What better way to brighten these frosty February days than with a twinkly reminder of the festive season we just left behind? Ha! The truth is I’ve just been too busy to keep up with posts. So apologies for harking back to 2011 but I feel it would be a shame not to celebrate these:
Concealed inside is a rich carrot sponge, with cinnamon and nutmeg, heaps of orange and lemon zest and a helping of preserved mixed peel (the type that normally makes it into xmas puds). Cake-decorating gurus stress the importance of a strong, firm cake that can hold the weight of plentiful decorations, so the basic sponge is adapted from a Mich Turner recipe (from this book). Once baked, I skewered the sponge and drowned it in Mich’s sugary citrus syrup, then sandwiched it with orange buttercream. I’m not such a fan of marzipan, so I gave both cakes an undercoat of the same orange buttercream, before their topcoat of white sugarpaste.
I’m so behind with my blogging. I have the utmost respect for anyone who manages to post once a week. As for those who do it daily – I bow down to you. Life has taken over recently, so here I am posting a very belated autumn recipe with blatant disregard for seasonality. Don’t go looking for ambercups now; you’ll be sorely disappointed….
Anyway, back in November, I was wandering around Brixton farmers’ market and found myself captivated by the crates of amazing squashes. Beautiful things in every shape and size: smooth, knobbly, bulbous, bent, some fat and round; others twisted and otherworldly; a rainbow of orange, yellow, gold and green.
This ambercup squash took my fancy. Like a miniature pumpkin, with a typical round shape, deep orange hue, lovely stripes and a contrasting green tip. I bought a couple and they sat on my kitchen windowsill looking pretty for a week.
Then I made them into this soup. It would have been quick and simple, had my stick blender not exploded in my face. Luckily the soup survived, as did my eyebrows – just! – but a chunky texture wasn’t floating my boat, so the soup was temporarily abandoned and confined to the freezer until Amazon delivered my spanking new Breville appliance.
It was worth the wait. When – days later – I finally puréed the soup and blended in coconut milk, the outcome was silky smooth, mildly spiced and nutty.
I was given this tagine dish for my birthday this year. My boyfriend got it so right.
It sits proudly on our kitchen shelf, all sleek and beautiful and modern. It’s quite different to traditional Moroccan tagines, which are made of terracotta and can be intricately painted (I’d love one of those someday too, but I’m holding out for an authentic one from Marrakech), but what makes mine brilliant is that you can use it on the hob and in the oven – very convenient, as it means you can fry the onions and spices on the stove, brown the meat, then bung it all straight into the oven for its long, slow cooking.
Lamb tagine is possibly my all-time favourite dish, when it’s done how I like it. I don’t have time for watery ones. It must be thick and textured; oozing with onions; sweet and gooey; fragrant but not too spicy. It must include sticky dates, must be scattered with flaked almonds, must have fresh coriander on top and cool yogurt on the side. The couscous, ideally, is lemony, and on the grainy side rather than soggy or wet. It’s my ‘turn-to’ recipe when we have people for dinner, and a satisfying feast on a Sunday.
We’ve decided to save cash by eating in on Friday nights. The rule is that we have to do something fancy, so that we don’t feel cheated out of restaurant-standard food. It also must be a recipe that will teach us both something new. On this occasion I really wanted duck. And Duncan wanted something Oriental. So this recipe satisfied us both.
Buying duck breasts in a supermarket isn’t easy. While they have chicken breasts of every shape and provenance, duck is limited to whole birds, crowns, legs or ready-sauced, ready-to-rip-you-off packs that don’t welcome your own flavours. So we bought a Gressingham crown – pricy but great quality – and Dunc had a bash at jointing off the wings and removing the breast meat from the carcass. New skill number one!
The trouble with baking cakes is that I always end up eating them. And nobody needs a whole cheesecake to themselves (especially this one, which contains a criminal amount of Philadelphia). Even if I somehow limit myself to just a slice, the rest taunts me from the fridge, gradually disappearing in sneaky spoonfuls until: Ooops…I appear to have eaten the whole thing!
So when Dunc had friends for dinner last Friday, I figured a crowd of hungry blokes was a good excuse to make something indulgent that would be polished off fast enough to safeguard my waistline. (As it was, the cake turned out pretty rich – though in a good way – so it even outdid four ravenous men. It was still fresh enough two days later to double up as afters for Sunday lunch.)
When your boyfriend declares ‘I think this is the best thing you’ve ever cooked for me’, you know the dish in question must be posted on your blog.
These pies use some of our absolute favourite ingredients: chorizo, cider, and – for me – pastry. I just love pastry, be it puff/shortcrust/filo/whatever. And I’m sure I can’t be the only person who also likes to eat it raw, soft and squishy and sinful, with its uncooked egg and high percentage of butter. I buy extra just to ensure enough offcuts for snackage. Of course I like it cooked, too, crisp and golden, holding fast against the soggy threat of a creamy sauce.
And am I the only person rallying against the ready-rolled sheet? Too many rolling pins must lurk forgotten at the back of kitchen drawers. I enjoy wielding mine, shaking it at anyone who dares enter my kitchen. There’s something therapeutic about rolling out a pastry block; a certain nostalgia about the image of floury hands, dusty apron, and white specks in your hair. But romantic notions aside, the ready-rolled sheet is lazier and more expensive than a pastry block and the end-result is normally no different, except perhaps slightly more uniform (i.e. boring).
Anyway, Duncan was right: these pies are really great. We noticed a slight Thai note to them: quite mysterious since they use none of the requisite ingredients, but I put it down to the tang from the chorizo; the way its sweetness bleeds into the cream, making it reminiscent of coconut milk; and the tarragon – a flavour just unfamiliar enough to seem a little bit exotic. So thank you Delicious magazine for feeding me well and earning me good-girlfriend points. (I earned even more by letting Dunc polish off the rest of the cider.)
On a Friday afternoon baking whim, I figured I’d get some lazy weekend breakfasts ready and waiting. These began as a Rachel Allen recipe for rhubarb muffins (from her Home Cooking book), but I was rhubarb-less, couldn’t be bothered to pop to the shops and it’s not in season anyway. My eyes landed on the one measly, just-about-to-go-soft apple in my fruit bowl. Hmmm….
I also swapped the type of sugar, whacked in some nuts, replaced the buttermilk with bog-standard semi-skimmed, and went a bit mental with the cinnamon. They’ve emerged from the oven glorious, golden and autumnal! I’m very pleased with their open texture, the moistness of the apple and the subtle caramel sweetness from the muscovado. A few improvements could be made (see end of recipe) but I won’t be dwelling on those when I tuck into these on the morrow.