food for thought

by michelle

travelling and eating

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I love to travel the world and one of the pleasures or travelling is new food experiences. Amanda (who shares the same name as the head chef) recommended Dirt Candy, an innovative restaurant in New York serving tasting menus made entirely with vegetables. Beginning with a dirty corn martini we launched into the 10-course menu – an amazing experience. Many of the courses consisted of more than one dish and we could hardly fit in the savoury courses before the 3 desserts arrived. But there’s always room somewhere for dessert! The dishes included a tower of amuse-bouches (lettuce gazpacho; elderflower salad with black bean hummus; caramelised red onion over onion cream; popcorn on corn and avocado salsa and vegetable pops); spinach monkey bread with garlic butter; Korean fried broccoli; bagna càuda; tomato tart; portobello mushroom mousse served with truffle toast; long beans with almonds, Spanish smoked cheese and fermented yoghurt; a carrot slider in a cute little box; corn ravioli in a corn broth with corn harissa nuts; kohlrabi dumplings in broth with various brassicas; vegetarian Peking duck with pea tofu and tofu skin; cauliflower confetti cake; a coffee chocolate mushroom with mushroom cream; and finally, eggplant foster with basil anglais and eggplant chips.



Written by michelle picker

September 19, 2018 at 9:31 am

sultana yoghurt cake

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Just part of a wonderful lunch with friends, Caroline baked this cake from Turquoise: A Chef’s Travels in Turkey by Greg and Lucy Malouf. Dotted with plump sultanas, the texture was somewhere between custard and cheesecake with a subtle not-too-sweet yoghurt flavour.

Preheat your oven to 180ºC (350ºF) and grease and line a 20cm (8″) springform cake tin. Roughly chop ¼ of a cup of sultanas and place them in a small bowl. Cover with muscat or sherry and allow to steep for 10 minutes then drain and set aside. Beat 5 egg yolks with 80g (2¾ oz) of caster sugar and 2 tablespoons of honey until thick and creamy. Mix in 80g (2¾ oz) of sifted plain flour followed by the drained sultanas, 500g (1.65 lbs) of natural yoghurt, the zest and juice of 1 lemon and 1 tablespoon of olive oil and mix to combine well. In a clean dry bowl whisk 5 eggs whites until stiff. Add a spoonful of the egg whites into the yoghurt mixture to loosen it then gently fold in the rest. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 50-60 minutes until the cake puffs up like a soufflé. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin until the cake begins to shrink away from the sides. Make sure to loosen the cake from the sides of the tin before opening the cake tin. Allow to cool before serving.

Written by michelle picker

September 12, 2018 at 12:23 am

soda bread

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What to do when you’ve run out of bread and can’t get to the shops? Soda bread is an excellent quick bread which doesn’t require any special bread flour or yeast. Traditional Irish soda bread has only 4 ingredients: plain flour, bicarbonate of soda (the raising agent), salt and buttermilk. These days we don’t churn our own butter so buttermilk isn’t typically in the fridge either. I found myself without and made a mixture of plain yoghurt and milk which worked perfectly!

Preheat your oven o 190ºC (375ºF). Line a baking sheet with baking paper and have a lightly floured work surface ready. Sift 400g (14 oz) of plain flour with 2 teaspoons of bi-carb soda into a mixing bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and mix it through. Now you will need 400ml (14 fl oz) of buttermilk or make a mixture of milk and plain yoghurt in equal proportions. Mix the wetand dry mixtures until you have a moist almost sticky dough. Turn it onto he floured surface and bring it together into a flat circular shape. Soda bread should never be too thick or it won’t cook through. With a serrated knife cut a deep cross into the top of the bread and bake for 40-45 minutes. The loaf should sound hollow when tapped underneath. Allow the bead to cool uncovered for a super crunchy crust or cover with a tea towel for a softer crust. Delicious served warm.

* recipe adapted from here

Written by michelle picker

September 5, 2018 at 12:31 am

lamb shanks with rice and lemon

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These Greek-style Lamb shanks, one of Yotam Ottolenghi’s one-pot-wonders-recipes, are packed with flavour. If you can get the lamb shanks to stand up they look pretty amazing too.

Heat some olive oil in a large casserole over medium heat and fry 200g of peeled and halved shallots for three to four minutes until well browned. Remove them from the pan and set aside. Keep the pan on the heat. Season the shanks with 1½ teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper then brown in the hot pan until coloured all over. Add 1 large carrot and 2 large celery sticks cut into 2cm (¾”) pieces, 5 bay leaves, 3 small cinnamon sticks, the peel of 1 lemon and 1 litre chicken stock – the liquid should almost cover the shanks. Cover and leave to simmer on a low heat for an hour and 45 minutes, turning the shanks once or twice, until the meat is tender and starting to fall off the bone. Lift out the shanks and set them aside.. Strain the stock and set aside. Discard all the aromatics except the cinnamon. Heat the oven to 170ºC (335ºF). Wipe out the casserole and return it to a medium heat with some more oil. Fry 1 tablespoon of ground cumin for a couple of seconds, then add 1½ teaspoons of dried mint, 300g of basmati rice and ¾ of a teaspoon of salt. Stir to coat the rice in oil, then pour on 670ml  (23½ fl oz) of the strained cooking liquid. Return the shanks to the pot (standing up if possible), add the reserved cinnamon sticks and fried shallots, cover and bake for 30 minutes. Meanwhile whisk together 1 egg and the juice of one lemon. Heat 60ml (2 fl oz) of the remaining liquid in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Slowly whisk the hot liquid into the egg and lemon mix. Remove the lamb from the oven, pour the egg mixture evenly over the meat and rice and garnish with freh tarragon and serve from the pot.

Written by michelle picker

August 29, 2018 at 12:25 am

hazelnut, apricot and mascarpone layer cake

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I saved this recipe so long ago that I’ve forgotten where I found it. I’m glad I finally made it. The hazelnut cake was a little chewy and meringue-like and the combination of flavours was wonderful. It looked good too!

I made the four layers of this cake in two 15.25cm (6″) cake tins. To make the apricot purée heat 1 cup of water and 70g (2½ oz) of sugar in a small saucepan and heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add 200g (7 oz) of dried apricots and simmer for 8-10 minutes. Strain the liquid and reserve. When the apricots are cooled use a food processor to purée them to a spreadable consistency adding some of the cooking liquid if required. Preheat your oven to 180ºC (350ºF) and grease and line the cake tins. For the hazelnut cake separate 6 eggs and whisk the egg yolks with 85g (3 oz) of caster sugar until light and creamy. Fold in 125g (4.4 0z) of hazelnut meal and set aside. In a clean dry bowl whisk the egg whites until stiff and gradually add 85g (3 oz) of caster sugar while still whisking. Gently fold the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture then add another 125g (4.4 0z) of hazelnut meal. Pour into the prepared tins and bake for 45-60 minutes until testing clean and springy to the touch. Cool in the tin. To make the mascarpone cream place 100g (3½ oz) of mascarpone, 150ml (5 fl oz) of cream, 30g (1 oz) of icing sugar and the seeds of 1 vanilla pod into a bowl and whisk until just stiff. To assemble cut your cakes into 4 layers. On the bottom layer spread ⅓ of the apricot purée evenly over the first layer of cake followed by ⅓ of the mascarpone cream. Place another layer on top and repeat the process 2 more times before placing the last layer on top. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. Dust with icing sugar to serve.

Written by michelle picker

August 22, 2018 at 12:23 am

huevos rancheros

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Here’s a great wake-up breakfast – fried eggs served the Mexican way.

If you want to make your own fresh tortillas (and there’s nothing better!) see how to do it here. These ones were made with blue corn masa which is a little coarser than white corn masa and therefore results in thicker tortillas.

To make refried beans, a classic accompaniment for all Mexican meals, 1 cup of beans and 4 cups of water will produce 2½ cups of cooked beans. If you remember, you can soak them overnight but a quicker method is to boil them for 4 minutes and then soak them for 1 hour. Next they need to be cooked for 45-60 minutes (or 10 minutes in a pressure cooker) until tender. Drain, retaining the liquid, and set aside. In a saucepan, heat a generous amount of vegetable oil and sauté 1 finely diced onion and 1-2 cloves of garlic until translucent. Add any or all of the following dry herbs and spices to your taste: cumin, oregano, chilli, smoky paprika, cayenne pepper. Add the beans and fry over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking. Now add some of the liquid and salt to taste.

For the ranchero sauce  place 4 large tomatoes and 5 fresh serrano chillies over an open flame, on a barbecue or under a hot grill until you see some charring. Place them in a blender with 2 cloves of garlic and process to a textured sauce consistency. Heat some vegetable oil in a saucepan and add a small finely diced onion. Cook gently until translucent then add the blended ingredients and ½ a teaspoon of sea salt (or to taste). Cook over high heat until slightly reduced and thickened, stirring from time to time.

Now all you need is fried eggs. When they’re cooked to your liking, place them on the tortillas, top with some sauce and garnish with coriander (cilantro). On the side, refried beans and avocado lightly salted and drizzled with lemon juice.

Written by michelle picker

August 15, 2018 at 12:10 am

slow-cooked calamari

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Cooked long and slow in the Provençal style, calamari becomes amazingly tender with a rich and deep flavour. Enjoy  it with a crusty baguette, a fresh green salad and a crisp white wine.

This recipe, from PROVENCE Gastronomique by Erica Brown, also works with squid, cuttlefish or octopus. If you intend to clean your own calamari, do this first and cut them into rings. In a saucepan heat some olive oil and fry 1 finely diced onion until it becomes soft and translucent. Add 1kg (2¼ lbs) of calamari and 3 large peeled and diced tomatoes. Bring to a simmer then add 350ml (12fl oz) of dry white wine, 350ml (12fl oz) of boiling water, a bay leaf, a few sprigs of fresh thyme and salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover the saucepan and simmer over very low heat for 2 hours or until the calamari is very tender. Remove the calamari to a covered bowl with some of it’s liquid and reduce the rest of the liquid by half. Return the calamari to the liquid to reheat. If necessary you can thicken the sauce with a slurry of equal parts cornflour and cold water, making sure to cook the starch. In the last minute or so add 2 minced cloves of garlic and a handful of chopped fresh parsley.


Written by michelle picker

August 8, 2018 at 12:10 am