So the rule is only cook with wine you’d drink. To me that translates very clearly as drinking half the wine you bought to cook with before you’ve chopped your first onion. But this is what Offy’s were built for; replacing stocks that have been irresponsibly consumed. Cooking is the only solution when you have a thumb twiddling Friday off and the potential for reorganising your wardrobe seventeen times before putting it back the way you found it is too depressing a concept. Coupled with the fact that the heavens had opened quite violently on this particular Friday, it seemed the fates were aligning and asking me to make comfort food.
Tartiflette is indescribably satisfying to the senses, maybe with the exception of sight because it does look a little like something a dog would turn his nose up at. But if you replace sight with memory then you’re laughing. The nostalgic and wistful mood that overtakes when you cook and eat this kind of food is seductive and more than makes up for its less than tantalising appearance. Originally it is a provincial French dish made up of potatoes, reblochon cheese, lardons and onions, but of course I shamelessly bastardised it. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, every time I see a recipe I have this itching to fool around with it. It’s not arrogance; I know most people in the world who know anything about food are more capable of putting together a good recipe than I am. I think it’s more of a childlike craving to “play” with a recipe; like building a sandcastle then knocking it down. It’s a learning experience as well, if you adjust and tweak certain elements, you might just stumble across something wonderful. Isn’t that what experimental chefs have been doing for years? I’m not a chef; I’m just an idiot with an onion but that’s the reasoning.
So this is a meaty one, but you could just as easily substitute meat for other veggies like mushrooms. I also amended this recipe so it was less cheesy and less creamy in the vein attempt of making it healthy. Then I put a bottle of wine in it. So that failed. Spinach has been added for extra colour, flavour and muscle building super powers. I switched from Reblochon to Gruyere based on nothing but personal preference, despite the original recipe being fairly basic and specific I firmly argue that you can basically do what the hell you want with a dish like this and if it includes things you love chances are you will love it. For example, feel free to ignore the amount of garlic I have added to this. I am infatuated with the stuff, possibly possessed by it. If you had it early enough to a recipe that benefits from being cooked for a looooooooooooong time, it tastes amazing and your immune system will be singing little garlic-breath tunes for days.
700g charlotte potatoes
300g fresh spinach
1 tbsp butter
2 chicken stock cubes
1 large red onion
8 large garlic cloves
200g bacon lardons
Butter for greasing
200ml 0% crème fraiche (or sour cream or yoghurt or obviously cream if you want it!)
1 bottle of white wine (good enough to drink!)
600g chicken boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Large handful fresh tarragon, rosemary, basil (only because I had it and it needed using)
However much cheese you want. I grated enough to top it, but if you want to add more to the sauce as well, be my guest.
Slice your potatoes as thinly as possible. You can use a mandolin if you have one and you want them really thin but it isn’t necessary. There isn’t really a cooking time for a dish like this, it can sit in the oven on a low heat for a really long time so if your potatoes slices are a bit thicker, just take that into account and cook it for a bit longer. Bare in mind if you are going to cook it for ages though, don’t add your cheese at the beginning. Take it out of the oven half way through cooking time then scatter cheese on, to avoid gnarly burnt bits…. unless you like them, then gnarl away.
Brown the chicken in a large casserole pot with a little butter and then add the stock cubes and the wine/ stock. Watch gleefully as your pan fills with smoky, winy goodness. Let it poach away for a while and then add the tarragon (and random basil) and season.
Whilst the chook is merrily bubbling away, fry the bacon lardons and onion. No need to add oil, the bacon oozes out it’s own fatty goodness and it’s more than enough to keep the pan lubricated. Add a good handful of rosemary to this mix and keep it frying away on a medium to low heat until it’s browned good and proper and starts to char.
Crush the garlic directly into the “cream” of choice, and mix together (I added a dollop of Dijon mustard to this mix because…. well Dijon needs no explanation, it’s awesome)
You want to let the chicken mixture bubble and cook until it’s reduced down a bit and thickened. If this isn’t happening on it’s own just whack a bit of cornflour in, that’ll do the job. Once it’s ready to assemble, add the bag of spinach to the chicken, pop the lid of the casserole dish and let it wilt down. After about a minute, take the lid off, stir the spinach in so it’s combined and then you can layer him up!
Butter the base and sides of an oven proof dish and then layer. There is absolutely no science or rules to this layering, but I went for potato, cream, chicken, bacon, and repeat. Grate your cheese on top and cook him on a about 120 fan oven for one hour (ish).
Serve with whatever greens you fancy. Cut into it and oozy, boozy, herby goodness will burst out from under the cheesy topping. It’s good. It’s not traditional Tartiflette, but it’s good.
Inspired by the wedding cake (and by inspired, I mean I had left-over compote coming out of my ears that was begging to be turned lovingly into cake filling), I created this little guy. Lemon and blueberries are good friends. They have been for years. They complement each other delightfully and make a charming flavour pairing for a summer munch.
I have a mild obsession with polenta. It’s impressively versatile. If you can use the same ingredient as an accompaniment to lamb that you can to add to cake batter it’s a thumbs up in my book. I quite fancied trying the Paleo way of eating for a little while, and I genuinely got very interested until I realised that polenta is a grain and grains aren’t Paleo. Bu-bye Paleo, hello grainy goodness. Polenta is a dream in cake batter; it’s a game changer. It elevates an arguably dull sponge to new heights, gives it a “bitty” texture, and a subtle flavour that I can’t quite find the word for. Good is a word. It’s good. I’m not saying a trusty Vicky sponge isn’t a nostalgically awesome treat, but if you fancy shaking things up a little, but too timid to venture entirely out of the spongy zone, this is the ideal compromise.
The cake is light and not too sweet, and tangy from an abundance of zesty goodness. Strawberry jam has been upgraded to blueberry compote here (same recipe as the wedding cake) and is sandwiched decadently with pure mascarpone. I know I’m a heart attack waiting to happen but I swear you will never taste anything as sublime as the velvet simplicity of mascarpone sitting under sharp blueberries. Because I don’t add any sweetener to it, you still have enough contrast. Just gently caress the cheese with a metal spoon until it’s softened and rippling and then smooth it onto the cake. You taste buds will thank you, your dentist won’t. But life is all about compromise and making hard choices.
225g very soft butter
225g golden caster sugar
4 eggs, beaten
200g fine polenta
50g plain flour (if you didn’t want to use flour you can use 250g polenta instead)
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla paste
finely grated zest of 2/3 lemons
Heat oven to fan 170C. Butter and line two 20cm cake tins.
Beat the butter and sugar together with an electric hand mixer, until fluffs ahoy.
Gradually add the egg. It might curdle, if it does add a little flour and carry on. To be honest a little curdling doesn’t really affect the finished product and with this batter you can mix fast and furiously at this stage. Add the vanilla and zest.
In a separate bowl mix the polenta with the flour and baking powder and then fold it gently into your eggy goodness. Spoon evenly between the two tins. Bake it for thirty minutes until springy in the middle. Cool them in their tins for about 10 minutes then turn them out.
Lather on ready bought mascarpone (as much as you want- I used a whole big tub because I am disgusting), then blob compote on top of this. Put it in the fridge but probably take it out half an hour or so before eating, a little room temperature makes this baby sing. A dusting of icing sugar is always a sure way of having a sticky kitchen floor for weeks… so if you’re willing to make that sacrifice I encourage it whole heartedly.
B.W. (before wedding), when I wasn’t solely obsessed with blueberries I made a version of this cake for Easter that was slightly offensive to the eyeballs but I rather enjoyed it (pictured above and below, sorry eyeballs). It included a fresh raspberry in the batter, raspberry and cream cheese frosting, and freeze dried, white chocolate coated raspberries balls for decoration. Bit ridiculous, but if a cake can’t be frivolous, what can be? Tasted great too; I’m a substance over style gal…
I used to hate fish. Quite fervently. Apart from tinned sardines which, in hindsight, is bizarre because sardines are bloody fishy. I don’t know when I stopped being so uptight about food and started actually tasting things and realising they were amazing, but I’m glad I did. When I was little I was a painfully fussy eater, much to my parents’ dismay. They liked to experiment with healthy dinners that, at the time, made me wish I didn’t have taste buds. If they fed it to me now, with my oh so sophisticated palate, I’d be over the moon, but my sister and I accidentally (drunkenly) admitted that we hated the food they gave us when we were little, so I think they’ve been put off cooking the childhood “favourites”.
Fish (sardines notwithstanding) was at the top of the hate list and, boy, I am glad this changed. I have to admit you probably won’t see me posting anything positive about shellfish any time soon but apart from those slimy little demons, fish is a new found love. I’m still learning how to cook with it. Fish is such a delicate, perfect simple thing. There’s a reason people eat it raw- the flavour’s all there already. I have a propensity to aggrandizing in the kitchen; I can’t seem to help myself. So in this recipe I have bastardised a very beautiful pure piece of sea bass with a brash and swaggering salsa verde and a very flamboyant salad. I’m not being self-critical here, I think contrast and clashing in cooking is exciting and sometimes essential. I’m curious about how the palate works, and how flavours compliment or obstruct one another. I like to play around.
To me, this worked: tangy, self-assured sauce sitting on top of creamy, modest fish with a crispy grilled skin, and a salad that welcomes any eater to pick and choose their faves (hello, avocado) and bring the plate to life. I dug it. The beauty of salsa verde is its editability… you think capers are devil beads, leave ‘em out; avoiding vampires, throw in more garlic. It only translates as “green sauce” so, really, make of it what you will. I’ve written it down here how I like it. It’s the Italian take because it suited the meal better, but the Mexican version that includes coriander and hot peppers makes me all giddy and weak at the knees….
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp. capers, drained
1 small handful gherkins
6 anchovy fillets
Big bunch o’ parsley, fresh basil and fresh mint
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
8 tablespoons oil (whichever oil you like but olive is probably the best)
Nice salt and pepper (none of that dusty stuff)
Method for this is pretty straightforward- chop everything up teeny tiny and mix! It’s nicer to chop by hand because if you blend it becomes too paste-like, this is meant to be chunky. Having said that, the herbs really should be as small as possible, and the garlic should definitely be crushed so it distributes evenly. This quantity will serve about eight people.
The humble salad is a very improvisational beast. Like pick & mix for bunnies. My salads almost always start with a base of spinach, because it tastes better and because Popeye was definitely on to something. It’s loaded with protein, iron, vitamins and minerals- dark, leafy green goodness that makes your insides feel smug. This is what I threw on top of said super leaves:
Very lightly steamed green beans (about 100g and make sure they’re still al dente)
2 avocados, cut into chunks
200g mixed colour cherry tomatoes
Lightly fried- 1 red onion, 1 red pepper and balsamic vinegar
Sun dried tomatoes
Now it might seem a bit silly that I made a dressing as well as the salsa verde, but I was trying to please a tough crowd with unpredictable tastes, some of whom I know aren’t crazy about “tang”. So the dressing was an alternative- kinda creamy and cheesy and gentle.
Big chunk of ricotta cheese, crumbled
Sun dried tomato oil
Salt and pepper
A dash of red wine vinegar
So if this is serving eight, I guess that means we need eight pieces of fish! I’m not going to put a gram limit on this because it depends on the individual’s lust for bass. Go to the shop, look at the fishy, if he looks about the size you’d want to eat, buy him. That’s my methodology.
Turn the grill up to the highest it will go. Line your grill pan with foil and lightly brush with butter (not oil). Lightly brush and season Mr Bass. Lay it down, skin side up and grill for 5 minutes until the sin starts browning (to your preference again). So simple!
Dollop salsa on fish, plate up, throw on some greens, and go! Crusty bread would probably be ace with this too. Mopping up juicy goodness until the button on your jeans pop.
Sooooo, my beautiful big sister asked me to make her wedding cake and I said “Yeah!!!!”
For weeks I was feeling flattered and important and not considering the repercussions of such a whole-hearted affirmative response. I’ve baked cakes before (although not my strong suit because my gift for aesthetics is somewhat lacking) and I didn’t feel nervous about her request for a long time.
In fact, I don’t think it was until we had our first official Cake Meeting (by which I mean we went to Bea’s of Bloomsbury and ate cake) and I got out my dorky notebook filled with awful sketches of cakes, when panic started to set in. When you make a wedding cake you really can’t get away with all the cheeky blags of home-baking: “gooey cookies” are under-baked; “brown butter” is burnt; “drizzle” is a frosting that didn’t thicken. Like I said, I’m no expert, but it occurred to me at this “meeting” maybe I needed to be.
But I grabbed the proverbial balls and panic was quickly followed by research. Research was even more quickly followed by a fresh wave of panic and the only thing that seemed to calm the panic was researching further. It was a confusing time.
After going through all of the bride’s specific requirements (definitely not coffee and walnut, no sugar flowers), I attempted to build my own kind of Frankenstein’s monster-esque cake made from ill-fitting elements of other cakes and frostings that I have admired from other recipes designed by people who probably know what they’re doing. I have a tendency to get a little carried away with experimentation in the kitchen. There were some tear-stained trial runs, including one brick-like white chocolate mud cake that I’m confident would be quite lethal if thrown from a first floor window. Eventually I knew what I had to do…. Follow a bloody recipe. Well, almost.
A wedding cake is a pretty personal and special thing and my sis asking me to make it for her made it all the more important. I wanted it to say something about her. So I started from the beginning and thought about flavour. Alice (sis) had quite an intense fondness for white chocolate when we were little. And since she became a mum on the cusp of a New Year, 31/12/2013, my nephew Oscar is our little family’s new obsession. One of his favourite things in the world is blueberries and since the moment he could first make proper half-word, gurgle sound thingys he was demanding “bloobs” from anyone that got within 3 feet of the fridge door. Blueberries and white chocolate….. That’s like what old Franky Sinatra said about love and marriage in my book. Good stuff.
Flavour sorted. Size? Style? Hello, second wave of minefield. Research Hat went back on and research head hurt from eyeballing too many size charts and graphs and just big sheets of numbers that made my numerically challenged brain want to hide in a cake-free bubble until the wedding was over. I kid you not it took me three weeks to get my head around a sum that would have taken an average five-year-old about half an hour. But, FINALLY, I had the appropriate proportions for the kind of batter I had chosen and I have always been a strong believer in making up your own frostings and fillings. Not depending on an oven means the only things to focus on are taste, colour and consistency and that’s personal, right? So I found a recipe, jazzed it up a little and then jazzed it up a little more with some bespoke (i.e. made-up) extras. I settled for two tiers, initially because I thought it would be less daunting. Turns out the bottom tier alone weighed more than the baby.
I don’t deal with stress well. I only got through what I was fully anticipating would be a small breakdown- aka morning of the wedding- because my parents metaphorically, and heroically, scooped me up and rescued me. Rescue came in the form of a home-made transportation box from my dad, as well as a kind of wallpapering technique commentary whilst I was decorating at the venue. My mum was graciously acting as a verbal punch bag whilst simultaneously trying to throw edible glitter into what we quickly realised was an air vent that swallowed it mercilessly and without warning. I was being a humourless mardy-arse the whole time. Note to self if ever asked to make a wedding cake again- it’s not life or death. Laugh it off.
I don’t have any pictures of the inside of it. I think I was too busy being relieved that it didn’t fall to a messy doom somewhere between the basement kitchen and lift-free reception area; that, and the ever-powerful distraction of free alcohol. I don’t even have many pictures of the thing itself. But it happened. I did it. People liked it (so they say).
On a very infantile bucket list I created when I was about seven, I believe the third point down was “make a giant cake”. I’ll tick that one off.
Incidentally, leftover homemade blueberry compote makes a damn fine filling for almost everything I’ve baked since. It’s still lurking in the freezer somewhere … I’m gonna be baking with “bloobs” for years.
For the 30cm round cake tin:
750g pack unsalted butter, room temperature
750g golden caster sugar
3 heaped tsp real good vanilla paste
15 large eggs, cracked into a jug and whisked
255g plain flour
300g full-fat Greek yogurt
750g self-raising flour
9 tbsp milk*
For the syrup
150g golden caster sugar
1 heaped tsp vanilla paste
For the 23cm round cake tin:
500g pack unsalted butter, room temperature
500g golden caster sugar
2 heaped tsp real good vanilla paste
10 large eggs, cracked into a jug and whisked
170g plain flour
200g full-fat Greek yogurt
500g self-raising flour
6 tbsp milk*
For the syrup
100g golden caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste
I made x2 30cm and x2 23cm
Heat oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3. Grease and line tins accurately- base and sides. I decorated mine “half-naked” style so a clean crumb was important and lining the sides of the tin, higher than the tin itself helps this.
Beat the butter, sugar, vanilla and a good pinch of good salt with electric beaters, until all fluffy.
Pour in the eggs, a little at a time, and beat really thoroughly each time. If the mixture curdles a little, add a tiny bit the plain flour.
Beat in the yoghurt.
Fold in the flours, using a large metal spoon. Then add the milk. Slowly, at this stage you’ll have a LOT of batter.
Bake the 30cm cakes for 2 hours and 15 minutes. Be aware of it though. Ovens are very different and mine baked at a different time every time I practised it. A skewer should come out clean. If it browns too fast, cover it with dampened greaseproof after 1.5 hours. The 23cm cake took between 1.5 and 2 hours, depending on the oven.
Whilst they’re baking, make the syrup by mixing the sugar and vanilla with the same amount of water (150g sugar, 150ml water) in a pan until dissolved.
Let the cakes cool for half an hour then skewer them all over and drizzle the syrup into them. Leave them to cool completely in their tins (this will take AGES), then wrap and freeze or fill and frost!
*(I actually used coconut milk in one of the trial runs and it worked just fine… doesn’t really change taste but if you fancied a non-dairy alternative it’s possible. I also did a mini version using coconut yoghurt then topped with coconut cream frosting and lime curd….. that was gooooood)
As I said, when it comes to frostings and fillings- to each his own. But this is what I did!
CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
4 tbsp cornstarch
1.5kg full fat cream cheese, softened
1kg melted white chocolate
4 teaspoons good vanilla
Generous pinch of sea salt
Melt the chocolate VERY gently in a pan with a good knob of butter. Stir a lot, and keep an eye. White chocolate is weird. There’s science behind it but I’m not the one to explain that. Abridged version of science= white chocolate melts weird. So be nice to it.
Whip the cream cheese with electric beaters, add vanilla, salt and cornstarch and whip a little more.
Gently fold in the melted chocolate until gloriously combined.
Fridge it till needed!
1kg Mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla paste
100g icing sugar, sifted
720ml heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp cornstarch
Beat the mascarpone down a little. Add the vanilla and sugar (this is not meant to be sweet, hence gap in cheese and sugar weight!)
Gradually add the cream and whisk in, until it starts to thicken. Add the cornstarch and whisk again until it’s really super intimidatingly thick! Adjust quantities if necessary
6 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice and rind
Combine the blueberries, maple syrup, and lemon juice in a sauce pan over medium heat. If it doesn’t thicken, add some cornstarch. Once cooled, blend until super smooth!
Once the cakes are completely cooled, use a cake cutter to evenly cut them into three. Then it becomes a scone argument- jam or cream first!? I tried both ways and, frankly, both felt awkward. In the end, smearing cream cheese frosting on first, then sort of drizzling the compote on top seemed more natural. Then top it with the next cake and begin again. Again, because of the “nakedness” of my decorating, this stage had to be kept as neat as possible. I tried. I failed. It’s hard. Neatness out of the window. I did a crumb layer with lime curd, which helped.
I am not going to go into the doweling rod process here. There are a millions sites that explain it and it depends what your cake size, height, batter is etc. Buy the right dowels for you and practice with them.Just make sure they sit just inside the bottom layer, so the top layer sits on evenly. YouTube tutorials are good!
Grab ya palette knife and get “wallpapering” on the mascarpone. The voice of my dad is burned into my memory: always in the same direction, turn the cake and you spread it on, do one layer, scrape off, then layer again in the same direction……. et voila!
Below is leftover compote sandwiched in coconut and lime fairy cakes! yummm