First, I’ve been without a computer this week, limited to my iPad, which only exacerbates my already limited computer skills, hence my lack of blogging this week. However, I’m back, and just in time for Mother’s Day! This year is a particularly special May Sunday as both of my sisters are new mothers this year – I have two new nephews and a niece! Plus, there’s always my own dear mother whom I credit for teaching me everything I know in the kitchen as I sat on that tall blue stool and watched her conjure culinary miracles. A couple of Christmases ago my mother created a huge three-ring binder full of family photos and recipes – the dearest gift a girl could receive – and I pulled it out this week in remembrance of our time shared in the kitchen.
And what would I prepare to do my mother justice? I picked out a Lemon Tea Cake recipe that I remember preparing with her many, many moons ago. It’s sourced from her well-worn copy of The Mother’s Almanac, her bible for all things kid-related as we were growing up. It is filled with creative activities, friendly advice and recipes that are appropriately matched to the age of your children. Now, I don’t have children myself yet, but I hope that I can instil just a portion of the love of cooking I have in them. What a gift I got by just carefully greasing baking pans, stirring batters, kneading doughs, cracking eggs! I whipped up this cake in a jiffy this morning – and it’s as delicious as I remember (if easier to prepare). There are many recipes for lemon tea cakes around, but this one is by far the most simple (no endless juicing of lemons) and brings back that lovely taste memory with each bite.
1/4 pound of unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
zest of one lemon
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole milk
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a mixer (I love my KitchenAid) cream together the butter and sugar. Now add the zest and combine well. Add your eggs and incorporate completely before adding the dry ingredients. Once those are nicely blended add the milk and allow the mixer to beat on a medium speed for 2 minutes. Put the batter into your buttered and floured loaf pan, smooth the top and bake for one hour (the cake will come away from the sides when it’s ready). Now for the really yummy bit: dissolve 1/4 cup sugar in the juice of one lemon and immediately pour it over the top of the cake when it comes out of the oven. Turn it out of the pan and there you have it!
Why so many soups, you might ask? Well, one of my clients here in London always wants at least one homemade soup in their fridge. At first it seemed really excessive to me (and there are other weird spice and texture limitations that makes coming up with creative soups not all that much fun but that’s an entirely different story). Anyway, I’m reformed and now try to have a homemade soup in our fridge at home at all times – it’s the most nourishing thing in the world and there’s nothing easier than pulling together a quick batch with leftover veggies you might have in your crisper drawers. This red pepper soup is based on one I remember preparing when I worked at the Culinary Loft in New York – a private cooking demo and party space where I used to teach classes. I have had a large jar of roasted red peppers in my pantry for a couple of years now, and thought it high time I do something with them. The result is a smoky, summery delight.
1/2 cup olive oil
2 onions, diced
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 teaspoon red chilli flakes
1 teaspoon toasted and ground cumin seeds
1 teaspoon toasted and ground fennel seeds
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
pinch of sea salt
3 large red peppers, roasted, peeled and chopped
juice of one lemon
creme fraiche and snipped chives to garnish
In a heavy pot warm your oil and add the onions, garlic, chilli, cumin, fennel, paprika and salt. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Reduce the heat to low and cover cooking for about 20-30 minutes until the garlic melts under the slightest pressure from your spoon. Now add the peppers and four cups of water, bring to a boil and cook for 10 more minutes, uncovered. Puree with your immersion blender until very smooth. Season with lemon juice and more salt as needed. Garnish with a spoonful of creme fraiche and your chives.
To accompany my many soups and use up the poached chicken meat that is the result of my chicken broth obsession, I have been whipping up a variety of chicken salads to pile onto lovely toast. A favorite of mine is chicken mixed with mayo, dijon mustard, lots of fresh tarragon, halved grapes and toasted pecans. Delicious and simple. This week, I thought I’d push the boat out a bit and make something special. This recipe from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook brings together my favorite ingredients in one goopy, heady mess. Take your leftover chicken and add to it 2 hard boiled eggs, chopped up, 1/2 cup of thinly sliced fennel (use your mandolin, please!), lots of snipped chives and fennel greens, salt, pepper. Now this is where it gets exciting – the lemony garlicky aioli. In the blender or food processor place a minced clove of garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, an egg yolk, a little bit of lemon zest and 1/2 teaspoon of dijon mustard. With the machine running, very very slowly add 1/2 cup of olive oil until a lovely mayo results. Add a tablespoon of white wine vinegar and a squeeze of lemon juice to taste and now stir this into your chicken and egg salad mixture. Spoon a liberal amount of the salad on to toasts and alongside the red pepper soup you have a lunch people would pay good money for.
Aside from being computerless this week, I was feeling a little sorry for myself as my globetrotting husband got to go to New York for work. Nothing puts me in more of a mood than when I know someone is having fun (and eating well) without me. Normally, when I’m feeling woebegone, I whip up a big bowl of carbonara pasta for one. Somehow, a real oversight as far as I’m concerned, we had no bacon in the fridge and so I went back to the drawing board. Do you remember the fantastic video I posted from our trip to Rome of our waiter spinning my Cacio e Pepe pasta tableside? Well, I remembered the large brick of Pecorino Romano cheese that I’d brought back from Rome, I had eggs and black pepper. After a little research I came across Caroline Wright’s recipe which calls for you to toast a mixture of black peppercorns and Szechuan peppercorns before you crush them. I love the way Szechuan peppercorns sort of make my tongue tingle and go numb and thought it definitely worth a try. All you have to do is boil your spaghetti (this recipe is for 1 pound of pasta) according to the package directions and make sure to reserve 3/4 cup of your pasta cooking water. In a small skillet toast 2 teaspoons each of black and Szechuan peppercorns until they’re fragrant. Crush them in a mortar and pestle until coarse. Now add the peppers to a bowl with 3 large egg yolks, a 2 cups of grated Pecorino Romano (pack it in there!). Toss this with your cooked spaghetti and add a little bit of the cooking water to loosen it up and ensure that all of the strands are nicely coated. Keep doing this until it’s to your liking and add salt to taste. A little green salad with a sharp red wine and dijon dressing to cut the creaminess of the pasta and you have comfort food perfection.
As a welcome home treat for my handsome husband (and because I had some gorgeous rainbow chard in the fridge that needed using up pronto), I decided to try another recipe out of the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook that I’ve had my eye on for a while. In her preamble to the recipe, Deb Perelman writes about her love of all things pot pie EXCEPT for the chicken! I couldn’t agree more (despite appearances to the contrary with my chicken salad madness) – I really dislike chicken. This delicious Pancetta, White Bean and Swiss Chard Pot Pie recipe is the antidote for all of you chicken haters out there (and if you’re vegetarian or pork-averse you can just use more olive oil). Plus, this is a little more realistic than Ina Garten’s lobster pot pie recipe which I covet but who can afford it on a regular basis? Plus this gives me the perfect excuse to pull out the perfect little white french bistro oven-proof bowls that my parents gave me for my birthday. The pot pies were absolutely divine and it was all I could do to keep my other half eating two in one sitting (he was particularly fond of the buttery croissant-like dough on top). Definitely a recipe to repeat and even pull out for company. Give it a try!