January 2011

I’d managed to resist the whole whoopie pie craze until now, but a bit of Christmas money and too much Amazon browsing time meant an impulse purchase of Claire Ptak’s book on the subject. I really liked the way she followed each recipe with a recommended filling recipe, but gave it all a mix-and-match feel so that, you imagine, strawberry buttercream filling could go into a chocolate whoopie if the fancy took you.

Thanks to a huge bag of carrots from the farmer’s market, I was immediately drawn to the carrot cake whoopies with orange mascarpone filling – cream cheese icing and carrot cake is a match made in heaven, as any fool could tell you. The mixture was straightforward to make (see recipe below), and I used an ice-cream scoop to dollop my 18 equally sized blobs on to the prepared baking sheets. Claire Ptak recommends a 5cm gap between scoops of mixture, but if you have the space then I’d leave a larger gap if you possibly can; I watched, powerless, as mine merged in the oven.

Once cool (cooling doesn’t take too long, as the cakes are relatively thin), you need to whizz up your filling, sandwich the cakes together and scoff them down.

Verdict: delicious, sweet, greedy, and a great way to transport a cake + icing combo around without the topping ending up smeared all over the place. No wonder the Amish take them in their lunchboxes. I don’t think there’s anything particularly cutting-edge here though – it’s just a standard cake but with the icing on the inside. I’m going to eat another one now, just to make sure.

Carrot cake whoopie pies (adapted from The Whoopie Pie Book by Claire Ptak)
Makes 9 large or 24 small whoopie pies

250g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp salt
125g unsalted butter, softened
100g caster sugar
100g light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract (use the best you can afford)
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
zest of 1 orange (or use the zest of about ¾ of an orange here and the remainder in the filling)

250g cream cheese
150g mascarpone
100g icing sugar
Zest and juice of half an orange – see note above if you abhor orange waste, like I do

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line 2 large baking sheets with baking paper.
  2. Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, cinnamon and ginger. Stir in the salt, and set this bowl aside for now.
  3. In a separate large bowl, cream the butter and sugars together until the mixture is really light and fluffy. The more air you can get in at this stage, the better. Add the egg and vanilla extract, and mix well until it’s all well combined and not curdled-looking. Add the grated carrot and orange zest, and mix again. Add the bowl of dry ingredients and mix once more, until everything’s just incorporated. Refrigerate the mixture for 30 minutes (transferred to a Tupperware container if you have an enormous mixing bowl and a tiny fridge).
  4. Put 18 scoops of the mixture 5cm apart on your prepared trays, or 48 scoops for mini whoopies. Bake in the middle of the oven for 10–12 mins (for large ones) or 8–10 (for mini ones). I had to do the baking in two batches, as I have a normal person’s oven and do not work in a school/prison canteen.
  5. Move them onto a cooling rack and leave until cold – actually cold, not just cool, or the filling will ooze all over the place.
  6. Whisk the cream cheese until smooth, then add the mascarpone and mix again. Sift in the icing sugar, and mix till smooth. Add the zest and juice of half an orange (see note above) and mix to combine.
  7. Spread a heaped tablespoon of filling over the flat surface of one of the cakes, then sandwich it together with another. If yours aren’t exactly uniform in size, you might need to audit your cakes first to pair them up appropriately and prevent filling overspill.
  8. EAT! Or store for a couple of days, layered up with greaseproof paper so they don’t stick together.

Maybe I’ve led a sheltered life, but I think I’m right in saying that I don’t know anyone who actively dislikes garlic. Even the pickiest eaters amongst my acquaintance adore garlic bread, for example. But after reading this post on the beautiful Kitchenist blog, it’s come to my attention that some people actively avoid it (how??); or rather than doubling the quantity of garlic, as I often do, they’ll use just one clove maximum for everything. Most shocking of all, my friend Vicky told me this morning that her mum will open all windows and doors when Vicky’s cooking anything containing garlic. Isn’t that just all food?

Along with onions, garlic is one of the basics that I expect to use to start pretty much any savoury dish I cook. This tart from Ottolenghi’s Plenty really lets garlic take centre stage, and the sweet, caramelised cloves contrast well with the salty goat’s cheeses. It’s an impressive dinner-party centrepiece, and reheats well so you can make it in advance. Pair with a lemon-dressed green salad to cut through the delicious richness.

Caramelised garlic tart (adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi)

375g all-butter puff pastry
3 medium heads of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
220ml water
¾ tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp chopped rosemary
1 tsp chopped thyme, plus a few whole sprigs to finish
120g soft, creamy goat’s cheese – a Welsh one would be lovely here
120g hard, mature goat’s cheese – there’s a Cornish one in Waitrose that is both vegetarian and delicious
2 free-range eggs
100ml double cream
100ml crème fraîche
salt and black pepper

  1. Roll out the puff pastry into a circle that will line the bottom and sides of a 28cm, loose-bottomed tart tin, plus a little extra to hang over the edges of the tin. Line the tin with the pastry. Place a large circle of crumpled greaseproof paper on the bottom and fill up with baking beans. Leave the tin to rest in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Place the tart case in the oven and bake blind for 20 minutes. Remove the beans and paper, then bake for a further 5-10 minutes, or until the pastry is golden. Set aside. Leave the oven on.
  3. While the tart case is baking, put the garlic cloves in a small saucepan and cover them with plenty of water. Bring to a simmer and blanch the cloves for 3 minutes, then drain well.
  4. Dry the saucepan, return the garlic cloves to it and add the olive oil. Fry the garlic on a high heat for 2 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and water and bring to the boil, then simmer gently for 10 minutes.
  5. Add the sugar, rosemary, chopped thyme and ¼ teaspoon salt to the garlic in the pan. Continue simmering over a medium heat for 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the garlic cloves are coated in a dark caramel syrup. Set aside.
  6. To assemble the tart, crumble both types of goat’s cheese into pieces and scatter them over the bottom of the pastry case. Spoon the garlic cloves and their syrup evenly over the cheese – the deliciously caramelised garlic will try to stick together in clumps.
  7. In a jug, whisk together the eggs, creams, ½ teaspoon salt and some black pepper. Pour this mixture over the tart filling to fill the gaps, making sure that you can still see the garlic and cheese peeping through.
  8. Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C/Gas Mark 3 and put the tart in the oven. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the tart filling has set and the top is golden brown. In my oven, this took almost an hour in total. If the tart’s golden and cooked on top but still wobbly, remove it from the oven and don’t worry – it will set as it cools. Leave the tart to cool a little.
  9. When you’re ready to serve, remove the tart from its tin, trimming and tidying the pastry edge if needed, lay a few sprigs of thyme on top and serve warm (but not burning hot) with a crisp salad.

The snack table in the office is looking distinctly bare, post-Christmas. Throughout December, it was piled high with boxes of posh biscuits, mince pies, and even brandy butter, but you’d be lucky to find a stale crumb this week. I’m still enough in the Christmas state of mind for three meals a day to not be quite enough, so it’s normally good to know that there’s a sweet treat to snack on. Something must be done.

My answer to the crisis is Nigel Slater’s iced marmalade loaf cake. It’s a very quick mixture to whip up in the evening, but the marmalade in the mixture adds interest and the drizzled icing makes it all a bit more special. I follow Nigel’s advice and add a drop of orange flower water to the icing too, but as long as you’ve got a jar of marmalade in the fridge and can pick up an orange on the way home you can probably make this cake without a special shopping trip.

A frosted marmalade cake (adapted from The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater)

175g soft unsalted butter
175 golden caster sugar (it’s not a disaster if you only have the white stuff in the cupboard)
A large orange
3 large eggs
75g orange marmalade
175g self-raising flour

For the frosting:
100g icing sugar
2 tbsp orange juice (from the orange whose zest you’ll use in the cake mixture)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Line a loaf tin about 25 x 11cm, 7cm deep (mine’s shorter than this, about 21 x 9cm, but seems to work fine if the cake has a little longer in the oven; see step 6) – butter the tin lightly, then line with baking parchment.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar with a hand-held mixer until pale and fluffy.
  3. Beat the eggs into a small bowl and beat lightly with a fork. Pour in the beaten egg a little at a time, with the mixer running, beating well after each addition.
  4. Finely grate the orange zest, and beat it into the cake mixture along with the marmalade.
  5. Fold in the flour gently with a metal spoon, working carefully but making sure that it’s all well combined. Gently stir in the juice of half the orange.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the tin, smooth the top lightly and bake in the preheated oven for 35–45 minutes. Check the cake after 35 minutes by inserting a metal skewer and checking that it comes out cleanly, not covered with raw mixture. I don’t know if it’s my oven or the size of my tin, but the cake was perfectly golden on top after 35 minutes but still a bit uncooked within. I covered the top lightly with a piece of foil at this stage and gave it another 20 minutes in the oven to cook through, checking it a couple of times.
  7. When it’s cooked, let the cake cool a little in the tin before removing to cool completely on a wire rack. Remove the baking parchment once cooled.
  8. Make the icing by sifting the icing sugar and mixing it with the juice from the remaining orange half, adding a splash of orange flower water if you have it. Drizzle the icing over the cake, letting it drip down the sides, and leave to set before scoffing it down.

Embarrassingly, a creamy, mild korma has always been my favourite curry. I know it has a reputation as a dish for people who don’t really like curry, and I suspect that my love of it has a lot to do with the cream content, dairy enthusiast that I am, but I maintain that a good korma, delicately spiced, is a thing of beauty and not a cop-out.

I’ve never made a korma from scratch before, but Nigel Slater’s recipes are generally very reliable so this root vegetable korma recipe from Tender: Vol. 1 seemed as good a place to start as any. None of the spices it includes are outlandish or difficult to track down, and it’s a great use of seasonal root vegetables. You could use a more varied mix of veg than I did, depending on what you can get hold of without too much hassle; Nigel recommends a mixture of swede and Jerusalem artichokes to make up 1.5kg along with the carrots and parsnips. Try throwing in some potatoes, butternut squash or pumpkin, or sweet potatoes for a change, but sweet potatoes won’t need to be cooked for as long as the other vegetables so just add them for the last 20 minutes or so.

The finished result was a little on the saucy side so I’d recommend removing the lid from the pan for at least some of the time in step 4. Nigel reckons you can have this curry on the table in an hour, but allow an hour and a half from start to finish as there’s a bit of veg prep to do, as well as grinding the spices.

A root vegetable korma (adapted from Tender: Vol 1 by Nigel Slater)

2 medium onions
A fat, thumb-sized piece of ginger
3 cloves of garlic
1.5kg root veg –
a mixture of parsnip, swede, carrots, and Jerusalem artichokes
100g cashews
6 green cardamom pods
2 tsp cumin seeds
3 tsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil, or butter
2 tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp chilli powder
a cinnamon stick
2 smallish green chillies, depending on their heat, thinly sliced
150ml single or double cream
150g thick natural yoghurt
fresh coriander, chopped

  1. Peel the onions, cut them into large pieces, then pulse in a food processor till roughly minced (not puréed). Peel and roughly grate the ginger, then peel and finely slice the garlic cloves. Peel and coarsely chop the vegetables. Roughly chop half of the cashews (the quickest way of doing this is to blitz them very quickly in a food processor).
  2. Now deal with the spices: crush the seeds from the cardamom pods to a gritty powder in a pestle and mortar. Grind the cumin and coriander seeds to a fine powder – ideally in a spice grinder, as you’re not likely to get a fine powder using a pestle and mortar.
  3. Put the oil or butter into a deep, heavy-bottomed pan and stir in the onions, letting them soften but not colour. Stir in the ginger and garlic, cook over a gentle heat for a couple of minutes, then add the spices – cardamom, cumin, coriander, turmeric, chilli powder and the cinnamon stick. Continue cooking, stirring for a couple of minutes, until the spices become fragrant, then add the chopped vegetables and the chopped nuts. Season with the green chillies, salt and black pepper.
  4. Stir in 750ml water, partially cover with a lid and leave to simmer gently for forty-five to fifty minutes, till the roots are tender to the point of a knife. Keep an eye on the pan, stirring occasionally, and if it’s still looking watery towards the end of this time then leave the lid off for a bit to reduce the sauce down a bit. Toast the reserved whole cashews.
  5. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the cream and yoghurt. Put the pan back on a gentle heat to warm through without boiling. Should the mixture boil, it will curdle, and though the flavour will be fine the texture will be grainy. Check the seasoning, adding more salt or pepper if necessary. Scatter over the toasted cashews and some chopped coriander, and serve with rice or naan bread.

Pasta and pesto makes the perfect quick dinner, and I’m really pleased that the lovely Alberto has given me his recipe for a Sicilian version. I’ve got no end of cookbooks, but there’s something particularly nice about a recipe that’s begged for, scribbled on a piece of paper and passed on after a delicious meal. I acquired this one as part of a food swap, in which Paul and I gave a bit of a breadmaking lesson in return for gnocchi and pesto. You can’t argue with a deal like that.

With the same herby, garlicky potency as a common or garden basil pesto, this recipe is lighter and fresher in flavour, and is more of a sauce than an oily paste. It makes a lovely change, and is very easily made in a large mixing bowl with a stick blender.

Alberto’s used to cooking for huge numbers of people at once and says that the recipe below should do for four to six people with pasta or gnocchi, but I’ve just made it with all the quantities halved and I reckon that even that will serve four. It should keep for a couple of days in the fridge.

Sicilian pesto

150g basil leaves
200g parmesan/grana padano/ricotta – use a combination, according to taste, to make up 200g
4 garlic cloves
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
4 red peppers
4 medium tomatoes or 8 cherry tomatoes
100g pine nuts

Optional additions:
100g rocket
100g feta

  1. Drizzle the peppers with a little oil and roast until the skin starts to blacken in places – I did this in an oven at 220°C for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool, then remove and discard the stalks and seeds.
  2. While the peppers are in the oven, lightly toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan.
  3. Put all the ingredients in a bowl and blend to a smooth sauce with a stick blender; obviously you could do this in a food processor instead. If your blender’s not up to much, it might be best to blend the basil, cheese, garlic and olive oil first, then add the other ingredients and blend again.
  4. Check the seasoning; I stirred in a little finely grated parmesan now, as well as adding salt, but it depends on the cheeses you’ve used.
  5. Serve with hot pasta or gnocchi, scattered with a little more parmesan.

Forget everything I said about wanting virtuous, healthy food. Five days into the new year and I’m gorging on cheese and pastry again. Since a holiday in Turkey about fifteen years ago, I’ve been hugely keen on borek, the feta and filo parcels that turn up on a mezze platter and add a bit of vegetarian ballast (so to speak). Silvena Rowe’s recipe for a caramelised leek version was featured in the Observer Food Monthly last year and I’ve made these tasty morsels to her recipe several times since.

You could try making miniature borek to serve as canapés, or a couple of the slightly larger ones make a great main course with a salad (which also has the benefit of adding a bit of refreshing contrast to the butteriness of the borek). Either way, only a crazy person would fail to love these, and they make me feel like I’m on holiday somewhere sunny even when it’s cold and grey and I have to go back to work tomorrow. (Less said about that the better.)

Silvena claims that this recipe makes 24 borek, but I’ve just made it with three large leeks and have come out with 18, some large, some small; I’ve been experimenting with cutting the pastry strips into three or four pieces. If it’s quantity you’re after, cut the pastry into four strips in step 4 and use a little less filling for each parcel.

Feta and caramelised leek borek (adapted from Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume by Silvena Rowe)

3 leeks, finely sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

½ tsp caster sugar

10g butter

2 tbsp olive oil

200ml hot vegetable stock

1 bay leaf

200g feta, crumbled

50g fresh oregano, finely chopped – thyme will do if you can’t get hold of oregano

filo pastry – Silvena specifies eight sheets, but I think you’re best off just getting a packet and seeing how you get on. It all depends on the size of your leeks and the size of the pastry sheets anyway; the ones I got from the Turkish Food Centre were much bigger than average. Anyway, you’ll only be working with one sheet at a time so it’s not like you’ll have covered them all in butter only to discover that you don’t need half of them.

Melted butter for brushing the pastry – you’ll probably need to allow 100g to be on the safe side. You don’t want dry, cracked filo. Nothing worse.

About 2 tbsp poppy seeds for sprinkling (mixed with hemp and black sesame seeds if you can get them)

  1. Preheat the oven to 220°C/gas mark 7.
  2. Melt the butter with the olive oil over a medium heat in a large frying pan, then add the leeks, sugar, and garlic. Cook until the leeks have softened, stirring constantly; this should take 4–5 minutes.
  3. Add the hot stock and the bay leaf, and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the stock has mostly evaporated and the leeks are mushy. Transfer to a bowl for speedy cooling, and remove the bay leaf. Once cool, add the feta and oregano and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
  4. Taking one sheet of filo at a time (cover the rest of the sheets with a damp tea towel while you work), spread it out on a work surface and brush it with plenty of melted butter. Now is not the time to skimp on the butter, so don’t even think about it. Cut the sheet lengthways into thirds (or quarters, as you like – see above); each strip will make one delicious parcel.
  5. Place a tablespoon of the leek mixture, or a little less if you’re making smaller borek, in the bottom corner of a strip, at one end or the other. (I definitely find it easier to work from left to right with these.) Fold this corner up and over to form a triangle, then fold the corner over and over again, working along the length of the strip, and you’ll be left with a triangular parcel at the end. I can’t think of a better way of explaining it, but it’ll make sense when you have the pastry in front of you. Remember that even if the first couple of folds of each parcel are awkward while you get into your stride, it’ll look lovely by the time it’s all wrapped up. As long as it’s secure – making sure the end of the pastry is well buttered will help to seal it up at the end – and the filling’s in no danger of leaking out, it’ll be fine.
  6. Repeat until you’ve used up all your filling, and arrange the borek on a baking sheet (you might need two). Brush them with plenty more melted butter, and sprinkle with the seeds.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes, in batches if necessary, but check after 15 to make sure that they’re not looking too brown; they’re done when they’re golden. Move them to a cooling rack if you’re not eating them straightaway – this will stop them getting too soggy on the bottom.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have overindulged significantly at Christmas. All that cheese and sherry has left me feeling distinctly podgy and listless, so New Year’s Day called for this refreshing yet filling and wholesome pea soup with yoghurt and garlic from Casa Moro. It’s the perfect remedy for post-booze seediness, and since it’s best made with frozen petits pois you can make it at any time of year. I love seasonal eating as much as the next person, but frozen peas are absolutely acceptable for this soup, as well as being more economical (boring but true).

Pea soup with yoghurt and garlic (adapted from Casa Moro)

1 egg yolk
1 tbsp cornflour or plain flour
400g Greek yoghurt (don’t use a low-fat version)
750ml vegetable stock (I make it with 1 tbsp bouillon powder to 750ml boiling water)
50g unsalted butter
4 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp roughly chopped fresh mint leaves
3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
750g fresh or frozen peas or petits pois
salt and pepper

Optional garnish:
100g Greek yoghurt
1 clove garlic, crushed to a pulp with salt

1. Mix the egg yolk with the flour or cornflour until smooth. Whisk in the yoghurt, then mix in half the stock. Set aside. The yolk and flour will prevent the yoghurt splitting when it’s heated later on.

2. Heat the butter and oil over a low heat in a large pan. When the butter sizzles, add the garlic and half the mint. Cook until the garlic is golden (make sure you keep an eye on it, as garlic can burn and turn bitter quite quickly).

3. Add the peas to the pan, and cook for two minutes. If you’re cooking the peas from frozen, the mixture will obviously take a little longer to warm through.

4. Add the remaining stock, and simmer the peas for about 5 minutes until tender; the timing here will depend on whether you’re using garden peas or petits pois.

5. The next bit’s easier if you use a stick blender, as boiling hot soup and plastic liquidizer jugs don’t really mix. Take the pan off the heat and blend the peas until as smooth as humanly possible; this will make all the difference to the finished soup’s texture.

6. Return the pan to the heat, and add the yoghurt and stock mixture and stir in the remaining chopped mint. Don’t allow the soup to boil, but make sure that it’s heated through. Season well with salt and pepper and serve. If you can be bothered, for a particularly elegant dinner party or something, you can make a seasoned yoghurt garnish by mixing a little more Greek yoghurt with crushed garlic and salt, mixing in a little olive oil if it’s very thick, and topping each bowl of soup with a swirl before serving.

7. Feel very, very virtuous. Green food’s good for you, right?


Next Page »