Straight from North Yorkshire

This breakfast comes straight from North Yorkshire.  One of my very best friends from London, Liz Theakston, sent it to me recently.  She remembers this specifically because when she was 19 years old, she called her future husband, Jo, from Mexico on her last penny.  A stranger answered and she was told she couldn't speak to him because the Two Fat Ladies were filming in the kitchen.   

I'd like to spend a moment on the Theakstons and the Two Fat Ladies.  Firstly, if I were to picture my dream kitchen, Sue's (Jo's Mum) instantly comes to mind.  I've previously mentioned my adoration of the Aga, and it features right in the heart of her lovely country home.  Their pack of labradors sleep next to it, warming themselves through the chilly Yorkshire winters. 

Since we first met the Theakston clan camping in France many summers ago, I've been in awe of Sue's ability to not only survive, but cater for four sons, her husband and a group of unruly dogs.  In my house growing up, the girls ruled- three of us against poor old Dad.  At the Theakstons, I have a feeling Sue still rules, despite being out numbered.  I think it has something to do with curly hair.

I first tasted Marmite spread onto french baguettes and topped with soft boiled eggs after stumbling over to the Theakston's campsite in France.  It was the perfect mix of French and English and I've been hooked ever since.  

They had a camper van with family sized tents arranged around a large welcoming table where tea was constantly brewed.  We had hot, small tents that managed to get the better of us after drinking too much red wine the night before.  

On another occasion back in Yorkshire, Sue threw a fantastic 30th birthday party for Jo under a marquee with fresh cut flowers on every table.  Owners of the Black Sheep Brewery in Masham, Sue and Paul run a truly family business where Jo and his brother now work.  We've been lucky enough to eat lots of Sue's food that is always paired with a keg of Black Sheep Ale conveniently located just inside the door to the basement.  

I remember heading into the kitchen just before the party where Sue and Liz were working.  Every surface was covered with bountiful bowls of  salads and barbecued meat for the large group of people gathered outside.  Liz is also a fantastic cook and I particularly like any chicken dish she has ever made.  Just like her mother-in-law, she has a knack for catering for the masses, and an even better skill of keeping Jo's hunger at bay.  I have seen her whip up tuna pasta so quickly that Jo's inevitable hunger melt down barely has time to rear it's ugly head.

The Two Fat Ladies are an English national treasure in my mind.  The show featured Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson who travelled and cooked their way around the country on a Triumph Thunderbird with a sidecar.  Most of their recipes are laden with fat and calories, but I loved their old fashioned style, especially when they cooked feathered and furred game with skill.  They rode into Masham to cook breakfast for the boys at the Black Sheep Brewery.  I remember watching the episode that included this recipe for Corn Griddle Cakes and Deviled Kidneys.  I didn't attempt the kidneys, but they are made by frying them in butter, Geo Watkins mushroom ketchup, Worstershire sauce and English mustard.  

I made these cakes with the summer's first ears of corn.

Granted, it's not exactly high season for corn, but it's a perfect time for making them into cakes rather than enjoying them straight off the cob. 

Corn Griddle Cakes 
Adapted from The Two Fat Ladies

8 oz plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
6 oz fresh sweet corn kernels
1 free range egg, beaten
4 fl oz. milk
2 tbsp melted butter

Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl.  Combine the corn, egg and milk.  Add to the flour mixture and mix well.  Add the butter.  Spoon onto a hot griddle, using 2 to 3 tablespoons of the mixture for each cake.  

Cook until bubbles show on the surface and then turn the cakes over.  Cook on the other side until golden brown.  

Serve with rashers of bacon and maple syrup.


Back home again

I'd never been to the Indianapolis 500, which is strange since I grew up there. If you're going to sit in the heat all day and watch cars race around in a circle, good food and plenty of cold beer is necessary. I have to admit, I loved every minute of the race. The people watching was top-notch. We sat where we could see the entire track, which meant trekking up many, many flights of stairs before we could sing the National Anthem and my favorite, "Back Home Again in Indiana."

As you might have guessed, I was initially only interested in the picnic. I wanted to make some tried and tested family recipes with a few twists. My Grandma's potato salad was a must, as were deviled eggs. Instead of traditional sandwiches, I made fried chicken, and then my sister's Chocolate Chipper cookies for sweets.

My Dad's wife, Lisa, bought adorable bags, checkered ribbons and a great deviled egg carrier so we could get to the race in style. The two of us stayed up until mid-night splattering the kitchen with oil whilst frying chicken and drinking wine. We started first with making the potato salad so it could sit over-night to develop it's flavor.
This is Dorothy's recipe, my maternal Grandmother, and all three of her daughters have made it many times over the years. When searching for the recipe, I couldn't find it written anywhere. She used to make a German potato salad as well, but I remembered the creamy version with celery and onion. I spoke to my Aunt Patty and she reminded me. The key is using Miracle Whip instead of normal mayonnaise.

Dorothy's Potato Salad
Serves 6

1 1/2 potatoes
6 celery stalks finely chopped
1 sweet onion finely chopped
1 1/2 cups of Miracle Whip
3 hard boiled eggs- chopped
Plenty of salt and freshly ground pepper
Chives or Scallions if you'd like

Boil a large pot of salted water. Cut the potatoes into quarters if they are large, leaving the skins on. Boil until just finished. It's important not to over-cook the potatoes or they will be mushy. Cool the potatoes by running under cold water. Let them sit in water with ice cubes if you need to.

In the mean time, finely chop the celery and onion and chop up the egg.

Skin the potatoes (they should remove easily) and dice. Add to the other ingredients, then season before adding the Miracle Whip. Start with a cup of Miracle Whip and add more as you mix. This should be creamy, so add as you mix to get the right consistency.
If you're making a big bowl of the stuff for a barbecue, finely slice rounds of hard boiled egg and sprinkle with paprika.

I added finely chopped chives from Lisa's garden.

Next up was the deviled eggs. I adapted two recipes from Bon Appetit magazine that each gave a kick to the traditional deviled egg. We passed these around and shared them with the guys who sat next to us.

Chipotle Deviled Eggs
Adapted from Bon Appetit

6 free range eggs
3 tbsp light mayo
1- 1 1/2 tbsp canned chipotle chilies, finely chopped
12 cilantro leaves

Hard boil eggs, drain and cool in water with ice cubes. Peel and slice in half, then remove yolks. Place egg whites on platter and refrigerate separately if serving later. Combine yolks and mayonnaise is a food processor and add chilies until smooth.

Spoon mixture into each half of egg white and top with a cilantro leaf.

Horseradish Deviled Eggs
Adapted from Bon Appetit

6 free range eggs
3 tbsp light mayo
1 tbsp juice from sweet pickle jar
1 tbsp prepared horseradish
1/2 tsp salt and pepper
12 parsley leaves

Hard boil eggs, drain and cool in water with ice cubes. Peel and slice in half, then remove yolks. Place whites on a platter and refrigerate if you're serving later. Combine yolks, mayo, horseradish, salt and pepper in food processor until smooth.

Spoon mixture into each half of egg white and top with a parsley leaf.

For the chicken, I quite rightly referred to Ina Garten's version, Oven Fried Chicken. I added smoked paprika to the flour this time, but you can also add chili powder or what ever spice you fancy. Soaking the chicken in butter milk over night makes the chicken extra tender. For 6 of us, we used about 3 pounds of chicken and then added 6 drumsticks since that seems to be everyone's favorite. It turned out amazingly crispy.

Lastly, we made 2 batches of my sister's chocolate chip cookies from her home-economics class in junior high. These are the best I've tasted as I don't like my chocolate chip cookies too doughy or too sickly sweet.

Stacia's Chocolate Chippers

1/2 cup of shortening
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1/4 light brown sugar
1 large free range egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

Cream until light and fluffy.

1 cup of flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
16 oz of semi-sweet chocolate chips (she prefers the Ghirardelli chocolate chunks mixed with Nestle chips)

Sift flour, salt and baking soda together. Add to cream mixture and mix in the chocolate chips until completely combined.

Drop a large tablespoon of mixture onto a baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake at 375F for 10-12 minutes and remove immediately. I would watch these at 10 minutes to ensure they don't become hard. Stacia recommends that you cook them until rare and broil until crispy on the outside, but you can just watch them in the oven to ensure they don't over cook.

Cool on a rack and then devour!

We wrapped these in individual cookie boxes and tied with black and white checkered ribbon for race day!


Beside the seaside

I've been jotting down ideas lately of what to cook next and share with you.  I don't know how I ever survived before I bought a moleskine dedicated to Hunger Habit.  My brain has a tendency to get overwhelmed with too many ideas.  Let me give you a few examples that will make sense to my friends here in the US and abroad. 

When I happily show my membership card at Costco and make my way past the huge televisions, I immediately feel like the list in my pocket is useless.  Each aisle calls my name and I find myself wandering aimlessly with too many items in my cart that weren't on the list.  I came home last week with two huge tubs that were meant for holding iced beer during a party.  I'd been searching for one for the deck to also catch water for the tomatoes that have miraculously sprouted.  

But why two?  My husband made me give it to my sister.  

This loss of senses happens to me when I shop for clothes as well.  For those of you who have ever attempted to shop with me, you'll know that I prefer to be alone.  Rushing is simply forbidden.  When I enter a store like Topshop,  I feel dizzy.  I'm immediately drawn to millions of handbags and the area where girls half my age are trying on plastic sunglasses.  I pass the same knit-wear section countless times before finally heading to the shoe department.  

I've learned to take a deep breath, take the list out of my pocket, and work the store in sections.  If not, multiple hours pass before I finally head out into daylight, confused and unaware of how to get home.

This recipe is one I reminded myself of when the weather was still chilly and I was hoping for a week like this- beautiful, no rain and above 80 degrees.  Summer is officially in the air.  It just so happens that I rarely cook with aubergines (or eggplants).  They're so smooth and gorgeously purple, but until now, I never really knew how make them tasty.

Honestly, I've never liked them, but this recipe is one very large exception.  I find that the eggplant has to be paired with some serious flavor to make it interesting.  When stuffed with feta and spiked with my dear friend, the red chilli, I gave it a second glance.

Thinking back now, I do remember a delicious eggplant parmesan dish at the gourmet deli I worked at in college.  The woman who owned it also made a fantastic Baba ghanoush dip.  The cumin and garlic hit the back of your mouth with a punch.  In fact, this recipe is similar to something else I recall tasting there, although it was done with courgettes (or zucchini).  I love that I just referenced two vegetables that have different names here and in the UK.  The conundrum used to add so much time in the kitchen when I first moved to London.  All that converting and weird names were enough to put anyone off their first set of pots and pans from Ikea.

Before sharing, I must point out that the book this is from is Forever Summer, by Nigella Lawson.  Like all of her books, I fall in love with the way this woman makes everything look simple and the way she enjoys her food, family and friends.  I particularly remember an episode from the TV series that went with this book when she was at the English seaside.  The coast of England holds so many special memories for me.  I remember the first summer my husband and his parents took me to Blackpool.  It was tacky but wonderful and I ate the best mushy peas I've ever had.  

Cornwall, in particular, St. Mawes, is an area that would honestly compete with the Dordogne when thoughts of retirement enter my far off dreams.  I got engaged in St. Mawes and spent 3 summer holidays returning with my husband and dog to hike, play in the surf, eat fish & chips, Cornish pasties and drink Tribute Ale.  This was the view from one of the cottages we rented.
If you read Nigella's book, you will come closer to understanding what a lovely British summer can taste like.  Bulgar wheat salad with pink lamb, Golden Jubilee chicken salad, trifle and my all-time favorite fish curry with spicy tamarind are all in this book.  

Griddled Aubergines with Feta, Mint and Chilli
Adapted from Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson

2 large aubergines, each cut thinly, lengthwise into about 10 slices
4 tbsp olive oil
8 oz. feta cheese
1 red chilli, finely chopped and deseeded
large bunch of fresh mint, finely chopped with some saved to sprinkle over
juice of 1 lemon
black pepper

Even if I'm having a barbecue, I don't like to cook these over coals.  They get a little flimsy, so I prefer to use a grill pan.  Preheat over high heat.  

Brush both sides of each slice with the oil and cook for 2 minutes each side until golden and tender.  I use a spatula to flatten the slices against the grill to ensure they are marked. 

Crumble the feta into a bowl and stir in the chilli, mint, lemon juice and black pepper.  No salt is needed because the feta is salty enough.  

Pile the end of each warm aubergine slice with a heaped teaspoon of the feta mixture then roll each slice up.  Lay with the end side down and sprinkle with more mint.  

I like to serve this when guests arrive before a barbecue with a cold beer to wash down the saltiness of the feta and the heat of the chilli.

I'm heading to my home town of Indianapolis this weekend to watch very loud cars race around in a circle.  I can't believe I've never been to the Indy 500, and although it's not how I would typically spend a weekend, I'm looking forward to the experience, most of which will include a home-made picnic lunch I've been planning for us to take along.

Enjoy the long weekend!


Filling the gap

The sandwich is something that many of us take for granted. When we're in a hurry, a sandwich fills the gap, whether it's store bought or homemade. I've recently attempted to return to my childhood by making balogna sandwiches with American cheese slices sauced with French's mustard and a little bit of mayo. I can't bring myself to go the Oscar Meyer route, so deli sliced meat and cheese make me feel slightly better about eating suspect cold cuts.

My favorite sandwich of all time is the meatloaf sandwich. I grew up eating a lot of meat loaf, so inevitably, this made it's way into my school lunch bag more than I care to remember. I find myself making meatloaf now just for the sandwiches. 

I have several rules about making them.  Sometimes, they are best with iceburg lettuce, tomato and mayo, just like my local pub, The Four Moons Tavern, serves it.  At home, I wouldn't say I've made them fancy, but I do like the granary bread approach and some nice salad leaves.  I also like to leave out the tomato and add a kosher dill pickle slice. One rule remains- mayo is the only thing that this sandwich should have on it, and lots of it.

I've adapted my Mom's meatloaf recipe and you can make it in a loaf tin or form it into individual little loaves and cook them on a sheet pan.  She used to put all ingredients in raw, but I like to cook the onion so it comes out with less bite.

Pam's Meatloaf
Serves 4 

2lbs ground beef
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 free range eggs, beaten
2 tbsp fresh thyme
1 1/2 tbsp ketchup
1 tsp English mustard
1/3 cup chicken stock
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp cumin
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
2 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper

Ketchup and/or bbq sauce for topping.

Preheat oven to 350F.  

In a saute pan, heat the olive oil and add the onion, thyme, salt and pepper.  Cook over medium heat until onions are translucent.  Take off the heat and add the chicken stock, ketchup, mustard and Worcestershire sauce.  Let it cool.

In a large bowl, combine the beef, eggs, bread crumbs and onion mixture and mix lightly.  Divid into palm size loaves and place on a sheet pan, or put into a loaf pan to cook.  

My Mother used to leave the top plain, but I like squirting some Heinz Ketchup or a mixture of ketchup and good barbecue sauce on the top of the loaves before baking.

Bake 40- 45 minutes or until the meat is cooked thoroughly.

Serve hot reserving some for sandwiches the following day!

In England, the pre-packed sandwich is everywhere. It seems as if every shop offers those in a hurry the chance to grab a pre-made specimen, conveniently cut in half and shoved in a plastic container. Boots, Marks & Spencer, all major grocery stores and all petrol (gas) stations have aisles commited to huge varieties of sandwiches ready for immediate consumption. Tuna & Sweetcorn, Cheese & Onion, All Day Breakfast (which includes some nasty sausages and ketchup), Egg & Cress, Cheese & Pickle, Chicken & Bacon, and Prawn Mayonnaise are all popular combinations.

Retailers answered the British obsession with the pre-packed sammie with higher-end chains like Pret A Manger and Eat. These guys make their sandwiches fresh daily and offer posh ingredients such as crayfish, avocado, Stilton and salmon. I've tried them all, but usually opted for one without meat to avoid poisoning when stopping for petrol on a long road trip.

Two of my fondest food memories that I have from England revolve around the sandwich. First, and this could easily take up several paragraphs to describe, was the roast dinner sandwich from Fuzzy's Grub. I was introduced to this place late in the game when I worked in the City. It is a thing of wonder and usually induces an immediate nap. Therefore, it was only allowed to be consumed on a Friday in my office (as we all know nothing gets done on Friday afternoons in London.)

Try to imagine the following: a very large white bap (bread roll) about the size of your face. You choose your roast meat- mine was always the rare roast beef. Then you add the toppings of a typical roast dinner- potatoes (roasted or mashed), veggies ( I loved having the peas nestle into the mash with little carrots submerged in there too), yorkshire pudding cut into chunks, gravy and then any of the traditional sauces (HP, Heinz ketchup, Coleman's mustard) or homemade relishes or chutneys. I always topped mine with horseradish sauce. Squished together between the bread, this was no sandwich for sissies. You could not look at it and consider giving half away. If possible, I liked to eat this without an audience because getting it into one's mouth was a challenge.

The second is a strange little sandwich that I eat all the time. It is the antithesis of the the Fuzzy's sandwich. It is healthy on all fronts.  I first had it in a deli in Bracknell, a terrible town outside of London where I worked when I first moved there.  My friend Amelia and I would take a well deserved break from the monotony of the office and head into the rather depressing center of the town.  For anyone who hasn't been to Bracknell, the UK version of "The Office" is set in Slough- a town with round-abouts and industrial estates.  Bracknell is close by and very similar. I'd like to apologize to anyone who lives in Bracknell, but the two good things I took out of that place was this cottage cheese sandwich and the love of jacket potatoes.  A jacket potato is a baked potato with toppings- this one came from a man with his own street stall and a portable potato oven.  He'd slice open the piping hot potatoes and reveal the soft and fluffy center.  He'd add a pat of butter, salt & pepper and then baked beans, chilli or my favorite- cheese and coleslaw.

The cottage cheese sandwich goes like this: Start with granary bread- the more seeds the better.  You can make it a closed sandwich, but I also like it open-faced, toasted or not toasted. Add cottage cheese and plenty of pepper.  At this point, I sometimes like to add some sweetcorn, but if I don't have it, I leave it out.  Slice some lovely red tomatoes, add on top of the cottage cheese and season again with salt and pepper.  Halve an avocado and add the slices to the sandwich. I've started adding hot sauce to this and it's delicious.  It came from another of my favorites, but it's more of a breakfast option for me.  I like to toast a multi-grain slice of bread and top it with havarti, some mashed avocado and hot sauce.

When I think back to what I used to get in my brown paper bag for my school lunch, I remember lots of sandwiches, but some of my favorites were left over roasted chicken legs served with white bread and butter.  If I was lucky, my Mom would include a hard boiled egg with salt and pepper tied in a little sandwich bag for dipping.  I defnitely consumed my fair share of peanut butter and jelly and it still cracks me up that my husband doesn't think that peanut butter and jam go together. He says they are not "partners."

I am a sucker for stuffing leftovers into a sandwich. The pork roast I made for Easter got transported back to Chicago after our weekend in Michigan. After a long car ride, I made cold pork sandwiches with warmed gravy and garnished it with cold steamed yellow beans and some salad leaves.

Speaking of roast pork, I'm currently addicted to the Lechon sandwich at 90 Miles Cuban Cafe.  The succulent meat is paired with romaine lettuce, grilled onions, sweet plantain and garlic sauce.  Their house hot sauce is also spectacular.

If we're going to talk about the best sandwiches on earth, it's only fair to mention France and Spain.  I don't know anywhere else on earth where a freshly baked baguette, buttered with ham and Emmental cheese, could taste better than in Paris or sitting with your face in the sun skiing in the French Alps.  Another favorite is chunky pate with cornichons.  It's a true testament to the bread that you don't need to add any mustard or mayo to make it taste good.   Just butter- that's it.  Don't forget a lovely Croque-monsieur or if you're feeling extra indulgent, a Croque Madame, both of which Martin and I lived on during our visits to Paris on a budget.  Sipping coffee at a cafe and watching the beautiful people walk past makes me sad that I'm no longer a Eurostar ride away.

In Spain, my favorite city, hands down, is Sevilla.   I've spent time there on two occasions.  The first was when I was studying in England and visiting my friends Lisa and Natasha from the US.  The second was when my sister, Stacia, studied there.  My whole family met her there and I had one of the best weeks of my life.  We did nothing but tour the beautiful city, eat and drink.  The slow moving river sets the pace of life there.  I fondly remember my Mother not knowing a single word of Spanish and shouting "hola" even when she burnt a waiter with her cigarette.  

During this trip, which is understandably why I loved it, we went from one bar to another, tasting signature tapas at each place and drinking local wine.  We stayed in the Jewish quarter with its narrow cobbled streets and the best thing I ate there was a little marinated pork sandwich at a bar right next to our hotel, Hosteria del Laurel.  I swear this sandwich has haunted me for years and I would fly to Sevilla just for a taste of it.  For some reason, I shared a room with Martin and my sister, who I had not seen in a long time.  Inevitably, he shouted at us in the wee hours of the morning for our constant drunken whispering.  This recipe is one that Stacia brought back with her.  Don't be put off by the blood sausage.  Once you taste this, you'll forget it's even there.

Montadito de Pringa

3 oz. fresh pork loin- finely chopped
1/2 oz. Morcila (blood sausage) finely chopped (Columbian style)
1 chorizo sausage (2 oz.) skinned and finely chopped
1 oz bacon, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil (preferably Spanish :)
1-2 baguettes sliced 1/4 inch pieces
softened butter

For the marinade:
1 large garlic clove 
1/4 tsp crushed coriander seed
1/4 tsp freshly crushed cumin seed
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 dried red chili, or 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tbsp olive oil

Mix marinade and meat and refrigerate overnight.  Heat oil in skillet and saute marinated meat mixture over medium heat about 5 minutes.  

Spread about 1 tbsp of mixture on half of the bread slices and cover with remaining slices (making a sandwich) .  Butter both sides and grill- pressing flat as you cook.  Serve warm.


Sweet as honey

It was a chilly day at Green City Market yesterday, but I got there early enough to get a free coffee and the misty rain didn't seem to be dampening spirits. I was hoping for artichokes, but found none. My disappointment quickly faded as my search for rhubarb was successful at a little stand on the outskirts of the market. The table was stacked with piles of the beautiful pink stalks and tons of violet asparagus.
Having heard that raw honey grown locally can help with allergies, I picked up a cute little bear filled with the stuff from Heritage Prairie Market. My husband and I are known for sneezing through entire summer weddings, vows and all, so I was relieved when the man behind the stall confirmed his honey's health benefits.

Parents were filling their children's cups with fresh milk and everyone was tucking into samples from the various stalls. Apart from the hugely popular crepe stand, the friendly people from Sunday Dinner served a gorgeous homemade flat bread with asparagus, chives, onion, goats cheese and thick shards of prosciutto.

My bulging bag was also filled with some lovely wild garlic that I added to omelets with goats cheese for tonight's supper. Every couple of months, and normally on a chilly night, I like to make breakfast for dinner. We put our pajamas on when it's still light outside and my husband boils the kettle. We make cups of tea and eat some combination of eggs and toast.

Tonight it was the wild garlic omelet and a salad of some of the brightest radishes I have ever seen.

My family got together today to celebrate Mother's Day. I found it the perfect excuse to spend Saturday afternoon in the kitchen transforming the rhubarb into a compote for fresh fruit and tweaking my Aunt Patty's Chinese Slaw. I hope she doesn't mind!

For the rhubarb, I adapted a recipe out of Tom Kime's book Exploring Taste + Flavour for Turkish rice pudding with orange and cardamom-scented rhubarb. Instead of leaving the rhubarb whole, I let them stew completely and then combined them with the stunningly flavored syrup to make a compote. I also added rose water to the rhubarb while stewing.

Strawberries with Rhubarb Compote and Vanilla Mascarpone

Fresh berries: I like strawberries for this, but you can use any of your favorite berries.

For the Compote:
2 pounds rhubarb, cut into 2-3 inch pieces
1/2 cup of water
1 tsp rose water
1/2 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 350F and combine rhubarb in a shallow oven proof dish with rose water, water and sugar. Cover with foil and cook for 30-40 minutes. If you want to keep the rhubarb whole you can cut the time back to 20-25 minutes and serve the syrup separately. I combined the two for the compote.

For the Syrup:
Juice of one orange
Zest of one orange
2 cardamom pods, crushed
liquid from stewed rhubarbs

Carefully drain the liquid from the stewed rhubarbs into a small sauce pan. Zest one orange with a vegetable peeler and add to the liquid along with the juice from the orange. Add the crushed cardamom pods and simmer until reduced to syrup consistency.

Combine in a food processor with the stewed rhubarb and serve over fruit. I also like this with ice cream.

For the Vanilla Mascarpone:
8 oz Mascarpone Cheese
1 vanilla pod, halved and seeds scraped out
3 tbsp icing sugar

Combine all ingredients and whip with a spoon until sugar and vanilla seeds are combined. I love serving this with all kinds of fruit combinations. I had a punnet of blackberries in my fridge and couldn't help dipping them into this. I've served this before with fresh nectarines or peaches, cut into slices and then marinated in a sprinkle of sugar and a few tablespoons of Grand Marnier.

My sister made some tasty marinated pork chops that she brined over night, grilled and covered with a sweet and savory ginger sauce. We had a minor crisis with the rice which resulted in the two of us emptying her pantry of every alternative we could find. In the end, we had a fit of giggles while sipping her Blood Orange cocktails and served only enough couscous for everyone to have no more than a tablespoon. No one seemed to mind.

Patty's Chinese Slaw

For the Slaw:
2 bags of prepared coleslaw (I like one bag regular, and one bag broccoli slaw)
1 cup of cashews
1 cup of sunflower seeds
3 pkgs. ramen noodles, uncooked (noodles only)
2 bunches of green onion, chopped
1 stalk of wild garlic, chopped (optional)

For the Dressing:
1 cup of vegetable oil
1/3 cup of rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup of light brown sugar
juice of 1 lime
1/2 inch of ginger root, grated
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp honey
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

Mix the dressing the night before & refrigerate. Mix the slaw ingredients with the dressing and serve. You can serve it immediately or mix it a few hours ahead and refrigerate.

Stacia's Blood Orange Cocktail

Fill a high ball with ice and measure 2 part blood orange sparkling juice, 1 part Tanqueray gin, 1 part grapefruit juice. Add a few torn mint leaves and a squeeze of lemon. Stir and serve. They are guaranteed to make any disaster in the kitchen seem inconsequential!


The eternal optimist

I'm looking forward to riding my bike down to the Green City Market this weekend to get inspired by spring produce and fill my basket with as much as it will carry.  I've got special plans for rhubarb and artichokes.  After watching Michael J. Fox's show tonight, I've confirmed what I already knew... I am an eternal optimist.  I hope that I find the best fruit and veggies at the market and that the rain will stay away.  In the meantime, I haven't been able to help myself from buying asparagus in large bunches and cooking them in a variety of ways.  This recent experiment has led me to believe that I prefer them roasted instead of steamed, but there is a time and a place at my table for both.  I also have decided that I love the fat asparagus compared to the skinny little spears.  Although the fine spears are pretty and rather delicate, I find that roasting the big ones come out tender and juicy.

Upon searching through my Dad's bookshelves about a month ago, when we were cooking together, I found an old copy of a book called Domestic Cookery.  When I say old, I mean it was published in 1888.  As usual, I gave him a look that only daughters can give fathers and he told me it was mine.  

The book was written by Mary J. Pulte, a doctor's wife, and was intended as a practical guide in the preparation of food for the well and the sick.  I found the foreward incredibly endearing as it mentions that she wrote it in memory of her late husband and that proceeds went to the Ohio Hospital for Women and Children.  It's written in extremely straightforward terms, as one might imagine instructions on how to build flat-packed furniture.  Some of my favorites in the book are: "Tongue Salad (Excellent)".  Seriously, it says the word excellent in the title.  "How to Know a Young Turkey- if the lower joints of the legs are a dark red, it is young.  If they're white, it is an old one. This is a sure sign."  I don't even want to think about that one.

Don't get me wrong, there are many edible and delicious entries and I adore looking through collections like this to see where our modern day cooking came from.  There is one entry for asparagus.  It calls for boiling several bunches of trimmed asparagus in salted water until almost tender.  Meanwhile, heat half a pint of rich, sweet milk and 2 tbsp of fresh butter.  When the milk is hot, stir in 2 tsp of flour.  Lay the asparagus in the milk and let it simmer slowly until it's tender.

Here are a few other suggestions on what to do with your spring asparagus that I have tried, tested and devoured.  I like Jamie Oliver's ideas from his book, Jamie at Home, and I've taken some of these and adapted them to my own tastes.

Prepare your asparagus by snapping the woody end off of each spear.

1. Wrap asparagus in slices of prosciutto, lay on baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and roast at  425 F for 10 minutes.  Dip into soft boiled eggs with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. 

2. Slice one shallot finely and cover with 1 tbsp of white wine vinegar.  Leave for 5-10 minutes.  Combine 1 tsp of French mustard, 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, the shallots and vinegar, salt and pepper.  Steam asparagus for 5-6 minutes until tender, but not falling apart, cover with vinaigrette and chopped herb of your choice.

3. Thinly slice 1 lemon.  Put asparagus spears on a baking sheet and lay the slices of lemon over the asparagus.  Season with salt, pepper and drizzle with olive oil.  Bake at 425F for 10 minutes.  The lemon will caramelize slightly while roasting.  Meanwhile, melt 1 tbsp of butter and smash up one handful of mint in a pestle and mortar.  Combine the mint and butter and pour liberally over the cooked asparagus.  If you're in the mood for some spicy, de-seed and finely chop some red chilli and add to the butter.  

Sometimes I like to add a couple of vine ripened tomatoes on the baking sheet - they will just start to pop and add to the juicy sauce when served together.

4.  You'll need the fat spears for this.  Grill asparagus over hot coals until they're marked on both sides and tender.  Serve with a squeeze of lemon juice, a generous drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper.  Take a vegetable peeler and shave Parmesan or Pecorino over the asparagus. 


Window of opportunity

Last Sunday morning I was running around the kitchen with my cousin, Christine, baking a honey vanilla pound cake.  We had spent Saturday during the day celebrating my sister, Stacia's, 30th birthday.  We had lunch, went shopping, had our nails done, and had a very elegant evening of wine tasting at my fabulous local wine shop, Lush.  Christine specifically requested we bake something with flour Sunday morning before she took off.  We had a window of opportunity to do some cooking, but it included rising early after a late night.  She's pregnant with her first, just put in a beautiful new kitchen, and wanted some baking practice.  With my aching head, Christine guided me through the recipe.  We sifted the fluffy cake flour and beat the eggs and sugar into the palest yellow batter I have ever set eyes on.  

I realize that I have posted a lemon polenta cake in the not to recent past, but I adore lemon in cakes and puddings.  There's something easy and accessible about something baked in a loaf tin.  The lemon here is paired with honey and vanilla and results in a lovely nursery loaf that is perfect for any time of day.  It really is a very quick and simple recipe- ideal when one has drank too many glasses of wine the night before. 

Honey Vanilla Pound Cake

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature (let sit for 1 hour)
1 1/4cups sugar
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 tbsp honey
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp grated lemon zest
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease the bottom of an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2- inch loaf pan.  Line the bottom with parchment paper then grease and flour the pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes, until light.  Meanwhile, put the eggs, honey, vanilla, and lemon zest in a glass measuring cup but do not combine. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the egg mixture, one egg at a time, scraping down the bowl and allowing each egg to become incorporated before adding the next egg.

Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder.  With the mixer on low speed, add it slowly to the batter until just combined.  Finish mixing the batter with a rubber spatula and pour it into the prepared pan.  Smooth the top.  Bake for 50-60 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool for 15 minutes, turn out onto a baking rack and cool completely.

I sent Christine out the door with half of the piping hot loaf wrapped in foil and tucked into her shoe bag.

This Sunday, I'm happy to report we've had a lovely weather all weekend and not a drop of rain, which means we finally got to have dinner on the roof deck at sunset.  

I've kept my old Weber charcoal grill that I bought in London because I love the way the coal adds extra flavor to the food.  I'm no barbecue expert, but my husband is an excellent grill man for an Englishman who grew up in a country where any time you plan a barbecue, crack open the beers and invite your friends over, a rain cloud rolls in. 

One of my favorite things to grill outside in the summer is flank steak.  It's a cheap cut of meat and can be marinated in a variety of different ways.  In fact, the first time I made this, it was for a party I threw when we moved into our flat on Milton Grove in July of 2003.  I cooked four of them- some rare and some more well done.  Typically, the clouds did threaten with a storm, and we ran out and panic-bought a marquee that my husband rigged up.  Just as he did, the clouds parted and the sun came out.  

I particularly remember that this steak tastes wonderful cold.  We had headed to the pub across the street after the barbecue and several of us tucked into plates of leftover meat when we came back to the house tipsy.

This recipe comes from one of two Junior League cookbooks that my mother gave me, The Junior League Centennial Cookbook.  Both are treasured collections of tried and tested American recipes from women who have perfected the art of entertaining.  This particular book contains recipes from over 200 Junior Leagues across the US.  My mother cooked from both of them and this flank steak was something that featured on summer menus when I had come home from college.

The older of the two is called Winners: Winning Recipes from the Junior League of Indianapolis, and I inherited it after she passed away.  It contains a recipe for pumpkin soup that my entire family loves to cook at Thanksgiving.  I remember one year she even served it as our starter in little pumpkins she had hollowed out.  It was very impressive.

Even several years after she has passed away, I find comfort in going through some of the things she left behind, like this cookbook.  Upon leafing through it recently, I found two of her handwritten recipes for a cream cheese dip and a pork tenderloin.  Something about seeing her writing brings her closer in my memory.  I can see her sitting at the counter in the kitchen, as she did every morning, with her coffee cup cradled between both hands, and the lights off until she had "woken up".  Her waking up process took the best part of the morning.  It was there that she would write a list for the day.  This is something I definitely took from her.  I have lists everywhere for everything.  Every handbag and pocket I have is filled with grocery lists, things to buy and things to do.

One thing to note about the Junior League is that my mother was something of a rebel.  I think she enjoyed being a member and she did her fair share of volunteering, but I'm not sure she always fit into the crowd.  Let's just say she followed her own rules and I loved that about her.

I served this flank steak with purple and red potatoes simply boiled and topped with butter, salt, pepper and dill to mirror the steak marinade.

We also put some zucchini on the grill.  

Fold aluminum foil into a double layer and fold each side so they turn up.  Slice zucchini into thickish rounds and place them in a single layer on the foil.  Drizzle with olive oil, pepper and cumin.  Grill for about 8-10 minutes over hot coals.

Marinated Grilled Flank Steak
Adapted from The Junior League Centennial Cookbook, Birmingham, AL

Serves 4-6

Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup dry red wine
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 large clove of garlic, sliced
ground black pepper to taste
4 chopped scallions
3 tbsp chopped dill
1 flank steak, about 1 1/2 pounds, trimmed

Make marinade by combining all ingredients.  Score the steak diagonally across both sides, diagonally.  Place the steak in a shallow dish or zip-lock bag and pour the marinade over.  Let stand in the refrigerator for 2-12 hours, turning once or twice.  Remove from the marinade and grill over hot coals for 4 minutes each side for rare meat.  Let the meat rest for about 10 minutes.  Slice the meat on the diagonal across the grain and serve.