London – It’s All About The Food!

Or should I say, Borough Market in London is all about the food.

London is widely recognized as the food capital of the world but if all you’ve done is stuff your face in the countless world-class Indian, Asian, Chinese, French, Italian, Eastern European and traditional British restaurants and ‘gastro-pubs’,  then you’ve missed an absolute jewel located on the South Bank of the Thames close to London Bridge and its Tube Station.

Borough Market has a fascinating history as an ancient landmark and food-centric gathering place, with the basis for its millennium celebration being the year 1014 A.D. if you can imagine that!

Dominated on one side by Southwark Cathedral, another equally ancient landmark, the market’s surroundings couldn’t be more interesting or more ‘London’. Not 200 yards away languishing in a protected wharf, sits the 100% authentic replica of Sir Frances Drake’s ship, ‘The Golden Hind II’ – a colorful and fascinating piece of history. Take a tour and marvel at how spoiled we’ve become by not having to endure such cramped spaces, or sit  Thames-side and admire it while relaxing over a great cup of coffee that puts Starbucks to shame. ‘The Golden Hind II’ was built using the exact same materials as the original and has sailed over 100,000 miles, which is many leagues more than number one ever did.

Another of London’s (newer) landmarks, ‘The Shard’ building, can be seen from the perimeter of the market. I think it looks unfinished but then I’m a bit traditional in my taste.

That’s enough of the history, now back to the food. Borough Market has been high on my bucket list for years, so a friend and  I made a day of it just before Christmas. London does Christmas really well with carolers, twinkling fir trees, holly, mistletoe and pretty lights festooned everywhere but to really get you into the festive spirit, there’s nothing like a great food-focused market.

The market opens to the public at 10AM and is mainly covered, so any inclement British weather shouldn’t be a deterrent. I recommend getting there early because by lunchtime it’s a seething crush of hungry people who’ve left their work stations to grab lunch. Spirits were particularly high as hot spiced wine was being offered from the start and I can confirm that a steaming mug of fragrant Christmas punch goes down really well at ten-thirty in the morning on a crisp, cold December day.

Another reason to get there early is that just about every stall will offer you a tempting taste. You could eat a whole day’s-worth of food for free by sampling  everything from Turkish delight, Christmas pudding, Artisan breads, truffle-scented oils, cheeses and charcuterie, to traditional paella and Malaysia curries that are lovingly tended to in vast, shallow pans the size of wagon wheels – and all in no particular order.

When you first arrive, your eyes will bulge at the towering displays of British and European cheeses, the wild Scottish game both large and small; huge glass jars of fat black and white truffles; pyramids of individual meringues as big as your head; whole candied jewel-like fruits, translucent and glistening with syrup; assorted salamis displayed in antique leather suitcases, stuffed upright like little soldiers –  and vegetable greens that are so wondrously, vividly green that you’ll stare at them for several minutes just soaking it all in.

A whole pig roasting on a spit with ‘Happy Christmas’ carved into the crackling had me passing by several times, just to relish the golden magnificence of it.

And then there are spices from all corners of the globe along with some new and different confections such as powdered fruits. Tiny plastic containers of blackcurrant, mango and strawberry powder traveled back to the US without a hitch.

And I have to mention the fish. Living in Colorado, our piscatorial selections are pitiful. On the other hand, any small island surrounded by ocean and sea will have plenty. The market has a mind-boggling array of the freshest, most diverse and gorgeous-looking fish, live shellfish and crustaceans, imaginable. Oysters that were bigger than my hand and fish that I haven’t set eyes on for over 20 years – beautifully arranged,  gleaming fresher than fresh and I suspect, were swimming around only a matter of hours previously.

I could go on but that would be pure self indulgence and a bit masochistic as it’s going to be at least eight months before I’ll be able to visit Borough Market again.

All I can say is that unless you don’t give a damn about food – and if that’s the case you aren’t reading this anyway – try to find time in your travel schedule to visit London’s Borough Market and feast your eyes, fill your shopping bag, be inspired, eat roast pig carved right from the spit, dive into a bowl of  Ethiopian stew or Gujarati curry…whatever food your heart desires, you’ll find it here  – and you’ll most certainly fall in love!

Posted in Food & Travel | 4 Comments

Recipe – Apple & Mincemeat Tart

This makes a wonderful alternative if you’re looking for something  festive that’s lighter than a traditional British Christmas pudding. This luscious tart captures the very essence of those flavors and will appeal to anyone who loves the heady combination of brandy-soaked dried fruits, almonds and candied citrus peels.

I used homemade mincemeat (recipe here) but any good store-bought mincemeat will do. The same goes for the pastry crust if you’re pushed for time.

This tart isn’t the prettiest dessert, so a good dusting of powdered sugar before serving will help and it’s best served at room temperature, maybe with some really good vanilla ice cream on the side.

If you’re making the crust yourself, you’ll need a 9-10 inch (22-25cm) loose-based tart tin.

Apple & Mincemeat Tart

Apple & Mincemeat Tart

 APPLE & MINCEMEAT TART

(Serves 8-10)

Ingredients for the pastry if you’re making your own (can be made 24 hrs ahead):

1 and 2/3 cups (400ml measure) of all-purpose (plain) flour

2 tablespoons of fine white sugar

Pinch of salt

1 ¼ sticks (5 oz/142g) of chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Approx 3 tablespoons of iced water

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract

Action:

Start by making the pastry at least 2 hours ahead. Put the flour, sugar and salt in the food processor and pulse. Add the butter and pulse again until it’s the consistency of coarse meal.

Add a couple of tablespoons of water, the egg yolk and vanilla. Pulse until you have big moist clumps, adding a tiny bit more water if it seems too dry.

Carefully scoop out the dough, lightly press it into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and flatten into a disc. Chill it in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

To make the pie crust, take the dough out of the fridge and allow it to soften slightly. On a lightly floured surface and using a rolling pin or your wine bottle, roll the dough out until you have a round that’s approx 14ins/36cm across.

Drape the pastry over your rolling pin/wine bottle and fit it carefully into the tart tin. Cut the overhang to about ¾ inch/2cm and fold that back in, pressing the pastry evenly in the tin so that you have about ¼ inch/½ cm poking up above the rim. Prick the base all over with a fork and stick it in the freezer for 15 minutes before baking at 375F (190C) for 12 -15 minutes.

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling by combining the following:

2 cups (480ml measure) of mincemeat made with brandy or rum

2 cups (480ml measure) of unsweetened apple puree

1 teaspoon of finely shredded orange zest

1/3 cup (80ml) of heavy cream

Pour the filling into the prebaked crust and bake at 375F (190C) for 35-40 minutes or until set and golden on top.

Cool the tart to room temperature before serving.

*Note – if you have any leftover filling, freeze it for another use, like stuffing it into a puff pastry turnover or something like that.

Posted in Desserts | Leave a comment

Recipe – Chocolate, Prune & Walnut Mousse

Chocolate and prunes were made for each other. This luscious mousse is adapted from a Patricia Lousada recipe and combines prunes with dark chocolate – and a few toasted walnuts are added for some unexpected crunch.

Another sublime confection that combines all three, are these Chocolate & Prune Truffles, which admittedly involve a few stages of preparation over several days despite requiring no particular skill. They’re impressive, absolutely world-class and are well worth the time.

Soaking the prunes in alcohol for a few days is a must in both cases but this recipe is simpler and makes a lovely dinner party dessert.

This mousse also freezes well but it’s essential to bring it back to room temperature before serving.

Note – it contains gelatin so isn’t suitable for strict vegetarians.

Chocolate, Prune & Walnut Mousse

Chocolate, Prune & Walnut Mousse

CHOCOLATE, PRUNE & WALNUT MOUSSE

(Serves 6-8)

Ingredients:

2 tablespoon of Cognac, Grand Marnier or Kirsch

8 oz (250g) of pitted, ready-to-eat prunes, chopped finely

1 level tablespoon of gelatin powder

2 tablespoons of cold water

11 fl oz (325ml) of whole milk

1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

3 large eggs, separated

3.5 oz (100g) of vanilla sugar

4 oz (125g) of good quality dark chocolate, chopped or chips

4 fl oz (125ml) of whipping cream

2 oz (50g) of walnuts, lightly toasted and chopped plus some for decoration

A pinch of salt

Action:

Soak the chopped prunes in the alcohol overnight or up to 4 days, if you have time

Put the powdered gelatin in a small cup and pour two tablespoons of water over it. Let it sit for a few minutes until it soaks up the water and becomes spongy. Now place that cup in a bowl of very hot water to allow the gelatin to dissolve and become runny.

Bring the milk and cinnamon to a boil in a heavy pan. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with with half of the sugar until pale, then carefully pour the hot cinnamon milk over the egg yolks, whisking the whole time. Pour everything back into the pan and cook over a medium heat, stirring the whole time. Don’t let it boil.

Once the custard has thickened slightly, take it off the heat and add the chocolate. Give it a good stir and when all the chocolate has melted, stir in the dissolved gelatin.

Pour the lot into a mixing bowl set over a larger bowl of ice and stir from time to time until it starts to thicken. Whip the cream until you have soft peaks. Once the chocolate mixture is cool and has thickened a bit (but before it sets completely), fold in the whipped cream followed by the alcohol-soaked prunes and chopped walnuts.

Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until you have stiff peaks then gradually whisk in the remaining sugar.

Using a large metal spoon and with a cutting motion, add 1/4 of the egg white to the chocolate mixture to lighten it then proceed to fold in the remaining egg white in the same way, until everything is incorporated.

Divide the mousse between 6-8 small dishes or wine glasses, then cover and chill for a minimum of 4 hours and up to 3 days.

Remove from the fridge at least one hour before serving. Decorate with walnut pieces, white or dark chocolate curls, edible gold dust, praline, or whatever you prefer.

 

Posted in Desserts, Gluten Free Desserts | 2 Comments

Recipe – Mincemeat with Brandy

Mincemeat is a wonderful traditional Christmassy confection and one that if you knew how easy it was to make from scratch, you’d never buy it ready-made again. It’s stuffed with lots of dried fruits, candied citrus peel, nuts and brandy (or rum).

Not only that but unless you have access to big city supermarkets in the US, you can only find it in the ‘seasonal’ section from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve – and frankly, many brands of the gluey brown stuff that pose as mincemeat are disappointing with their list of chemical ingredients – and worst of all they contain nowhere nearly enough rum or brandy, if any.

On the other hand, if you can find really good quality ready-made mincemeat, it’s expensive so why not make your own?

There’s no cooking involved until you’re ready to pile it into a tart, a pie, or stuff it into an apple for baking.

Mincemeat with BrandyHere is a gloriously boozy and festive mincemeat recipe that will make enough to fill three 8-9 ounce (227-255g) glass jars. Be sure to squish it down really well in the jar once you get to that point.

It takes a couple of weeks to mature by which time it will have developed a deep, rich color and the smell will have you drooling, so get cracking and you’re guaranteed to receive lots of ‘oohs and aahs’ over the holiday season.

I use Atora vegetable suet*. You can buy it here or from Amazon. Vegetable-based suet fat is every bit as good in cooking as the original meat-based suet, so there’s no need to lie about the contents of your desserts and to be honest, nothing else will do here, so you can forget about using lard or butter.

I buy suet in bulk and keep it in my freezer and if you’ve never used it before, you should know that it makes the lightest, fluffiest dumplings, pastries and sponge puddings…a Great British tradition!

Traditional Christmas Mince Pies

Traditional Christmas Mince Pies

TRADITIONAL MINCEMEAT WITH BRANDY

Ingredients:

4 oz (114g) of currants

4 oz (114g) of seedless raisins

4 oz (114g) of sultanas / golden raisins

2 oz (57g) dried tart cherries

2 oz (57g) of candied citrus peel (make your own here)

4 oz (114g) of firm, tart apple, peeled and cored

2 oz (57g) of blanched almonds (or walnuts if you prefer)

4 oz (114g) of shredded *suet

8 oz (228g) of soft dark brown sugar

1 level teaspoon of ground allspice

Brandy or rum – enough to moisten the mixture (don’t worry about overdoing it as the alcohol evaporates during cooking and acts as a preservative up to that point)

Action:

mincemeat-day-1Finely chop the dried fruit, candied peel, nuts and apple.  Put it in a large bowl and add the suet, sugar, allspice and as much brandy as necessary to create a nice moist mixture.

Stir everything together well, cover with cling film and let it rest at room temperature for 2 days, after which time is will smell even more heavenly.

Spoon it into sterile, screw-top glass jars, packing down well and let it mature for a minimum of 2 weeks before you use it.

Once opened, store it in the fridge and use within a month. It may also freeze but I haven’t tried that yet. If you do, don’t stuff the jars to the brim.

If you make it now, you’ll be rocking out the most delicious little Yuletide mince pies!

Posted in Cookies & Edible Gifts, Desserts, Gluten Free Desserts, Made in Under 30 mins, Sauces, Preserves, Condiments, Vegan, Vegetables / Vegetarian | 3 Comments

Recipe – Chicken & Sweet Potatoes in Coconut Milk

A soothing, fragrant dish that’s really simple to make and is perfect served over jasmine or basmati rice.

I recommend using bone-in, skinless chicken thighs for the juiciest result but if you use chicken off the bone, you’ll reduce the cooking time by about 15 minutes, so this really is a quick and delicious supper.

Note – if you remove the skin yourself, you might want to save it for this incredible ‘Chicken Skin Popcorn’ recipe, courtesy of Nigel Slater.

Chicken & Sweet Potatoes in Coconut Milk

Chicken & Sweet Potatoes in Coconut Milk

CHICKEN & SWEET POTATOES IN COCONUT MILK

(Serves 4)

Ingredients:

8 chicken thighs on the bone, skin removed

1 tablespoon of vegetable oil

1 large onion, thinly sliced

1lb (about half a kilo) of sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 inch (5cm) chunks

1 can of coconut milk

3 tablespoons of Thai fish sauce (nam pla)

The juice of one or two limes, to taste

A good handful of chopped cilantro (coriander)

Action:

Heat the oil in a deep, wide saute pan (with a lid) and when moderately hot, add the chicken pieces and cook on one side for about 5 minutes until they’re nicely browned. Add the sliced onion, stir things around and continue to cook until the onion has softened.

Add the sweet potato, coconut milk and 2 tablespoons of the fish sauce. Stir well to combine and bring it to a boil then turn the heat down low, put the lid on and let it simmer for about 40 minutes, until the chicken is tender and cooked through.

Remove the lid and add the remaining tablespoon of fish sauce. If there’s too much liquid, crank up the heat to reduce it a bit. Stir in the lime juice and cilantro and serve immediately over rice in warm bowls.

Posted in Poultry | 2 Comments

Recipe – Florentines

These delicate cookies are deliciously crisp, chewy and really easy to make in two stages.

Because they’re a bit posh, they also make a wonderful gift. The combination of almonds, tangy citrus zest and dark chocolate is mouthwatering. You don’t have to make your own candied citrus peel but if you do, you’ll elevate this classic little cookie to world-class proportions.

If you can resist eating them all, they’ll keep a week in an airtight container and they freeze well.

Go on, spoil yourself!

Florentines

Florentines

FLORENTINE COOKIES

(Makes 15-20)

Ingredients:

1.5 oz (40g) of butter

5 tablespoons of heavy (double) cream

2 oz (50g) of fine white sugar (caster)

3.5 oz (100g) of flaked almonds

1.5 oz (40g) of candied orange peel, finely chopped

1 oz (25g) of plain all-purpose flour, sifted

A good pinch of sea salt

5oz (150g) of dark chocolate chips such as Ghirardelli

Action:

Heat the oven to 350F/ 180C.

Grease one or two baking sheets (the cookies spread, so they’ll need plenty of room).

Put the flaked almonds and chopped peel in a large bowl. Gently bring the butter, cream and sugar to a boil then pour over the almonds and peel and stir well. Fold in the flour and a good pinch of salt stirring to combine thoroughly.

Drop heaped teaspoon amounts onto the baking sheet, at least 1.5 inches (40cm) apart and with the back of a wet fork or spoon, flatten each mound a little. Bake for about 10-12 minutes or until the edges have turned a golden brown.

Remove them from the oven and allow to cool for about 15-20 minutes, then carefully transfer them to a flat surface to cool completely.

For the chocolate coating – put the chocolate chips in a bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Don’t allow the bottom of the bowl to come into contact with the water or the chocolate will ‘seize’ (i.e. become hard, grainy and unfit for anything).

Once the chocolate has melted, give it a good stir and take off the heat.

Turn the cookies over, drop a teaspoon of chocolate onto the underside of each and gently spread up to the edges. Before the chocolate has set, take a fork and gently swirl a pattern in the chocolate.

They’ll set more quickly if you put them in the fridge for 15 minutes or so.

 

 

Posted in Cookies & Edible Gifts | 2 Comments

Recipe – Mushroom & Barley Soup

This is such a comforting, filling and soothing soup. There are so many versions out there but this is my favorite. In this instance I’ve used organic chicken broth but vegetarians can substitute vegetable or mushroom broth for an equally delicious result.

It also helps if you forage for your own wild edible mushrooms.

Here I’ve included dried porcini mushrooms from a previous year’s haul – but if you aren’t a hunter/forager, dried porcini are widely available in small packets and add an earthy, meaty richness to the overall flavor that’s essential, in my opinion.

Like many soups, this tastes even better the following day and it freezes well.

Mushroom & Barley Soup

Mushroom & Barley Soup

 MUSHROOM & BARLEY SOUP with PORCINI

(Serves 6-8)

Ingredients:

3 quarts (3.4 liters) of organic stock – chicken, vegetable or mushroom

1 and 1/4 cups (300 ml measure) of pearl barley, rinsed and drained

2-3 tablespoons of hi-temp cooking oil such as avocado or grape-seed – divided

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 large carrots, peeled and finely chopped

2 sticks of celery, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

A good handful of dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in a pint of very hot water for 15 minutes

1lb (1/2 a kilo) of small brown mushrooms, wiped clean, trimmed and sliced

2 bay leaves

Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Action:

In a large heavy pot with a lid, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and saute the onion until soft, then add the carrot, celery and garlic. Continue to cook until the vegetables have softened a bit.

Meanwhile, line a strainer with paper towel and strain the soaked and softened dried mushrooms, capturing all the liquid. Set the liquid aside and rinse the mushrooms under a little running water, then chop them finely and add them  to the vegetables in the pot. Saute for a few minutes then add the barley, bay leaves, mushroom soaking liquid and the stock. Bring it to a boil then turn down to a simmer and put the lid on.

While that’s happening, heat the remaining oil in a wide skillet and saute the mushrooms (probably in 2 batches) over quite a high heat and with a good grind of sea salt, tossing them around until they’ve turned a nice golden brown. Add them to the pot with everything else, bring the soup back to a simmer, put the lid on and cook over a low heat for 1 hour.

After an hour, check to see if the barley is big and soft and the vegetables are tender. Add more stock  and cook for another 30 minutes if needed – the soup should be really thick.

Check the seasoning, adding more salt if necessary and a really good grind of black pepper to taste.

If you’re making this ahead, reheat very gently, stirring from time to time.

Posted in Soups, Vegan, Vegetables / Vegetarian | 5 Comments