Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Asti flew into London tonight for a brief visit. Always lovely to see her again and spend some time together. She handed me a small box of Peeps saying that she wasn't sure if they might be too stale. Too stale? Never, no such thing as too stale Peeps!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

New York Cheesecake

Recently we had some rather nice cheesecake. It was nice but well, just nice and not what Id call a NY cheesecake. It wasn't Turf Cheesecake; but then, nothing is and its a bit much even for me these days. But I did know what I wanted, so because my daughter was flying in for a quick visit, I decided to make a classic NY Cheesecake so she'd have a tasty snack when she arrived tonight. Here's the recipe I used:

*10 - 12 digestive biscuits 
80g butter
500g mascarpone
400 g Philadelphia cream cheese
2 eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
*2 lemons
4 tbsp plain flour
*150g caster sugar
20 cm/8 inch springform or loose bottom deep pan.

1. They don't have graham crackers in the UK.You can either just omit the cracker crumb crust or use some really good digestive biscuits. I used Dove Organic Wholemeal Digestive Biscuits. They are the closest thing to Graham crackers I ever tasted, actually tasty. Don't use store brand or the classic McVities, they are bland and awful.
2. Full Fat mascarpone only. In NYC I would have used all Philly cheese but the Philadelphia company here lies. What they sell as Philadelphia cream cheese is close but absolutely not exactly the same as what they sell in the US. Trust me on this. It's a tragedy.
3. Use a microplane and get every scrap of zest off those lemons and into your cake mix. Depending on the lemon variety you're using and your personal taste preferences, you may need an additional lemon.
*In the US this is called superfine sugar. I think you could probably use regular granulated but the superfine/castor sugar will yield a more delicate texture.


1. Butter the pan. Line the base with parchment/nonstick baking paper.

2. Blitz the biscuits in a processor (or put them in a plastic baggie and smash with a rolling pin) then dump them into a mixing bowl. Met the butter - 60 seconds in the microwave in a small pyrex bowl.
Pour the butter into the crumbs and stir it through. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the baking pan smoothing and pressing them with the back of a spoon. Place in refrigerator for 30 minutes to firm.

3. Heat oven to 160 F.

4. Dump cheeses into the bowl of your mixer (you can make this manually with a large wooden spoon but I wouldn't). Mix on low until the cheeses are smooth, fluffy, and well mixed.

5. Add the eggs and egg yolks. Beat eggs and cheese gently until they are thoroughly mixed.

6. Thoroughly remove the lemon zest with a microplane or zester and add to the cheese mix. Juice the lemons and add to the cheese mix. Lightly blend and taste. Add more lemon juice/zest if you want a stronger lemon taste but I'd suggest the zest more than the juice because you don't want the mix too liquidy. This is the art bit of baking.

7. Add the flour and sugar and then beat gentkly to thoroughly combine all.

8. Spoon the cheesecake mixture into the cake tin. Smooth the top. Slide into the oven and bake for 45-60 mins till the cheesecake is set but with a bit of a wobble when you gently shake the tin. (I turn the oven off at 45 min and just let the cheesecake sit in the hot oven for the remaining 15 min or so. This helps prevent surface cracks.) You can let the cheesecake cool slowly in the closed oven for an additional 30 - 60 minutes as well. This also helps prevent surface cracks.

9. Let the cheesecake cool at room temp. in the tin, and then chill till you're ready to serve - you can make it the day before you want to eat it.

You can serve the cheesecake as-is or spoon a fruit compote over the top like blueberry or strawberry.
You can also swirl in melted chocolate for a marble cheesecake. I wouldn't but some people really like chocolate.

How many does this feed? Ha! What a question. Polite people? Greedy People? Nostalgic people? Late at night with a cup of coffee when no one is watching people? Figure at least 8, possibly 12 or more. Did you really plan to share it?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Seville Orange Marmalade

Early yesterday morning Abel & Cole, our organic fruit & veg box delivery company, dropped off a kilo of the first of the season Seville Oranges along with our regular order of milk, butter, eggs, etc. I promised myself that this year I would finally make the marmalade as soon as I got the oranges and not dump them in the fridge and delay as long as possible. What produced this change? Simple, I finally found a mandolin that I could work with and that produced the fine slices I always wished for. Anyone who has ever tried to shred orange peel for marmalade knows what a miserable and endless task it is, ending with cramped and painful fingers and orange peels sliced a whole lot thicker than you thought you were cutting. My fingers still were aching a bt when I finished but no cuts to report and the orange peel was in gossamer fine shreds.

So I rounded up some jam jars - see, there really is a legitimate reason to save all those empty jars - and put the pot on the stove and started the process.

1kg Seville oranges - the bitter ones - don't use regular oranges
4 pints water (these are UK Imperial pints) = 2.250 Liters or 5 US pints
Juice of 2 lemons
*2kg golden caster sugar = 4 1/2 LB Sugar (feel free to use white sugar but NOT light brown, etc)
6-8 (340-450g) jam jars
a piece of clean plain muslin - I can never find the stuff and its a pita anyway so I do without it. Directions for both ways will be given.

* Please, please, please try to use classic Cane Sugar for this. In my experience beet sugar is just not the same and just not good enough for fine baking or jam making. Ask me if you need this clarified.


1. Slice oranges and lemons in half.

2. Put a muslin-lined sieve (or use a smallish, thin, clean cloth) over a bowl. Squeeze the citrus over the muslin to catch the pith and pips. Let the juice drip into the bowl. Keep the lemon peel to use in other dishes. Keep hold of the pips and muslin.

If you can't get muslin or just can't be bothered, use a sturdy sieve and squeeze all the citrus directly into the sieve. Put the lemon peel aside or throw it out since you'd just forget it in the fridge till it was moldy and throw it out anyway.

3.Now it's time to shred the orange peel (oh joy!) Either get out a sharp knife, cut the orange peel halves in half again, flatten them out a bit and start cutting shreds. Remember that the peel will swell a bit in cooking so you probably want to keep the shreds fairly thin. If you like thick cut peel, feel free, that's the joy of making it yourself.

I hate slicing a mountain of orange peel so this year I used a mandolin set on the thinnest setting mine had. It was still a bit of effort but much, much less than a knife and I ended up with a mountain of delicate fairy think peel. Bliss! (Just be careful and watch the fingers, mandolins can be lethal!

4. Tie the muslin up to secure the pips inside and toss into  your large preserving pan or stock pot, whatever you use for jam making. Pour in the citrus juice, the shredded orange peel, and the water. Cover and allow to soak for 24 hours.

If you are not using muslin, dump all the pips and pith from the sieve into a small saucepan. Cover with 2 cups of water and cover the pan and allow this pan to soak for 24 hours as well.

5. The next day: Place the pot over medium-high heat and cook at a gentle boil till the peel is soft, about 30 to 60 minutes. If the pips are in a separate pan, bring that to a gentle boil and allow to simmer 30 minutes.

6. Take the small pan off the heat. Dump the contents into a clean sieve hung above a mixing bowl and start pressing it with the back of a wooden spoon. You want to press out all the pectin which looks like a thick cloudy jell as it drips from the sieve. Get out all the pectin you can - the more the better because this is what sets the preserves. Similarly, if you are using muslin, remove that bag from the preserving pot and allow it to cool. Then squeeze and press the muslin bag till the pectin flows into a mixing bowl. When no more pectin flows out, throw away the squeezed out pips and pour the pectin into the orange mix in the preserving pot.

7. Add the sugar to the preserving pot. Stir till completely dissolved. Return pan to the heat and bring to the boil. Boil rapidly till setting point is reached, 30 mins to 2hrs. (It ran 1 hour and 15 min for me this time.) The amount of time really depends on the pan you use and the amount of pectin in the pips - use your instincts, keep an eye on it and when it looks thick and sticky, do the set test, below. Once it passes, it's done!

8. Set test: Setting point is when a little marmalade, spooned on to a cold plate (chill in freezer) and allowed to cool, has a "set" surface and "wrinkles" when pushed with the finger.

9 Pour or ladle into warm sterilized jars. Seal immediately. Store and enjoy

Note: How to sterilise your jars It’s absolutely fine to reuse old jam jars. Wash in boiling hot water. Dry thoroughly. When the marmalade's nearly done, place the jars and lids in a cold oven. Turn to 100C/Gas ¼. Let them warm for 10 mins.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Blackberry Jam - super easy, perfect for first time preserving.

Blackberry Jam

It doesn't get much easier than this if you want to have a go at making homemade preserves. And please do have a go because you will be astonished at the taste difference from the usual supermarket jarred stuff.

450 grams blackberries
450 grams granulated white sugar
Juice from 1 freshly squeezed lemon
2 glass jars with tops - washed, rinsed well with hot water, then pour boiling water into them for final rinse. (Or run thru the dishwasher.) Set them out upside down on a clean dishtowel.

1. Wash the berries then place in a saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice. Give everything a good stir with a wooden spoon to release the juices from the berries.
2. Begin to cook on a medium heat, stirring constantly until boiling.
3. Now turn the heat down slightly and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring every now and again to prevent the jam from sticking to the bottom.
4. After 10 minutes, remove the spoon then turn the heat up to a boil and let the jam cook for a further 5-10 minutes without stirring. Towards the end you will see a change in the size and appearance of the boil/bubbles.
5. The jam is ready when it has reached 105°C. Traditionally, if you haven't got a temperature probe, you can test if the jam is set up by dropping a small blob onto a plate that' has been in the freezer. If the jam forms a skin and ripples after 10 seconds when poked, the jam is ready.
6. Pour into the prepared jars, screw on the lid or clamp down however they work. As they cool, a vacuum forms and you may hear the lid make a pinging sound. The jars should be allowed to fully cool on the counter. The jam will keep for quite a few weeks unopened. We Americans tend to store opened jam jars in the fridge, the Brits and Germans don't. Your mileage may vary.
7. As the jam cools it should firm up. You can use it to slather on toast or bread or waffles or pancakes. You can spread it between cake layers or dollop on your oatmeal.

Select your own choice of sweet or tart blackberries (yes it comes in both varieties). You can buy them fresh at the supermarket or pick them yourself from brambles - they grow almost everywhere! Don't worry about the pectin content, they are fine and the lemon will help them jell beautifully. Please don't try to cut back on the sugar because that will unbalance the ratio and you will probably end up with syrup - tasty but not jam. I save old jars like from mustard or jam and reuse them - no need to buy fancy canning jars. I find the smaller table size jars that hold about 10 oz or so most useful.

Friday, August 11, 2017

I was tempted beyond control last week while putting together my weekly Farmdrop order - on the new products page they offered Smoked Brisket (from one of my favorite local slow growth traditional breed all grass fed cattle farmers)! Well, I just had to have it. So here I am today oven- roasting my first brisket. It needs a long, long, low temp roast then a quiet rest overnight and finally a reheat in the fabulous tangy sauce for dinner tomorrow. (Check Smitten Kitchen for my recipe inspiration.)
'In oven 3 hours, 3 more to go...
more to come -

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Chinese five spice recipes

A coworker of mine recently mentioned that her mother had bought her a bunch of Chinese five spice and she hadn't the foggiest what to do with it. Chinese five spice is a really lovely blend, a little sweet, a little savory, a little smokey, you can use it in all kinds of things. Since I don't know her technical level of cooking, I went digging to find two tasty, easy recipes which use Chinese five spice. I've adapted a couple of recipes from SpiceTrekkers, which I give you below:

Before doing these recipes, the first step is to make sure all social media access has been shut down. Don’t post everything you do on there. It’s ridiculous, and it distracts you so you’re more likely to make a mistake. The world will not explode if you can’t post pics of your food, possibly posing while holding it up with duck lips.

Tea Eggs

You’ll need:
1.       Eggs (duh), 4-6
2.       Black tea (I usually use lapsong suchong, but any will do, really. Experiment to find the variety you like! Don't use that Chinese builders tea that tastes literally like mud and looks like mudballs.)
3.       Water
4.       1 Tbsp Chinese five spice
5.       Pinch salt.

A lot of people don’t know how to hard boil an egg, or have all kinds of crazy tricks to hard boiling like “steaming” or whatever. If you already know how to consistently hard boil an egg, do that. If not, here’s how to do so consistently:

Select your eggs. Hard boiled eggs peel more easily when they are a little older. Not OLD, just not super fresh. The fresher they are, the stickier the membrane under the shell is. 

Using a medium-large saucepan (pot with a long handle), place your eggs into the pot and fill with cold water from the tap until it just covers the eggs. Heat on a high heat. Wait for it to begin to boil. Let it boil for ten minutes (that’s ten minutes of boiling, not ten minutes of heating!). Quickly pour out excess boiling water (doesn’t have to be all of it, just as much as you can easily) and then place under stream of cold running water for a minute or so.

You now have hard boiled eggs.

The tea eggs:

Put a small pot of water up to boil- 4-5 cups. Add the tea, the salt, the Chinese five spice. Bring the water up to a low simmer. You want to maintain that temperature as best you can.

Roll the eggs gently on the countertop or on a cutting board with your hands. You want the shells to crack just enough to allow the liquid in, but not so much that you have shell pieces falling off.

Place the eggs in the tea liquid. Simmer minimum 30 minutes. The eggs will get better the longer you simmer them, so if you can for a few hours, that’s even better. If you prefer just a hint of tea egg in your egg, 30 minutes should be fine. If you like something stronger, keep it simmering. Remember that you don’t want a full boil, you’re really looking to keep it hot without it losing too much volume.

Take the eggs out, peel, and enjoy!

Chinese Strudel

I’m going to assume that you really don’t want to make the dough by hand.

You will need:
1.       1 box frozen filo dough
2.       1 cup white sugar
3.       ½ cup chopped walnuts
4.       1 tsp Chinese five spice
5.       ½ cup jam (use a good one) or spreadable fruit preserves. Something with a little sharpness is preferable I think, like raspberry, apricot, or elderberry, rather than something like strawberry.
6.       ½ stick butter cut into 4 Tbsp pieces (roughly). If you aren’t aware, butter sticks usually have markings on the side indicating Tbsp measurements. I distinguish between cooking butter and eating butter, the former the cheapest stuff you find, the latter being something nicer if you can get it. This is a case where you can argue for either.

To do:

Take your filo dough out an hour or two beforehand (the package will usually say how long it takes to thaw, roughly). There may be one or two rolls, depending on brand.

Preheat your oven for 375- yes, you have to use your oven! Clean out the stuff you store in it first!

Pour the sugar into a frying pan and heat on medium-low. Slowly melt the sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon. You want the sugar to have just melted and have a kind of golden or slightly brown color. If it’s a little darker, that’s okay too. Once it’s liquid, add the Chinese five spice and 2 Tbsp butter. Toss the walnuts in the mixture until they are evenly coated. Lay them out on a piece of aluminum foil (dull side up) to cool. When cool, chop roughly.

Take your filo dough and roll open onto a baking sheet (a wide, flat pan, like a cookie sheet) with your preferred non-stick intermediate (silicone pad, parchment paper, etc.). Spread the jam on ½ of the dough, leaving ½” space along the edges. Sprinkle the chopped walnuts over the jam.

Starting at the jam end, gently roll the dough into a cylinder without crushing the dough. Pinch the ends closed.

Melt the remaining 2 Tbsp butter. Generously brush the strudel with melted butter. Cut a few slits along the top of the strudel. Optional: sprinkle a few reserved finely chopped walnuts on top.
Put the strudel in the oven. Bake 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Every 7-10 minutes, brush the strudel with the remaining butter.

Remove from the oven, let cool, slice along the short axis into rounds. Serve with strong coffee.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Pennsylvania Dutch Style Tapioca Pudding

Tapioca pudding is one of those funny desserts that almost nobody eats anymore. I think the reason has to do with changing tastes in part, but only in part. More likely, anybody who ever enjoyed it homemade has also noticed the world of difference between it and the industrially manufactured sort. Some things survive being made in a factory, and some don't. Tapioca pudding is a simple and flavorful egg custard, and I've simply never seen a good processed egg custard.

Way back when, I lived in Lancaster for three years. When we would drive between there and New York, we would stop by a small roadside restaurant/hotel that was slowly dying since the highway had been moved. They still served a traditional, generous all you could eat breakfast of many small dishes, and we loved it. It was the first time I had ever enjoyed tapioca pudding, and I managed to wheedle the recipe out of them. Here it is for you to enjoy (and a special thanks to Haag's Hotel):

You will need:
1. 1 cup pearl tapioca
2. 1 quart whole milk
3. 1/3 cup sugar
4. 3 eggs
5. Vanilla extract

Pour the tapioca pearls into a mixing bowl and fill with cold water until a couple of inches above the pearls. I am assuming you are using the more generally found tapioca here which doesn't swell to gigantic sizes (~1/2 inch or 1.25 cm in diameter). If you aren't sure, feel free to add more cold water- you can have too little, but you can't have too much. Stick the bowl into your fridge overnight or 12-14 hours.

The next part is traditionally done with a double boiler, but I just use a wide-bottomed 3 qt saucepan over a medium heat. It's up to you. I'm going to assume that you are like me and use a saucepan.

The next day, drain the pearls and set aside. Then crack and whip the three eggs. Combine the eggs, sugar, and milk in your saucepan. Heat over a medium heat and stir with a rubber spatula. Keep stirring until the milk is scalded. Scalded milk is at the point where the temperature is just hot enough to start leaving a thick residue on the sides of the pot- in other words, just below a simmer. Make sure you are always scraping the bottom and sides with your rubber spatula. You stir it constantly, but don't need to go crazy whipping it in a frenzy. This will take ten-fifteen minutes.

Once the milk has scalded, add the pearls. Continue to heat over medium and stirring for another ten minutes or so. The cool tapioca will have cooled the milk, so it takes a while to come up to temperature. The pearls will clarify and begin to float to the top as you stir. The milk will also thicken to a creamy chowder consistency. Once all of the pearls are floating and the sauce has thickened, the sauce will have about reached the boiling point. Decant the pudding into a large bowl. Add vanilla extract to taste.

You can eat it hot, but its nicer if you cover the bowl and let sit in the fridge until cold. Since it takes a long time to make, and is no less effort to make a small amount than a large amount, plus since it keeps for a few days, you often find yourself eating it for a few days. If you can hold off for 1-2 days after sticking it in the fridge, you'll notice the consistency drastically alter from the custard-pudding texture to the more gelatinous treat. It's chunkier and very nice, very different.