Travel the world from the kitchen, through time, trends and tastes. Like food? Join the club.

Friday September 9th, 2011

Eating the Sun.

Autumn is tearing strips off Summer this week and we all know that inevitably Summer will surrender to the attack.  The blustery days have a storybook charm. Dark evenings will soon make the pavements twinkle and street vendors selling caramelised nuts will lace the air with a fairground vapour. But I’m not ready to submit to the season change just yet. 

Defiant, I am donning my apron and inviting sunshine into the kitchen. The weather outside can do what it likes. Greek food is made of sun. The tomatoes grow enormous and juicy on it, lemons ripen in it as do deep green olives, and oregano grows wild under its canopy. I can but feel sunny when I eat Greek.

I worked as a cook for a short while on the island of Crete.  The taverna was based in the small, touristy town of Aghios Nikolaos. Authentic cuisine was often not what the punters craved after a night of clubbing. In fact it was in Greece that I mastered the art of the English Breakfast, although we fried the eggs in olive oil - try it if you haven't already, it’s delicious. But on quiet days food was mainly served up for the family and staff (me). Here are a few of the recipes we would make and eat outside on white plastic chairs facing the Aegean Sea. It is what I eat when I want to taste the sun.

Care to join me?

When I was a child I vowed that when I grew up I would only eat food with my fingers. These dishes satisfy the rebellion. Resign yourself to the mess and stuff it all in a pita with the souvlaki (Greek meat kebabs). They can be made with chicken or pork too.

I love the zingy lemony flavours found in Greek food. There's nothing like a table of different dishes to keep the taste buds dancing. If you can squeeze any more in, here's a recipe for Greek baked vegetables, it does go really well with the souvlaki, but could easily be a veggie option...

Thursday September 1st, 2011.


Many of my recipes take inspiration from other countries. I try and recreate them using local stuff where I can to maximize flavour without losing authenticity. This recipe needed no globe trotting though. Inspiration was right on my door step, ready for the taking and making.

Although the melodrama of gushing rain sets the tone today, only a few weeks ago in joyous sunshine my eyes chanced upon three laden cherry trees by the roadside.
Nothing tastes better than a freebie, especially when said freebie fetches a premium in the supermarkets.

Elsie and I were cocooned in the hot car on a fast road, when I saw the lipstick coloured globes, copious and apparently free for all. Resisting the urge to screech to a halt cartoon style, I clocked the location and raced home to get a cherry picking kit: tall wooden stool, basket, walking stick, Chris. 

It’s really surprising when you start looking just how much food can be found in our hedgerows and kerbs, blackberries, hazelnuts, cobnuts and rosehips to name a few. All can be turned into delectable perfumed delights to provide highnotes on low days in the kitchen.

We gathered two and a half kilos that day, and they were the ones that didn’t make it into our mouths during harvesting. We looked like we’d returned from a gruesome massacre. But cherries must be the sweets of the Gods and worth the gore. These were as deeply flavoured as their colour and sweet with a sour note to keep things sparky.  Without wishing to improve on perfection I cooked some with sugar and a drop of almond extract and they hit dizzy new heights. The taste reminded me of those jars of bright red morello cocktail cherries that I lusted over when I was a child. Replacing the almond extract with ameretto liqueur is the adult version and tastes even better.

Here’s the recipe for the cherry compote that I ate with scones and clotted cream, so naughty as to push the boundaries of niceness into divinity.

I also made a cherry clafoutis, the recipe was given to me in France by my friend Laure. It originally came from her mother Marie who had a small restaurant in the French Alps that was so exclusive you could eat there by invitation only.
Let the clafoutis turn golden brown before removing from the oven and don’t be worried if it sinks in the middle, be charmed. 

Wednesday 22nd June, 2011.

Hot Cakes at the Accordion Club

This recipe had me jetting all over the place. I’ve covered two continents and taken a trip back in time to another century.  A few weeks ago a nasty ulcer and over-ambitious kitchen redecoration project made both cooking and eating rather agonising. Scuppered, I rejected the domestic domain, and, Elsie in tow, headed to a gem of a bookshop. One of our regular haunts, it offers an excellent selection of old and new children’s books and cookery books, so we’re both happy. Predictably I came away with a mountain of tomes. Never mind redecorating the kitchen we’re going to need an extension to accommodate them all. One book, Exciting Food for Southern Types by witty Italian gastronome Pellegrino Artusi (1820-1911), had me chomping at the bit and one recipe in particular, Accordion Cakes.

I am a very bad accordion player and that being so, after two years learning two songs, it isn’t unreasonable to attempt to get better.  A chance find of an accordion club down the road and a recipe for a cake in the instrument’s honour, all seemed too serendipitous to pass over.
Pelegrino Artusi recounts a little anecdote preceding the recipe, which explains its name:
A woman wrote to me: ‘I want to teach you, as I had promised myself to do, how to make a tasty and elegant fried pastry. But heaven help you if you call it flat, because it should turn out quite otherwise. Call it “accordion cake,” which would be a fair description.’
Following a recipe from the 1890’s differed greatly from using modern cookery books. The recipe has no measurements so I decided to do a dummy run. The pastry was made with flour, eggs, salt, cognac, then rolled flat and folded in such a way as to ping up into the shape of accordions when deep fried. The end result was quite plain and really needed to be eaten straight away.  This needed tweaking if I was going to ingratiate myself with the accordion elite. After much (virtual) jetting around the globe and a bit of artistic licence, I came up with a revised recipe to suit the imminent occasion.

It is a sort of cross between churros (a type of Spanish doughnut eaten for breakfast and dipped in hot chocolate or a scrumptious sauce) and beignets which are an umbrella term for doughnutty cakes in France, but in the U.S. are particularly associated with New Orleans and a place called the Cafe du Monde. The revised Accordion Cakes are rich, golden, bouncy bellows that remind me of nights at the fairground. They also went (appropriately) like hot cakes at the accordion club, where we ate them to the burlesque tones of their namesake.
Here’s the recipe. The folding is a bit tricky and not altogether foolproof, you might end up with some collapsed bellows. Luckily they’re for eating not playing and taste just as good.

Accordion Cake Ingredients

1 packet of dry active yeast
175ml finger-warm water
50 grams granulated sugar  (this isn’t much, add more if you want a sweeter treat)
1/2 tsp salt
1 beaten egg
100ml evaporated milk
450 grams strong white flour
 30 grams melted butter,  plus 30 grams for pastry wash
2 tsp vanilla extract  or 1 tsp vanilla essence
2 tsp mixed spice plus an extra  1/2 tbsp for the spiced sugar (more if you want it really spiced)
Vegetable Oil for Frying
3 tbsp Icing sugar

Mix the yeast, warm water and sugar in a bowl and leave to stand until frothy (about 5 mins)
Then add salt, beaten egg, evaporated milk and vanilla extract
Stir in the flour a spoonful at a time and the mixed spice until it forms a soft dough (you may need more or less flour to obtain this, just use your judgement)
Knead until smooth
Place in a floured or oiled bowl and cover
Leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size
 When ready to use, punch it down and tip onto a lightly floured surface.
Now for the tricky bit . . .

Rolling and Folding the Dough
Roll out a sheet of dough about  1/2cm thick
Brush the surface generously with melted butter
Fold it upon itself so that it is 10 to 11cm wide (it is like rolling a Swiss roll only you fold instead of roll) making sure that the inner side is the greased side
Cut a little sliver off each end to straighten up
Then cut the flattened Swiss roll shape in half,  lengthwise  (you will be left with 2 long strips)
Cut each strip crosswise every 4cm to obtain little rectangles
Press the uncut spine of each rectangle firmly using your fingers (you are trying to stick together where the folds meet, so that they don’t come apart during frying)
Place on a floured baking sheet and leave to rise in a warm place for 30–40 mins
Meanwhile make the spiced sugar by mixing 1 tablespoon of mixed spice with 3 tbps of icing sugar.

Cooking the Cakes
When the Accordion Cakes have risen, heat 2-3 inches of vegetable oil in a saucepan. Toss a pea-sized bit of left over dough or some bread in the heated oil and if it springs to the top you’re ready to go.
If you have kitchen tongs they make this job really easy
Two at time gently ease the cakes into the hot fat turning to make them cook evenly
In the hot fat they will open like flowers or rather accordions!
Take them out when they are golden (1-2 mins)
Toss in the spiced sugar, sprinkling more over before serving. 

Perfect on their own or with coffee, hot chocolate or a cup of Earl Grey tea.

Monday 6th June, 2011.

Eggs is Eggs

We’ve been given a 1946 Bush valve radio. The colour of chestnuts it speaks in warm hollow tones like Cleo Laine. A thing of such beauty and ambience has to live in the kitchen. I am transported to another time when I’m near it, a form of travel at least. 

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”.  (L.P Hartley 1953)

I wonder who our radio belonged to when it was state of the art? What news was transmitted?  I found a few headlines from 1946.  A man was hanged for treason in the U.K. The first V.E celebration marked the end of the entire war, and the Ministry of Food circulated a recipe for Squirrel Pie as rationing continued. Mmm might try that one! 

It’s a dinosaur now and most of the time tuned to Radio 4 longwave, as it can’t pick up anything else that well. Sometimes though I will scratch around for another station and I’m always thrilled to find a crackly French gabble sweet talk its way into my kitchen. 

I lived in France for a while and some days miss being a foreigner. My rough grasp of the French language gave me a quiet feeling of anonymity, vague, dreamlike. French washing up liquid is different from ours. It smells of almond, olive, magnolia, lending an authentic European air to my kitchen there. Mundane things like this made being abroad always feel abroad every moment of everyday I lived there. Ironically that feeling of foreignness is the reason I feel most homesick for France now I’m back in Britain.

So some days I tune the radio into France and pretend I’m back in our cold 19th century French kitchen listening to the constant trill of cicadas through the open door while I cook. Today is one of those days and when in France I say cook, well er, Moroccan actually. I didn’t take many cookery books with me when we moved away; we didn’t know how long we were to stay. One book I did take was Casa Moro: The Second Cookbook (Sam and Sam Clark, Ebury Press). Chris had bought me a copy just before we left and in the upheaval I had barely opened it. In the French sticks, without TV, Internet, or even phone, for a while I had plenty of time to explore the recipes. 

The first person we met in France was a distant neighbour Pierre Olivier who had chickens, ducks and rabbits. Very romantic: French farmer living off the fat of the land. Except it turned out he was a property tycoon from Paris. We were often left holding the fort while he went to look after his empire in the big city. Anyway as payment we got to keep whatever was laid, so it kept us in eggs. This recipe became a bit of a staple. I don’t remember the exact recipe, I sometimes add spinach or chard because we were growing it at the time, but the original recipe was made simply using tomatoes like this one. This is how I make it. Bon Appetit. 


Ingredients for Moroccan eggs with cumin.

A good glug of olive oil 
1 onion, finely sliced
3 cloves of garlic, crushed with salt (this makes it really garlicky so use less if you prefer)
1 crumbled dried red chilli (or however much you like)
1 tablespoon toasted cumin seeds (plus a little extra for garnish)
2 tins of plum tomatoes (drained of the juice) or 6 fresh peeled tomatoes (if you can get ripe, juicy fresh ones)
4 eggs
Parsley (for garnish) 


Heat the oil in a tagine or frying pan.
Cook onions and until transparent.
Add garlic, cumin  and chilli and briefly stir.
Add the drained tinned tomatoes stir into the mix crushing them with the back of a wooden spoon.
Cook for 10 mins on a medium heat.
Carefully add the eggs roughing up the whites a bit with a fork, making sure not to break the yolks.
Cover with a tight fitting lid or foil for 5 – 7 minutes until they are done to your liking.
Garnish with fresh parsley, some toasted cumin seeds and a drizzle of olive oil.

                  Monday 23rd May, 2011.

                  Let's fika

                  It was a rainy day that cried out for the scent of baking and something sweet to eat so I searched the internet for inspiration. Actually I searched for a Chelsea bun recipe but as soon as my fingers hit the keyboard my mind went blank, I couldn’t think of the name. I typed in Danish pastries, sticky rolls, spiced raisin bread, hoping the forgotten buns might pop up in the search, alas no luck. Instead I found myself sitting in my apron opening sweet bread recipes from around the globe. One such recipe leapt out because it contained cardamom and give me an excuse to crack open those pistachio green husks to release that sweet potent scent and I challenge anyone to stop me.

                  The recipe was for Kanelbullar which are slightly sweet Swedish spiced rolls for eating with coffee. Kanel translates as cinnamon and bullar or bulle, are rolls or buns.
                  Since making them, a whole new culture has opened to me. As soon as I warmed the milk, stirred in sugar, crushed cardamom seeds and yeast I knew there must be more to Kanelbullar. The perfumed yeasty custard filled the house with an atmosphere akin to bringing home a new baby. A mixture of Cleopatra’s baths and Johnsons’ baby powder, sophisticated, fundamentally gorgeous, comforting. I imagined the aroma I breathed in, permeating through Scandinavian households and coffee shops throughout generations. The warm soft cardamom dough I kneaded in my small Lincolnshire kitchen connected me to another nation of people.
                  The delicacy of the ingredients and the slow method, hinted that Sweden's culture values more than just a ‘naughty but nice’ approach to cake. To invent Kanelbullar there must be an intrinsic worth paid to the café/coffee culture. Relaxing, talking and taking time to be in a moment with a focus and a friend.
                  It might sound farfetched to get all this from a lump of dough, but believe me this is no ordinary dough. I spoke to my friend about the experience (over coffee and cake of course) and she told me that her Swedish friend calls it fika. On further reading I learnt that fika is the act of creating a time to relax with a cup of coffee, friends and a selection of sweet breads, Kanelbullar being one. It's part of  Swedish culture that the cardamom dough had so strongly evoked.  I like Sweden, any country that has a verb for having coffee and cake gets my vote. Here’s the recipe. Let’s fika!

                  This will make around 40 rolls, so you might want to halve the amounts. I make the whole lot and give them to everyone and anyone.

                  Cardamom dough 

                  600 ml whole milk
                  350 grams unsalted melted butter
                  225 grams caster sugar (add more if you if like, this recipe only hints at sweetness)
                  1 tsp. salt
                  2 tsp. freshly ground cardamom (from about 25 pods)
                  2 packs dry active yeast (4 1/2 tsp.)
                  1 kilo strong flour (use the best you can lay your hands on)

                  • Heat milk, turning off heat when it reaches scalding point (with small bubbles across the top)
                  • Stir in melted butter, sugar, salt, and ground cardamom. (there is no word for how delectable this mixture tastes, I have to be careful not to guzzle the lot)
                  • Let mixture cool until “finger-warm” then stir in yeast and let sit for 10 minutes.
                  • Add flour into mixture a couple of tablespoons at a time until dough is firm and pulls away from the side of your mixing bowl.
                  • Cover the dough with a plastic bag or tea towel and let rise until doubled.
                  • When risen punch down dough before removing from bowl, tip out onto a floured surface and knead dough lightly until smooth and shiny. 

                    Kanelbullar filling

                    80 grams unsalted melted butter
                    150 grams caster sugar
                    4 tablespoons cinnamon
                    2 tsp ground cardamom


                    Pearl sugar or crushed sugar cubes, flaked almonds or crushed pistachios.
                    Beaten egg for egg wash.

                    • Divide your cardamom dough into two halves.
                    • Roll each half of dough into a 30cm by 45cm rectangle.
                    • Brush each rectangle well with melted butter.
                    • Combine sugar, cinnamon, cardamom and sprinkle evenly over the 2 rectangles. Roll each rectangle crosswise, like a swiss roll, to form a 45cm long roll.
                    • Using a sharp knife cut each roll into 20 equal slices.
                    • Place each slice into a paper cupcake wrapper and place on baking sheet. Cover with plastic bag or tea towel and allow to double in size, about 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 220C. 

                      • Brush risen cinnamon rolls with egg wash and sprinkle with pearl sugar and or almonds or pistchios.
                      • Place in the middle of a preheated oven and bake for 7 minutes, or until done.