Monthly Archives: August 2011

Good Morning! Buckwheat Pancakes

I’ve had a bit of a thing for buckwheat for a while. It’s a versatile little grain that lends itself to being used whole in salads, but it also makes for delicious pancakes, and these are they.

So this is the situation: it’s early, you want pancakes, and you don’t want to do much thinking. The method is simplicity itself – pour everything into a bowl, and whisk. That’s it. No rubbing, no stirring in melted butter, no whipping of egg whites or folding in. Just mix, cook, drench in honey or syrup and…that’s it!

These are quite different to “normal” breakfast pancakes – there is a real earthy “nutiness” to them from the buckwheat. And…at the risk of sounding like I am jumping on the bandwagon, they are gluten-free, so perfect to whip up when you’ve got house guests who can’t eat wheat.

Now there is no need to sit there taunting them with your off-limits pancakes – make the buckwheat version instead! Just be sure to serve them with lots of honey.

To make buckwheat pancakes (makes 14-16):

• 225g buckwheat flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 300ml milk
• 50ml water

• 1 egg
• pinch of salt

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk until the batter is smooth.

Heat a frying pan and grease with a little oil or butter. Pour enough batter to make palm-sized pancakes (you will get three in a large pan) and cook until the top is covered in bubbles. Flip over and cook until golden.

Worth making? These are really quick and taste really great. Best eaten warm with salted butter and honey.

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Dammsugare

Dammsugare. It’s Swedish for “vacuum cleaner”.

Really, over in Sweden, in old Stockholm town, they really do have a cake named after a household appliance.

Unsurprisingly, there are a couple of theories about how these things came to have such a curious name. The first (and probably more likely to be right) is that these cakes resemble the cylinders of old vacuum cleaners. The alternative is to do with what actually goes into them – no, not dust, but you do use cake crumbs. So…the story goes that these little fellows were created as a way of using up cake crumbs at the end of the day – they “vacuumed” them up, in a manner of speaking.


Origins aside, these are a real Swedish classic.

The “crumb” filling is a mixture of plain cake mixed with softened butter, cocoa and punsch. That’s punsch, not punch. It’s a Swedish liqueur made from Batavia arrack, which is sweet and flavoured with spices. If you can find it, use it, but otherwise, a glug of rum or spiced rum would do the trick. I am sure that the filling is probably sweeter if you use punsch rather than just rum, but the next stage will make that consideration one for purists only. For the filling is then wrapped in marzipan, and each end dipped in chocolate. Even the most ardent marzipan lover would have to admit that the stuff is darned sweet, so you’re not really going to be missing a little sweetness that you would have had from punsch rather than Caribbean dark rum.

What is great about these treats is that there is no baking required – if you’ve got to make them in a hurry, you can be done within the hour. It’s also good fun to make with kids, who will adore the mixing, the mess and the lurid green of the marzipan, although you might want to skip the booze.

And as for the green colour – I quite like them to be a lurid shade of green. I skipped the usual natural food colourings that I tend to favour and went for bright green. I don’t think they would have the same retro charm is they were a muted shade of delicate pistachio. These were shocking minty-green and all the better for it.

So there you go – you can make them in less than an hour, no real baking needed, and they look pretty. Great to enjoy with coffee as part of a morning fika…and for those sniggering, fika is the Swedish term for morning coffee. Perfectly innocent after all, eh?

To make dammsugare (makes around 10):

For the filling:

• 250g cake crumbs (e.g. vanilla sponge)
• 75g unsalted butter, softened
• 20g unsweetened cocoa powder
• 40ml punsch or rum

To decorate:

• 300g marzipan
• few drops green food colouring
• 200g dark chocolate

To make the filling:

Put everything into a bowl and mix well until you have a soft dough. It will be a little sticky and slightly crumbly. Form into 10-12 rolls.

To decorate:

Add some food colouring to the marzipan and knead well until evenly coloured. Sprinkle a worktop with icing sugar, and roll the marzipan into a long strip 2-3mm thick (you might find this easier in two or three batches).

Use the marzipan to cover the portions of dough – get a good seal on the underside, and pinch the end closed. Roll the marzipan-coated dough on the worktop to get a smooth finish. Keep going until all the dough pieces are covered.

Next, melt the chocolate in a double-boiler, and dip the ends of each dammsugare into the chocolate. If you want them to look professional with glossy chocolate, you can either temper the chocolate, or take the easy option – skip the tempering, and put the dipped dammsugare on a plate in the fridge to harden.

Worth making? Yes, they are quick, easy, fun and charmingly retro. Give ’em a try!

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Dukkah

Six months ago, I had never heard of dukkah. Since then, it seems to be all over the place. I’ve seen it on quite a few blogs, in newspaper recipe sections and in a couple of restaurants. No doubt the oh-so-trendy shops of Stoke Newington Church Street will be stocking the stuff soon. So I’m finally taking the hint…there is clearly some sort of dukkah trend happening, so let’s try it out.

Dukkah 101: what is it? Basically, ground-up stuff. Nuts, seeds and spices. It originates in Egypt, and it does indeed have a heady flavour and aroma that suggests that part of the world.

Now, a little digging seems to suggest to me that the list of ingredients above is about as comprehensive as it gets.

There seem to be literally dozens of ways to make dukkah (or dukka…or duqqa…seems there are lots of ways to spell it too), and I can imagine that many proud Egyptian cooks have their own favourite (and most likely secret) ways of making it.

You might use hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios or more exotic nuts like cashews or macadamia nuts. There might be sunflower seeds in there. Perhaps chickpeas. Do you have pepper, paprika, coriander, mustard seeds, coconut? Well, all depends on what you like. Nigella seeds? Why not. Fennel? Perhaps. Whatever you’re using, just make sure it’s toasted if necessary, then ground up. And that, as they say, is that.

For my version, I decided not to do any forward planning. I would wing it. Let’s see what’s in the house, and then hope for the best. It was a very dreary Saturday morning, so actually the best time to make something that brings flavours and aromas of far-off places.

For the nuts, I used hazelnuts and pistachios, which I toasted lightly in the oven. I also had a few sunflower and pumpkin seeds, so they also went into the oven for a few minutes. I thought I also had almonds, but no – I must have used them all up, so they were not going to be used today. Winging it, remember!

I also dry-roasted a few things in a saucepan. Sesame seeds, nigella (black onion seeds), fennel and cumin seeds. I also added a bit of black pepper, Piment d’Espelette and sea salt.

With things at various stages of toastedness, I got to grinding them. The spices were pretty finely ground. For the sunflower and pumpkin seeds and the nuts, I worked to the rule of thirds – one-third fine powder, one-third moderately ground, and one-third in small chunks. It’s a rule in so far as this is what I did. Not sure that it is a real culinary rule, or even a tenet of making good dukkah. But it worked.

Having made what is essentially a large bowl of spiced nut powder, I now needed a way to eat it.

Well, use it whenever you need to add a little flavour.The simple option is to serve it with bread and olive oil (dip bread in oil, then in the dukkah, then marvel at the taste). Just avoid getting too much oil into the dukkah bowl. This stops the dukkah sticking to the bread, and I suspect that this would be regarded as terribly bad form in a Cairo café. The lesson? Keep your powder dry!

Or make hummus or some other dip, and sprinkle the dukkah all over it. Or take cubes of soft cheese or feta and coat with dukkah. Or add spoonfuls to a green leafy salad, add a simple vinaigrette and enjoy the rich flavours that the dukkah adds.

You might just sense from this that I really like this stuff. I’ve found that it makes a great condiment, and while it’s got salt and pepper in there, it also adds interesting new dimensions to foods. You also find that you get different flavours with each mouthful. An aromatic moment from the nigella seed, a flash of hotness from the paprika, then the warmth of cumin seeds.

The recipe looks long, but just because I’ve tried to make it clear what’s happening and a few tips to make sure everything turns out great. But I reckon you could go from start to finish in less than 30 minutes, and that’s only because you need to let the nuts cool down. Happy grinding!

To make dukkah:

Note: this is just a guide, adapt spices to your own tastes!

• 100g (approx. 1  cup) nuts (I used pistachios and hazelnuts)
• 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
• 50g (1/3 cup) sesame seeds
• 1 teaspoon nigella seeds
• 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1 teaspoon sea salt
• 1/4 teaspoon paprika or Piment d’Espelette

Set the oven to 150°C (300°F).

Put the nuts on a baking tray, and put the sunflower seeds on another tray. Toast in the oven until the nuts are fragrant and lightly coloured, and the sunflower seeds are golden brown (be careful – seeds are done before the nuts so come out sooner!). When ready, remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Next, toast the sesame seeds – put them into a saucepan and cook over a medium heat. Keep stirring the seeds until they are golden and smell toasted. Remove from the heat and put the seeds on a plate to cool (if you leave them in the pan, they will keep cooking and might burn).

Finally, toast the spice seeds. Put the nigella, fennel and cumin into a saucepan and cook over a medium heat until the seeds start to “pop”. Take off the heat and put the seeds on a plate to cool.

Now, the fun part. Using a mortar and pestle, a spice grinder or a food processor, grind everything! Grind the spices finely, but for the seeds and nuts, aim to have some ground to a very fine powder, but leave some just barely crushed – this adds a bit of visual interest and texture to the finished dukkah.

Store in a large jam jar in a dark place.

Worth making? This really is a very simple but very delicious condiment for the table. It’s great to spice up and enrich dips, salads, sandwiches etc, and it great if you like interactive appetisers.

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What to do with windfall pears?

Last Saturday, I peeked out the window, and the lady downstairs said I could have a bag of windfall pears – if I wanted them.

There were about five on the garden table, with an open offer to get as many off the tree as I wanted and could reach. A few minutes later, we’re up a ladder, whacking the fruit off the tree using a grass edger with great comedic effect, and I managed to walk away with two kilos of fruit.

So…I had a pile of pears, but it turned out they were…rock hard. Given these were windfalls, I wasn’t sure that these would be great in a pie or make great jam. Then it struck me – I would adapt my recipe for quince jelly but using these pears.

I shredded the lot and boiled them up with some water. The result was a pale green-yellow mush. Strained overnight, I ended up with a few litres of murky pear water. But then I boiled it up with sugar, and something strange happened. Like with the quince, the colour changed and became a deep amber colour. I have no idea where this colour came from, but it looks pretty. The picture was taken with the sun shining through the glass, and as you can see, the colour is pretty amazing.

All in all, I felt rather pleased with myself. It really does not get much more local than fruit from a tree outside your back window.

This is a jelly with quite a loose set, but it tastes lovely. There is a pear flavour (of course) and is quite aromatic, so perfect to have on toast, scones, crumpets, muffins or to glaze tarts. If you are after a firm jelly, just add some pectin when you add the sugar (follow instructions on the bottle/packet!).

To make pear jelly:

• hard pears (I used 2kg)
• water (I used 2 litres)
• lemons

• granulated white sugar

Wash the pears. Remove the stalks but leave on the skin. Grate coarsely.

Put the pears into a large saucepan and add the water (1 litre for every kilo of fruit). Bring to the boil, and simmer for 50-60 minutes until the pears are tender. Mash the fruit to extract maximum flavour. If it seems a little too solid, add more water – we want the texture of soft applesauce.

Pour the mixture into a sterile tea towel or muslin cloth(*). Tie the edges together, and – being careful – use a string to attach the cloth to an upturned chair. Place a large bowl under the cloth, and leave overnight for the juice to drip through. Don’t squeeze the cloth, otherwise you end up with cloudy jelly (tastes the same, but looks less pretty), and in this recipe, you won’t be going short of juice.

Next day, measure the juice – for every 600ml of juice, add 500g of sugar, and the juice of 1/2 lemon. Add everything to a large heavy-based pan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat until the setting point(**) is reached.

Finally, pour the hot jelly into sterile jam jars(***), seal, label and hide it somewhere to enjoy later.

(*) To sterilse the cloth, put into a sieve, and pour over boiling water.

(**) To test for the setting point, put a spoonful of the mixture on a very cold saucer. Let it cool, then tilt the saucer – if the jelly wrinkles, the setting point has been reached.

(***) To sterilise jam jars: wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Place upside-down in a cold oven, and heat to 90°C for 15 minutes. Leave in the oven to cool down while you are making the jam . To sterilise the lids, wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well, place in a saucepan with boiling water for 5 minutes.

Worth making? I would not make this recipe with perfect ripe, juicy pears. But with windfalls…there is not a lot you can do, and this is a great option. OK, it happens over two days, but it actually needs very little attention and the results are worth it.

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Strawberry Jam

On a wet, gloomy summer day when you have a couple of hours to kill, what could be more fitting that taking that most ephemeral of summer joys, the ripe strawberry, and making jam? Then you can enjoy the flavour and colour throughout autumn and into the chilly days of winter.

Plus, the home-made stuff tends to knock the socks off anything you can buy.

So, should you find yourself tempted to engage in a bit of austerity fun, try to go for smaller fruit – I find they tend to have more flavour, and it also means you can leave some of the fruit whole during cooking. This means when you come to spread jam on a crumpet some time in October, you’ll get the occasional whole strawberry, which allows you to feel very pleased with yourself indeed. It’s a bit like striking gold. Some people like to have smooth jam, even going to far as to sieve it to remove the pips. I, on the other hand, like lumps and pips. It’s fibre, after all.

Now, when making jam, what texture are we after?

I’m not a prescriptive sort of person, so make what you prefer, but I like jam that is a little bit stiff, but not like glue. It all has to do with the pectin and the amount of sugar you use. Strawberries are low in pectin, so if you just boil them with sugar, it will eventually become a very thick syrup, and there is a danger that the sugar end up caramelising. The pectin changes that, so that it will set much earlier in the process (so less boiling, and probably a fresher fruit flavour).

To add more pectin, you can either add liquid or powdered pectin (which I think is a bit odd), or add a fruit that has more pectin. So with most jams, this means a good dash of lemon juice. I find this works particularly well with strawberries, leaving just a little bit of tartness that works very well with the sweet strawberries.

The issue of how long you boil also matters, as the longer you boil, the less “fresh” the fruit flavour will be. If you’ve got robust fruit like oranges, then that’s less of an issue, but with strawberries, you want to keep boiling time as short as possible. Some people like jam that has a very firm “set”, so lots of boiling or lots of pectin will get you there. However, if you like to add it to yoghurt (as I do) you will probably prefer something that is looser, so it’s thick but still soft. In that case, adding the lemon (rather than the fake pectin) seems to make it set quickly, but keep the softness.

Now, I realise that some people also like to add some extra flavours. As I mentioned, lemon adds a welcome kick. Other options are to add a vanilla pod (but you need to like vanilla) or a dash of port (which works very well indeed).

When it comes to eating the stuff, go wild. It’s perfect on warm buttered crumpets or scones.

If you want the proper English feeling, team the scones and jam with a little whipped cream, or if you can get hold of it, some Cornish clotted cream.

To make strawberry jam (makes 5-6 small jars):

• 1kg strawberries
• 750g white sugar
• juice of 1 lemon
• small knob unsalted butter

Remove the stalks from the strawberries and cut off any “bad bits”. Keep a quarter the smaller berries to one side, and lightly crush the rest.

Throw everything into a large saucepan, mix well and leave to stand for 10-15 minutes until the strawberries release their juice.

In the meantime, sterilise some jam jars(*), and put a plate into the freezer – you’ll need this to test when the jam is set.

Place the pan on a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then keep on a rolling boil for 15 minutes. Once the jam has boiled for 10 minutes, start to check for a set every minute or so(**). Remember – the thicker you want the jam, the longer you need to boil it.

Once the jam is ready, ladle into the prepared jars, seal, label and hide it somewhere to enjoy later.

(*) To sterilise jam jars: wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Place upside-down in a cold oven, and heat to 90°C for 15 minutes. Leave in the oven to cool down while you are making the jam . To sterilise the lids, wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well, place in a saucepan with boiling water for 5 minutes.

(**) To test for the setting point, put a spoonful of the mixture on the icy-cold saucer. Let it cool, then tilt the saucer – if the jam wrinkles, the setting point has been reached.

Worth making? Strawberry jam is super-easy to make, and you can go from a bowl of fruit to enjoying the stuff spread on toast within a couple of hours. The taste is rich and fruity, and if you’re unsure, I would really urge you to give it a try.

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On Location: The Fellow (King’s Cross, London)

King’s Cross is up and coming. But ask most Londoners and they roll their eyes, and then make a comment about “that old chestnut” or scoff that it’s been on the cards for years, but really

Well, actually, things are changing. In the time I’ve lived here, we’ve seen the revamp of St Pancras station into probably one of the most glorious rail termini in the world, which has brought with it a clutch of rather chic places for a drink and a bite to eat. It’s also going to be from here that people will board those nifty “javelin” trains that will whisk them out to the shiny new Olympic park. So, in short: it is indeed up and coming.

Clearly there are all manner of grand projects, but there are also a nice range of bars, cafes, brassieres and the like springing up. And that’s how I found myself in The Fellow on York Way.

Now, the bad news first – there is not a lot of veggie stuff on the menu. If you’re looking for the sort of place that will spoil you with choice, it’s not here…

…but the good news is that what they do offer is innovative, beautifully presented and very, very tasty. I also has the sheer joy of some of the best service I may ever have had in London. A waitress who was friendly, attentive but not hovering, and who could actually express an opinion about the menu. She knew her stuff, which I love. My friend Sunshine taught me to ask questions, and I think it’s always a good sign if the people who are working there know their dishes. It’s also got a rather nice vibe too – good decor, trendy but not too fancy, and feels very relaxed. It isn’t trying too hard, and is all the more pleasant for it. You could come here with friends for a relaxed dinner, or equally come here for a slightly more intimate dinner à deux.

So what did I have? Well, as I said, it was limited choice.  I started with the unappetisingly-named “cow curd” on toast with truffle honey. What it turned out to be was something akin to the most pillowy-soft mozzarella you could imagine. Not stringy, not rubbery, just perfect. It just held together and then collapsed when you ate it. Worked beautifully with the honey (just a fleeting hint of truffle, no more) and some baby basil leaves. The fact is was a small starter was also really quite a nice touch. Starters don’t need to be the size of mains, in my view. Clean, simple, fresh and tasty. Big tick!

Now, the main. It could so easily have been the dreaded mushroom risotto. And I am sure that if the chef in The Fellow made a mushroom risotto, it would be delicious. But not tonight. Instead, there was a barely pilaf with pecorino cheese and wafer-thin strips of fresh yellow squash, and a splash of good olive oil and fresh black pepper. I can honestly say it was one of the tastiest things that I’ve had for a while. It was a great contrast of textures too.

As we had not filled up on bread or other nibbles before the meal, when the waitress wandered over and asked if we wanted to look at the dessert menu, not much persuasion was needed. Nice, seasonal desserts (a greengage fool or a selection of British cheeses being some of the highlights), but there was one thing that really stood out for me – deep-fried choux buns, served with a dusting of cinnamon sugar and blueberry compote. Sublime. I wish I had a picture, but it was just a great big fried-sugary-jammy mess which tasted super. Like a luxury take on churros.

Would I go back? Definitely. And that is saying a lot for a place that usually only has one veggie option. So it’s great that it’s not much more than a hop, skip and a jump from where I work. And if you happen to find yourself seeing someone off on the train to Paris, you might be tempted to skip some of the chains and try somewhere a little different too.

The Fellow, 24 York Way, London N1 9AA, Tel: 0207 833 4395. Tube: King’s Cross St Pancras.

LondonEats locations map here.

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On Location: Royal Gardens at Clarence House

We thought summer had forsaken us, and then wham! summer is right back. Hot, sunny and lots of bright blue skies.

And what could be more fitting on a weekend summer day than to head into the centre of London and enjoy a rare opportunity for a snoop around the gardens of Clarence House, the official residence of Prince Charles?

HRH is known as a bit of a gardening buff and an enthusiastic advocate for organic gardening, so nice to have a wander round the grounds and check out the planting. Lots of traditional English garden flowers, as well as plenty of exotic specimen plants (snowbell tree or pineapple guava, anyone?).

The gardens aren’t huge, but when you’re living this centrally in London, this is something I am sure Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall are able to live with. One of the most charming features is a space created on the lawn under two large plane trees. This was apparently used as an outdoor reception space by the Queen Mother when she occupied Clarence House, and a tradition that Prince Charles continues today.

There were also a few stands in the garden – one by the Soil Association (who were handing out baby lettuce and rocket plants if you pledge to grow organic at home) and others with everything from new gardening techniques to projects to build sustainable gazebos in your own back garden (I have a window box – so not really relevant for me!). All that, and of course the obligatory visit to the gift shop. I now have a plant pot with the royal coat of arms on it!

I also loved the planting in the raised beds along one side of the House. While probably not the best thing to do with a historic building (damp?), there were a fascinating range of exotic plants, vegetables and fruit. Are those who are invited to stay at Clarence House fed with wonderful dishes using produce fresh from the garden? I hope so – there were some interesting-looking things in there.

And finally…I loved the little slate plant markers dotted around the place. Some were just descriptive, others a little more informative. Quite charming.

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