Tuesday 13 October 2015

Finding the time

Finding the time - chocolate + almond marble cake © Feeding the Eye 2015

There was a time in the mid 1990s when it was more socially acceptable for the urbane middle class to serve up a ready meal from M&S than to admit to being able to let alone actually enjoy cooking. This is a concept that seems hard to grasp in our food obsessed times. But food seems to have drawn a parallel with politics like talking to the left and walking to the right. Double speak, hypocrisy, a bad diet of the highly processed masquerading as authentic, healthy, provenance imbued but all the time hiding a panoply of hidden horrors. 

"Oh you like to cook - how do you find the time?"

Finding the time has never been the issue. Food is most oftentimes priority not performance. Ennui and the need for immediate comfort inflicts convenience food upon us all - but as a life choice the highly processed has become socially and culturally embedded not the occasional foray simply to remind ourselves of its palette stripping potential.

Making, baking, growing - basic skills have been coerced into a competitive retro-feel-good nostalgia. Lifestyle one-upmanship bombards us from every medium. Too much self-reflection rendering us impotent, constant comparisons and impossibly perfect scenarios throw our own dingy lives into a maelstrom of insecurity so once again we turn to comfort. 

To reduce this thought to its simplest - cooking is a form of mastering your own destiny - when you bake a cake you see exactly what goes into it whilst making you mindful of just another slice but also the knowledge of what exactly you are eating. Knowledge is a powerful thing in food and politics.

Chocolate + almond marble cake

150g unsalted butter 
150g caster sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
100g self-raising flour
50g ground almonds
100g dark chocolate finely chopped
2 tbsp cocoa

Grease and line a bread tin.
Heat oven 180C.
Cream butter + sugar until pale and light.
Add one egg at a time and beat thoroughly.
Add vanilla essence
Mix the flour + almonds together.
Fold into the batter.
Remove half of the batter and fold in cocoa and chopped chocolate.
Add alternate spoons of batter - gently swirl with a skewer.

Bake till cooked approx 35-40 mins.

Thursday 24 September 2015

Bitter leaves

"You haven't planted fagoili nani, have you?" he asked.
"A mixture some dwarf, others not" I replied "I'm saving the beans for when I next see you..." the statement left floating in the air. 
The promise of beans could not redeem the fact that I was not there. My visits, although frequent, always judged as too infrequent. 

I baked bread, I made jam, I cut flowers that I'd grown from seed - new unusual flowers that I knew were unfamiliar to him. I tested myself - it came to me more easily than I'd expected. Plants felt simpler to deal with - the care and attention I lavished upon them rewarded me over and over. I hunted websites to find the seeds of fantastical bitter greens, puntarelle, so much more exotic sounding than chicory, food from childhood, strange but embedded in memory.

I planted the seed. I nurtured the plant - watering, weeding. I thinned the seedlings - and ate them as miraculously transformed micro greens. I tentatively tiptoed around them - ever attentive to those that grew in tandem - cutting and tying in sweet peas, wigwams for borlotti beans, earthing up leeks, deadheading cornflowers. Slugs and snails shunned their bitter tender shoots in favour of less demanding greens. The resident foxes used these higgledy piggledy rows as a chicane to slalom through.

Perhaps it was my impatience, so eager to share this long forgotten taste memory I produced an immature offering.

"This is not what you think it is." he said "This is the wrong plant."
"I think it's still a little young - do you remember what it should look like?
"Not like this"
"But on the seed packet..."
"Seed packet, what do they know? No you've got the wrong plant. It should be puntarelle brindisina"
"I'm sure that's what it said on the seed packet"
"Daniela they can say what they like on the seed packet."

I search on the website, I produce the postage stamp size image and the name is there Cicoria catalogna puntarelle brindisina - "oh yes, that's right" he says.

We prepare the puntarelle, cutting length ways along the white stems, discarding the leaves plunging them in iced water, waiting for the signature curl. I pound anchovies in a mortar add his red wine vinegar and olive oil from his groves in Sicily - I elicit his involvement "does this taste OK?" I ask "Mm lovely" he replies.

We sit down to eat the food grown by me - the promised borlotti beans "solo questi?"  he asks "it's late in the season now" I reply. A simple fair - the luxury of super fresh food - no need for lavish embellishments. The wonderful mealy, creamy consistency of fresh beans, gently simmered in a scant covering of white wine and water, bay and garlic. Then a dash of that same olive oil - so strong and robust it negates the need for further condiments. Next comes the salad. He serves himself cheese. We eat the salad. He does not. He picks out a scant curl and refuses anymore.

The rush of adrenaline extinguishes all appetite. I feel the prick of scalding tears sting my eyes. His careless gesture negating all. He is old and frail, physically weak but wields a power way beyond any I can muster. The telephone rings. His attention is distracted. The moment has passed. He knows he has hurt me - he tells me I am wonderful - this is not what I want to hear.

Thursday 19 February 2015

Food and Design Today – Information or Obfuscation?

Goldbourne Road, Portobello Market, Notting Hill, Ladbroke Grove, Food imagery, representation of food, Feeding the Eye
Goldbourne Road, London © VAC

From pre-millennial angst and food security scares, to the provenance and personification of our weekly provisions, Feeding the Eye examines the who, where, what, when, why and how of twenty-first century food and design.
Is design as an agent for change, championing the health of humanity? Or is it an obfuscatory tool, the handmaiden to corporate capitalism? Design is the bridge between ‘them’ and ‘us’ – it provides the typographic information on food labels, the visual enchantments of advertising campaigns and it aestheticises the unpalatable.
Feeding the Eye, investigates these designed communications through primary source visual analysis and oral history interviews with practitioners. Social, economic and political polemics are scrutinised through subject specialist journals, academic research papers and government inquiries.
We are told, ‘You are what you eat.’ Feeding the Eye debunks this myth by critically analysing the role of design in the production and representation of food. Is government didacticism and legislation for the public good? Or for the economic interests of multinational food manufacturers?
Feeding the Eye is an original exposition of the impact of design on food. Who knows what they are actually eating? Food manufacture, production and technology have obscured and abstracted food beyond recognition. From the synthetic concoctions of the laboratory and the reconfigured genomes on the nanoscale, food has been reconstructed, rebranded and redesigned. What is the role of design? Aesthetic styling or critical conscience?

Saturday 15 November 2014

Muesli - a go go breakfast

Gently toast - dried coconut, flaked almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds 

Chop - cranberries, sultanas, dried apricots, toasted hazelnuts


Add - jumbo oats, oat bran, fresh fruit, yoghurt, milk

Eat and go go go.

Monday 1 September 2014

Blackberry and apple pie - yes please

Bramleys - peel, core, slice
Blackberries - forage, wash, scatter
Lemon - juice it
Sugar - makes it sweet
Pastry - roll, brush milk, scatter sugar, cut hole
Oven - 180 C 

Monday 25 August 2014

Cold Comfort - Fruit and Nut

Cooking chocolate - melt it
Oil foil
Nuts - chop them
Dried fruit - as it comes
Biscuits - crumble them
Refrigerate, cut, eat

Tuesday 4 March 2014

Coconut shy

A year to date. 
Can't shy away any longer.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Black banana and chocolate cake

Perennial problems with bananas - too green when you buy them and want to eat them, then forgotten and over ripe with a high infused banana flavour. The addition of chocolate and almonds mellows the banana and creates a dense slightly puddingy cake best eaten in small quantities! Nigel Slater is the origin of this recipe but with a few minor adjustments.

175g softened butter
150g caster sugar/muscovado sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
75g ground almonds
175g self raising flour
100g dark chocolate cut into slithers
2 large over ripe bananas cut into cubes

Heat oven to 170 centigrade
Grease and fully line a loaf tin
Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy
Gradually beat in the eggs and vanilla
Fold in flour and almonds
Gently fold in chocolate and bananas
Pour into loaf tin - cook for 40 minutes then cover top with foil to prevent over browning and then cook for a further 40 minutes or until top is no longer soggy and skewer is clean (except for the melted chocolate!)

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Bean counting - Lentil and Chorizo soup

Chorizo sausage, lentils, soup, Italian New Year

Lentils are traditionally eaten on New Year's Eve in Italy - an aid to prosperity and a symbol of good luck with each lentil signifying money. In these times of the fluctuating fortunes of the Euro the metaphor has taken another paradoxical turn - for what is the real value of money - a hill of beans?!

Lentil and Chorizo Soup

Chorizo sausages
1 cup of lentils brown/green
I onion finely sliced
4 sticks of celery finely sliced
4 cloves of garlic
4 carrots diced
I red romano pepper sliced
Fresh parsley chopped

Slice the chorizo and brown gently in a frying pan with a little olive oil for a few minutes - set to one side 
Rinse the lentils - put in a pan cover with cold water and simmer until al dente - top up water if needed
In a large saucepan fry the onions and celery on a low heat until soft
Add garlic, carrots, pepper, lentils and chorizo
Add a good glug of wine (whatever your drinking) and then just cover with water
Simmer until all ingredients cooked - check for seasoning - the spicy chorizo will probably provide all the seasoning you need add parsley and serve.

Friday 11 January 2013

Field mushroom risotto

Field mushroom risotto

Field mushroom risotto

Variations on a theme - isn't that what most cooking is about. I am not claiming to be the inventor of new dishes or a food innovator - the only science involved in my culinary habits is pretty much limited to applying heat to food. The mystique that surrounds food, like a lot of creative practice is perpetuated by those who are supposedly there to aid and assist us in our endeavours in the kitchen. We are literally dazzled by the fantastic array of ingredients, the encyclopaedic knowledge of food writers, TV chefs and even food critics - knowledge becomes a weapon with which to bludgeon the less knowing with. We are left feeling a little abashed and unwilling to reveal our limited knowledge we forget to ask - HOW? WHY? WHAT?

French food is surrounded in mystery. One must be classically trained - like a stage actor or a classical musician to understand the exotic terms for the simplest of techniques. This is a system well know to all professionals seeking to differentiate themselves from the masses, as well as receive added remuneration for their brilliance. Think of the law and medicine as two prime examples where comprehension is paramount but somehow language and communication has been lost in favour of gobbledegook. I was proud that my professor at the RCA described my writing as being more from the New Journalism school than the Academe - praise indeed.

So here is a plate of rice or as Italians like to call it Risotto!

Clean and slice 6 field mushrooms
Clean and chop 4 spring onions
Season with salt and pepper - fry together until cooked
Put a handful of dried porcini mushrooms in a cup of boiled water to soak
Bring a large pan of water with Bouillon stock powder to the boil
Heat some olive oil in a saucepan
Measure a cup of rice (enough for 2) and stir into the heated oil
Add a ladle of stock and keep stirring continue until the stock has evaporated
Drain the dried mushrooms once softened and add the liquor to the rice
Chop the dried mushrooms and add to the field mushrooms
Continue with the stock until the rice is cooked how you like it - a little bite but soft and creamy
Add the mushrooms
Check for seasoning remembering that you'll be enshrouding your rice with grated Parmesan - so not too much salt!
Chop a handful of fresh parsley, stir through and serve. 

Thursday 10 January 2013

Winter salad - fennel, beetroot, orange, radish & rocket

Fennel, radish, beetroot, orange and rocket salad

I have always eaten fresh fennel - in our family we'd be close to blows to secure a second helping of a fennel salad. Braising it - as people are often advised to do, seems to diminish this crisp vegetable and reduce it to a watery ersatz version of its wonderfully aniseedy, crunchy self.

Winter salad may sound like an oxymoron but even in the darkest, coldest, gloomiest months of the year we still need fresh food. Tomatoes are a no-no, so cooked beetroot is a good stand in for a soft and sweet dimension. Texture comes in layers from the fresh fennel, to the radish and rocket. Orange gives an acidic contrast to the sweet beet and a sprinkling of toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds is yet another healthy tasty addition. Dress with a little olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Tuesday 1 January 2013

Fast food - Pea Soup

Pea soup

Frozen peas always there to add a little colour or sweetness, quick and versatile - what's not to like?

Chop spring onion, fry in a little olive oil until soft.
Chuck in a bag of frozen peas, a little gem lettuce that you've shredded and washed and half a glass of white wine.
Add as much vegetable stock as you need to cover the peas. 
Cook until peas are done.
Put in a food blender or blitz.
Check seasoning - serve warm rather than piping hot.
Chop a little fresh mint and a dollop of creme fraiche to serve.

Friday 14 December 2012

Playing with your food

Health and food

Received wisdom tells us that playing with your food is best avoided. Somehow it signals a lack of focus in the primary objective that should be eating. I feel ambivalent about writing about food. As though I'm stuck in some sort of perpetual self-reflective syndrome with food bloggers who write about little else but baking and all their accompanying smug, feelgood homeliness. 

TV food programmes which are either so simplistic that they offer little more than food assembly, or the rarefied environs of Michelin star style cookery where the "classically trained" communicate in terms that are never explained linguistically or visually but are more intent on clever editing with on the beat cuts to coincide with the cracking of an egg. 

With the state of the nation's health spiralling downward as fruit and veg spiral in the polar opposite direction. Food has become a stick to beat us with. In Britain the middle classes have hijacked food as a commodity with high cultural capital. Food faddism is another way to raise value but as with all fashions the majority are following rather than creating. 

I'm still cooking but with nobody else in mind except my family and my own appetite. Appetite seems to be glaringly absent from most food discourse. Trying to fathom and fulfil our own individual peccadilloes as well as those of others and prepare food which goes some way to satiate. 

Cooking is for many a real pleasure but also a chore. By denying this and elevating it to the level of an experiential pass time has the potential to alienate those who spend most time doing it. Meal times are often fractious inspite of  carefully delineated places assigned to each individual - usually illustrating alliances or systems of control. 

Children divided by parents, grandparents acting as a buffer. The head of the table with paterfamilias and eldest male sibling at the other, mother positioned to father's right hand and of course with easy access to the kitchen with youngest child (myself) next to her - ready to help, or receive a swift chastising. Younger brother next to me, third in line both in birth and from the patriarch. My sister the second child, at the left hand of my father and next to grandma. Those days are long gone with family meals like these never to be repeated now we each find our position according to which faction of the now extended family is present but consistency remains - the patriarch remains solidly fixed at the head of the table and playing with your food is not tolerated.

Thursday 2 August 2012

Fish Fingers - how fishy are your's?

Home made cod fish fingers

10.5 million - I am quite interested in statistics, in so far as the magnitude of some figures really does make you stop and think. This is the number of Birds Eye Fish Fingers sold each week. Part of my brain cannot even begin to compute what 10.5 million fish fingers looks like but one thing I do know is that whenever I eat them I am always struck by the overwhelming and highly distinctive taste of the coating. Savoury, salty, sweet, a certain umami quality and highly addictive. I wolf them down at a particularly alarming rate and usually pay the consequences an hour or so later. Cheap and quick or a guilty pleasure - highly processed food has its limitations, so as not to deny my loved ones, the desire to find a homemade alternative has resulted in these beauties.

Cod is not cheap, so a price comparison goes out the window with Birds Eye coming in at £6.49 a kilo and fresh sustainably sourced cod loin at £16.99 but as an occasional treat it's worth spending the money and at least you know what really constitutes a Fish Finger when you've made it yourself.

Homemade Fish Fingers

The secret is in the breadcrumbs. The first difficulty in relating this recipe is that it does not have any weights or measures - breadcrumbs come about from turning the odds and ends of the bread bin into a bag of crumbs and any left overs are put in the freezer for a later date. The second difficulty is a herb mixture which my father makes...he describes the making of it in very simple terms but as I've never actually seen him make it I cannot testify that it is as simple as he claims. But in essence, he picks sage, rosemary and mint and then with the addition of salt and pepper grinds it all to a very fine dust - so you are left with a dry herby salty condiment!

Take your breadcrumbs and fry them in a pan where you have already melted a good knob of butter and added smoked paprika and some herby salty condiment - the levels of spice are up to you and can be adjusted according to taste but I'd say go for it as the cod can take it and the ratio of fish far exceeds the crumb. Fry until crispy and drain on some kitchen paper to absorb the excess butter. When they have cooled return to the food processor and give another blitz to make a finer crumb.

Slice your fish into equal size fingers, coat first in seasoned flour, then egg, then the breadcrumbs.
Cover a grill pan with foil, lightly oil and bake remembering to turn over half way through.
Serve with Swedish mustard dill sauce and a large fresh salad.

Monday 18 June 2012

Roasted red peppers - sunshine on a plate

Roasted sweet pepper

Asparagus frittata

Roasted sweet pepper

Asparagus frittata

Picnic in Archbishop's Park

Remember those fantastically glorious hot sunny days we had a few weeks ago - the parks were full almost to capacity. It was as though we all realised that we couldn't miss a moment, we gave ourselves up to that rarefied languid feeling of being hot and lazy - slowing down and letting the warm breeze and sultry sun kiss our skin. Alas, it already feels like a distant memory but sunshine is always available on a plate. 

Roasted sweet peppers are a delight to behold and tantalise the palate and a frittata is perfect picnic fare.

Roasted sweet peppers

Heat oven to 200C.
Halve, deseed and wash three peppers.
Mix together in a bowl 2 mozzarella chopped up, chopped fresh tomatoes - 12 cherry or less if using bigger variety, handful of fresh basil, tablespoon of capers, tablespoon of sultanas, 6 anchovies fillets chopped up. Dowse with olive oil, a little salt and pepper and a good splosh of balsamic vinegar.

Drizzle a little olive oil in a baking dish - lay the pepper halves top to tail so they fit snuggly and divide the mixture between them.

Cook for approx 15-20 mins or until peppers are cooked.

Asparagus frittata

Clean and slice asparagus lengthways - steam lightly.
Slice and fry left over new potatoes until just brown.
Beat 4 eggs, season with salt and pepper and some grated Parmesan.
Pour over potatoes and asparagus. Fry on a medium heat finish under grill.

Friday 8 June 2012

Apricot bastard flan

Apricot, almond, rum puff pastry flan

What do you call a pie that has spawned from three recipes and a dose of your own imagination? Certain chefs would brand it - My Self Satisfied Apricot Tart or Awesome Apricot Aphrodisiac - because superlatives and expedient alliteration are all part of the armoury of food writing. 

I love writing and I love food but I tire of the generic approaches - the fashionable fixations (see I'm doing it too!) of food writing. All has become about lifestyle and as we pile our way through cookbooks, blogs and TV shows we are presented with a highly manicured, manically mediated perfection. 

There are plenty of rough and ready scenes in bucolic surroundings. TV chefs seem to be endlessly on the road in an array of iconic motors, setting up field kitchens with little more than a primus stove or a camp fire to produce eye watering manifestations before our eyes. The film editing is so sophisticated that never for a moment do we feel that we have been duped and that the food stylist has stepped in and retossed that salad or replated that food - no dribbles, no mess - an antiseptic approach. It's like watching the card sharks on Oxford Street - a carefully rehearsed performance and we the unwitting public suck it up. In our desperate desire to make our small and often imperfect lives somehow closer to the primped concoctions offered up.

So I give you another recipe - not as an example of my far from perfect life but as a possibility, an opportunity, a token of conviviality. This is real food made in a modest kitchen but made with imagination, love and care and not a stylist in sight.

Apricot Bastard Flan

Roll out a sheet of puff pastry really thin - 3mm the pastry is there as a carrier for the flan.
Press into a loose bottom baking tin and refrigerate until ready to use.

Cream together 100g of butter and 100g caster sugar until white and fluffy.
Lightly beat 2 eggs in a jug and then add slowly to the butter and sugar.
Stir in 2 tablespoons of dark rum, 100g ground almonds and finally 20g of sifted plain flour.

Take the flan from the fridge and spread apricot jam all over the pastry.
Spoon and spread the almond cream over the jam.
Halve and destone the apricots (I used 11) and the lay cut side sown as close together as you can covering the cream.

Put in a preheated oven at 200 C for about 12 minutes and then turn oven down to 180 C until the top is golden brown approx 15 mins.

Remove from oven and allow to cool a little before removing from baking tin.
The pie was soft and moist with crispy pastry and served with Greek yoghurt.

Thursday 7 June 2012

Sardines - Pasta con le sarde

Fresh sardines from Deal in Kent

Gutted sardines from Deal in Kent

Prepared sardines for Pasta con le sarde
All images: Visual Athletics Club

Fresh sardines are something of a delicacy in central London - rarely available and usually more the size of a mackerel. A visit to the Kent coast yielded these wonderful specimens and all for the princely sum of £2.40. Somehow good ideas seem to become hackneyed stereotypes alarmingly quickly but fresh and local do seem to yield the best produce and often the cheapest.

Authenticity is also another complex issue as every individual seems to have their own take on what constitutes the truly authentic. Can an Italian recipe ever be authentic when it is made outside of Italy? Then there are degrees of Italianess - Sicilian, Palermitan - the classification gets smaller and the authenticity increases. Personally I find it all slightly tiresome and I think cooking is about developing your own taste - how spicy, sweet, salty, you like your food will dictate the finer nuances of your cooking and in turn your own personal style.

So recipes are a guide - adjust, adapt at will - do not be strangulated by the straight jacket of prescriptive ingredients but use them as a guide - try the recipe and then try your own thing. 

This is Franca Colonna Romano's recipe from Sicilia in Bocca, so as regards finding wild mountain fennel - good luck but I have seen wild fennel growing by the roadside in less urban areas - so go forage!

Pasta con le sarde fresche all palermitana by Franca Colonna Romano in Sicilia in Bocca
Palermitan pasta with fresh sardines 

It is a famous Palermitan recipe, known throughout Sicily although with some variations. We shall give the original version.
The indispensable ingredient for this very tasty dish is wild mountain fennel. It can also be prepared with cultivated fennel, but if we said the result is the same it would be a gross untruth.

Ingredients for 6 persons: 600-700 grams maccheroncini, 1 kilo fresh sardines, 1 big onion, 100 grams pine-seeds, 100 grams sultanas, a big bunch of wild fennel, the packet of zaphran [saffron], 1 glass of oil, salt.

Boil the wild fennel, strain well but do not throw away the water. Chop the fennel up on a board with the point of a knife. Fry lightly in a frying-pan a well chopped onion, add the sardines, cleaned and boned, and mix until you get a pulp. Add the wild fennel, the packet of zaphran, salt, pepper, the pine-seeds and sultanas and the sauce to acquire flavour.

In the meantime you will have cooked the maccheroncini in plenty of water diluted with the water of the fennel, taking care not to let them get too soft. Season the pasta with one part of the sauce.

Prepare a large baking-tin, grease with oil and put a layer first of pasta, then sauce, ending with a layer of sauce.

Put the tin in the oven on a moderate heat for a few minutes.
These maccheroni are delicious both hot and cold.