Truth compels us to assert our conviction of the superior wholesomeness of bread made in our own homes - Eliza Acton

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Friday 27th October

petit four

These are just slightly too big to eat elegantly in one mouthful, but I hope you will forgive that and allow them to stand as petit fours for this months Sugar High Friday, hosted on home turf by Jeanne at Cooksister. I had the idea fairly early on to use my lovely orange silicon madeleine tray to mould little chocolate shells, but it was only browsing the shelves of the shop at the end of the road that I decided how to fill them. This is one of those shops that sells food only if it has a more or less infinite shelf life: tins and jars aplenty, not much fresh produce. Also at least half its product lines were not packaged for a UK market, so if you don't mind guessing a bit as you decipher languages from Polish to Bengali, you can pick up some interesting foreign ingredients. That's a slight detour, as these aren't enormously exotic - though perhaps the very fact that I feel that way suggests how wide our horizons are these days.

Sour cherry and pistachio shells

Brush moulds thickly with melted chocolate and leave to set in a cool place. Meanwhile, warm single cream with a small amount of caster sugar and melt a leaf of gelatine in it. Put a thin layer of sour cherry compote or jam in the bottom of each shell and pour cream carefully over it to the top of the shell. Leave in fridge for ten minutes to start setting. Finely chop pistachio nuts and mix with brown sugar and cinnamon. Scatter over the cream and return to fridge to set completely (should take no more than half an hour, as they're small).


Friday 20th October


When Petra over at Food Freak received her EBBP parcel, she made some very kind comments about the biscuits I sent her. I have to admit, I was rather pleased with them if I do say so as shouldn't! In fact, the eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted that this is not a picture of a biscuit - I liked them so much that I repeated the ingredients for my Annual Excuse to Eat Cake. Mango and cardamom is a favourite combination of mine. For the biscuits, I used a random choc-chip cookie recipe, substituting white chocolate for milk and dried mango for raisins; for the cakes, a very standard cupcake recipe - with added mango. The mango was picked up in M&S and was of the moist and sticky variety, if you see what I mean in the context of dried fruit. I'm sure it would work equally well with ordinary dry dried - there's a fair-trade brand that I've bought before and will try here next time. Finally I think the biscuits were a greater success: the flavours were stronger and brighter, whereas the cake, although not deliberately sweeter, was more muffled. I also failed (as usual) to achieve a decent white chocolate ganache to ice them with, which might have helped.

The method is the same for each: cream the butter and sugar, add the egg and other wet ingredients, beating thoroughly, then the dry ingredients.

Mango & Cardamom biscuits

150g sugar
100g butter
1 egg
175g plain flour
1/2tsp salt
1/2tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g mango
1tsp cardamom
100g white chocolate

Spoon onto tray and flatten slightly. Bake for 18 minutes at 160 degrees. Made about 16.

Mango & Cardamom cupcakes

100g sugar
100g butter
2 eggs
2tbs milk
175g self-raising flour
100g mango
1tsp cardamom
Spoon into cake cases and bake for 20 minutes at 180 degrees. Made about 12 medium sized cupcakes. Ice when cool, with sugar icing as here or - preferably - ganache.


Thursday 12th October


We are very much beginners in the gardening game, but our little yard has given us so much pleasure this year. The credit must go to C, who has worked much harder than me. 'That's a weed!' he cries, 'pull it up!' while I plead for its life, 'but look, it has a flower!' But his enthusiasm and determination has meant that not only did we manage to keep alive nearly all the pretty, flowery things we inherited from the previous owners, we actually grew our own stuff. Edible stuff. It's been said many times, many ways, but there really is a thrill to sitting down to a meal made up of home-grown produce. Earlier in the summer we ate garden lettuce until we doubted that we could ever go back to limp supermarket salad bags. Our thyme (plain and lemon) and rosemary plants are in constant use. It has been harder to find uses for marjoram, but it has found its way into the occasional roast chicken or herby potato dish. Neither dill nor tarragon have really thrived - probably because the summer was so dry. The tomato crop was small but delicious; the chilli crop vast (in proportion to the very small plant) and just as different from the mass-produced version as the tomatoes, which for some reason I wasn't expecting. The only real failure was the beans, which were eaten by slugs the moment they poked their heads above ground. The most notable triumph, though, has been the butternut squash. So far just the one squash has ripened to a reasonable size, but to its proud parents it deserved every rosette going. It was with very mixed feelings that it was chopped, peeled, roasted and puréed the other night. Fortunately it made a fine soup - well worth the sacrifice.


Tuesday 10th October

plum pastry

This recipe came from the September Olive, from Paul Merrett's section on seasonal produce - as usual, the best of the recipe pieces. Warm cooked fruit isn't normally at the top of my list when it comes to desserts - just a personal foible - but the reception this got reminded me forcefully that most people don't agree! I had to agree in the end that the combination of hot plums, crisp pastry and cold, thick cream is good, and the trick of sandwiching the filo pastry with nuts, sugar and cinnamon turns a good pudding into rather a special one. Although the recipe says walnuts I used pistachios on this occasion, which seemed to work fine. I imagine that walnuts (besides being slightly cheaper and more accessible) would bring a little note of bitterness which might be nice in contrast to the sticky plums. Either way, this recipe is definitely one to keep in mind for the autumn, when people with plum trees are able to share the harvest...

Plum 'baklava' - serves four

500g plums, stoned and quartered
150g caster sugar
200g walnuts
4 tbsp demerara sugar
2 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp cinnamon
6 sheets filo pastry
60g butter, melted

Cook the plums with caster sugar for twenty minutes, until soft. Chop nuts finely, mix with demerara and spices. Take one sheet of filo and brush with melted butter. Scatter nut mixture over, and press another sheet on top. Repeat, ending by brushing butter on the third sheet but not scattering nuts. Cut into six squares and put aside. Repeat with the remaining three sheets: you should now have twelve squares, each three sheets thick. Put these on a baking sheet (PM recommends that you use a second baking sheet on top to keep them flat. My kitchen contains just the one baking sheet, so I didn't - hence the unflat nature of my squares, which you can see in the photo. Didn't strike me as a dreadful problem) and bake at Gas 4 (180 degrees) for fifteen minutes. Stack three squares of pastry with two layers of plums on each plate, dust with icing sugar or leftover nut mixture.


Sunday 8th October


Here's efficiency - within a week of sending my parcel for Euro Blogging By Post 6, not only has it arrived with Petra the self-confessed Food Freak in Germany, but my own parcel has arrived! A lovely green package leapt out at me when I got home on Friday - looking extremely enticing on a rainy afternoon at the end of a hard week. I wasted no time in identifying the sender as Lexi of the intriguingly titled (who am I to talk?!) Boybeater. Lexi is in Sweden and sent some real Scandanavian treats. Rosehip soup powder for instance, which apparently makes a great hot sauce for vanilla ice cream. Must try that! A tube of Fjallbrynt - oh dear, I must go and find where I have dropped Lexi's note about this! As I understand it this is a sweet, milky spread. Then there's the sweeties: ahlgrens bilar, 'Sweden's most purchased car', and of course liquorice - this time a hard, spicy sort from Finland. Before I got to any of that, though, I had already torn into one of the two tempting bars of Marabou chocolate! What a treat - thanks to Lexi, and to organiser Johanna, whose round-up is at The Passionate Cook.


Thursday 5th October


Geek alert! I am totally enamoured with my new discovery, Library Thing. It's simply an online book cataloguing system, but it's very nice to use and makes my inner librarian oh so happy. The lightbulb moment came when I realised that the sub-category of my book collection I most wanted to use it for was cookbooks (free accounts allow you to catalogue two hundred books). Now, it makes me happy even if that's all I ever do (my 'shelf', far from complete as so far I've been working from memory, is here). There is already a group for cookbook collectors, and I suppose I could join that and so on. But actually, these days when I think about cookbooks, the people whose expertise I really trust are other foodbloggers. If you already know someone's taste and style in food generally, the knowledge of the books they have collected, would like or would recommend is a hundred times more useful. Wouldn't this be a great tool for our community! (Yes, well, snigger if you like but what would you call it?) So I would use it to inform my own purchases, certainly, but also for inspiration in choosing gifts - and speaking only for my unsociable, little-travelled self, I'm finding the gift-giving culture associated with blogging (EBBP and the like, but also when we meet up, especially if one person is visiting from overseas) delightful, but new. So that's my pitch. Normal programming will be resumed in our next entry.


Wednesday 4th October


My chums the Doctors have a bit of a thing about Selfridges. I believe they'd never shop anywhere else if they could help it. And who can blame them? It is mighty fancy. There's something about having hundreds of expensive, designer-y products - from size 00 dresses to Valrhona chocolate - in one building. And it's on handy, plebian Oxford Street! None of your Knightsbridge, thank you. Part of the Selfridges experience is eating there: cakes and champagne on a mezzanine overlooking the handbags, say. But there is something better if you venture up a floor or two: new this year is a bar called Obika which, despite sounding most un-Italian, serves mozzarella and only mozzarella (apparently the name is Neopolitan slang, meaning something like 'over here!'). It sounds good, and it is good. You can sample different mozzarellas (mozzarelli/ae?) from different regions of Italy, and combine them with various charcuterie, salads and accompaniments.

The picture is of the tasting plate I ordered, which made a nice light lunch; the mozzarella was from Campana, in Calabria (the western side of the 'foot', opposite where we were last month) - made with buffalo milk, of course. The salami was 'nduja di spezzano piccolo, also from Calabria; with an interesting spreadable consistency and very spicy, which made a strong contrast to the sweet, milky cheese. From the long menu I also picked out caponata, which was generously loaded with pine nuts, and some slices of smoked swordfish - ok, a slight anomaly on this plate, but again very nicely done. The service and atmosphere here are more high street than boutique, and thus don't quite match the prices, which are somewhere in between the two. But being surrounded by beautiful things and eating this exquisite produce does make one feel like one of the Beautiful People, which isn't bad for a salad.


Friday 29th September

Thank goodness there are better bloggers than me out there. Johanna (the Passionate Cook) not only blogs regularly (unlike some of us), she also organises us into getting together, meeting travellers, learning from each other and of course sharing food. More often than not she invites us into her lovely home (and if I avoid the word 'gracious', hopefully I don't sound all Hello! about it, but it is a lovely home). This she did last weekend, with the excuse of a gradual realisation that in addition to her own extensive knowledge of Mexican food, there was a little hump of expertise accumulating in the London foodblogging community: Xochitl of Xochitl Cooks has, as the name might suggest, a large streak of native know-how; and Jeanne of Cook Sister counts among her multi-national acquaintances Iliana, who similarly grew up eating and cooking the Real Stuff. So these three - Johanna, Xochitl, Iliana - generously shared their recipes, memories, tips and secrets with an eager crowd of disciples - me, Jeanne, Keiko, Vanessa and Eggbeater's Shuna, who was visiting from the States with head and hands full of the kind of cooking instinct you only get from doing it in a professional kitchen.

I confess that before Saturday my knowledge of Mexican food began and ended with guacamole. After six hours of tuition - but that makes it sound formal, it was really just like cooking dinner with friends, where your friends are leading the way because they have made and eaten these dishes a hundred times - after six hours of chopping, chatting and chortling, I am still happy to begin and end with guacamole - let's just say there is plenty I want to eat in between. So we made chicken with potatoes and chorizo (tinga de pollo) and slow-cooked, caramelly pork, and shredded beef with tomatoes, and chile rillenos (peppers stuffed with cheese and then deep fried, soooo good), and the freshest, brightest fish ceviche, and fried fish tacos, and pinto beans. And then we gathered it all together and ate it with the salsas we had made - pico de gallo, with tomatoes, chillis and onion; and salsa verde with tomatillos, and one with smoky chipotle chillis - absolutely delicious, but fiery hot. And then - sigh, I love women, but we make no effort to avoid stereotype - we said "I'm full. No, I'm stuffed. I couldn't eat another bite. I'll die if I do. Oh yes, we made a flan! Oh well, just a sliver..." Flan is crème caramel made with evaporated and condensed milk. It is surprisingly unsweet and altogether wonderful.

I'm sure I've missed out more than a few dishes. But hurrah, I have all the recipes at home! And it is all surprisingly easy - with someone to chat to (not to mention seven other cooks' anti-onion remedies) all that chopping went like a flash.


Tuesday 19th September


Oh dear, oh dear. The trouble with this blogging business is that the longer you leave it, the harder it gets. Still, I have had a holiday since we last spoke, so I should be refreshed and raring to go. Said vacation was in Puglia, the far south or 'heel' of Italy. Several articles brought to my attention SINCE we made the booking have insisted that this region is 'the new Tuscany', which I think is stretching it a bit... possibly they mean that it's at the same state of development that Tuscany was just before the media discovered it and made it fashionable (rings a bell - ah yes, much like C's insistence that Stratford is 'the new Islington', then!) In other words, it's rural, it's not particularly wealthy, it has tourists but not vast numbers of them. Which is lovely.

But never mind the Sunday supplement analysis, what about the food? Well, yes, we ate. And ate and ate. We were never far from the sea, and several times actually on the seafront, so we ate as much seafood as we could find. Spaghetti with mussels... fritto misto... octopus salad... The rest of the time we ate a lot of pizza, and rejoiced in the tomatoes, eating bruschetta over and over again. There was a joy in the repetition, not worrying too much over menus ('I could make that - we could get that at home - that's not very interesting - I've had that before') Sounds daft, doesn't it, but somehow the combination of obsessive greed and insufficient opportunity does these things to me when I eat out in London. In Italy? Not so much. We did pretty well at the not worrying, actually. We got lost, and missed buses, and failed to reach one of our planned destinations because it was Sunday, and we ordered bizarre melted cheese concoctions when we meant to order something fresh and light. And we sat outside every single evening in defiance of the mosquitos. Somehow, the knowledge that when we woke up, breakfast would consist of a cappucino and a brioche stuffed with hazelnut icecream, made it all seem ok.