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Pizza

 

I’m quite surprised that I haven’t already posted a recipe for pizza before as it is something I make at least once a month. Why you might ask? Well, I refuse to pay more than £5 for a supermarket pizza when that money could buy a bottle of wine. I am also deeply uncomfortable with the takeaway process.

If I were to order a takeaway pizza I would spend the entire 30 to 60 minute delivery time panicking that the driver had not been able to find my front door or that perhaps my doorbell had broken. Then there is the whole tipping palaver which is why I also hate going to the hairdresser and staying in hotels. Tipping a helmeted delivery boy is not easy. Should I shake his hand? Slip it in his pocket whilst he hands me the pizzas? Wink? All in all it’s much easier to make it myself.

This is a completely bastardised pizza recipe of course. Actual Italians don’t use Wright’s Ciabatta mix, I am sure. Much experimentation over the years had told me that this is by far the best bread mix for pizza. Don’t bother with pre-made pizza bases, they are horrid.

 

So, just open a bag of Ciabatta mix and pour out enough for your needs. To make a pizza to feed four you would need about half a bag. Probably more if you aren’t having salad. Add a glug of olive oil then enough hot water to form a dough, which is not very much water. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes to rise.

Whilst the dough is doing its thing fry a garlic clove in some oil until golden, add some dried oregano and a tablespoon of tomato puree then some balsamic vinegar or red wine. Finally add a tin of chopped tomatoes and simmer for 20 minutes or so then leave to cool.

Once the dough is ready roll it out to a rough square because square pizzas are better than round ones, fact. Top the base with your chilled tomato sauce and whatever else you are using.

Let me talk you through this pizza here which is the invention of my sister Felicity and the best home made pizza ever. It is topped with some roasted and skinned yellow pepper and mozzarella before cooking. It takes about 20 minutes in a hot oven. Once out of the oven add more chunks of mozzarella and strips of Parma ham before flinging over some rocket and a drizzle of oil.

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Mini rose cakes

Little rose-scented cakes with a peachy pink cream cheese icing. Not much more I can say really. I wouldn’t ever recommend more than two in one sitting. Drink with black coffee to offset the tooth-sucking sweetness.

Make a pound cake mix (that’s 125g soft butter, 125g self-raising flour, 125g sugar and two eggs mixed together according to Jane Grigson) with a half teaspoon of rose water added. As you are about to pour the mix into a loaf tin remember that, oh dear, you don’t actually have a loaf tin. Decant the mix into mini cake-thing tin instead and hope for the best. Cook for just 15-20 minutes or so instead of the usual 1 hour at about 180. Make a cream cheese icing with some soft butter, cream cheese and icing sugar. Add rose water and a drop of red food colouring which should give you a light pink colour. In for a penny, in for a pound and all that.

Spiked tomato salad

I am a complete sucker for vintage jam pots and tins from Asian markets. I love anything that looks like it could be at home in Sophie Dahl’s pretend kitchen.

This tin of smoked paprika is a good example. I fell for its packaging and bought it despite not needing any paprika

When I saw Sophie Dahl pick up an identical red jar on her cookery programme a few months later I nearly wet myself. Anyone would think we’d both visited the same spice market in Marrakech. I can’t remember how she used this aromatic powder, I’m sure it enriches stews and the like.

Until recently I had barely used the stuff. When I read something about adding regular paprika to tomatoes I tried the smoked variety in a cherry tomato salad with lots of chopped spring onions with a balsamic dressing. I usually condemn the utterly excessive use of balsamic vinegar which borders on addiction in some of London’s more leafy enclaves, however I made an exception for this salad. Since trying this I haven’t had a tomato salad without paprika in weeks.

Fennel salad

After almost a six month hiatus I am returning to my blog. I have no excuse.

Fennel is not only delicious but also quite beautiful with its crisp pale green flesh and delicate fronds. Flesh seems wholly the wrong word to describe it but I can’t think of an alternative.

I love fennel and eat it often but I tend to have it either as a salad or simply blanched then roasted in the oven. I never fail to cut out fennel recipes from newspapers and I even have one clipping sent from a friend who was lovely enough to remember amongst my many drunken student ramblings a professed love for this particular veg. I still have the clipping I just haven’t ever attempted the recipe.

In the summer I cannot imagine wanting to cook a fennel. Thinly sliced and served with a citrus dressing it is the most lovely thing. All it needs is some crusty bread and as a mid-week supper it is virtuous enough to justify at least two glasses of wine on the side.

For the pictured salad I thinly sliced a fennel by hand. A mandolin makes it too thin and I have Luddite-like belief in my own hands at times. The fennel was immediately dressed with some freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper. I added raisins which had been soaked in hot water and lemon juice, and chopped hazelnuts. Finally a little simple dressing (honey, mustard, white wine vinegar and oil) and the fronds from the fennel were added.

Chilli con Carne

I woke up this morning with a burning desire to make Chilli con Carne.

This isn’t a dish I have ever made before or eaten many times so the sudden impulse was surprising. Sure, I’ve had plenty of average chilli slopped over rapidly softening nachos but it has never been more than a bar snack or an overly heavy starter in a naff Mexican restaurant. Chilli has not meant a great deal to me and I have not meant a great deal to chilli.

The only reason I suddenly needed to make chilli, I realised as I ran my finger down the index of my Good Housekeeping 101 simple suppers (thanks Grandma), is because I stayed up until three in the morning reading The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and at about the point where I could keep my eyes open no longer Tom Rath ate a bowl of Mexican chilli in a dingy restaurant on Sixth Avenue. Better food bloggers than I eat according to the seasons but I eat according to my bookshelf.

It all started with Enid Blyton and a passion for tinned fruit, if not tongue, that I have never managed to shake off. I am ashamed to say I prefer tinned fruit to fresh and I am sure one day my supplies of peaches will sustain me through an adventure on an island frequented by smugglers.

My long and at times rather serious adolescence was characterised by fixations with certain authors, the most sombre of which was Zola. The epic French feasts described were really the only high points in what was otherwise a bit of a misery-fest. Sure, these peasants were trapped in prisons of despair but when they took a break from prostitution, murder and falling off roofs they knew how to eat.

Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim is the reason I drink to excess frequently. Patrick Hamilton introduced me to the joys of Gin and French. I didn’t know what Plovers’ eggs were until I read Brideshead Revisited. Turkish Delight, well that’s a bit of an obvious one.

Maybe this could be my overarching narrative: books and food. I eat my way through the classics. Right, chilli’s ready and I need to fix myself a martini.

Soup

More than two months have passed since my last post. It seems like even longer since I was buckling under the weight of the campest cake ever in a North London pub. I am now holed up in my new flat in Crystal Palace ready to regale any friends who will make the trip south east with tales of burning palaces and dinosaur statues.

Eventually I will buy a table and then people can come for dinner. For now I am just pleased to finally have the internet. It only took eight weeks.

Rest assured, to those who were concerned, that my absence was only due to lack of internet access. I have not stopped eating. Three meals a day and additional snacks is still my routine and I have a shiny new kitchen to make a mess of plus a host of new food shops and restaurants to explore.

One of my New Year’s resolutions that has lasted was to start making soups to take into work for lunch. This has lead to much experimenting with flavours and sieving techniques. I like a smooth soup and when I have cut corners and only liquidised the hot broth I have found the result disappointing on both a textural and a flavour level. Perhaps something in the slow process of pressing liquid and mulch through a fine mesh sieve brings out depth of flavour. 

 My two favourite soups are a Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato and a Butternut Squash, Bacon & Chestnut. It all sounds very Covent Garden but home-made soup tastes so much better than that.

You don’t really need to follow a strict recipe for a soup and I certainly haven’t kept any measurements when I have made them so all I can offer is a rough guide.

Roasting seems to me to be a great way to add depth of flavour if you are lacking the good stock that will elevate your soup to a higher level. If this was the olden days and I had a family then I would be boiling bones all day and I’d have stock coming out of my ears. As it is I use Swiss Bouillon powder because I refuse to use those disgusting plastic sacks of posh stock that look like bags of saline.

The recipes follow.

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I have never liked chocolate cake much which, as a woman, is like saying that I’m not keen on kittens, Brad Pitt or Cheryl Cole (for the record I think kittens are delightful but I’m totally indifferent to Brad and Cheryl). I either find chocolate cake too plain or too rich and I have yet to find a middle ground. Usually, when confronted with this information people want to force-feed me their own version in the hope of changing my mind but trust me it will not. From Sacher Torte to Cadbury’s Flake Cake my universal reaction has always been ‘meh’.

People who like chocolate (I refuse to apply the word ‘chocoholic’ unless you have actually mugged an old lady in order to buy a half-chewed Yorkie) sometimes make moaning noises when they see, say, Chocolate Fudge Cake on a menu. As someone who isn’t sexually attracted to chocolate I can’t tell you how annoying this is. I understand that our tongues taste things differently but there is something of a herd element when it comes to the modern, usually female preoccupation with chocolate. Chocolate has been around for a long time but the claims of addiction and preference over sex/your children/all other food is a new thing. I wonder if there are any other women out there who are willing to put their hands up and admit that whilst chocolate is nice it isn’t worth getting hysterical over.

My friends are all spies.

It was my friend’s birthday party at the weekend and I was in charge of cake-making. When you have a food blog you can’t really avoid these responsibilities. I settled on a red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting despite being advised to make ‘something chocolaty’. I refused to do so. If Dolly Parton was made of cake I like to think she would look like this.

I made the cake late at night so my decision to make four tiers was not an entirely sober one. I chose a recipe from the Epicurious website but used smaller cake tins to make the four tiers instead of two. I used just blueberries between the layers of cake and raspberries on top as I thought it was more visually striking. I also dusted the frosted cake with desiccated coconut in order to cover up my not entirely smooth frosting.

The cake was yummy but I would say the sponge was a bit too dry. I think next time I’ll try more butter and buttermilk. Dry sponge aside this cake was good and it survived the car ride from Clapham to Belsize Park I think purely because of the sheer weight and solidity of it. As they say at Epicurious, definitely a keeper.