Friday, 18 December 2009

A booklover's wishlist for Christmas

Friends and family have stopped giving me cookbooks

As you enter our Bloomsbury living room you can see why: a flimsy IKEA bookcase groans under the weight of hundreds of cookbooks - well our demented boiler is gurgling like a gremlin at the moment but that's another story - the flat seems to be tilting precariously to one side under the weight of so many books.

Some are blatant food "porn" purchases from days when I didn't know any better, others are more conventional glossy cookbooks nestled in between the Elizabeth David classics and battered old baking books replete with indecipherable doodles. Inspirational tomes such as Olivier Roellinger's Seafood book and Heston's Big Fat Duck Cookbook are there to remind me that being creative is no bad thing, and I have yet to really sink my teeth into McGee on Food and Cooking in a systematic way, save his chapter on dairy.

But seriously, does a girl really need hundreds of cookbooks? I'm more than a little embarrassed by my bulging cookbook collection and perversely found myself calculating how many pairs of killer heels I could have bought in lieu of all those snazzy cookbooks. After all, a girl can never have too many shoes.

So in order to save you and your family or friends from accumulating quite so many cookbooks - and to save all that money for buying pretty shoes in the new year sales! - I've compiled a Christmas wishlist for bookish food fiends; a list that sprang out of friends asking me from time to time which books I would recommend from my cookbook collection.

For the purpose of this exercise I enlisted my pal Will Knightley - a rogue foodie with a penchant for martinis - to help whittle down the books. It's not a definitive list, We've left off some notable culinary giants and included a few unusual books which might appeal to a foodnerd who is interested in learning more about the history and anthropology of food. There are also a few recommendations for food magazines and journals that would make fine Christmas gifts for a fussy foodie.

I'd be curious to know which books are your favourite ones to cook from, which have proved inspirational, and which ones looked promising but ultimately failed to live up to expectations. Needless to say I'm on a self-imposed ban from buying any more books and if anything a cull is long overdue. Still...there are invariably gaps in my collection so please let me know in a comment below which food/cookery books you'd add to this list :-)

The cookbooks:

Fiona Beckett's Cheese Course (Ryland, Peters & Small)

Perhaps this should have been called 'The Joy of Cheese' as it's a caseophile's delight. I've worked with Fiona for two years and recently wrote my MA thesis on the anthropology of cheese so I'm completely biased, but I genuinely love this book. You learn how cheese is made, examples of the different types of cheese and how to taste and compare them. Fiona being the doyenne of food and wine matching you get a comprehensive cheese and wine matching guide, and also alternatives such as cider, beer, port and whisky to name a few. I could really have used the tip about not matching red wine to oozing Epoisses the other night, and Fiona explains in detail why red wine - a traditional match for cheese as a whole - can be a minefield when paired with many cheese varieties. There are suggestions for seasonal cheese plates and recipes to keep even the greediest of cheeselovers happy.

Try the tartiflette, the buckwheat galettes with parma ham and emmental, and the stichelton steak with winter salad of onions and roquette. If you're a real curd nerd check out Fiona's Cheeselover blog for updates on cheese finds, and her 'Ultimate Mac n' Cheese Challenge' which kicks off December 28th

Moro East by Sam & Sam Clark (Ebury Books)

Fans of the restaurant Moro will love this book which extends east to Levantine shores via their East End allotment. The recipes are clearly written and easy to follow. What more can I say - buy this book along with the two original Moro cookbooks and you won't be disappointed. Up there with the Scandinavian Cookbook and Ottolenghi as my everyday favourites.

Risotto with Nettles: A memoir with food
by Anna del Conte (Chatto & Windus)

This is the food memoir of 2009. Del Conte shares stories from her childhood in Milan, giving the recipes she cites at the start of each chapter meaning and context through a tightly-written narrative. Her style of writing is self-effacing and ever so slightly patrician, a legacy of her Milanese roots I suspect and what fascinates me about her story is del Conte's liminality as a child raised in Mussolini's Italy and her transition to an adult who married and settled in Britain - she evinces both Italian (or rather Milanese) and British characteristics in her writing yet in some ways is rootless...

Any book that opens with a chapter on Toscanini and La Scala will appeal to the cultured Italophile foodie; a real gem of a memoir.

The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trina Hahnemann (Quadrille)

One of the best cookbooks published in recent years. Beautiful photography couples with clear, easy-to-follow recipes and the best cinnamon bun recipe this side of Copenhagen. Trina's evocative book sends me straight back to my Scandinavian roots and I can't think of a better introduction to the seasonal cooking of game, fish, fruit, veg grains and aquavit (kidding, aquavit is not a foodstuff) of where I grew up. A book I never tire of.

Look out for Trina's Nordic Diet book - due to be released in January - of which I'll be giving a sneak preview here very soon. If you're curious about Trina's recipes and Scandinavian food in general I did a menu earlier this year based on her book which includes a fabulous gravlaks or gravadlax recipe.

Game: A Cookbook
by Trish Hilferty & Tom Norrington-Davies (Absolute Press)

Anyone who knows me will tell you I have a penchant for game, and I instantly fell in love with this book when it arrived last month. The fact that it's co-authored by Tom Norrington-Davies, head chef and co-owner of Great Queen Street, one of my favourite restaurants, adds to its 'must-have' appeal.

Recipes that stand out:

* confited pheasant with fennel and satsuma salad

* potroast mallard, quince and star anise

* rabbit braised with prunes and beer

In sum, a brilliant, modern cookbook on game - buy this for a bona fide foodie and they'll love you forever

Snowflakes and Schnapps by Jane Lawson (Murdoch Books)

This book has proved curiously divisive. Will and I love it, other foodlovers aren't convinced.

Jane Lawson seems detached from the recipes and there has been criticism of the broad geographical layout spanning Scandinavia, Germany and Eastern Europe. Frankly that's what appeals to me - there is a common thread of cooking throughout cold Northern European countries: hearty, ribsticking fare with dishes such as beer cooked bratwurst, which is what gets me cooking on a cold winter's day. I was born in Germany and my first word was most likely "wurst" so I'm totally biased - a book with sausage recipes is always going to send my into nostalgic daydreaming mode! The liquorice lamb appeals to the Scandi in me and I love Lawson's baking recipes - reminiscent of the ones I grew up with in Norway. Great recipes and gorgeous photography make this a winner. Buy this book for the Northern European who loves to ski and eats carbs and meat with gusto!

A Very Honest Cook by Stephen Markwick and Fiona Beckett (Culinaria Press)

More of a magazine or journal than a hefty cookbook and therein lies the appeal of 'A Very Honest Cook'. I'd hazard a guess that this slimline book of a few choice recipes from Stephen Markwick of Culinaria fame might prove to be a publishing model for 2010. When I met Stephen and his wife Judy at Abergavenny food festival earlier this year everything Fiona had told me about Stephen was spot-on: he's a self-deprecating cook who represents the best of British cuisine. With a foreword by Simon Hopkinson that praises the 'stylish simplicity' of Stephen's cooking, and clear, concise recipes this is a book I'll be cooking often from and can't wait to visit Bristol again so I can sample Stephen's provencal fish soup, loin of venison with celeriac and potato mash and honeyed parsnips... and a devilishly good treacle tart ;-)

The Songs of Sapa by Luke Nguyen (Murdoch Books)

Will claims this is the book for gap-year kids who read 'The Beach' on their travels throughout Asia during the '90s. I did neither of those things yet I love this book, perhaps because Vietnam is on my list of places to visit. This book transports you to Nguyen's home country with sumptuous recipes and fantastic photography. Recipes such as Hanoi beef noodle soup, roast pork and crisp snapper just work. The only drawback is the book is a tome of the coffee-table variety thus slightly tricky to place in the kitchen while cooking, but still - a book worth owning.

Ottolenghi: The Cookbook (Ebury)

My favourite deli in London and a cookbook that is high up on my list of favourites. The partnership between Israeli Yotam Ottolenghi and Palestinian Sami Tamimi works on so many levels: the delis are an aesthete's delight with their white backdrop and an array of colourful food tempting you in. I spent a day in the Upper Street branch of Ottolenghi as part of my Leiths training and witnessed first-hand the care and attention Ottolenghi chefs take in creating both pastries and savoury food. It may be expensive but the food at Ottolenghi is worth every penny.

Buy this book for the foodlover who is curious about the Middle East and loves eating at Ottolenghi's delis.

The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden (Penguin)

Not a recent publication but this should be on every serious foodlover's bookshelf. Roden's vivid account of the Jewish diaspora, enriched with stories of her own life and comprehensive descriptions of Ashkenazi and Sephardic cooking is a classic. The recipes are foolproof and delicious.

Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey (Ebury)

A confession: I have a real soft spot for Rick Stein. Perhaps it's his love of seafood, or his gentle, ambling manner when he's cooking. I was fortunate enough to work as a stagiere in his Seafood restaurant down in Padstow when I was training at Leiths and loved every minute of my stage there, learning more about seafood in a week working for Stein's band of merry chefs than I did anywhere else. Stein's most recent book represents the best recipes of countries such as Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia. Every recipe is enticing and foolproof and somehow captures the rich diversity of food across Asia; this is the book for the globetrotting gourmet who loves telling stories and cooks with confidence and flair!

Adventures with Chocolate by Paul A Young (Kyle Cathie)

Quite simply the best chocolate book of 2009. Paul trained under Marco Pierre White and I've posted on this blog before about his dedication to the crafting of chocolate because that's exactly what he is - a craftsman. His shop in Camden Passage is one of the few chocolate shops in London which is suffused with the scent of chocolate as everything is hand-crafted on site.

The book is comprehensive and teaches you how to buy chocolate, what types of beans there are and the methods of tempering and how to make a truffle (an art in itself). There are tips on how to combine flavours with different types of chocolate and recipes such as:

* chocolate water biscuits for cheese

* passionfruit and coconut truffles (two of my favourite ingredients!)

* blackcurrant and liquorice truffles (ditto)

* chocolate, ginger and cardamom tea bread

* hot chocolate and basil fondants

A perfect gift for chocoholics, especially if they can't get to Paul's two stores in Camden Passage and Threadneedle Street this Christmas

What to Eat Now More Please! by Valentine Warner (Octopus)

Having met Valentine Warner through the lovely people at Peter's Yard I can vouch that he's utterly charming and a real cook's cook. This is the book to buy girls. Boys don't really get the appeal of Valentine so make sure you save this for your sister, cousin, girlfriend or foxy aunt.

Recipes that appeal:

* barbecued bavette steak with anchovies, red wine and garlic (is there a better combination of ingredients?)

* coconut lamb

* gravadlax: having seem Valentine make this at Abrgavenny food festival earlier this year I can attest to this recipe's deliciousness. Plus Valentine looked a bit like the Swedish Chef from the Muppets when he waved bunches of dill above his head

* prawn tangiers: I made this over the summer and it's now a firm favourite

* baby courgettes and chanterelles with basil: simple, clean flavours with not much fuss. Perfect.

Larousse Gastronomique (Hamlyn)

Everyone should own a copy of Larousse. It is the bible of cooking technique and classical French cuisine. Enough said.

McGee on Food and Cooking by Harold McGee (Scribner)

I love McGee's chapter on dairy, you might love his chapter on the four food molecules - every serious cook worth his or her salt should have McGee's encyclopedic masterpiece on their shelves. Failing that at least read his Curious Cook musings on food science ;-)

Coco: 10 world-leading masters choose 100 contemporary chefs (Phaidon)

This is the most zeitgeisty book of 2009, and what a tome it is. Chosen by gastronomic big guns Ferran Adria, Mario Batali, Rene Redzepi, Alice Waters, Jacky Yu, Gordon Ramsay, Fergus Henderson, Shannon Bennett, Alain Ducasse, and Yoshihiro Murata the hundred chefs featured in Coco are all fascinating in their own right. Some have commented on the title and I have to admit 'Coco' does strike me as an odd choice for this book, albeit a catchy one.

No matter, the book is a feast for the eyes and is the book to buy your serious gourmet friend or relative who has a keen interest in sampling the cooking of the hottest chefs today. When I first read about Coco in the Evening Standard earlier this year I was thrilled to see some of my favourite chefs such as Anthony Demetre of Arbutus and Wild Honey fame featured alongside Theo Randall and Skye Gangell. When Gastrogeek invited a few fellow food bloggers to join her and the team from Phaidon and Sauce PR for a Coco Gourmet Gallop around Maze, Theo Randall and Launceston Place last month I nearly fell off my chair at the itinerary for the gallop. We were treated to a fantastic evening of decadence, sampling the recipes each chef had included in the book. You can read brilliant reviews of the gourmet gallop from Gastrogeek herself, Dan of Essex Eating and Dan of the blog FoodUrchin amongst others including twitter's funniest food blogger Mimi of Meemalee's Kitchen who concluded: the Coco gourmet gallop was worth missing the last train for (and she did!)

A few snaps from the night:

Theo Randall's wood-roasted Cornish monkfish with parsley, capers, roseval potatoes, globe artichokes and prosciutto di Parma - a humdinger of a dish. Full of flavour and culinary skill. Theo himself came out to speak to us which was much appreciated by all of us attending the gallop

Tristan Welch's dessert platter (along with several huge tarte tartins) was the best dessert experience I've had since being left with the dessert trolly at Guy Savoy a 3-star michelin restaurant in Paris. Tristan and his staff looked after us with immense generosity, and like Theo Randall, took the time to speak to us about their cooking and Launceston Place. An epic way to end an epic gourmet gallop...

The books on food but not necessarily cookery:

Tsukiji by Theodore Bestor (University of California Press)

Harvard anthropologist Theodore Bestor has twenty years of ethnographic fieldwork in Japan under bis belt. The man knows Japan and he writes well which are two key features in the appeal of this book about Tokyo's legendary fish market Tsukiji. One for the food anthropologist, or someone who loves big fish and the ocean in general.

Hungry City by Carolyn Steel (Random House)

A lecturer in architecture at Cambridge, Steel is a formidable speaker and passionate advocate of how food shapes cities. Not one for the glossy food porn admiring reader, but one for serious foodies with a sense of history, an interest in the development of cities and architecture. Check out her Hungry City site for an idea of what the book is all about.

The Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey into Terroir by Amy Trubek (University of California Press)

Trubek asks why terroir and place matter. You may be wondering why the question even matters and if so I suggest you read Trubek's Taste of Place, an accessible and informative account of why terroir is important: we live in a highly connected world in which food is subjected to the forces of globalization like any other industry. Place becomes a powerful symbol of cultural and national roots, not to mention identity. Terroir evokes authenticity, particularly in wine, but increasingly now in food such as cheese and Trubek's book is for those who are bored by cookbooks and want something profound to sink their teeth into over the Christmas holiday.

Catching Fire by Richard Wrangham

For the foodie who cares about evolution, anthropology and understanding how cooking makes us human, this is the book to buy them for Christmas. Wrangham has a breezy style of writing virtually unseen in academia and his argument is elegant and provocative in equal measure. Brilliant. By far the most interesting anthropology book I've read in years.

Magazine/Journal Subscriptions to get discerning foodies:

Fire & Knives

Brand-spanking new food journal from editor extraordinaire Tim Hayward. Great writing, great photography, great design. Looks like a small book which makes it ideal for popping in your handbag. At a bargainous £20 per year for a subscription this is the gift to give the foodlover who has all the cookbooks they need.

The Art of Eating

Edward Behr's pared-back style of writing is true to his Vermont background and I can't wait for The Art of Eating to arrive by post every few months. Excellent pieces on real food, unfussy and spot-on in its analysis. You should see the cheese collection. Another one for the foodie who has everything and loves that New England salt-of-the-earth way of seeing the world.

美味しんぼ or Oishinbo (The Gourmet)

What can I say? if you know someone who loves Japanese food this is the publication for them. The ultimate 'foodnerd' gift this Christmas!

* an addendum: one book I completely forgot about is Simon Hopkinson's Roast Chicken and Other Stories and thank you to Helen aka Food Stories for reminding me about Hopkinson's other brilliant book Week in Week Out both books of which I own and love. Roast chicken had slipped down behind the bookcase and the latter I haven't used much recently but shall revisit when I return from the Canaries after Christmas. Add both to the neverending list of must-have books ;-)

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Scandi Christmas stall at Covent Garden: Part II

Niamh aka Eat Like A Girl and I larking around at Covent Garden on Thursday - photo courtesy of Lucy Pope

Re-arranging cinnamon buns with Lucy Pope - photo courtesy of A Forkful of Spaghetti

The Scandi Christmas baking courtesy of A Forkful of Spaghetti

So market day at Covent Garden came and went, and what fun it was. The gods provided with sunshine and a balmy 10 degrees celsius throughout the afternoon, and I was lucky to share a stall with the lovely Niamh - also known affectionately as the "pork mistress" for her mighty pork sandwiches with lashings of the BEST crunchy crackling in all of WC1! Niamh's a dab hand at this market melarkee as she's been manning a stall twice a week since the summer and her pork sandwiches fast became a staple lunchtime treat for those who work nearby Covent Garden this autumn and I can see why - having sampled her fare I'm now a pork sandwich addict

We had lots of visitors throughout the day, both punters looking around the market on a Thursday afternoon and friends and food bloggers who came down to support us by saying hello, and of course to sample the food! Niamh very kindly proffered a glass of prosecco mid-afternoon and we chatted throughout the afternoon, marvelling at the friendly visitors and the occasional cheeky passesrby - you see the extremes of human nature at a market Niamh said and I completely agree, fascinating stuff to an anthropologist. Believe it or not, someone asked Niamh if she did 2 for 1 on her sandwiches, and when I put out samples of cakes mid-afternoon two modellesque girls came round not once or twice but five times to nibble on samples. The cheek! Having two crazy aunts in Norway who used to model let me repeat my maxim in life here:

"Never trust a model as beauty corrupts the brain"

Anyway, it was a brilliant day and I wish I could do it again next week as Niamh was such fun to pal around with. From Tuesday though I'm off to Lanzarote for yuletide holiday frolics with my Ma and Pa so any reprises down at Covent Garden will have to wait til 2010

Below are recipes from the most popular cakes and biscuits of the day, if you have any specific queries about them drop me an email or leave a comment

Happy holidays to you all :-)

Let's start with the three chocolatey cakes:

tropisk aroma or spiced chocolate marble cake with nutmeg and cinnamon. The nutmeg dominates and with a coffee-chocolate icing I this is a firm family favourite which keeps up to a week and can be frozen if need be for future cake scoffing



250g refined spelt flour
250g golden caster sugar
150g butter, softened
2 medium eggs
120 ml whole milk with 2 tbsp plain yoghurt
2 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp strong coffee or espresso
pinch salt

Filling and icing:

200g icing sugar
200g butter, softened
4 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 tsp coffee powder (depends how much coffee you like)
pinch salt


Preheat oven to 180C. Lightly oil 23cm round cake tin and fit the bottom with baking parchment

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar til pale and fluffy (circa 5-8 minutes). Add the eggs one at a time along with a spoonful of flour to stop the mixture splitting, whisking after each egg to incorporate it into the mixture. Add the spices, remainder of flour and alternate this with the milk and coffee to create a thick cake batter

Take 1/3 of the cake mixture and place in a smaller bowl, add the cocoa powder and stir through until the mixture looks even

Place half the plain mixture at the bottom of the cake tin, then layer the chocolate mixture on top. Cover with the remaining half of plain mixture and using a fork, swirl through the two mixtures to create a marbled effect. Bake on the middle shelf for 35-40 minutes. The cake is done when a skewer is inserted and no wet mixture remains on the skewer

While the cake cools on a wire rack, make the filling: cream the butter whilst adding the icing sugar, coffee and cocoa powders, and vanilla extract, taste as you go along as icing is subjective - some like it very buttery, others intensely sweet. I like a balance of butter, sugar and chocolate/coffee myself

When the cake is completely cool, spread the icing all over. Sprinkle extra cocoa powder on top if you like a cocoa hit or simply leave it plain. Savour with a cup of tea or coffee

Cardamom-Chocolate Cake

There was a run on this cake, definitely a hit with both punters on the day and food bloggers who came down to visit Niamh and I. Cardamom and chocolate is a match made in heaven - grind the cardamom pods yourself if you have the time and inclination, I like to coarsely grind them so you get a few small seeds of cardamom rather than fine powder. The occasional cardamom crunch when eating this cake is an unexpected treat I find. This recipe is an adaptation of Nigella's dense chocolate loaf in 'How to be a domestic goddess' but I've substituted plain flour for spelt and reduced the sugar and syrup quantities and upped the chocolate


250g softened butter
350g dark muscovado sugar (light will do fine)
250g refined spelt flour
150g dark chocolate, melted
2 heaping tbsp cocoa powder
2 medium eggs
200ml boiling water
1 shot espresso or strong coffee
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1-2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp salt


Preheat oven to 190 C. Lightly oil a 23 x 13 x 7 cm loaf tin

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time along with a spoonful of flour to stop the mixture splitting. Add the melted chocolate and incorporate fully before adding coffee, cocoa powder, flour, the boiling water, cardamom, bicarb and salt. It should be a thick liquid batter

Pour this into the prepared loaf tin and bake on the middle oven shelf at 190 C for the first 1/2 hour, then reduce the oven temp to 170 C and bake the cake for a further 15 minutes. The cake will rise, but once you remove it from the oven it will shrink slightly and look like it collapses. This is normal.

Cool on a wire rack. Needless to say this is great on its own but also good with a dollop of creme fraiche on the side. As Nigella says, this is like gingerbread in that it improves as it ages so worth making up in double batches if you can

Gingerbread with lemon icing

another Nigella classic. What can I say, the woman can bake

It's worth making this in double batches, it's VERY popular!


300g spelt flour
150g butter
125g dark muscovado sugar
200g golden syrup
200g black treacle
2 teaspoons fresh ginger
1 tsp cinnamon (and I add 1/2 tsp clove, 1/2 nutmeg)
250ml milk
2 eggs
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda mixed with 2 tbsp warm water
1/2 tsp salt


200g icing sugar
zest of 1 lemon
2-3 tbsp lemon juice


Preheat oven to 170 C. Lightly oil a 30 x 20 x 5 cm rectangular cake tin

In a large saucepan melt the butter, sugar, syrup, treacle, spices, ginger. Add the milk, eggs, bicarb off the heat.

Add the liquid to the flour in a large bowl and beat well until the mixture looks even.

Pour into cake tin and bake 45 minutes to 1 hour

As the cake is cooling, make the icing:

sift icing sugar in a bowl, whisking in the lemon juice and zest. The icing should be thick not runny so don't add too much liquid...

spread over cooled gingerbread with a palette knife and leave to set before cutting slices. Keeps for a good couple of weeks if you can resist eating it in one go

Kokosmakroner or coconut macaroons

these mallowy macaroons are dead-easy to make and the coconut acts as a humectant so they stay soft for ages. Dip in melted dark chocolate for that 'bounty' effect or eat plain as they're moreish on their own


4 egg whites
180g caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
250g shredded coconut


Meringue the egg whites and sugar til stiff peak, then fold in the coconut. Bake at 170 degrees celsius for 10-15 minutes and allow to dry on a wire rack before eating

Almond Raisin Cake with Manzanilla Sherry

Manzanilla may seem an odd choice for cake as it's bone dry, but I love that ozone savouryness to Manzanilla and had half a bottle languishing in the fridge so I thought I'd bake a sherry-fied cake with it. Thanks to A Forkful of Spaghetti for tweeting me a recipe! This is my version:


200g raisins
200g manzanilla sherry
150ml plain yoghurt
150ml melted butter
150g light muscovado sugar
3 medium eggs
150g spelt flour
100g ground almonds
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp salt


preheat oven to 180 C. Lightly oil a 20cm round cake tin. Whisk the eggs and sugar til pale and fluffy. Add the melted butter, the yoghurt, flour, almonds, salt and raising agents to the mixture and combine til evenly incorporated. Fold in the raisins, adding some of the sherry too if you fancy :-)

Spoon the cake mixture into the cake tin and bake on the middle oven shelf for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Drizzle with icing sugar, or skewer the cake a few times and use up the remaining sherry liquid to pickle the cake...

Needless to say, great with a glass of sherry

lefse or potato pancake - cheat's version available at Scandinavian Kitchen

This is usually served with a cup of coffee in Norway and a childhood favourite of mine. I love lefse, which is a soft potato-wheat pancake filled with cinnamon buttercream and folded like a book.

For 10 lefse you'll need 5 sheets of the pre-fab stuff you get at the Scandinavian Kitchen plus:

150g butter
100g creme fraiche
150g icing sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

Cream the butter til pale then add the creme fraiche, whisking til its incorporated and add cinnamon, sugar, salt. Taste to see if it's right for you - remember the potato-wheat lefse is quite bland. Place a dollop of mixture on a sheet of lefse, spread evenly and then fold in the sides. Keep in an airtight container

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Sugar & Spice - A Scandi Christmas Stall in Covent Garden 10.12.09

Traditional Christmas biscuits from Baker Brun - bakery in Bergen where Papa Scandilicious grew up

In recent years three of my flatmates have each declared Christmas to be their favourite season for food. And I can see why - all the roast meat, the sprouts (yes I love sprouts), the mince pies, the brandy butter, mulled wine - or in my case as I'm Germanic at heart - glühwein...

In Norway we always had smoked lamb ribs which were steamed over birchwood and water for a day, served with creamy and buttery mashed swede (not a pun I promise), steamed potatoes and carrots. It was simple country fare and utterly repellant to anyone who hadn't grown up in Norway. My English grandmother tried it once and came away convinved my Mother had married a barbarian. Well, the volume of aquavit consumed during a Norwegian Christmas meal certainly lends credence to her conviction but I love juleribbe and frankly think the simplicity of it is more in keeping with what Christmas is all about. Forget 14 types of vegetables to go with a roast bird, this meal is as low-maintenance as cooking gets. My Mother loved it as she didn't have to slave over a stove for an entire day and I like the fact that juleribbe harks back to Viking days when smoked meat was a vital foodstuff for survival

Anyway as a child my parents always dispatched me to Bergen for the requisite pre-Christmas family gathering before we'd escape the mad Johansen family to our house in Lanzarote. At the time I thought this was normal, and in fact it is normal for families to gather before Christmas and then to run away, no? My Norwegian family aren't entirely normal, they argue constantly and a lot of hysterical shouting goes on for no particular reason. It's hilarious for an outsider to witness but a little terrifying for a 6-year old and my Mother made a pact with my Father when we moved to Norway that we escape to the sun as we all needed the Vitamin D. Or so she says. At any rate, instead of listening to the aunts' madness I would hide away in the kitchen with my Norwegian grandmother and help her bake

I'd marvel at the huge quantities of biscuits, breads and cakes she baked at the start of advent. Much like here in the UK, the run-up to Christmas in Scandinavia is a sociable time, everyone gathers, eats and gets pickled from too much aquavit or mulled wine and that's really what the festive season is all about. My grandmother only stopped baking the "syv slag" or seven varieties of traditional Christmas biscuits you see above when she reached her 80's

So tomorrow I'll be down at Covent Garden piazza manning a stall that will feature some of the yuletide favourites I grew up with. A few recipes are from my grandmother, others are favourites I've discovered since moving to the UK and having an experimental streak I've baked a couple of new things like the chocolate cardamom cake because I love cardamom. If you're in the area feel free to come by and say hello between 12 and 7pm, and while you're at it you can try author Daniel Young's potato latkes and Niamh Shields aka Eat Like a Girl's roast pork sandwiches too!

Available tomorrow at the Scandi Christmas stall:

* Tropisk aroma or spiced chocolate marble cake replete with nutmeg, cinnamon and a hint of coffee

* Cinnamon buns which may or may not be glazed with marmite salted butter caramel (am looking at you @aforkful and @youngandfoodish )

* Peppernøtter or spice nuts (strictly speaking pepper but there's clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger aplenty in these biscuits)

* Serinakaker or butter biscuits with toasted almonds

* Kokosmakroner or coconut macaroons (gluten-free)

* Nigella's gingerbread - not Scandinavian but so good it merits inclusion

* Cardamom chocolate cake

* Almond Raisin cake with Sherry - recipe courtesy of A forkful of spaghetti :-)

* Whisky cake (gluten free)

* Marmite salted butter caramel - not Scandi but a personal favourite of mine

If you can't make it tomorrow but fancy trying something from this list drop me an email or tweet me @scandilicious and I'll see what I can do to help ;-)

Friday, 4 December 2009

旨味 Umami - get used to hearing that word folks

Umami an amino acid that constitutes the fifth taste after sweet, salt, bitter and sour, is the Next Big Thing. Don't take my word for it, food scientists such as Harold McGee and Herve This and chefs like Heston Blumenthal are all avid proponents of umami, translated into English as 'deliciousness' though frankly it sounds a lot more sexy in its original Japanese form.

I first learnt about umami during my gap year spent in Japan where umami was discovered in 1908 by Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda. Perhaps not surprisingly, umami is commonly known amongst the Japanese and without getting too nerdy, three key substances are now understood to comprise this 'delicious' taste: glutamate, inosinate and guanylate. Different foods have varying degrees of these three substances, and according to last year's Dashi and Umami,they act synergistically, thus augmenting the depth of flavour in foods we eat and giving that moreish taste

As a food anthropologist and as a cook with an experimental streak umami is endlessly fascinating to me. I consider it the universal super taste that amplifies even the most humble dishes to something memorable and have been known to bore friends and loved ones to tears with my nerdy enthusiasm for umami. One French friend refuses to accept umami even exists, but that could be because he is French

Pairing umami-rich foods is a brilliant way to create tasty dishes - fermented, dried and cured foods are especially rich in umami hence Japanese, and Asian cuisines are known to be umami-rich. But as you will see there are plenty of familiar European ingredients, sauces and condiments that give an extra bit of umami flair to your cooking. Think marmite, worcester sauce and ketchup to name but a few storecupboard staples. Needless to say, Scandinavian food is replete with umami - that's why we love our pickled herring, smoked salmon and fermented food in general

Here's a few examples of 旨味 umami hall-of-famers:

* Kombu has the highest natural level of glutamate of any foodstuff, followed closely more familiar ingredients such as:
* Parmesan Cheese (and other mature cheeses such as cheddar, blue cheese, etc)
* Ketchup (tomatoes, and especially the seeds are very high in umami)
* Marmite, Vegemite, Bovril
* Anchovies
* Nam Pla (Thai Fish sauce) and all fermented fish sauces for that matter
* Soy sauce
* Mirin
* Miso
* Chicken bouillon
* Dried mushrooms such as shiitake, porcini and morel
* Cured meat such as chorizo, pepperoni, proscuitto
* Cured fish such as smoked salmon
* Sauerkraut
* Human breast milk (oh yes, squirm away)

Fresh meat, fish, fruit and vegetables also contain umami, but the key with fruit and veg is how ripe they are. The riper the tomato the higher the umami content. This is why 'Italian' food is so delicious (excuse the generalisation, I appreciate there's a lot of regionality to Italian food) -in the south they grow plump tomatoes and eat them or cook these when they're at their ripest, and cook with umami staples such such as anchovies, parmesan, capers and mushrooms

Cheese is another umami bomb - as a general rule of thumb, the more fragrant (read pongy) the cheese, the more explosive the umami. Try experimenting with these ingredients to see if the overall flavour of a dish is boosted. A mushroom risotto will be irresistible even to most committed carnivore if you use loads of parmesan or other mature cheese, and if you're generous with the dried mushrooms like porcini, all the better

So when MsMarmitelover, or doyenne of the Underground Restaurant asked me to sous chef for her on an umami-themed night recently I relished the chance to experiment with different ingredients. You can read about umami night itself on her blog but suffice to say it was great fun working on the menu together and the guests loved what we concocted for them

It seems this dish I came up with was the guests' favourite - MsMarmitelover and I both concur, we considered this our best dish of the night:

Yuzu and shiro miso sea bass ceviche with pickled ginger

Serves 30 as a canape

4 large skinned sea bass fillets
1 cup ponzu sauce (yuzu-infused soy sauce)
1/2 cup tbsp shiro miso paste (white miso)
juice of 8 limes
juice and zest of 1 kaffir lime
handful of chopped umeboshi plums
red pickled ginger julienned for garnish


Mix the ponzu, miso paste and juice of the limes in a medium bowl. Add the kaffir lime zest and juice. Slice the sea bassinto bite-sized slivers and place in the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes and serve with pickled ginger and julienned shiso leaves if you have some

Easy-peasy, and that's umami's magic ;-)

We served it with Akashi Tai sake courtesy of the lovely Wakana

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Recipe from the Blaggers' Banquet - a sumptuous chocolate fondant from Trish Deseine

Much has already been written about the Blaggers' Banquet so I thought I'd share the recipe we were given by chocolatier Trish Deseine for this sumptuous chocolate fondant I made for the dessert component of the banquet. Trish very kindly also donated her moreish 72% chocolate for us to use in the fondants which you see in the photo above

Trish's chocolate fondant is a brilliant mise-en-place dish in that you make it up the day before and it actually improves with time, so if you're wondering what to do for Christmas or New Years I'd recommend foregoing more complicated desserts for this easy-peasy fondant

Trish Deseine's favourite Chocolate Fondant Cake Recipe:

1) Melt 200g Chocolate by Trish 64% cooks chocolate buttons with 200g pure, semi-salted butter in the microwave (honest). Add 180g sugar, stir a bit and let it cool before breaking 5 eggs into the melted chocolate one by one, stirring well after each one.

2) Add a tablespoonful of plain flour and cook at 180° in a floured 22 cm cake tin for 20 minutes or so. Take it out of the oven when it's still wobbly in the middle.

Trust me, it's a chocoholic's bombshell of a dish - I made 10 of them the night before the banquet and I swear the smell of sweet chocolate still suffuses my Bloomsbury flat...

As a final word on the banquet let me extend a huge thank you to the food and drink suppliers I dealt with in the run-up to the banquet who were generous and helpful in equal measure:

Abel & Cole

Barber's 1883 Cheddar


Brockhall Farm

Firefly Tonics

Fish for Thought

Lahloo Tea

Laverstoke Park Farm

Peter's Yard

Riverford Organic


St. John Restaurant

The fundraising for Action Against Hunger continues online, so if you want to save yourself the tedium and stress of Christmas shopping why not bid on some of the fantastic prizes we've blagged for the Ebay auction here

Blaggers Banquet Menu: 15 November 2009

Menu conceived by Signe Skaimsgard Johansen with Charlie Nelson, Neil Rankin and Danny Kingston

Canapés and table nibbles:

by Danny Kingston aka Food Urchin

Fresh goats’ cheese and pomegranate crispbreads with a salty vanilla twist and fresh chives
(Brockhall Farm, Abel & Cole, Peter’s Yard and Halon Mon)

Buffalo mozzarella, tomato and fresh basil brochettes with a pesto dip
(Laverstoke Park, Abel &Cole and Purely Pesto)

Crispy chicken skin bites
(Silfield Farm)

Cheddar Gougeres with thyme
(Barbers 1883, Abel & Cole)

Spicy Bar Mix
(Munchy Seeds)

The canapés were offered with a choice of the following (also available throughout the evening from the bar):

Apple Wood Badger Cider was via Positive PR
Chapel Down Pinot Reserve 2004
Albarino Laga de Bouza 2007 (The Wineaux )
Sipsmith’s Gin martini
Sipsmith’s Vodka Martini
Sipsmith’s Gin or Vodka and Fevertree tonic
The Blaggertini (Sipsmith’s vodka, Chegworth Valley Apple and Raspberry juice. Galliano Balsamico)
Cornish Cocktail (Bramley & Gage Quince Liqueur, Chapel Down Sparkling Wine)
Black Velvet (Chapel Down Sparkling Wine and Porter)
Marston’s Pedigree
Innis & Gunn
Fullers London Pride
Daas White
Chapel Down Brut
Chapel Down Porter
Firefly Tonics
Chegworth Valley Apple Juice
Chegworth Valley Apple and Blackberry Juice


by Charlie Nelson aka Eat My Nels
Monkfish and beetroot tartare with tomato salsa
(Fish for Thought, Abel & Cole)

Paired with:

Brewery Hill Chardonnay/Viognier 2008 (Naked Wines)
Main Course:
by Neil Rankin aka The War on Cookbooks

Grilled buffalo steaks with bearnaise sauce
(Laverstoke Park)

Spiced winter beef stew
(Donald Russell)

Lamb hotpot
(Donald Russell)

served with a selection of seasonal vegetables from Riverford organic and handmade sourdough bread from St John Restaurant

paired with:

Quinta do Lagoalva 2004 (Casa Leal and Viniportugal)
The Pastor's Blend Journey's End 2007


by Signe Skaimsgard Johansen (yes that would be me)

Golden Chocolate Fondant served with Crème Fraiche
(Trish Deseine, Easy Tasty Magic and Sainsburys So Organic)

Titillating Jellies from Bompas & Parr

Paired with:

Lorca Fantasia Malbec 2008 (Naked Wines)
Castello Romitorio Morellino di Scansano 2007 (The Wineaux)


Barbers 1833 Vintage Cheddar
Brockhall Farm Chive Goats Cheese
Trethowans Dairy Gorwydd Caerphilly
A selection of deliciously fragrant cheese from Pong’s (each table had a different cheese)

Served with Peter’s Yard crispbread and a selection of seasonal fruit from Abel & Cole

Paired with:

Albarino Laga de Bouza 2007 (The Wineaux )

And to finish:

Coffee from Square Mile, with milks from Sainsburys and Brockhall Farm
Lahloo Tea
Chocolate truffle by Lahloo tea and Damian Allsop

We also used ingredients throughout the menu donated by the following:

Abel & Cole – herbs
Billingtons – sugar
Halen Mon – flavoured salts
Hill Farm – extra virgin rapeseed oil
Maldon Salt – salt and pepper
Riverford Organic – assorted vegetables
Sainsburys – all dairy produce except cheeses and goats milk
Silfield Farm – chicken used for stock

A final word of thanks goes to Danny, Charlie and Neil for being so unflappable on the day of the banquet - they made a stellar team and I hope we'll get to work together again on the next Blaggers' Banquet!

Photo at top of page courtesy of FoodbyMark