Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Pancakes for life, not just for Shrove Tuesday

On the most holy of batter days, where children around the country legitimately gorge on enough sugar to create an army of diabetics, I figured, "well, if you can't beat them..."

I must be getting old though as an evening meal consisting solely of pancakes, lemon and sugar, gave feelings more of dread than excitement.

Wanting to incorporate the main fixture as to why we celebrate shrove Tuesday in the 21st century, into a savoury, nutritious dish, I rattled my brains for a gastro feast that would work. And then it hit me...curry.

I'm confident with attempting the majority of cuisines. But the delicate blend of asian spices is the one chink in my armour, and at 7pm on a Tuesday, I caved and picked up these at the local supermarket:
  • Saag paneer: Glorious paneer cheese, with spinach and all the spices. I will be making my own next time, giving this recipe a go
  • Tadka daal: Hugely popular dish in India, with countless variations on the recipe. This one is definitely a good starting point, coming with an 'easy-to-cook' promise!
  • Chana masala: A beautifully spiced chickpea and tomato based dish. Check out one of my favourite blogs, Smitten Kitchen, for a great recipe.

Add a few stalks of broccoli for colour

Despite all of these incredible flavours, the pancake recipe we decided upon was really quite underwhelming. By far the best pancakes I've ever had come from a most unlikely source.

Bruce Paltrow's world-famous pancakes makes an appearance in daughter Gwyneth's (yes, that would be the Hollywood actress) cookbook Notes from my Kitchen.

To make a dozen pancakes, you will need:
  • 115g of plain flour
  • 25g granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • pinch of fine salt
  • 250ml Buttermilk (you can buy this ready made from most supermarkets)
  • 25g unsalted butter, melted and cooled (plus a smidge extra for cooking)
  • 2 eggs
  • Between 75 and 100ml milk to thin the batter
  • Maple syrup for serving...or if you can't bear to go off piste, lemon and sugar is fine!
Simply mix the dry ingredients in one bowl, mix the wet in another. Add the wet to the dry, adding a bit at a time to avoid lumpiness. Add enough milk to make your favourite consistency: thick for heavy, thin for delicate - reassuringly Bruce says neither is wrong...

Heat your pan with a nob of butter to a moderately high heat. Test a small bit of the batter first - you want to see a sizzle. Add a pancake sized amout of batter just off centre in your pan (makes it easier to manoeuvre). Cook until little bubbles appear in the centre - this means your pancake is cooked underneath. Give the pan a little shake, cock your wrist and flip once (although if you manage a trippler, that will definitely wow your gathering crowd of expectant bellies).

Serve on a plate with your favourite pancake topping, be as imaginative as you dare - sweet or savoury, and enjoy all year round...unless you've decided to give them up for lent today...

Saturday, 18 February 2012

A home sweet home from home

Really? Do we have to? She's your mum, can't you just go?

These are the comments I understand some couples share when they visit their in-laws. Not me. For I am truly blessed with a genuinely generous (try saying that after a few glasses) mother-in-law who spoils us rotten with every visit.

The trip to North Yorkshire is a long one so regrettably visits are less frequent than desired. When we can make the trip though, it becomes a sense of occasion of almost state ceremony proportions.

In the week before our visit, we will be invited to submit our culinary requests, for which I am truly grateful.

For most of us during the week, breakfast is a rushed affair. An anaemic slice of toast, hastily consumed before the mad dash to catch the pre-dawn train, is considered a luxury.

To indulge in the time afforded by our leisurely latest visit, I requested berries (blues, rasps and blacks as my body was evidently crying out for anti-oxidants, rich in vitamin C, which blueberries are full of), croissants and M&S lemon curd yoghurt.

Ordinarily I detest yoghurt. In my youth, they were a barometer of my wellbeing, replenishing my stomach with 'good bacteria' after a sickness bug (I love you mum, I know you had my best interests at heart!). These memories, and the general texture, are enough to send my belly into convulsions. These velvety smooth, creamy pots of goodness have though managed to cure my dislike for yoghurt-kind, and looking at the nutritional value (or distinct lack of), I now realise why...crikey, good job these aren't a staple!

As well as our breakfast treats, the cupboards are full to bursting with temptation, spilling out onto our guest bed, where chocolate hearts from the famous Betty's Tea Rooms nestle on the pillows.

Lunches too are of course a delight.

This salmon dish serves four, for which you'll need:
  • 4 fresh salmon fillets (over the counter jobs)
  • 2 bunches of medium sized asparagus (quick tip: snap the asparagus first, and discard the woody bottom!)
  • 2 florets of broccoli
  • Heston's cheese sauce (senza i macaroni!)
  1. Season and grill the salmon skin side up for eight to 10 minutes (depending on how thick your fillets are.)
  2. Whip up the cheese sauce as per Heston's recipe
  3. Break off the broccoli florets into pieces as in the pic above and steam for six to eight minutes until tender.
  4. Saute the asparagus in a pan with a not so healthy knob of butter for five minutes, seasoning midway through. You want a bit of colour on these but still crunchy.
Arrange and serve on your most attractive plates, drizzling the sumptuous cheese sauce on top. Perfect.

I was enjoying this salad of roast beetroot, parsnip, red onion, goats cheese and dill so much that I forgot to snap it in its full glory. Testament to how delicious this feast was!

So it is with heavy hearts (and even heavier bellies) that we say farewell after an all too brief sojourn. Unlike those with the devil for a mother-in-law, I'm all too happy to say that I can't wait to visit again soon!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

A tale of two markets

2012 is proving to be a whirlwind of social activity. Last weekend presented my first Saturday free of commitments and with the chance to lie-in and relax.

At 6.30am, unable to sleep, I decided to plan my day of food and cultural visits. I settled on two food markets and a gallery. The latter didn't disappoint as Dale Chihuly's exhibition at the Halcyon Gallery provided a stunning array of contemporary glass sculptures. But that's another blog...

By contrast, my food markets experience couldn't have been more polarised.

Formally recognised in 1892 but trading from as early as 1840, Berwick Street market is billed as a quintessential London food market selling all the ingredients for a hearty supper.

Huddled in a far from salubrious backstreet of Soho, in the seedy shadow of the area's more infamous industry, I was presented with a rotten run of just half a dozen stalls. Far from the joviality of sellers shouting their wares, despite an interesting selection, my one attempt at eye contact resulted in a harden gazed response, punctuated with a removal of phlegm more akin to the football field. So as not to make the same mistake twice, tube etiquette ensued until I reached the end of the gauntlet and made my way to the relative sanctuary of China Town.

Undeterred, I continued south to my second choice. I'd definitely saved the best to last.

Established in the 13th century, Borough Market, nestled beneath Southwark Cathedral is a throng of traders, punters and tourists alike, selling fresh, inviting, and often locally sourced produce.

Generations were almost deprived of this food extravaganza, save for the local residents who clubbed together to generate the then princely sum of £6,000 to buy new land, following Parliament's decision to close the market in 1755. Thankfully, 'The Triangle' remains at the heart of the market today.

It's easy to succumb to the hypnotic sensory overload that greets you. Vast dishes of paella and smoking barbecue grills offer a hearty feast, but venture deeper into the market before making your choice.

Your self discipline will be rewarded with a mix of fresh fruit and veg, artisan bakers, and multiple catches of the day to whet the appetite.

A glowing endorsement for Borough Market is that it, along with Columbia Road Flower Market, formed the highlight of my Australian friend's must see tour of London!

There are a number of food markets dotted around the capital, each maintaining their traditional values of feeding their local population, but as in the case of Borough, equally embracing the outside viewer. For the Olympically early o'clock riser, Billingsgate market rewards the explorer with the largest selection of fish in the UK. If you're searching for something unusual, try Brixton Market, home to one of Europe's biggest supplier of tropical foods.

As some of these markets become tourist institutions in their own right, the main draw back comes when the change in your wallet doesn't go quite as far you'd expect. But then we've all been sucked into the supermarket oligopoly price war. So invoke the spirit of 1755 and spend a little bit extra for locally sourced, fresh produce that protects the true heart of communities for generations to come.