Friday, 25 July 2008


With one thing and another my efforts at preparing normal meals have been more than a little lacklustre over the last few weeks, actually make that months. There have been a lot of couscous salads, a fair amount of pasta, and more pizza than I can admit to in public. Now that life is (fingers crossed) starting to calm down I can start thinking about planning meals at some point other than when standing staring gormlessly at the supermarket shelves on my way home from work. However, sometimes we need a starting point for our good intentions and I find that food blogging events can give me a prod in the right direction without requiring any brain power on my part.

And so I came to July's 'In the Bag'. This event is run by Julia from 'A Slice of Cherry Pie' and Scott from 'Real Epicurean'. I haven't taken part before but this month's ingredients of peas, Parmesan, and chicken made it a winner. I didn't think too hard before deciding on a basic mush of peas and Parmesan served with garlicky chicken and my new favourite, pea shoots. I'm afraid I have to confess that in this time of seasonally available fresh peas I used frozen. I love frozen peas and really for cooking and mushing why use fresh?

(serves 2)

2 chicken breasts
1 tbsp olive oil
1 crushed garlic clove
salt and pepper

250g frozen peas
1 garlic clove, peeled but left whole
1 tbsp butter
2-3 tbsp Parmesan
a little salt and pepper to taste

pea shoots

Place the chicken breasts between two pieces of clingfilm and batter to required thinness with a rolling pin (so they are a roughly even width). Place in a bowl with olive oil, salt, pepper, and crushed garlic to marinade while the pan heats. Heat a large frying pan, add a little olive oil, place the chicken breasts in the pan (lying them away from you so you aren't splattered with oil), and cook through turning once or twice during cooking. Obviously the cooking time depends on your chicken breasts but I find about ten minutes works.

While the chicken is cooking boil a pan of water and drop in the peeled whole garlic clove, add the peas and boil for a few minutes until cooked through. Drain the peas, remove the garlic, return the peas to the pan, add butter and Parmesan and either mash or whizz with a blender until the peas reach the consistency you like. Spoon a large dollop of peas onto the plate, add the chicken with any juices from the pan, and finally a generous handful of pea shoots.

Thursday, 24 July 2008


So the wedding was over but life didn't exactly calm down over the last few weeks.

The following week was my 29th birthday and a long awaited lunch at Petersham Nurseries Cafe. After reading and loving Skye Gyngell's book this meal was everything that I wanted it to be and more but has had the unfortunate side effect that I now want to go back to see what it is like in Autumn and Winter and Spring and any other time that I might be able to squeeze in a visit - any rich gourmands fancy treating me?

Anyway birthday weekend over and time for wedding part deux. Last weekend we Eurostarred it over to France for the Burgundy based celebration held for all of the friends and family who couldn't make it to Edinburgh. We arrived in Paris on Friday morning and just managed to squeeze in lunch in the Marais before jumping on the TGV to Montbard. The evening meant a walk and a kir before a uniquely French pizza of potatoes, lardons, onions, and reblochon then time to sleep and anticipate what was to come.

What was to come was food and wine and lots of it. Saturday and Sunday passed in a haze of very good wine, obviously not that hard to find in Burgundy, and more food than should reasonably be eaten by anybody in 48 hours but we survived, just.

Anyway, the point of all that preamble is to say that on Monday morning we arrived in Paris with nothing to do except walk, check out a few places we wanted to see, and eat. Monday's revelation was a new found love of raw beef. I accidentally ordered a tartine that was topped with raw ground beef and it was delicious. Next step, try steak tartare but pass on the raw egg.

Day two and ice-cream and macaroons were my main focus for the day. More specifically ice-cream from Damman's Glacier, which we stumbled upon five years ago and where I fell head over heels in love with their salted caramel ice-cream and salted caramel in general, and macaroons from Pierre Hermé. So first things first on a boiling hot Paris afternoon we headed for the Jardin du Luxembourg and Rue Bonaparte and Pierre Hermé. I wanted to live there forever, that isn't entirely true but I certainly wanted to live next door so I could go and buy a macaroon as a post work snack (maybe two). I somehow managed to leave clutching just six precious macaroons, rose, pistachio, jasmine, passionfruit and chocolate, vanilla, and of course salted caramel. Then Chris suggested trying the ice-cream, 'but what about going to Damman's' I said, 'well we could share one from here and then share one from Damman's later' he said, 'sounds sensible to me' I said. So back I went to buy a small tub of plenitude ice-cream, chocolate with fleur de sel swirled with salted caramel with nibs of caramel. We sat on a bench and we ate and we sighed, really we audibly sighed, and we mmmmed and we licked the bowl clean.

We stashed the macaroons away for later and started the walk towards ice-cream number two, or so we thought. All that way in the heat and it was gone, long gone from the look of the unit which had since seen something else come and go. It seems Damman's Glacier is no more but I will continue the hunt, surely it can't just have disappeared? Needless to say hooray for Pierre Hermé ice-cream and hooray for Chris for accurately assuming that I would happily eat double ice-cream on a hot day in Paris.

(p.s, see how intently I am staring at the ice-cream? That's how I eat sweet things when they are really really good.)

Monday, 14 July 2008


I have been out of action again but, miraculously, this time it is actually because I have been preoccupied (obsessed) with something food based (to the extent that I was dreaming about it, frequently).

Before moving to London I offered to bake a wedding cake for Chris's sister. When I told people the responses tended to go 'is it a fruit cake?', 'have you ever done it before?', 'are you decorating it yourself?', and finally and most importantly 'how are you getting it to Edinburgh?'. My responses went something like this 'no it's a sponge', 'no, I've never done this before', 'yes, I am decorating it as well', and 'on the train'. At this point most people looked slightly concerned for my sanity and as the weeks went by and the words from Peggy Porschen's 'Romantic Cakes' started to permanently etch themselves on my brain I started to become slightly concerned for my own sanity.

So baking week dawned and with it a shopping trip for, amongst other things, 36 eggs and 3 kg of butter. I baked all day and got a bit bored of making the same cake six times. Monday came and I trimmed the cakes, layered them with raspberry jam and vanilla buttercream before covering them in a blanket of the same buttercream. At this point the smallest cake looked a bit wonky, the middle one looked great, and the largest looked monstrous and impossible to move. Day 3 of the great cakeapade and I was kneading marzipan. It is not easy to manoeveur enough marzipan into place to cover a 25cm cake tier without cracks appearing and needing to be glued back into place. Thankfully just as I was starting to panic the small sensible part of my brain said 'it's marzipan, no one will see it, just get it as level as you can and that will be fine', I stopped fussing, wrapped up the cakes and put them into their special cake transporting heavy duty cardboard boxes. All I can say is that three tiers of cake is a heavy and cumbersome thing to try to move on public transport.

Against all the odds we all (the cake was acquiring a personality of its own by then) made it to Edinburgh relatively unscathed and just in time for me to take over another kitchen to ice the cakes. Once again I rolled and I covered and each cake instantly acquired one side called 'the back'. Day 5 and I covered all 4 base boards with ribbon before wrapping each cake with thick ivory ribbon. Of all the tricky things to do this was, surprisingly, one of the trickiest. I needed at least one extra hand, maybe two to be safe. With a bit of assistance the supporting dowels were trimmed to size and the cake was assembled into 2 sections ready to be fitted together the next morning.

On the 4th July we rushed out to collect the cake topper and head down to the venue. I left the cake with instructions for putting it together with a special note not to tip the flowers at all as the arrangement included a precarious test tube of water which would soak the cake at the smallest encouragement. Home and time for hair and nail appointments. Miraculously the sun shone all the way through the outside ceremony and drinks. At 6pm we were back at the venue where I dashed through to the back to see the cake to check it was all ok before anyone else saw it.

Is it bad to say that my heart swelled a little when I saw what I had created? I stopped seeing the lumps and bumps and just saw one glorious whole. It was cut and it was eaten and by the time we left Edinburgh on Sunday there was hardly any left. Would I do it again? Maybe, but only for someone very very special.