Thursday 27 May 2010

All Cakes Considered....Review

I have so many cookbooks that it's almost ridiculous....although I justify buying more and more because baking IS my job (and I can claim back the tax, YAY!) Where baking books are concerned (as opposed to more general cookbooks) I am quite choosy, however. I bake 6 days a they really have to say something new and give me inspiration.

I saw this book when we were in the US last year and made a note of the title(far too heavy to buy there and bring home!) American books are usually my favourites for baking ideas as I find the cakes are just the kind my customers expect - tall, beautiful & unusual. A little bit different to the normal coffee shop offerings.

The first thing that attracted me was the fact that it's published by my VERY favourite company, the San Francisco based Chronicle Books. Their titles are always beautiful, well laid out and in a wonderful format (smaller than average) and I can spot them anywhere!

Melissa Gray has produced a gorgeous book,packed with unusual recipes that I couldn't wait to try. As I write, the smell of her Key Lime Cake is wafting it's way from my oven. Mmmm!

The author works for National Public Radio and, every Monday, brings a different cake into the office for her co-workers. This book is a collection of the recipes, often accompanied with a little story about where the cake idea originated. She writes in a contemporary, witty & chatty style that I find very appealing - she feels like a friend.

Most importantly, I've made many recipes...stand outs include Cinnamon Almond Coffee Cake, ATF Gingerbread, Banana Cake with Chocolate Frosting & Triple Chocolate Orange Passion Cake...they are all delicious & they ALL WORK first time.

There are also cookie & pie recipes and great, informative sections on ingredients and equipment that would be really useful for someone who doesn't bake so often (or isn't too familiar with American ingredioents etc)

This book is at the front of my shelf and I use it regularly when I need a new, zesty idea to stun my customers. Highly recommended to all who love baking!

Friday 14 May 2010

Turning Japanese

Every month or so, three girlfriends and I get together at each others houses in turn to eat, chat & have a glass of wine. We are all so different, with very different lives & opinions - which makes it so much fun! Recently, I've noticed that at each brunch or dinner the host has encountered a longer & longer list of dietary requirements from her wheat, no dairy, no red goes on!

As it was my turn to host last night, I decided to bypass all the problems and go Japanese - it was a huge success! We chatted over drinks while we waited for everyone to arrive, nibbling wasabi almonds & rice crackers. One of the girls turned up in a kimono top, which she looked gorgeous in despite her decidedly UN-oriental auburn hair & freckles!

I cheated on the starter by serving a platter of store-bought (but very good quality!) sushi....we ate from square white plates and I put a little crackle glazed green bowl of tamari/brown rice vinegar dipping sauce in the centre of each. This was perfect for grazing and talking - and washing up afterwards, as we mainly used our fingers!

For the main course I prepared Crispy Black Pepper Tofu and Soba Noodles with Edamame, Broccolini, Green Beans, Bok Choy & Enoki Mushrooms. WOW! The tofu recipe was again from my wonderful new book Plenty and was absolutely stunning. Every bit went which was quite a feat with 3 committed meat eaters! And for dessert I prepared a plate of fresh pineapple & mango with a lime & chilli syrup which we ate with jasmine or roasted rice genmaicha tea.

I would definitely recommend this if you have to cook a special meal for people with allergies or dislikes. It was so easy to prepare in advance, the kitchen was clear and I had plenty of time to enjoy the company of my guests

Sayonara for now! xox

Sunday 9 May 2010


This week I bought the new and very eagerly awaited book by Yotam Ottolenghi

I loved the first Ottolenghi cookbook so much that I couldn't wait to plunge into this one!

It's lived up to expectations so far, I'm happy to say. Unusually - since it's author isn't one - it's a totally vegetarian cookbook, which is fantastic. The cuisine of the Middle East (Yotam is Israeli) is one of my very favourites....and the book also has Far Eastern influences, which makes for mouthwatering descriptions & photographs! I can't wait to work my way through it, but wanted to share the first recipe I made with you to give you an idea of the wonderful flavours you can expect! I made a few changes (as always - I can't resist tweaking!) to the recipe below, but I'll give you the original first and then let you know what I did slightly differently. But I'd urge you to try it - especially as the weather gets warmer, it's the perfect outdoor lunch food!

Lentils with Grilled Aubergine
from 'Plenty' by Yotam Ottolenghi

Serves 4

2 medium aubergines
2 tbsp top-quality red wine vinegar
200g small dark lentils (I used Puy)
3 small carrots,\peeled
2 celery sticks
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs
1/2 white onion
3 tbsp olive oil + extra to drizzle
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tbsp  each roughly chopped parsley, coriander & dill
2 tbsp creme fraiche ( or natural yoghurt)
salt & black pepper

Cook the aubergines first. If you have a gas hob, put them directly over 2 moderate flames and cook 12/15 minutes, turning frequently with metal tongs until the f;lesh is soft & smoky & the skin burnt all over. Alternatively, pierce with a sharp knife in a few places, put on a foil lined tray & place directly under a hot grill for 1 hour turning a few times until completely deflated & the skins are burned and breaking.

Remove from the heat, cut a slit down the centre of each & scoop out the flesh into a colander avoiding the blackened skin. Leave to drain for at least 15 mins, then season with plenty of salt & pepper & 1/2 tbsp vinegar.

While aubergines are grilling, place lentils into a medium pan. Cut one carrot & half a celery stick into large chunks and throw them in with the bayleaf, thyme & onion. Cover with plenty of water and bring to the boil. Simmer over a low heat until the lentils are tender (about 25 mins) Drain in a sieve, removing and discarding the onion, carrot, celery, bayleaf & thyme and transfer lentils to a mixing bowl. Add the rest of the vinegar, 2 tbsps olive oil and plenty of salt & pepper and set aside.

Cut the remaining carrot & celery into 1cm dice and mix with the remaining oil, the tomatoes, 1/2 tsp brown sugar and some salt. Spread in an oven-proof dish and cook in oven at 140 degrees/Gas Mark 1 until carrot is tender but still firm.

Add the cooked vegetables to the warm lentils, followed by the chopped herbs and stir gently. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Spoon onto serving plates, pile some aubergine into the centre of each portion and top with a dollop of creme fraiche. Finish with a trickle of oil.

The things I tweaked:

I used sherry vinegar (didn't have red wine)
Instead of cooking the vegetables in the oven, I sauteed them in olive oil until softened slightly, adding in the aubergine flesh and an extra  finely sliced half onion....then I piled it all into a baking dish and mixed in the herbs (substituting fresh mint for the coriander as there was none at the market) and added some good feta cheese broken into rough chunks. I then drizzled the olice oil over the whole, ground some extra black pepper and baked in the oven at 180 degrees for about 15 mins. I omitted the creme fraiche.

Looking at my tweaks, I'm wondering if I did, in fact, make a rather different dish in the end?? But the inspiration was wholly there thanks to Ottolenghi! And that, surely, is the point of a good cookbook? To inspire the creative passion in us and drive us to produce wondrous food...and this truly was!

A highly recommended book. Enjoy! xoE