Sunday, 14 November 2010

Rooftop one-pot

It's the end of the growing season on our roof terrace, though I can't quite believe the tomatoes lasted until November. It was definitely a learning experience: aubergines can be tough to grow, you need multiple courgette plans for cross pollination, tomatoes need a lot of water, if you grow carrots in a pot they'll be tiny...but still delicious.

On the day we harvested the last of our pot grown carrots I decided to cook a tasty one pot roast dish. I love cooking all the ingredients slowly in one dishes and allowing them to infuse each other. The best meal we had in Croatia was at a plush harbourside in Komiza on Vis, where we had beautiful tender white fish baked in a big dish with potatoes, carrots and copious quantities of herbs and garlic and butter and olive oil. It was so simple and so perfect.

In the absence of fish straight out the sea, I browned some chicken legs and thighs in garlic and olive oil and put in a pyrex lasagne dish, before adding some parboiled (3 mins at boiling) and then halved new potatoes with their skins on, a leek, lots of garlic and all of our lovely little carrots. Lots of olive oil and some knobs of butter, and then into the oven. After a while I added finely chopped rosemary, tarragon, basil (all out the garden) and flat leaf parsley and a splash off white wine. I covered in tin foil and baked for maybe another 30 minutes until it was the perfect combination of crispy roast, melt in your mouth buttery, herby bliss.

The meal was a perfect bridge of the seasons, with summer's fresh herbs and winter's warming root vegetables. Maybe I was just feeling paternal, but our baby carrots were particularly sweet and tasty.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Better baking

The western world is going bake-crazy! American-style cupcakes have been all the buzz for the last few years and by now it seems every second person can effortlessly turn out beautiful ornate cupcakes, perfectly frosted and covered in glitter. The supermarkets are on it too, charging full whack for industrial scale cupcake outputs.

My worry is that there is too much emphasis on the decoration and not enough on the crux of the matter: the cake. While the aesthetics of icing are clearly important and most definitely play a part in your cake decision, the substance, the cakiness of the cake are often forgotten. So many perfectly decorated cupcakes are dry and bland inside; there is often no art to the baking.

But two recent baked experiences have reassured me that some bakers are still passionate about their cake.

My friend Hattie has recently set herself up as a cake-maker and does a good run of traditional, well-made, feel-good baking. Hattie had her first stall at the Kentish Town Community Centre autumn picnic and I bought myself a bespoke sample platter. There were brownies (moist but not too sludgy), chocolate cake (impeccably iced, soft inside), rocky road (very sweet, chocolatey and moreish), as well as carrot cake, old school cupcakes (not American style) and vegan

Obviously food tastes better when you know how much love goes into it, but Hattie's cakes are some of the best I've had in a while. Save your money next time you think of ordering a Hummingbird and get Hattie to bake you something! Drop Hattie an email on harrietphillips258 if you want some good cake.

Another great baked experience I had was at the Great Brownie Bake Off at look mum no hands!, everyone's favourite cycle cafe, all in the name of charidee. Chefs gave demonstrations of their best brownie recipes, sharing handy hints and tips as they went along, and then the finished products were passed around the audience. Every 10 minutes or so, another batch of warm brownies would be passed around on plates and I quickly felt a bit queasy from the sheer amount of sugar.

The star attraction was Stacie Stewart, a recent Masterchef finalist, who is a total mod with amazing hair, attitude and cooking skillz. She is also Pete's workmate, so we got introduced and had a quick chat about the cake scene at the moment and agreed about the downsides of Americanisation, or something. Anyway, Stacie was very charming and funny and gave some great tips when she was mixing it up. She says cooking is an art and a science and you got just tell she's got both sides covered.

Stacie baked a chocolate cupcake with a chocolatey mascarpone icing. They were in short supply, so Pete and I shared one. It was very nice. Very soft, light cake and the icing was luxuriously creamy and caramely, but without being too thick or sugary.

I left on a total sugar high, but with a strong desire to get my bake on!