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Thursday 29 April 2010

Pie of the Month - April


OK, who thought there wasn't going to be a pie for April?

(Well, my hand is raised.)

Obviously, I take these pies very seriously indeed, for as soon as the kitchen was deemed usable, this was the first thing I rustled up. I would like to add that cleaning the kitchen, all of the downstairs and garden of dust and rubble after the departure of the workmen took all of Saturday and most of Sunday last weekend, hence the slightly more calorific pie content this month; we deserved it. If you have not spent the weekend cleaning and lifting rubble, but still wish to enjoy my pie, I suggest you make your main course a salad.

No time to make pastry for this one (which I know was the whole point of the pie series anyway, but let's do a Gordon Brown and just skirt around the issue on this, shall we?), so it is a slight cop-out for April: a biscuit crumb base. However, you mustn't feel too disappointed, because the whole thing is made in the blender (even the whipped cream top), so replace your sadness with glee and appreciation of my proclivity for kitchen appliances and let's make a pie. No need to be a malcontent.

(If you had my blender, you'd feel the same by the way. It's a KitchenAid, and was a gift from my mum and sister years ago - basically the best thing I have ever been given.)

The filling is banana and chocolate, which when baked smells somehow of caramel. I have not figured out why or how that can be the case, but presume there is science involved. Which is strangely appropriate because as April's pie was cooling on the counter, I was catching up on some of my favourite food blogs and noticed that Not So Humble Pie is having a virtual pie contest. So over to you Ms. Humble! Why does my entry (which the pie now is) smell like caramel?

I am unsure as to what to call my mysteriously caramel fragranced creation mind you. Drawn though I am to the alliteration of Mr. P's Bitchin' Baked Banana Blender Pie, my grandma reads this blog from time to time and I wouldn't want her to see my bad language. I am full of admiration for those who brazenly cuss on their blogs (swear words are so expressive!), but I'm reticent to follow suit. So I think it will have to be Mr. P's Bad Language-Free Baked Banana Blender Pie for now. That's not what I'm calling it at home though!

Reasons my Pie of the Month should win the Not So Humble Pie Contest:

  • It is particularly scrumptious, even without swear words;
  • Anybody could make it, even without a blender (see alternate method);
  • Chocolate and banana is always a winning combination;
  • Mr. P likes the idea of winning a mystery prize from Morocco.
Wish me luck! (Unless you also enter the competition. In that case watch your back!*)

*I am joking. Let's all be unified in our appreciation of the pie!

Mr. P's Bad Language-Free Baked Banana Blender Pie

You will need:

250g digestive biscuits
100g butter, melted
2 tbsp cocoa powder

4 bananas
2 eggs
300ml single cream
150g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
handful of chocolate chips

300ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. This is easy as pie. In a blender, crush the biscuits until they become crumbs; mix these with the butter and cocoa and press the mixture into a 26cm springform cake tin. Mound the mixture up at the sides, so it becomes more of a pie shell than a base. If you don't have a blender, just bash the biscuits up with something heavy. Or get a blender.
  2. Chill the crumbed mixture base for half an hour or so.
  3. Blend the bananas, eggs, sugar, single cream and vanilla until smooth. Pour this (very liquid) mixture on to the biscuit crumb base, and sprinkle with as many chocolate chips as you like. No blender method: mash the bananas with a fork; add the eggs, sugar, cream and vanilla and mix until smooth.
  4. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180°C for 40 minutes, until the banana mixture has puffed up and set. (Your kitchen and home will smell unbelievable.)
  5. Cool on a rack, and chill until needed.
  6. Just before serving, whip the cream and vanilla extract (in the blender, or by hand) to soft peaks and use to top your pie.

Tuesday 27 April 2010

The Perfect Cup of Tea

One word: WANT.

Recently, I've been reading a lot more than I would usually. This isn't part of some belated New Year's Resolution, or a late attempt to culture myself - it's just that our kitchen has been being remodelled, and as such, cooking is off the menu.

So I've been trying to work my way through the many unread (by me at least) novels that line our bookshelves. It hasn't been an altogether pleasurable exercise though; one of the paperbacks I slung into my suitcase and read during the widely-documented Eyjafjallajokull ash drama was Alex Garland's 'The Beach', which I think, and I say this after great consideration, is possibly the worst thing I've ever read. How was it a best seller? Really - who liked it? Trash!

Something I did enjoy though, was Audrey Niffenegger's latest, 'Her Fearful Symmetry'. I loved the fully-formed characters (Take note, Mr. Garland), and descriptions of London though the eyes of Americans, and the witty and clever observations of British (and I suppose by British, I really mean English) behaviours - the description of Mr. Roche the solicitor's office in particular made me laugh out loud.

Then there's Julia's tea with Martin, who has terrible OCD:

Martin had set out three places at the kitchen table. Julia sat down at the one that faced the back door, in case I need to escape.

'Valentina couldn't come. She isn't feeling too well, ' Julia said; it was sort of true.

'That's unfortunate. Another time,' said Martin. He felt pleased with himself; he had contrived, at short notice, a very passable afternoon tea. There were fish-paste sandwiches, as well as cucumber and cress; there was a Victoria sponge cake. He had set out Marijke's mother's china, and there was a little jug of milk and bowl of sugar cubes. He thought it looked quite as nice as what Marijke would have done. 'What kind of tea would you like?' he asked.

'Earl Grey?'

He pressed the button on the electric kettle and plopped a tea bag into the teapot. 'This isn't how it's supposed to be done, but one gets lazy.'

'How are you supposed to do it?'

'Oh, you warm the pot, you use loose tea... but I can't taste the difference, and I drink a lot of tea, so the ritual has devolved somewhat.'

'Our mom uses tea bags, ' Julia assured him.

'Then that must be correct,' said Martin gravely.

I loved reading that! Not just because I identify completely with Julia feeling she might need to escape from a proper, English afternoon tea (I hate both that sort of formality and fish-paste), but because I myself have a bit of a tea-making ritual (though I do use bags - PG Tips all the way!), and get quite obsessed about brewing times, water temperature and whether or not the drinking vessel is made from bone china. If even this man who is so affected by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that he scrubbed through his apartment floor cleaning it with neat bleach can de-ritualise making a pot of tea, does that mean that I am some kind of fruit loop?

I hope not.

I drink more tea than anyone else I know. My family tease me about it, because since I left home my mum and sister drink much less than before I flew the nest, and whenever I offer to make a cup, they gasp in faux horror and exclaim 'What? Another cup of tea?'

They always have one though, because I make rather a good brew, even if I do say so myself. I can even make good tea on a plane.

The tea drinker I have the most regular difficulty coercing into drinking tea with me is Mr. Other P. He's a subscriber to this ridiculous modern trend of avoiding caffeinated drinks after 8pm, on the grounds that you'll get a better night's sleep. So I go along with it and make him peppermint tea, which is the only substitute I keep in the house. I have wasted too much money in my time on those 'herbal fruit infusions' which need to be brewed for something ridiculous like seven minutes, and yet still taste like a mouthful of rusty bike chain, however fruity the aroma they give off.

Anyway, let's talk rituals.

I made and photographed what I consider to be the perfect cup of cha for today's post. Just for illustrative purposes, I don't have a disorder or anything. Honest. I even used my fancy teapot, just so you could see. But normally, we just make it straight in the cup. If you too want to enjoy perfect tea, then you'll be needing:

Mr. P's Ritualised Tea Making Method

You will need:

tea bags - one per cup, and it has to be PG Tips (Sorry US readers - Lipton won't play here)
bone china cups (and teapot if you want to use one)
skimmed milk

  1. Put some fresh water on to boil. Fresh is best, the stuff left in the kettle from last time can go on the house plants (cool it first!).
  2. If you have followed instructions and are using bone china cups, warm them. This means running them under a hot tap, or pouring in some warm water from the kettle, which hasn't boiled yet. If you don't do this, your cups might shatter when you pour in boiling water to make the tea. See that beautiful white cup in the photo? There were two once. Don't make me elaborate.
  3. Into your warmed cup, put one tea bag. If you're using a pot, warm it and add one bag per person.
  4. Pour over boiling water, and brew for two and a half minutes. Exactly!
  5. Remove the tea bag (or pour the tea from the pot), and add milk to taste. I find if you add milk back up to the tea-level before you removed the tea bag, you'll have perfect tea. But that's just me and my own version of OCD. You can please yourself.
If you use tea leaves, get yourself a strainer, and simply replace the bag with a teaspoon full of leaves. But why bother? Martin's right - the taste is the same!

Thursday 22 April 2010

Rome Guide: Da Augusto

Well, I don't know about you, but I am exhausted! All this walking about on old cobbled streets, and the cheese I bought weighs a ton! Doesn't it? Thanks for carrying that. You're really kind. We should do Rome together more often.

Fancy dinner? I know a great place.

The Lonely Planet says -

"As a concession to the modern age, Augusto has printed a menu on laminated plastic. But don't look for other frills at this long-standing, much-loved trattoria. For a truly Roman meal plonk yourself at one of his rickety Formica tables and choose from the selection of traditional starters, pastas and meat dishes. Everything's good - the rigatoni all'amatriciana and stracciatella (clear broth with egg and Parmesan) are excellent - although the service is sometimes brusque."

And I would go along with that, on the whole, except that I don't want to because I found this place by chance, and I feel like it's my baby. I only googled it to see if anyone else had an opinion, and found, devastatingly, that it was well known.

I'm not surprised; when you have a good lunch, you tell people, right? And I had suspected as much, because you always have to queue for a table. Anyway, we won't let it ruin our fictional day out in Rome, will we? Which is a Thursday by the way. Did I tell you that?

Well, it is a happy co-incidence that we happen to be here on a Thursday, because that means it's gnocchi day in Rome. You can even see on the menu that gnocchi is only available on Thursdays - just in case you find it difficult to believe what an Englishman tells you about Rome. Though, this is me you're talking to; you should believe what I say.

I'm feeling rather peckish as it happens. It seems like such a long time since we had those fantastic ice-creams, doesn't it? Well, not to worry - look what's available here:

Green beans, with lemon and garlic

Fabulous roast potatoes (you need a portion each)

Sausage and puy lentils

Lovely roast pork - seriously good stuff

Now, away from the fictitious stuff for a second. We were there on a Wednesday, which is why there are no gnocchi photos (though frankly, my photos are just snaps anyway, so we don't mind). But I did discover, while there, that Da Augusto is a fan of De Cecco, which makes me feel very happy indeed, because that's my favourite pasta. Knowing that means I can make rigatoni cacio e pepe at home exactly like the one they serve here. And so can you.

Not that they don't make fresh pasta here too - the ravioli is fantastic, truly some of the best I have ever had. I do still normally go for the rigatoni mind you, but I can't help my preferences.

A side note: I love the way they calculate your bill: on the table, with a biro, in front of you. Brilliant!

Da Augusto is where you need to eat should you ever be hungry in Rome. The food, the atmosphere - even the 'brusque' service has its charms. The only bad thing I can tell you about the place is that the desserts aren't that great. But are you seriously telling me that in Rome of all places you'd forgo first course and have a dessert instead?

Didn't think so.

Da Augusto
Piazza de’ Renzi, 15
00153 Rome, Italy

Tuesday 20 April 2010

So much ash, not enough cash...

So, regular readers will notice that I have all but given up posting anything at all for the past few weeks. You may wonder, have I decided to give up blogging?

Well, no. But as you are no doubt aware, European airspace is pretty much closed to all flights at the moment, and I am stuck at an undisclosed location, unable to fly home. It's been a week so far! You have no idea how much I am missing the PG Tips.

That's all because of the ash. But what about the lack of cash?

Well, don't worry. I haven't run out of money and found myself unable to buy food (though that really would be the end of Delicious Delicious Delicious!). No, instead, I am having to save loads of cash to pay for the new kitchen that is currently being installed in my house. I hear the mess is horrendous, so it's probably a good thing I am not at home, actually.

Anyway, the point is, even if I were home, I would be without kitchen, and this is why there have been no posts for ages. But worry not: I have some great ideas for when I do manage to get home, and hopefully, I'll even get some decent photos of them too.

Please all spare a thought for Mr. Other P who has no kitchen and is currently living in a dusty, plaster covered house. Keep calm, and carry on, P, that's what I say!

Thursday 15 April 2010

Pierre Hermé Macarons

I wrote this yonks ago, and since I have nothing to post today and am stuck overseas (thank you, volcanic ash!), it's what you're getting. Plus even if I were at home, my kitchen would be unusable. More on that another time. Here's your post!

Like many first time experiences in life, making macarons can be a daunting task. It can feel awkward, and produce intense, mixed emotions: you aren't really sure if you're doing it the right way, or if the experience is going to live up to your expectations; it can be loaded with anxiety and you aren't sure how others with more experience than you will react to your lack of expertise.

I like the Japanese packaging in the background.

In short, making macarons for the first time is just like taking your first driving lesson. (What did you think I was talking about?)

Ultimately though, the end result is worth the trauma, and you feel ready to try again. Practice makes perfect, after all. Just like the driving.

But, unfortunately, there can be no next time in my case. Not yet at any rate, for I am without kitchen. So until the Delicious Delicious Delicious work space is once again operational, we'll have to make do without looking at the results of my labours. Which is fine: we'll just look at what the experts do.

Pierre Hermé is widely considered to be the ne plus ultra of macaron makers, and he has a store in London, dangerously close to my friend's office. So I thought I'd pay him a visit to see if his macs are better than my virginal efforts.

I'll cut to the chase - they are. But while we're on the subject, let's have some fun looking at his wares, and also the man himself. Here he is:

I'm not going to lie to you, I was slightly surprised.
I had envisioned the Kristian Digby of the pastry arts world.

That's a promotional shot - I didn't actually see him in store. I bet he has cronies to make his macarons in the shops now anyway, though the actual cost of the macarons would make you think he'd handcrafted each and every one by himself, and on over-time pay, using a whisk made of platinum and the finest copper bowls.

But I digress. How do mine measure up?

Well, obviously, there's the problem of appearance. Pierre's have beautiful smooth and shiny tops, all flat and perfect. Mine had more of a lumpy, bumpy charm. His were less sweet than mine, but the ones we tried were ganache filled and so were quite firm. I think I preferred the texture of my grapefruit and lychee version, though the sweetness needs attention.

For the record, we sampled the following macarons:
  • rose
  • chocolate and cassis
  • pistachio and something else (I forget)
  • milk chocolate and passion fruit
They were all superb, apart from the last. I just don't think those two flavours go well together.

Anyway, let's draw this to a close. You may think that my initial comparison of macaron production and learning to drive was silly, but as someone who only passed his driving test last year (I was the original '25 and still can't drive' poster boy), I disagree. 2009 was the year of the car for me, and 2010 will be the year of the macaron. I am going to perfect it.

Now I just need a kitchen...

Friday 9 April 2010

Grapefruit and Lychee Macarons

Despite their flaws, I could weep with pride.

Do you remember me venting about my distaste for the obsession with macarons? And pointing out that even Parisian macarons are sometimes done badly? And that everyone is getting a little too obsessed with this over-hyped meringue? Well, if not, read this.

Today, I am putting the old 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em' adage into practice. I don't plan on becoming obsessed with macarons, but I do like a challenge, and have decided to join the baking fray, as it were.

I have read more posts about macarons than I care to mention, and have weighed up the pros and cons of each method of macaron production accordingly. I think, after much consideration, the Italian Meringue Technique (capitalised for the hell of it - makes it sound important, no?) is the one for me, but as I have not a sugar thermometer, nor a stand mixer with a steel bowl, I am forced to use the French Meringue Method instead.

Quel dommage.

The recipe I decided to use, as eagle eyed comment readers will no doubt already know, is the one that Sarah at Maison Cupcake uses. Reading her macaron trials and tribulations, and absolute insistence that this was the perfect recipe for getting the elusive 'feet' on the temperamental cookies in question, I decided to do the right thing and cut to the chase - this was also the recipe that I would use.

But I wanted to flavour them in my own special way! And what a way it is, ladies and gents.

My inspiration is a cocktail I sometimes have with friends. I'm not telling you the cocktail's name, because, quite frankly, it's a naughty word, and I try not to cuss on this blog, but basically, the drink is a mixture of lychee liqueur and grapefruit juice. And it's rather special.

The lychee liqueur in question is Soho, which seems to be known as Dita internationally. We used to drink it with lemonade when we lived in France as students, so I have a soft spot for it. But let me tell you right now that it is amazing for adding lychee flavour to desserts. I think most liqueurs are - I use Cointreau a lot in cooking, and the Purple Rain Lamingtons would have been nothing without the Crème de Violet lurking in the back of the cabinet.

This was the moment my heart sang. Feet!

Again, I can't choose which photo I like best.

I think my texture is quite good for a first try.

For the grapefruit flavouring, I just added the finely chopped zest (I never grate - who can be bothered with that?) of one bright yellow fruit to the meringue along with the nuts and icing sugar.

So how do I think I did?

Well, in terms of flavour and texture (I don't want to say 'mouthfeel'!), I am going to give them an 8 out of 10; I am incredibly pleased with myself. But for appearance, I can only give myself a 4. The reason for this is that I must have under-mixed the batter. Because it was rather stiff, when I piped the mac shells out on to my baking sheet, they peaked like regular meringues. I assumed, wrongly, that they would flatten out and spread during baking. I would smooth them down with a pallet knife before baking if this happened again. They did have feet though, which is why I didn't only give them 2.

Did I enjoy the macaron experience? Yes. Will I make them again? Yes.

I think I have caught the bug. Heaven help us all!

By the way, I would like you all to say hello to my latest charity shop purchase. I couldn't resist these cups and saucers, and am sure they'll be in loads of my photos from now on! And in the fair hands of Mr. Other P's mum when she comes round - she likes her tea in a proper cup.

Grapefruit and Lychee Macarons

You will need:

110g icing sugar
50g ground almonds

zest of 1 grapefruit, finely grated or chopped
2 egg whites (60g), aged for 24 hours (just leave them on the kitchen counter, uncovered)
40g caster sugar

small dab of orange food colour gel

50g soft butter
125g icing sugar
45ml (3 tbsp) lychee liqueur

  1. Sift the 110g icing sugar into a large bowl, and mix in the almonds and zest.
  2. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy, then slowly whisk in the caster sugar until you have soft peaking meringue. Then add the dab of colour gel, and carry on whisking until stiff peaks form.
  3. Add the almond and sugar mixture, and fold in. You are supposed to do this in exactly 50 strokes, and turn the bowl 45° after every tenth stroke. I don't think it's of paramount importance - you should just have a smooth mixture. Read Sarah's post for more detail, she's got very good instructions.
  4. Put this mix into a piping bag with the end snipped off, and pipe circles about 2 inches in diameter and well spaced apart on a lined baking sheet. You should have between 28 and 30 blobs of mixture. Flatten with a moist pallet knife if they peak.
  5. Let them sit for 30 minutes while you pre-heat the oven to 150°C.
  6. Bake for 12 minutes on the bottom shelf. Cool completely on the sheet, and then remove using a pallet knife.
  7. For the filling: beat together the liqueur, 125g icing sugar and 50g butter until smooth and fluffy; use to put the macarons together.
  8. Eat. Weep. Think of more flavours to do, and schedule regular 'mac-off' time.

Thursday 1 April 2010


(We're going Spanish today. Enjoy!)

One of the things that shocks (and sometimes appalls) me on a lot of food blogs I read is the use of boxed cake mixes. Some of the most beautiful creations I have ever seen on the Internet - elaborate wedding cakes, the prettiest cupcakes, cake pops and all kinds of desserts - sanction the use of box mix. I am not going to link to the blogs I'm talking about, because I don't want to start any fights, but I really don't understand why people who like cooking and baking would do it. You can't call it home made if it came from a box!

I wanted the Techicolour Chicks to be in my macaron photos, but forgot about them.
So I gave them a starring role here.
(left to right: Suzie, Barbara and Twinkle)

So, today's post is for all the mix users out there. I'm going to tell you how to make delicious cake, or cupcakes, in the same time it would take you to make a cake using boxed mix. There's no creaming, no beating, and there's none of the artificial rubbish you get in the boxes (said the man who made Rocky Horror Cupcakes - well, none of us, are perfect).

The recipe is Spanish, and comes from a colleague of mine, Maria. When I worked in an office, I used to take cakes to work all the time (if I worked in your office, you'd probably hate me - we'd all be fat, and it would be my fault!). Now that I work on jet planes (the glamour!), it's rather tricky to bring a little slice of something to work. Just recently though, Maria managed to do exactly that, and shared with me a piece of the lightest, yellowest, most delicious lemon cake I think I've ever had. And when she told me the recipe, I nearly laughed: it's the simplest thing ever, as easy as counting to four. Even if you'd never made anything in your life except cups of tea, you could turn this out perfectly.

It makes a mean cupcake too.

Apparently, this bizcocho is well known all over Spain; people have it for breakfast. I had never heard of it. But then, I'm not Spanish. The first ingredient is a pot of yogurt, which once emptied, becomes a measuring vessel for the other ingredients. It's not dissimilar to Clotilde Dusoulier's yogurt cake, except that hers, though lovely (I used to make it quite often a few years ago), is not a spectacularly easy recipe to remember. Maria's bizcocho is, literally, 1-2-3-4. Done.

Told you it was a yellow cake.

You can use any type of yogurt you like, and flavour it however you want. It can be baked as a loaf, in two layers, or as cupcakes. While baking, it will make the house smell like a home, and, best of all, you won't need to get the scales out (I'm always mindful of my American readers!).

Stop using box mixes! I promise, once you try this, you'll be hooked.


You will need:

1 yogurt (I use 'Activia', the natural one, in the size that comes in packs of four)
1 yogurt pot measure of oil
2 yogurt pot measures of sugar
3 yogurt pot measures of flour
4 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
1 lemon (optional - flavour it however you like)

  1. Are you ready for this? It's complicated. OK, oil and line your cake tin (I make this in a medium loaf pan), or line a muffin tray with paper cases. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Pour the yogurt into a bowl.
  3. Fill the empty pot with oil (any kind - olive would be good, I used regular vegetable and no-one died), and add it to the yogurt.
  4. Add two measures of sugar (you might want to rinse the pot first).
  5. Next, add the eggs, and if using, the chopped zest of the lemon. Mix everything together, by hand. In ten seconds, you'll have a smooth yellow mixture.
  6. Add the flour and baking powder, and stir through until combined.
  7. Pour this mixture into your tins, and bake until a tooth pick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  8. You can mix the juice of the lemon with 2 measures of icing sugar to make a glaze for the cake if you like. I did, and recommend it highly.
NB: This makes one loaf cake, and four cupcakes in my tins. The loaf takes 45 minutes in the oven, and the cupcakes about 30.

Audience Participation

Well, we all love a bit of it, don't we?

I had the best surprise this morning in the form of an email from Mr. Other P's Aunty Sue, and included was a picture of my Glittering Raspberry Kulfi. Except it wasn't the one I had made; she'd rustled some up herself. Here's the proof!

She's a better food stylist than I am!

This got me thinking. A great deal. I've made lots of recipes from other people's blogs over the years. I'm curious to know if anybody here has ever made one of mine. If you have, would you let me know how it turned out?

I'm going to post a list of some of the dishes I have made over on the Delicious Delicious Delicious Facebook Page. Why not come and discuss?
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