Tiramisu alla Polpo

Meaning “pick me up” in Italian, Tiramisù, when done properly, is delightfully light (thanks to using mascarpone rather than stodgier, sicklier whipped cream) and sexy (thanks to the double dose of booze) when done properly. But for such an iconic Italian pudding, it’s not nearly as old as you might think; most accounts trace it back to the 1960s, with chef Carminantonio Iannaccone on Christmas Eve 1969, or a baker named Roberto Linguanotto in 1967, commonly cited as the creators.

This version is adapted from Russell Norman’s recipe, as served in his Soho restaurant Polpo.

Stir together 360ml strong coffee (six double espressos), 4 tbsp dark rum and 50g caster sugar.

Separate the yolks and whites of 6 medium eggs. Whisk the whites in a large bowl until they form stiff peaks, add 200g caster sugar and 120ml Marsala wine. Whisk again until pale and fluffy, and stir in 300g mascarpone. Fold the mixture into the egg yolks.

Take a packet of Savoiardi sponge fingers and dip each one into the coffee and rum for a second, so they absorb the liquid but don’t begin to disintegrate. Build a layer of fingers in a large rectangular dish, spread some of the cream mixture over the top and repeat until you have three sponge layers. Spoon the last of the cream over the top and smooth the surface with a palette knife. Rest in the fridge for at least eight hours so the pudding properly sets. Dust liberally with cocoa powder before serving.


photo(5) Tiramisu

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Stuffed Acorn Squash

Tough, squat little acorn squash are a chore to peel, so they’re best cut in half and roasted to soften the tasty, nutty flesh, then you can simply scoop it all out to make a soup, pasta filling (for example, lasagne or tortellini) or stuffing. I stirred mine into a sort of risotto of mushroom, rosemary and brown rice, popped this back into the shells and topped with grated Parmesan to make an earthy, comforting supper dish for two people. My sides were an attempt jazz up some veg that needed to be used up, but they proved surprisingly delicious: carrots roasted in maple syrup and cabbage sautéed with garlic and cumin. Smells (and tastes) like autumn.

Half 2 squash, sprinkle with salt, pepper and olive oil, and place with cut-ends facing down on a baking sheet. Cover tightly with tin foil and roast at 230 degrees Celsius/gas mark 8 for 30 minutes, or until the orange flesh is soft enough to scoop out. Slice carrots into batons, place in a roasting tin and toss with olive oil, salt and maple syrup, ensuring they’re evenly coated. These can roast alongside your squash.

To make the stuffing, finely chop one onion and sweat in olive oil over a low heat for five minutes until soft and translucent. Add 200g mushrooms, diced, and 1 tsp dried rosemary (or thyme) and cook for another five minutes. Pour in 2 cups of vegetable stock and 1 cup of brown rice. Bring to the boil then simmer for 20 minutes, adding more water if necessary, until the rice is cooked and liquid is absorbed. Season to taste.

While the rice is cooking, shred 1/2 cabbage and sauté in a wok or pan with a glug of olive oil, 1 finely chopped bulb of garlic and 1 tsp ground cumin for five minutes.

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Remove squash from the oven. Scoop out the flesh and stir this into the rice mixture. Spoon into the squash shells and sprinkle over the grated Parmesan. Place under a hot grill for 5 minutes, until the cheese is browning and melted. Serve with the cabbage and carrots.

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Happy Rosh Hashanah! Have Some Honey Cake…

Happy Rosh Hashanah! Have Some Honey Cake...

Sticky, citrussy and laced with warming cinnamon, honey cake is traditionally eaten to symbolise sweet beginnings on Jewish new year – a ritual well worth adopting in my book.

A topping of caramelised pear slices makes this the best looking example I’ve come across. I’ve adapted the recipe from Martha Stewart’s version as her original had the measurements in US-style cups instead of grams, which are a nightmare to convert by the way…


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 10-inch springform pan. Dust with flour; tap out excess. Whisk together 300g plain flour, 1 tbsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 1/2 tsp salt and 1tsp cinnamon in a large bowl

In a large bowl, combine 200g sugar, 250ml honey, 120ml oil, 4 beaten eggs and the zest of one orange.

Add half the flour mixture to make a smooth batter. Mix in remaining flour mixture alternately with 250ml orange juice.

Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for about 50 minutes until dark golden brown and a fork inserted in center comes out clean.

While it’s in the oven, melt 1 tablespoon unsalted butter and stir in 50g caster sugar until almost dissolved. Add 3 pears, sliced into 1/2-inch thick wedges, and cook for about 15 minutes until soft and just golden, stirring occasionally. Pour in honey and cook, stirring, until pears are coated and very soft.

Cool in the tin for 15 minutes, before running a thin knife around edge of cake and removing. Top with the caramelised pears.

Shanah Tovah! (that’s “have a good year” in Hebrew, I’m told).

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Another London Bar for Mozzarella Mecca Obikà

Another London Bar for Mozzarella Mecca Obikà

There is mozzarella – those bland, chewy white blobs that spring out of supermarket packets like over-sized eyeballs – and then there’s mozzarella – sigh-inducing melt-in-the-mouth clouds, glossy and snow white on the outside, gooey like whipped cream at their centre. It’s like comparing a wheezy old Volvo with a Porsche, or Harry Styles with George Clooney – no comparison, in my book.

Well, Obikà is one place you guarantee to get the latter (the cheese, I mean; they haven’t yet branched into sports cars and handsome men as far as I’m aware). All the mozzarella it serves is from dairies and farms certified by the Consortium of Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP. There’s a choice of three varieties: the delicately flavoured Bufala Classica, a more robust naturally straw smoked Bufala Affumicata, and cream-infused Burrata. You can also pimp up the cheese with regional specialties such as homemade pesto, grilled artichokes or Mortadella on the side.

And now there’s another addition to the Obikà empire, as its fourth London branch opened at 11-13 Charlotte Street just yesterday. Opening hours are Monday to Saturday from 12 pm to 11 pm. Sundays from 12 pm to 10 pm.

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Maman Blanc’s Salad

Maman Blanc’s Salad

Like any dutiful French son, Raymond Blanc extolls the virtues of his mothers cooking. Despite all his accolades, he still goes watery eyed at the thought mother’s seasonal Bourgogne fayre, and fighting his four brothers to mop up the vinegary juices at the bottom of Maman Blanc’s salad bowl is the seminal memory with which he kicks off his autobiography A Taste of My Life.

This Miscellany of Salad is one of the nostalgic recipes he paid tribute to in a recent Times interview. It’s is the sort of simple dish that just lets fresh, good quality ingredients shine. Each key ingredient has a dressing that fits it best. Delivering all your side dishes in one colourful centrepiece, the dish was made to be devoured during a long, lazy lunch alongside roast chicken and bottle of good Burgundy.

To serve six you need the following:
– 1 cucumber
– 2 tsp dill
– Salt and finely ground white pepper
– 90g crème fraîche
– 200g cherry tomatoes
– 2 shallots
– 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
– 3 tsp fresh lemon juice
– 200g celeriac, peeled
– 2 tbsp mayonnaise
– 2 tsp Dijon mustard
– 250g carrots
– 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
– 100g Cos lettuce

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Britain, Spice Up Your Food!

Britain, Spice Up Your Food!

Every felt your fish & chips lacked a certain something? Think the Yorkshire pud could do with livening up, or that your Shepherd’s Pie lacks flair? Well, chefs Cyrus Todiwala and Tony Singh believe that any traditional British dish would benefit from a dash of spice. Their new BBC2 series The Incredible Spice Men (starting on August 19th) sees the pair giving home cooking a “new lease of life” with exotic ingredients such as turmeric, cardamom and star anise. The recipes – which centre on accessible comfort food favourites – include a Scotch pie with ginger, garlic and coriander, fish batter spiked with turmeric, cumin and coriander, and nutmeg-infused treacle pudding. Looks like a good opportunity to liberate some of those dusty Schwartz jars that’ve languishing at the back of our cupboards for eons (on that note, have you seen Michael McIntyre’s gag about spice rack rivalries?!).

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KITCHENETTE: London’s New Hub for Food Entrepreneurs

KITCHENETTE: London's New Hub for Food Entrprenuers

At first this just sounded like another pop-up – admittedly a very appealing one, with epic brunches provided by The Good Egg Cafe and cookery demos from top chefs such as Roast’s Marcus Verberne, all in a disused Citroen garage in Islington.

However, it turns out that Kitchenette’s aims are rather more ambitious: describing themselves as “a new social business with an emphasis on food”, they aim to accelerate and democratise the process of building a successful business for budding food entrepreneurs.

Gastronomes with great business ideas but perhaps a lack of connections/confidence/experience are invited to apply for 12-week ‘kitchen incubator’ courses, starting in early 2014 – in return for a 5-10% stake, they help you start selling and find backers. They’re also laying on classes on topics such as “How to Write a Best-Selling Food Book” (I’ve already bought my ticket to this one!) and “How to Build a Zero-Waste Food Business”.

Kitchenette ultimately hopes to procure their own permanent kitchen where “food entrepreneurs can learn from people who’ve done it before, swap knowledge, support each other and share suppliers”.

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Let’s Talk About Choux: Salted Caramel Eclairs

The Bake-Off is back. Last summer I was entranced as Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood oversaw 12 amateurs kneading, icing, whipping and tempering their way to baking glory. In this veritable cakeathon I saw things I never thought of people being able to make in home kitchens – like French Fancies and chocolate teacakes; didn’t Mr Kipling and Tunnock’s just conjure them fully formed out of their laboratories’ sugar-infused air? – and grown men reduced to tears at Hollywood denouncing their lopsided sponges. Now I learn that The Great British Bake-Off will return to our screens on August 12th, meaning that achieving a ‘good bake’ will once again be the ultimate badge of honour and a soggy bottom something that you never, ever want your pastry to have.

So for my next challenge I thought I’d tackled two things that inevitably will feature on the programme: choux pastry and the ubiquitous ‘creme pat’ (Raymond Blanc says this vanilla-infused custardy cream is to bakers what cement is to builders).

Choux is perceived as rather more technical and impressive than other types of pastry mainly because it is a) the cornerstone of lots of fancy French patisserie offerings and b) involves two stages of cooking. In fact, it contains just four ingredients – butter, water, flour and egg – and isn’t nearly as tricky as people might think as long as you follow instructions closely.

First, pre-heat the oven 220˚C and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Place 60g of salted butter and 130ml of water in a saucepan and bring to a steady boil until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat and sift in 80g of plain flour, beating with a wooden spoon until a dough comes together. Place back over the heat and beat the dough in the saucepan for about 40 seconds.

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Remove from the heat and set aside. Break two large free range eggs into the warm dough, one at a time, and beat thoroughly until completely incorporated after each addition. Beat a further one egg and gradually add dashes of this to your pastry until you have a consistency that will hold it’s shape when piped (use what’s left over of the egg to glaze the pastry later on). The dough should be smooth, shiny and fall from the spoon in a ribbon-like stream (if it doesn’t drop of the spoon or does so in thick clumps you need to add more beaten egg).

Using a spatula, scoop the dough into a piping bag fitted with a large round piping nozzle and pipe 10cm lines on the lined baking sheets. Leave a decent gap between each piped line as they puff up and expand during cooking. Brush each one with the little leftover beaten egg.

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Place in the oven, reducing the heat to 190˚C, for approximately 25 minutes until they have risen and are golden and crisp. To ensure your buns puff up and rise well, ensure the over gets properly hot before baking and resist the urge to open the oven door during cooking – I was a bit curious/impatient and peaked in halfway though, which caused some of mine to deflate a little.

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While these are baking you can move onto your ‘baker’s cement’. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 4 free-range egg and 65g caster sugar. Whisk in the 15g plain flour and 15g cornflour and set aside. Heat 350ml whole milk and a few drops of vanilla essence in a saucepan to a gentle simmer, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and very gradually pour half of the hot milk onto the egg mixture, whisking all the time (too quick and you’ll risk scrambling the eggs!).  Add this mixture to the remaining milk in the pan, bring the mixture back to the boil and whisk over a low heat until it becomes thick and smooth, like a nice custard.

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Pour into a clean bowl and dust with icing sugar to prevent a skin forming. Cool as quickly as possible, by sitting the bowl of pastry cream in another larger bowl of ice water. When cooled, refrigerate until needed.

Finally, the salted caramel sauce. Place 50g butter75g soft dark brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of golden syrup in a saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Add 2 tbsp of double cream1 tsp vanilla extract and a generous pinch of sea salt and whisk together. Simmer for 3 minutes until the sauce is sticky and thick. When it cools it’ll thicken further to create a delicious, sticky glaze for the eclairs.

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When all the components have cooled down you can assemble by carefully slicing the eclairs in half with a bread knife, spooning the crème pâtissière into a piping bag and piping the cream onto one half of the choux bun. Sandwich the bun together and spread the cooled caramel glaze over the top of each eclair.

Serve straight away or the eclairs will keep for 1 or 2 days in the fridge.

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Nara: The New Eating-Out App

While this blog is primarily about my home cooking endeavours, from time to time I’ll come across wider gastro news and launches that I think may interest my fellow foodies – like this new app, which generates accurate, personalised recommendations for eating out. First it asks users a few questions about the kind of eateries they like, based on criteria such as food types, atmosphere and demographic. Integrated Foursquare check-ins keep track of where users have eaten already and which restaurants they regularly visit. By checking this data against the decisions other Nara users with similar tastes have made (and rated highly), the system quickly begins to intuit the sort of place you’re likely to enjoy. Pretty clever stuff…


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Foodie Inspiration No5

Foodie Inspiration No5

Maybe it’s something to do with the fact it FINALLY feels like summer, or because of last weekend’s sporting triumphs (thank you very much, Sir Andy and Lions) – whatever the reason, nothing appealed to me more today than the thought of this humble summer pudding. Few things are as quintessentially English or as seasonal as this explosion of sweet berries, their juices seeping into a layer of bread, topped with a dollop of fresh cream. I want to be sat in my garden with this, a spoon and a glass Muscat of NOW!

PS. For a more sophisticated take on the classic, I like the sound of this version – pimped up with caramel, vanilla and sourdough bread – on the Telegraph website http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/recipes/8594361/Red-wine-vanilla-and-caramel-summer-pudding-recipe.html

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