine, I have since found that the powdered stuff is the way to go. It might seem a little more old-fashioned than those charming little panes of gelatine glass but trust me, the powder will set anything to the thickness of a rubber tyre if you add enough of it.
This isn't a cake you would make for everyday occasions. It is quite expensive to make, utilising several punnets of fresh strawberries (and for some reason, fresh fruit is always cost-prohibitive over here) but I think it would be wonderful for a pink-loving girl's summer birthday party. It is visually stunning enough to receive plenty of oohs and ahhs. Flavourwise though, it was unsophisticated, reminding me slightly of Strawberry Angel Delight topped with Strawberry Jelly, the sponge reminscent of Frozen Swiss Roll cakes.
However, if you were to sharpen the mousse up with raspberry and blackberries, I think this cake could be suitable for a grown-up dinner party instead.
In spite of my disappointment with the final flavour though, the cake was a glowing success. Paul has taken it to work for the final taste test so only time will tell if it's merely my fussy tastebuds or if the cake really was bland. I feel particularly proud of myself for producing a cake with such a stunning mirror finish, and I would like to thank Peabody for choosing the Mirror Cake and for making me bake outside of the box (so to speak).
For those of you non-Daring Bakers who are tempted by this lovely looking cake and want a challenge, here's the recipe:
STRAWBERRY MIRROR CAKE - serves easily 8
Ingredients:
Cake and Soaking Syrup
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg whites
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
2 TBSP sugar
2/3 cup sifted cake flour
½ cup water
1/3 cups sugar
2 TBSP kirsch or strawberry liqueur
Strawberry Bavarian Cream
2 ½ TBSP unflavored gelatin
1 ½ cups strained strawberry puree(1 ½ baskets)
5 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1 ½ cups milk
1 TBSP lemon juice
several drops of red food coloring
1 ¾ cups whipping cream
Strawberry Mirror
1 tsp lemon juice
1 TBSP kirsch
1 TBSP water
1 TBSP unflavored gelatin
Few drops of red food coloring
Strawberry Juice
1 ½ pints of strawberries(18 oz)
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup water
METHOD:
1.Preheat oven to 450F. Butter and flour the sides of an 11-by-17 inch jelly roll pan(rimmed baking sheet). Line bottom of pan with a sheet of parchment paper cut to fit bottom pan exactly.
2.Beat eggs, egg yolks and ¾ cup sugar together in a medium bowl until thick and light. Beat in the vanilla.
3.In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy, ad cream of tartar and beat until whites begin to form peaks. Add the 2 TBSP sugar and beat until the whites hold stiff, glossy peaks(do not over beat).
4.Sift flour over the egg yolk mixture and fold in . Stir in one fourth of the whites. Then carefully fold in the remaining whites.
5.Spread batter evenly in pan. Bake until light brown and springy to touch(7 to 10 minutes). Cool in pan 5 minutes. Run a knife along edge to loosen. Invert cake tin to cut out 8 ¼ inch circles of cake. Wrap the cake layers, separated with waxed paper, and set aside. Cake may be frozen at this point.
6.To make soaking syrup: Combine water and the 1/3 cup sugar in saucepan; bring to a boil to dissolve sugar. Cool to room temperature; flavor with liqueur. Set aside or refrigerate in glass jar until ready to use.
7.To assemble cake: Brush sides of 10-inch springform pan lightly with flavorless salad oil or almond oil. Cut out a cardboard circle that is exactly the same size as the bottom inside of the pan; cover cardboard with aluminum foil and fit into bottom of pan. Center one layer of the cake bottom of pan. Brush the cake with some of the soaking syrup to just moisten(not drench) the cake; set aside.
8.Prepare Strawberry Bavarian Cream. Immediately pour about half of the Bavarian Cream over the first layer of cake in the pan. Set the next layer of cake on top of the cream. Pour remaining Bavarian Cream over cake and smooth top of the cream with spatula. Refrigerate until the cream sets(1 to 2 hours).
9.Prepare the Strawberry Mirror.
10.To serve: Wrap a hot towel around the outside of springform pan for a few minutes. Run a small sharp knife tip around the edge of the Strawberry Mirror to separate it form the sides of pan. Mirror will tear when sides are unlatched if it is stuck at ANY point. Slowly unlatch the pan and slide it off the cake. Slice cake in wedges and serve in upright slices.
Prep Work:
Strawberry Bavarian Cream
1.Sprinkle the gelatin over the strawberry puree in a small bowl and set aside until spongy.
2.Combine egg yolks and sugar in a bowl' beat until light. Bring milk to a boil in sauce pan. Pour hot milk into yolk mixture ans stir with a wooden spoon(it doesn't say so but I would temper the egg mixture first to be safe). Return this mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until your finger leaves a clear trail in sauce when drawn across the back of the spoon.(Do not boil or mixture will curdle.) Immediately remove from heat and stir in softened gelatin mixture. Pour into a stainless steel bowl places over a bowl of ice water. Stir in lemon juice and a few drops of red food coloring. Cool over ice water, stirring occasionally, until mixture thickens to the consistency of softly whipped cream.
3.White gelatin mixture is cooling, whip the whipping cream until it holds soft peaks. When the gelatin mixture resembles softly whipped cream, fold the whipped cream into the gelatin mixture.
Strawberry Mirror:
1.Prepare strawberry juice.
2.Place lemon juice, kirsch, and water in a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over this mixture; set aside until spongy and soft.
3.Measure 1 ½ cups Strawberry juice into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer; pour over gelatin mixture and stir to dissolve gelatin. Tint to desired color with red food coloring. Place bowl over bowl of ice water and stir occasionally until the mixture is syrupy and just beings to thicken(do not let jell); remove from ice water.
4.When mixture is syrupy, pour a 1/16-inch layer over the top of cake. Refrigerate until set.
Strawberry Juice
Wash and hull strawberries; coarsely chop. Place strawberries in saucepan; crush to start juices flowing. Place over low heat; add sugar and water; simmer slowly 10 minutes. Pour juice and pulp through damp jelly bag or cheesecloth-lined colander and drain into a bowl for 15 minutes(Do not press down on fruit).
Adapted from Cakes and Pastries At The Academy by the California Culinary Academy 1993

An Italian Dessert

Tiramisu means "pick me up" in Italian and if ever a dessert comprising of booze and coffee soaked ladyfingers, layered with mascarpone cream and dusted with cocoa powder could induce a feeling of being "picked up", it would be this one.
Yet another one of those once-popular restaurant dishes from the 70s and 80s, Tiramisu was relegated to "plastic pot sealed with foil lid and placed on the supermarket shelf" status, which happens to be where I first discovered this Italian delight. Although several years past its halcyon restaurant days, the Tiramisu deserves to be given another chance. It is surprisingly simple to make and never fails to please coffee or trifle lovers.
Like that other Italian classic dessert, Zuppa Inglese, Tiramisu is like a hassle-free trifle with its sponge fingers and eggy custard-like sauce. Unlike trifle though, it eschews the fruit element in favour of caffeine rich ingredients. The only thing that you need to prepare in advance is some espresso, the rest of the dish takes no longer than 15 minutes. Of course, the waiting comes with the refrigeration of the Tiramisu and it is crucial, not only to set the raw custard but to improve the flavours, that it sits in the fridge for at least 12 hours.
The traditional recipe might use Zabaglione between the sponge layers but this simpler method is just as delicious. The alcohol combined with the coffee can also be altered to suit what you have available. Coffee liqueur is again traditional, but I used Crème de Cacao (a remnant from the days when I used to make cocktails - Maraschino Liqueur anyone?) instead. You could use dark rum, or hazelnut liqueur, maybe even brandy. One of the characteristics about the Tiramisu is the strong coffee and alcohol flavouring punctuating the soft, billowy cream - not a dessert for children!
TIRAMISU - serves 4-6
Ingredients:
12 Savoiardi Biscuits or Ladyfingers
2 Eggs, separated
250g Mascarpone
3 Dessertspoons Vanilla Sugar to taste
125ml Freshly brewed but cold Espresso Coffee
125ml Coffee Flavoured Liqueur (or alcohol of your choice - not a cream based drink though)
Cocoa Powder for dusting
METHOD:
In a large, clean, grease-free bowl, whisk the egg whites until very stiff.
In another bowl, whisk the mascarpone cheese with the egg yolks and sugar until well combined.
Fold in the egg whites.
Mix together the alcohol and coffee in a shallow dish.
You are now ready to start assembling the Tiramisu.
Spoon a third of the Mascarpone mixture into your dish.
First dipping them one at a time in the coffee/alcohol mixture, turning them quickly so that they don't disintegrate, layer six of the Savoiardi biscuits on top of the cream. Top with another layer of cream, then the remainder of the sponge fingers. Spoon over the final blanket of the creamy sauce, then dust generously with cocoa so that the cream is completely obscured.
Cover gently and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.
To serve, remove from the fridge, uncover and dust with another layer of cocoa and some shaved chocolate if desired.
Enjoy!

More Simple Food

There exists a special alchemy between Pork and Cabbage. Served apart, they are delicious, but when cooked together, the co-joining of the strong, definite flavours produces something truly sublime.

Europeans have long known the brilliant simplicity of using as few ingredients as possible in their cuisine. Not only does this spring out of frugality but from the sheer knowledge of the flavours.
Whilst some of us are lucky enough to be seemingly born with that knowledge of ingredients, it can also be learned through time and tasting.
This gathered experience warns us that certain foods are not good together. For example, cheese is rarely served with fish, beef isn’t generally served in a white wine sauce and ketchup isn’t poured over a roast dinner. However, there are always exceptions to every rule and it is wonderful to find an obscure taste sensation in the most unlikely place, the most recent of which might be salted caramels.
Even people with the most jaded taste-buds will know that some foods just belong together: cheese and tomato, chicken and tarragon, cabbage and sausage.
I know, the coupling of sausage and cabbage could sound like a nightmare school dinner. Washed out flabby cabbage with gristly, synthetic pink sausages that are more water and sawdust than anything resembling pork are the things bad childhood meals are made of. But imagine this! Crisp Savoy cabbage, dark green and rich in iron, combined with artisinal sausages that are now so easy to find in any supermarket, accessorised with a blanket – no, pashmina – of thick cheese sauce, then browned in a hot oven until golden and bubbly. Served with nothing more than some crusty bread or Pommes Anna, this is an easy, all-in-one dish guaranteed to satisfy that intrinsic need for comfort food. Thank heavens for the always reliable Jane Grigson with her wealth of knowledge and non-fussy dishes. This recipe comes from her indispensable Vegetable Book.

SAUSAGE AND CABBAGE IN THE DUTCH STYLE serves 4 with a side dish
Taken from Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book
Ingredients:
1 Large Cabbage, Savoy is best for flavour but you can use almost any kind, shredded and par-boiled.
8 Excellent Quality Sausages
A little Olive Oil (Jan Grigson recommends using lard so you could use this instead)
3 Heaped Tablespoons Plain Flour
2 Tablespoons of the oil from the cooked Sausages
¾ Pint Milk
2 Tablespoons Grated Cheddar or Parmesan, grated – a strong flavoured but good melting cheese is needed
1 Tablespoon Gruyere, cut into small dice or grated
Seasoning and fresh Nutmeg
METHOD:
Preheat the oven to 180c. Drizzle a tablespoon or two of the olive oil into the bottom of a roasting tin and place in the oven to heat up.
When the oven and oil are hot, place the sausages into the hot fat. They should sizzle immediately. Return to the oven and roast for about half an hour, turning once or twice to ensure a fairly even brown.
Meanwhile, parboil the cabbage. Leave to drain in a colander.
Once the sausages are richly coloured, remove from the oven and drain off 3 tablespoons of the oil (the sausages will have exuded some) into a large saucepan.
Stir the drained cabbage into the sausages and return to the oven whilst you prepare the sauce.
Add the flour to the sausage oil, turn the heat up to medium high and cook briskly to make a roux.
Pour over the milk and whisk until thickened. The sauce needs to be thick as the cabbage will still give off some water, thus diluting the sauce further in the oven. Season with salt, pepper and a rasp of nutmeg.
Remove from the heat and stir in the cheeses, whisking well to ensure that they are melted thoroughly into the sauce. Taste again for seasoning.
Remove the cabbage and sausage from the oven (turning the oven up to 220c), ladle over the sauce and mix well. Sprinkle over some grated cheddar or Parmesan if desired and return to the oven for another 10 minutes or so. You will hear the bubbling, indicating when it’s ready to serve.
The cabbage will have turned an unctuous sticky brown on the underside, seasoned generously by the sausages and the sauce will be coating everything snugly.
Serve with some sliced potatoes (Pommes Anna) or perhaps a green, bitter salad to counter the richness. Thick crusty bread is an essential.
Enjoy!

Omelette Arnold Bennett

It is an accolade indeed to have a dish named after you, particularly if that dish becomes deeply ingrained within the lexicon of the modern kitchen.
The most famous of all, Pavlova, named after Prima Ballerina Anna Pavlova, is still a favourite dessert in homes and restaurants across the world, since its conception back in 1926. And indeed, the antipodeans seem to have the edge on culinary namesakes: Peach Melba (a fruity, ice cream concoction invented for Australian Opera singer Dame Nellie Melba by no less a culinary luminary than Auguste Escoffier), Lamingtons, and Anzac Biscuits (not strictly named after a person, but an important historical event).
It is an indication of our enduring love of good food that it is considered an fitting tribute to have a dish named after you. Indeed, even most families have a - slightly more informal - arrangement: cakes/biscuits/style of roasting chicken named after grandmothers, great Aunts, mothers. This fond sentiment is a way of retaining the memory of a loved one by remembering something wonderful that they used to do for you.
And of course, we don’t just memorialise the dead. Dishes are mostly created for living people, to observe special visits or achievements. Omelette Arnold Bennett is such a dish. Created in the 1920s by the chefs at the Savoy Hotel to commemorate author and playwright Bennett writing his novel, Imperial Palace, whilst staying at the Savoy this dish should be a true British classic. Indeed, it remains on the Savoy Menu to this day.
Reminiscent of Kedgeree but without the spices, Omelette Arnold Bennett has been somewhat forgotten, Bennett’s own literary reputation overshadowed by his supposed greed, or perhaps misplaced honesty:

"Am I to sit still and see other fellows pocketing two guineas apiece for stories which I can do better myself? Not me. If anyone imagines my sole aim is art for art’s sake, they are cruelly deceived."

This begs the question though, if a dish is good, should that be penalised because the namesake's reputation is not? Omelette Arnold Bennett is as wonderful and nourishing a breakfast, lunch or supper dish as you could hope for. It is briskly prepared, an softly cooked omelette, covered with chunks of smoked haddock, then gently swathed in double cream and cheese and finally browned under a hot grill. It is comforting and tasty.
The joy of this dish is its simplicity but also the symbiosis of the ingredients. The cream, the smoked fish, the omelette and the cheese are just made for each other.
If you have trouble locating Smoked Haddock, you could use an unsmoked but flavourful, flaky white fish or possibly even salmon. A sprinkling of Parsley would also add an interesting green element. British chef Gary Rhodes takes the dish to its absolute culinary (but fiddly) pinnacle by using the haddocks poaching milk and making a delicately infused white sauce which is then poured over the omelette. These all digress from the perfection of the original, but it is better to have something that is similar than not at all.
And here’s the recipe:
OMELETTE ARNOLD BENNETT serves 2
Ingredients:
6 Free Range, Organic Eggs, beaten and seasoned with some salt and pepper
200g Undyed Smoked Haddock, poached in a little milk or water with a bay leaf and some peppercorns (about 15-20 minutes poaching time or until it starts to fall into big, creamy flakes). When cool, break up into flakes and remove any small bones and the skin.
You can also use a non-smoked flaky fish such as salmon, unsmoked haddock or cod, just be sure to poach it using the same method.
6 Tablespoons Double Cream
2 Tablespoons Grated Parmesan
20g Butter
METHOD:
Preheat your grill/broiler to it’s highest setting.
Melt the butter in a non-stick pan over a medium high height.
Pour in the beaten, seasoned eggs and cook until they are dry around the edges but still very moist in the middle.
Remove from the heat and sprinkle over the flaked haddock.
Spoon over the cream, ensuring that the entire omelette and fish has a thin coating all over. Sprinkle over the Parmesan and place under the hot grill.
When brown and bubbling, gently transfer to a plate and serve with perhaps a leafy salad.

Enjoy!

A Colloquial Cake

In this household, Claudia Roden's Middle Eastern cookbooks are the ones I turn to when I want to make a speedy and unusual cake. Remember the Walnut and Syrup cake baked to celebrate Passover? Her recipes are ideal for those of us with food allergies or intolerances even if we don't need to adhere to some of the religious reasons that her recipes don't use those specific ingredients (for example, flour at Passover).
I have been thinking about baking a cake with apples and seeing as Paul was using up my stash of cooking apples with rapidity, I had to work fast. We were going out for a picnic the following day to belatedly celebrate my Mum's birthday so I consulted Roden's Book of Jewish Food once more and found the ideal cake: Apple Cake.
Unfortunately, Paul had depleted my store of apples by half, leaving me with just three smallish apples, so I had to make up the numbers with pears instead. Paul had decided not to eat these yet as they weren't ripe. Phew.
Many middle eastern cakes are made using a larger quantity of eggs and less flour, the eggs separated and used to enrich the flavour, to lighten the sponge and also to prolong the life of the cake. This particularly recipe was also devoid of fat so great for people watching their cholesterol who don't want to compromise their sweet tooth.
Furthermore, this cake makes a delicious warm pudding when served fresh from the oven, drizzled with cream (for those cholesterol watchers, ignore that bit about cream) or custard but is also just as delicious served cold, cut into chunky wedges.
And if that isn't enough to make you want to try this simple, unassuming cake, it also looks beautiful, the glazed, sugar encrusted apples and pears producing a skill-free 'icing'.
I fiddled with the recipe slightly to make it extra-appley, adding a dash of apple brandy and then renaming it The Cockney Rhyming Slang Cake (apples and pears - get it??) . Considering that this recipe appears in the Angl-Jewry section of her book though, it is not as trite as it sounds.
However, Roden's original recipe is the definitive version and my alterations are merely to satisfy my need for experimentation. I have noted in italics my own minor tweaks should you too wish to experiment.
CLAUDIA RODEN'S APPLE CAKE (or, Freya's Cockney Rhyming Slang Cake)
Ingredients:
6 Apples (or a combination of apples and pears - plums would be good too), peeled, cored and cut into rough crescents
Juice of one and a half lemons
4 Eggs Separated
150g Sugar (I used golden caster sugar to add an additional caramel taste which works really well with the fruit)
140g Plain Flour
Good Slug of Apple Brandy or similar Liqueor
2 Tablespoons Melted Butter or warm vegetable oil
1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
1 Tablespoon Demerara Sugar or Brown Sugar for sprinkling
METHOD:
Pour a third of the lemon juice in a bowl of water and as you slice the apples/pears, throw these in the acidulated water to stop them turning brown whilst your prepare the cake batter.
Butter and flour a 9" Cake Tin. Preheat oven to 180c.
Beat the egg yolks with the sugar, add the remaining lemon juice and the slug of apple brandy, then beat in the flour in 3 or 4 additions, beating well.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold these gently into the batter.
Pour half the mixture into your prepared tin.
Layer half the apple/pears on top of the batter, then pour over the remaining batter.
Arrange the second half of apples/pears on the top of the batter in a circular pattern, then brush with the melted butter or oil, and sprinkle over the cinnamon and demerara sugar.
Bake for about 45 minutes to an hour or until the top is golden brown and the sugar caramelised.
Leave to cool slightly in the tin before turning out and serving.
Enjoy!

Once again, pictures are to follow. We have borrowed a digital camera from a friend but they haven't found the cable for the camera yet so please bear with us!
Also, thanks to everyone who emailed me their best wishes - I am feeling much better now and normal service (including pictures) will be resumed as soon as possible!

Some Old Favourites....and Some More That Just Didn't Make It

I always consider these "and here's some I didn't blog about" posts to be a bit like sawdust or clip shows - a sort of filler because there's a lack of inspiration and/or time. And that's exactly the case here. Well, I'm not suffering from lack of inspiration but more lack of time. This Boiga Ballyhoo that Paul insanely embroiled us in is in full swing in our kitchen and there seems to be no end in sight.
Not only are we grilling every evening (and, I admit it, sometimes just using the griddle pan - rain, you know) but we also have a 'social' barbecue organised for Saturday. I am refusing to eat any more burger based food products and am instead doling check sheets out to our hosts and forcing them to mark the burgers out of 10 instead.
Don't get me wrong. We had a fantastical response and every single burger sounds absolutely delicious. It really will be hard to judge which lucky person will be the recipient of a 5 gallon drum of Goatslick...that's why I'm passing the tasting duties onto our friends.
But I digress. There is one thing that separates this post from a compilation episode of the Simpsons - you haven't seen these dishes before. Or have you? Some of them are old favourites of mine that I wrote about last year and wanted to share them with those of you didn't catch the posts last year (why not, I ask!). So, without fanfare and further ado, here's the grub....
1) Smoked Haddock and Watercress Tart. This classic Tamasin Day-Lewis from her Art of the Tart book comes from a frantic tart baking spell that I went through last Autumn. I am still a huge advocate of anything that can be stuffed into a pastry shell, being a carbohydrate addict, and will take any opportunity I can to make a pie/flan/tart etc.
This recipe won't be of much interest to our transatlantic friends who don't have privy to as many smoked goods (of the food variety) as us Brits and more is the pity. Smoked Haddock is a smoky, salty fish with the texture of cod but much more flavour. Brits have been eating it for breakfast with poached eggs or as part of a Kedgeree for many years and our smokeries are rapidly coming back into fashion, after a decline in interest.
Unless, like lucky Christine over at My Plate or Yours, who has her own smoker (and check out her smoked prawns and cheese for more reasons why you need to buy a smoker), you may find yourself confronted with smoked products that have been dyed (haddock was an unnatural shade of saffron until only a few years ago) or chemically smoked. This is not a natural process so check the labels carefully. Artificial smoking really does not taste good at all.
The symbiotic relationship between the smoked fish and the watercress is thrilling and this is truly a tart for an old fashioned picnic. I get asked by my Mum to make it all the time. If you do manage to get hold of some smoked Haddock, the recipe is here..

2) And now for something that looks really good but was completely disastrous: Beef Empanadas.
The premise seemed like a recipe for success: beef simmered with some gently spices, onions and olives, then stuffed into a pastry circle and baked. I told you I liked stuffing things in pastry.
The recipe, culled from the UKTVFood website recommends simmering the beef for about half an hour. An hour later and mine was still like boot leather. The flavour was boring and the pastry tough, although Paul did a wonderful job of folding and crimping the Empanadas into their distinctive shape. This hasn't put me off making Empanadas again, just remind me to look for a slightly more traditional recipe.

3) A delicious vegetarian classic that fulfils my "quick, it's the end of the month and we have virtually nothing left in the freezer" quota, Black Bean and Aubergine Chili.
Actually, I used Black Eyed Beans instead, because I love their nibbly little bite and nutty flavour which works so well in this dish. Any fervent meat eater would be hard pressed to pinpoint this specifically as vegetarian. The Aubergine is fried off and then added to the chili at the end to heat through. Any chili dish that is ready within 45 minutes is good with me.


3) Another disaster: Oatmeal Meringues.
I have been checking out this recipe in a baking cookbook for a while, just imagining how delicious the combination of oatmeal and meringue would be.
I thought I would be clever and use golden caster sugar instead of normal white, processed sugar, thinking it would give a yummy, caramel texture to the meringues. I know this works because I have made meringues with golden caster sugar before.
However, I'm not sure if leaving the meringues in the oven for 2 hours on a low heat contributed to the cremated mess that you see before you or if the oatmeal just didn't like being baked for a long time. I am definitely not going to let these beat me though and I have two egg whites sitting waiting for me in the freezer, next time I feel like a challenge.

4) Magic Lemon Pudding. The pudding that really does live up to it's name, separating from a lemony batter into a light sponge top with a tangy citrus bottom.
I have fond memories of this dish. I last served it to Paul's family when they visited at Christmas time and I recall that his brother Mark was particularly enamoured of the dish, literally licking the baking dish clean and having to go to hospital to have third degree burns on his tongue treated. Later on, he started injecting the lemon pudding, such was his need for a fix. Am I kidding? After eating sardine cookie sandwiches, you may never know the truth.


5) Ina Garten's Parmesan Chicken. Simply the best recipe I have ever tried for this long time family favourite. I just cannot get enough of Parmesan Chicken. It is simple, tasty and quick. And to a lesser extent, healthy.
I actually taste-tested a recipe for Cooks Illustrated that required a lot more faff and the flavour wasn't as good. I have yet to cook an Ina recipe that has failed me.
The next time I make this recipe, I really want to make a sandwich out it, stuffing a soft white roll with lettuce, mayonnaise and tomatoes and then a thick slab of crisp-coated, cheesy, tender chicken. I think that would be ultimate chicken sandwich.
So, I hope that you've enjoyed taking this glimpse into our kitchen, and I take this opportunity to wish you all a happy weekend. If I eat another burger, I fear that I may be hospitilised for some time....

Stuck Between Breakfast and Lunch

Regular readers are probably aware of our ethos, but if you’re just surfing in from GOOGLE or www.bringbackdawsonscreekormywifewillbeunbearable.com, I should probably put things in context for you. For without understanding our methodology it is easy to move on down the road looking for something a bit more flashy and a bit less candid. This isn’t a criticism of those places, we certainly visit them frequently, rather, this is a companion to those sites. A stripped down sucker punch showing the readers our life in a very real way, without a façade of glamour (we wouldn’t know how to start), without theatrical staging (we don’t have the room), and without the hair and make-up (my hair is thinning rapidly and Freya has delicate skin).

There have been occasions when we’ve considered censoring ourselves and not revealing so much about what makes us tick, but this just isn’t our thing. We’ve written things in our blog, which may be considered unrelated to food and the food community and wondered sometimes how many people will be alienated by those revelations. It’s true that we may have scared a few readers away with this approach, but we’ve decided that the benefits of integrity far outweigh the trappings of popularity. This is the reason that regular readers have learned that we would rather watch films about junkies than a romantic comedy, that we enjoy music that most people consider un-listenable, that our taste in literature is somewhat eclectic, and that our heroes are all nihilistic, reprehensible, or, at least, a bit naughty.

All of this runs somewhat perpendicular to the demographic of our core readership. There are exceptions, Jeff from C for Cooking, for instance, is a bit freaky. But fortunately for us, we’ve slowly captured an audience who have come to see us as we would like to be seen, loveable eccentrics pursuing a purity in the kitchen, which will hopefully negate the deeply disturbing aspects of all other outlets in our shared life.

So where is all of this leading to you ask? That’s simple and probably a bit unrelated, but I’ll figure an angle before this post is through, don’t you worry about that. It’s yet another meme! Yes, we’ve done tonnes of these things and yes, they do provide necessary filler material for bloggers, you’re probably one yourself, who occasionally can’t be motivated to cook and write about food. There’s nothing wrong with this. Nobody can be expected to be “on” all the time. We barely make it through each week even sharing the duty (well, I’ve kind of been muscled out of the kitchen by Freya, but that’s not for here). This meme is different though. It is food related and cooking related and even eating related. It’s the Sunday Brunch Meme!

We were presented with this challenge by Gattina at Kitchen Unplugged and were happy to accept it knowing full well that the answers may surprise people. The rules are simple, “Create a post (on your blog/site) that speaks about your typical Sunday (holiday or free day, also accepted) breakfast/brunch. Take pictures of your table and write about it.” Freya decided this was best handled by my department as I’m generally in charge of Sunday cooking. That’s cool with me, I love Sundays and this one was extra special since it was a bank holiday weekend and we have Monday off!

So, I got up bright and early to get two little quails out of the freezer. I took them downstairs and pulled out the few stalks of feathers that poked out here and there. I put a pan of water on the stove and dropped the tiny birds in waiting for the water to boil. As the quail was cooking, I put some White Leicester cheese and a carrot in the food processor along with some left-over spaghetti I was saving just for this meal. I let the quail cool down and removed the biggest bones from the birds and dropped them into the processor as well. I then pulsed the whole lot briefly until it formed a frappe, scooped the finished product into bowls, called the dogs and enjoyed watching them devour their breakfast. Next, I went back to bed.

This is the greatest part of the week for me. The only window in a seven day week when we’ve got no responsibilities and no place to be and the dogs are otherwise occupied and not trying to effect a schism between Freya and me. It’s the only time in the week when we can cuddle up without being growled at or prodded by paws. We revel in this moment when nothing can invade our microcosm.

Time progresses, the news is still war and death, the True Movie Channel loses some appeal, the smell of the neighbours roast dinner is wafting through the inevitable cracks in a Victorian terrace house wall, and we fight temptation to quit our jobs and live every day like this. Finally, I get up and start making brunch, although it is technically, lupper, to use a Homer Simpsonism. Freya has home made chips liberally sprinkled with sea-salt and vinegar from the jar of pickled onions she made last autumn along with two fried organic eggs, preferably baby bantam eggs. I fry some very good organic streaky bacon, reserving the fat to cook the hashbrowns in. Bread goes in the toaster, eggs go in the pan. I always have my eggs over-easy. I eat out of a baking dish because it’s the most accessible. It’s now 8PM. So, what makes this brunch you ask? We’ve only been up since 6.

And that’s where the connection is. This is our shared life. We could have laid out lobster Thermidor and champagne with blinis and caviar and little melon balls and told you that this is our Sunday brunch. We may still do that one day. But we would rather just live our life in full view of our dear friends and visitors who come back for seconds and thirds and whose patronage we greatly appreciate.

I've been to the original brunch post and haven't seen any rules about how many people I'm supposed to pass this on to. So, let's think, who can I tag?
1. Amanda and family at the Little Foodie - she is on a multi-cultural-culinary-crusade so I'm sure weekend brunch in her household is never boring!
2. Katie from Thyme for Cooking - a fellow Wisconsonsite will always eat well for Brunch!
3. Passionate Eater who, asides for being a Milli Vanilli fan, is usually cooking up something interesting!

P.S. Here's a new picture of Max for my brother and sister-in-law who have been missing the little guy.