Monday, 3 March 2014

A day out

 

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An early morning in Rye.

Last week, Séan and I took a trip to Rye. It’s an hour and a half or so from London, and in those miles we swapped London brick for black-and-white timbers, shrieking sirens for squawking gulls, organic quinoa muffins for homemade Victoria sponge.

I don’t drive and, with the advent of SatNav am no longer called on to assist in the misery of navigation, so I gaze out of the window reading the road signs – local names Peasmarsh, Appledore, Pett, Guestling and Winchelsea, rolling around on my tongue, soft and sweet like honey.

We had the good fortune to be there in Scallop Week so we ate scallops for lunch in a little café and brought some more home to cook for dinner.

I don’t know about you, but around about now – the mornings are lighter, afternoons linger, I dare sometimes walk the dog without wearing a hat – I have had quite enough of brown food. All of those stews, daubes, braises and casseroles which were so appealing only a few weeks’ ago no longer appeal. Something sparky. Bright colours. Fresh. So I made this salsa almost as soon as I got through the door. It takes only a few minutes or so and is very good.

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Church Square

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Stained glass window, St Mary the Virgin Church


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A more modest window. This lovely bookshop is, indeed, minute.

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A pretty display of succulents in someone’s front window. I’m never knowingly undernosy.

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I find myself in agreement with this sign in one of Rye’s many antique shops.

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The fishmonger and game dealers’ where we bought our scallops.

 

Scallops with mango and avocado salsa

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This serves 2

3 spring onions, white and pale green part only, finely chopped
1 mango, peeled and diced
1 avocado, peeled and diced
1 small red chilli
½ small cucumber, diced
Small handful coriander, tough stalks discarded, roughly chopped
1 tsp finely minced fresh ginger
Juice of a lime
Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

As many scallops as you think you can eat - we went for 5 each
A bit of oil, a dab of butter
Wedges of lime to serve

To make the salsa, combine all of the ingredients, season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside while you cook the scallops.

Pat the scallops dry with kitchen paper. You can cut the coral off if you prefer. I don’t. I think it looks pretty, I like the taste and I’m not running a restaurant where such pernickertyness seems important.

Warm a large frying pan over a medium-high heat. Melt the butter and oil together. Season the scallops with salt and pepper and put them in the pan. The pan shouldn’t be crowded; do them in two pans if necessary. Fry for a couple of minutes until golden then turn and cook for a couple of minutes more. The most important thing is not to overcook them.

Serve the scallops immediately with some of the salsa and wedges of lime.

Debora and Louise Invite You to a Dog’s Dinner…


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Every fancied making healthy treats for your dog? Want to learn how best to use them in dog training? Join food writer Debora Robertson and dog behaviourist and trainer Louise Glazebrook in Debora’s pretty Stoke Newington kitchen for a lively afternoon of dog chat, tea and cake.
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Watch Debora demonstrate how to make easy snacks such as dog breath bones, dried sweet potato chews, and liver treats. Then Louise will discuss how to make the best use of treats during training, share her thoughts on good nutrition for your pet and answer any questions you may have.
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Woof!
INCLUDES: Tea and coffee, cakes and biscuits; a doggy bag which will include a recipe sheet, dog treats and other goodies for you and your dog.
WHEN: March 22, 2pm-5pmCOSTS: £30

Saturday, 22 February 2014

So much cake

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Every weekend at this time of year I load a cake into a box and hope the combination of dark, rainy evenings + unfamiliar heels + a tiny cocktail livener before heading out to the party won’t lead to a baked-goods-buttercream-meets pavement disaster.

Almost everyone who is dear to me has a birthday round about now. I am in the middle of a four-weekend-long baking blitz. It started with Séan (chocolate, of course), then Liz (the cake you see here), tomorrow it’s my best pal Victoria (red velvet, cream cheese frosting) and next weekend my friend Lola’s daughter Mary – astonishingly - turns 18 (60 chocolate cupcakes). Depending on chance and shared geography, the dying glimmers of winter might also find me baking for my brother, nephew and mother. My scales are WHITE HOT and my baking cupboard runeth over with sprinkles, edible glitter and tiny candles in all colours.

Liz’s cake had to be a special one.

A few years ago, Liz noticed that whenever she went to literary festivals with her husband Pete she would bump into people from Stoke Newington reading from their books, singing their songs, telling their jokes. In a moment of creative-yet-cosy inspiration, she thought ‘If we had a festival in Stoke Newington we could all stay home and sleep in our own beds’.

So in the space of a few months, she took this idea and created Stoke Newington Literary Festival on a hunch and a credit card. Five years on, Stokey LitFest is a mad success, a riot of creativity, talk, fun, songs, drink and discussion which continues our little corner of London’s tradition of dissent, debate and dissolute behaviour.

So when Pete emailed some of us a few weeks ago to ask if we could help him organise Liz’s fiftieth birthday party, of course I volunteered to make her cake. Big enough for a hundred people or so. Truthfully, I enjoy the sheer exuberance of using dozens of eggs, kilos of chocolate and packets and packets of butter, working out the architecture of the thing. Gold dust! Let’s scatter gold dust over it, why not? For Liz is golden and we love her.

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Salted Caramel Buttercream Chocolate Cake

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A quick email back-and-forth with Pete and we decided on something chocolate-y and salted caramel-y, because really who wouldn’t love that? No one we would care to share a dance floor with, for sure. A quick Google search and I came across this smack-you-in-the-face-delicious recipe on Melissa Coleman’s elegant and charming blog, The Faux Martha. For those of us with WHITE-HOT scales at our disposal (and for whom cup measures are a challenge), I’ve metric’d up the ingredients’ list here.

This quantity makes one 23cm two-layer cake; I think I multiplied it by about six or so for Liz’s cake.

FOR THE CAKE:

Dry
170g plain flour
60g unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt

Liquid
150ml single cream
100ml whole milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Creaming
170g unsalted butter, room temperature
350g caster sugar
4 large eggs

FOR THE Salted Caramel Buttercream:
225g caster sugar
60ml water
100ml double cream
heaping pinch of sea salt
340g unsalted butter, room temperature
4 large egg whites

FOR THE GANACHE:
280g dark chocolate
70g icing sugar, sifted
200ml double cream
2 large egg yolks
40g unsalted butter, room temperature
heaping dash of sea salt

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Make yourself a merry little Christmas…


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Join me at my house for a cup of tea, a glass of wine, a slice of cake and a little light crafting and cooking. I’ll show you how to make some simple and irresistible Christmas presents, such as marigold soap and rose milk bath, scented sugars, pine cone firelighters, seedy crackers and chilli vodka. I’ll also demonstrate some easy decorations like dried orange and pine cone garlands, so your home smells as good as it looks this Christmas.

WHEN? NOVEMBER 9  - Sold Out
      or NOVEMBER 30 – Sold Out   
      2.30-4.30pm

HOW MUCH? £30, includes refreshments and a copy of my book, Gifts from the Garden: 100 Gorgeous Homegrown Presents
You can book from the PayPal link in the right hand column, or email me for further details.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

A taste of figs

 

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A box of figs, £3.49.

When we went to the Turkish Food Centre on Sunday I bought a whole case of figs for £3.49. They were sticky and ripe, the kind you can eat greedily with the skin on, spitting out only the stalk. I think there’s something a little revolting, life-denying, about peeling figs. They look so raw and unappealing, like dead baby mice.

Of course, when you’re buying them as ripe as this you need to use them within a day or so. I like them with yoghurt for breakfast or cooked on the griddle with some slices of halloumi and a trickle of honey, maybe a few slivers of toasted almonds. But there are a lot of them in a box.

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Figgy lunch, with halloumi , almonds, thyme, olive oil and honey.

I’ve wanted to try making a fig liqueur since Séan and I were offered sticky little glasses of the stuff to round off dinner at one of our favourite local restaurants, the almost painfully charming and invariably delicious Oui Madame! on Stoke Newington High Street.

I’m not sure if what we tried was Figoun, the Provençal fig liqueur made from red wine, figs, vanilla, angelica, oranges and tangerine among other, secret ingredients, but I thought I’d try combining figs, vanilla sugar, orange zest, red wine and a slug of cognac and see how I get on.

I think it should be quite good by Christmas, even better by next Christmas. If you’d like to try it, I’m giving you the recipe I’ve used here but of course it’s something of a leap of faith. I’ve never made this before. I’ve no idea if it will work, but if it does won’t we all be enormously pleased with ourselves on Christmas Day?

Fig Liqueur

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This lovely illustration is by my Twitter friend, artist Anna Koska (@gremkoska). Do take a look at her website here.

[Copyright: Anna Koska]

When you’re buying figs, especially if you’re buying them by the box, lift them out of their pretty paper cases and inspect them for mould – the mortal enemy of figs everywhere. One mouldy fig will turn the rest very quickly indeed.

Should make about 1.5 litres. We’ll see.

600g figs
225g caster sugar or vanilla sugar, I used vanilla sugar
1 strip of orange peel, pared with a very sharp vegetable peeler, any white pith removed
1 bottle fruity red wine, plus a bit, enough to almost fill the jar
100ml cognac
You’ll need 1x2l cold, sterilised jar and some cold, sterilised bottles to decant the liqueur into

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Cut figs…

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Macerating in sugar…

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Add the wine and cognac.

Wash the figs, trim off the hard stem and cut into eighths. Place some in the bottom of the jar and scatter some of the sugar on top. Continue layering fruit and sugar until you’ve used them all up. Seal the jar and put in a cool place for 2-3 days, turning it every day until the sugar has dissolved.

Add the orange zest. Pour in the wine and cognac. Seal and store the liqueur in a cool, dark place for a couple of months, shaking the jar every week or so. Strain through a sieve and then strain again through a sieve lined in muslin. Pour into cold, sterilised bottles and seal. Ideally, leave it for a month or so before drinking.

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