Fermented Harissa

Lordy, it's been ages hasn't it? Apologies. I've been super busy getting ready for the launch of Sycamore Seeds, a children's cookery club I'm setting up with my husband James. We'll be at Hornsey Vale Community Centre on Monday afternoons from September 10th but are doing some Summer Taster Sessions before then on August 15th and 22nd. See the Sycamore Seeds page for more details.

fermented harissa hummus

OK. Plug over. What I actually wanted to talk about today was how I I’ve recently jumped on the fermenting bandwagon. Partly because fermented things are straight up delicious but insanely expensive to buy. And partly because I read Dr Michael Mosely’s The Clever Guts Diet. The book isn’t terribly well written (the good doctor is a bit sketchy on some details and not half as witty as he thinks he is) so I can't wholeheartedly recommend it. There are probably better things out there on the same subject, but it's interesting nonetheless. I didn’t know for example that there are neurons in the gut - a “second brain” about the size of a cat’s but arranged in thin sheaths along the walls of the alimentary canal! He’s also reasonably good on the different types of bacteria that live down there.

So, anyway, I finished it determined to get proactive about probiotics (basically the live bacteria in yoghurts, kimchi and other fermented things). And, becasue being preactive isn;t a thing, just to eat more prebiotics (fibre in vegetables, grains etc. that feeds the bacteria in your gut). So decided to get fermenting.

Some experiments have been successful (fermented slaws and krauts, particularly one with turmeric and chillies) and some less so (sweet potato tasted OK but was texturally a bit disgusting and slimy). But my favourite so far has been a fermented “harissa”.

I got the idea from the Winter issue of Saveur but their recipe required a dehydrator so this is a less complex version. It’s still delicious though and good on all sorts of things. I love it on my weekend brunch eggs, with grilled meat or fish, added to salad dressings or stirred into hummus. It keeps for ages in the fridge too and just carries on getting better so it’s well worth making a big batch. This makes a 500ml Kilner jar’s-worth. If that sounds like way too much then just scale it down accordingly.

 

Fermented Harissa

  • 10 red peppers
  • 1 red chilli
  • 3 garlic coves
  • 1 litre warer
  • 4 tbsp salt
  • 1tsp coriander seeds
  • 1tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1tsp cumin seeds
  • 100ml olive oil
  • 1tsp sweet smoked paprika
  • 1tsp hot smoked paprika
  • 2tsp dried chilli flakes

Core and deseed the peppers. Chop them into strips. Cram them, as tightly as possible, into a large jar (or however many receptacles you need) along with the fresh chilli and peeled garlic cloves.

Dissolve the salt in the water and pour over the peppers. They need to be completely covered. Weigh them down with a “pickling pebble”, small jar or plastic bag filled with water. Anything to keep the peppers from bobbing out of the brine and going mouldy. Leave to ferment for 1-2 weeks, tasting occasionally to see when it reaches your preferred level of “tang”.

When the peppers are fermented to your liking, drain them and put in a blender. Blitz to a paste and pour that into a sieve lined with a J-Cloth. Drain for 30 mins or so.

Meanwhile, grind all the whole spices in a spice grinder and put in a small saucepan. Add the olive oil, paprikas and chilli flakes. Heat gently until fragrant then allow to cool.

Return the red pepper paste to the blender and add the spice oil. Blend again until smooth and evenly combined. Taste and add salt if necessary. Store in a sterilised jar in the fridge and eat on everything.

Cold Days Deserve Bright Desserts

In which I attempt to entice the mothers of Muswell Hill, get truly impressive inspiration and declare that There Will Be Blood (Oranges)...

I recently mentioned a partnership with Crouch End Mums and I'm really pleased to announce a similar deal with Muswell Hill Mums. Do please spread the word to any mothers, fathers and similarly busy people in the area.

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The MHMs also got some dinner party tips and a recipe. This time for a make-ahead pudding: a Blood Orange Tart. I'm not sure any citrus dessert can better Theo Randall's peerless Lemon Tart but this is my seasonal variation and it's pretty good if I do say so myself. 

By coincidence, I got some more blood orange inspiration from an incredible meal I ate last weekend. My lovely friend Martha invited me to a gathering held by friends of her family at their stunning house in Scotland. It was the nicest occasion - our hosts were super interesting people who also happen to be very connected in the food world. So our Saturday dinner was cooked by Robin Gill of The Dairy, Sorella and Counter Culture and Lee Westcott of Typing Room.

Yes! I know! I am incredibly lucky!

They did a four course meal (topped and tailed by some beautiful canapés and an extra savoury course at the end): Arctic Char, Scallops, Venison and a dessert of blood orange sorbet with a bay-flavoured panna cotta. I loved the fennel and clementine combination that partnered the char and the scallops were accompanied by paper-thin slices of turnip, compressed and lightly pickled to make them super silky, as well as sweet-sour little spheres of apple. The venison came as a rare-roasted loin and a richly-flavoured stew along with swede ("neeps" since we were in Scotland), brussel tops and golden, nutty artichoke crisps. And the pudding had everyone talking about the use of bay in a sweet dish. 

No! I don't have any pictures! I was too busy enjoying myself. Also, it was dark. Sorry. 

It's hard to pick favourites when talking about food this accomplished but a couple of things stood out for me. The contrast of textures and flavours in the scallop dish was particularly beautiful and the citrus-bay combination in the pudding a revelation. Since I don't have a vacuum sealer so can't go about compressing anything for the moment, it was pretty obvious which idea to steal.

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I had some blood oranges left over from the tart and had been planning on making Gelupo's famous granita. But I wanted to ripple a bright red ribbon through something creamy so went with a sorbet instead. I've also been reading Bee Wilson's very interesting book First Bite about how our attitudes to food are formed. There's a chapter about "nursery food" including much-hated pappy things like rice pudding which actually gave me a craving for the stuff. These musings all coincided with Robin and Lee's panna cotta and this was the result. 

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I know it is not really ice cream weather but a winter pudding doesn't always have to be a suetty hug. Think of this as sunshine on a blustery day. And don't forget ice creams are available as an added extra if you're Freezer Filling!

Blood Orange Sorbet & Bay Rice Cream (Serves 8)

  • 60ml water
  • 40g caster sugar
  • 15g glucose syrup
  • 1g (half a leaf) gelatine
  • 500ml Blood Orange Juice (from approximately 10 oranges)

 

  • 100g pudding or risotto rice
  • 150g sugar
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 750ml whole milk
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 250ml double cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • pinch salt

Before you juice the oranges remove two or three thin strips of zest with a peeler and set them aside for the ice cream. To make the sorbet put the water, sugar and glucose syrup in a pan, bring to a gentle boil, making sure all the sugar is dissolved then remove from the heat. Meanwhile soak the gelatine in a bowl of cold water. When it's soft add it to the syrup. Stir to dissolve then leave to cool completely. Mix the syrup with the orange juice then put in a container and freeze. When completely solid, chop into chunks and whizz in a food processor. It should be an even, Slush Puppy-ish texture but don't do further than this or it'll melt and be icy again when you refreeze it! Transfer to a piping bag and return to the freezer. 

For the ice cream, put the rice and sugar in a pan with the milk. Add the bay leaves and the reserved orange zest. Cook very gently, barely at a simmer, until the rice is soft - at least half an hour, maybe longer. Once the rice is soft, strain everything through a sieve into a bowl. The sieve will catch the rice and flavourings. Remove the bay leaves and orange zest (but keep the bay leaves) then spread the rice out on a plate to cool.

Put the egg yolks in another bowl and whisk them together, Add a little of the milk and whisk again to combine, before adding the rest. Wash the pan, sieve and milk bowl. Pour the egg/milk mixture into the pan and heat gently, stirring constantly, until thickened to a custard that coats the back of a spoon. Strain the custard through the sieve into the clean bowl, add the bay leaves back in, cover with clingfilm to prevent a skin forming and leave to cool (if you can chill it overnight, even better). 

Churn the mixture in an ice cream machine. When nearly done, stir through the rice. 

Take the piping bag of sorbet from the freezer and hit it gently with a rolling pin to soften. Cut a large hole in the tip of the bag (approximately an inch in diameter) . Put a layer of rice cream in a container then pipe on thick swirls of sorbet. Cover with more ice cream and repeat until both mixtures are used up. Freeze until needed. 

Remove from the freezer five minutes before serving. 

If And Ands Were Pots And Pans

You don't have to go to all the faff of marbling the two ices. You could just serve a scoop of each. Or, for a frozen riff on nursery tea, marble jam through the rice cream. Roasted fruit or a compote would be a slightly more sophisticated alternative. 

The bay flavour in the custard will seem really strong, especially if you leave it overnight but remember that everything is diminished slightly by freezing. If you weren't serving it with the sorbet, other flavourings wold work well instead of or as well as the bay. Nutmeg seems the obvious choice but lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves etc. would also be good.

I made long thin tuilles (Leiths recipe) and twirled them round a wooden spoon handle but any biscuit would be a nice accompaniment. Or toasted nuts. 

 

 

 

 

Mum's The Word

In which I welcome in 2018, make a seasonal soufflé and an offer to the mums of Crouch End...

Is it too late to wish you all a Happy New Year? I don't think so. In my book it's OK to remark on the newness of the year until at least the end of January. So. Best wishes for 2018, etc. etc. 

I'm excited to be kicking off a new partnership with Crouch End Mums. Members of their card scheme will be entitled to £75 off their first freezer filling order and £50 thereafter. Good deal, hey?

goats cheese souffle

I also wrote a feature for them about dinner parties. It seems fashionable to sneer at dinner parties these days or imply that they're only for the likes of the super posh. I've read loads of guff from the commenterati about the dreadfulness of seating plans and the awfulness of guests who bring the wrong type of wine and I really don't know what they're talking about. Sitting down to eat nice food with people you like is one of life's great pleasures and really doesn't have to be a hassle. 

Have a look at the piece for some tips and my recipe for Goats Cheese Soufflés with Beetroot & Blood Orange Salad. (The soufflés themselves are based on a Leiths stalwart and totally fool-proof!)

I've also been teaching at Aveqia, an interactive cooking event space near Farringdon which has been great. I'll be offering private lessons soon so watch this space!

Clare HealComment
Sycamore Smyth X BAM Bacon (Part 2)

In which I cook more bacon, deliver Christmas and pay the Ferryman...

Today I bring you the second part of my culinary collaboration with the good people at BAM Food. They were kind enough to send me some of their dry-cured, hot-smoked bacon and I've been playing around with recipes to show it off. Last week I made some sweet potato pancakes to highlight the chilli version and this time round it's the turn of garlic-flavoured rashers.

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It's been quite cold outside. You might have noticed. Or had the fact mentioned in every single conversation you've participated in for the last fortnight. Anyway. I responded to the quite-coldness by making soup. Both the weather and the garlic bacon called for something creamy and comforting, soothing but substantial. This cauliflower and white bean number is incredibly simple to make, keeps out the cold like a cashmere blanket and makes a nice subtle backdrop for crispy bits of garlicky bacon. 

It's all finished off with the lactic sharpness of sour cream and some chopped chives to echo the allium of the bacon. Don't forget some crusty bread for dipping. 

Cauliflower & Cannellini Bean Soup with BAM Garlic Bacon (Serves 4-6)

  • Knob of butter
  • 1 onion
  • 1 cauliflower
  • 400g tin cannellini beans, drained
  • 1ltr chicken stock
  • Squeeze of lemon juice

To serve

  • 4 rashers BAM garlic bacon
  • Sour cream
  • Chives
  • Crusty bread

If Ifs And Ands Were Pots And Pans

  • Any other white bean would work instead of cannellini. They probbaly give the smoothest finish but use whatever's in the cupboard. 
  • Roasting the cauliflower first would give a more robust, nutty flavour. 
  • You don't really need any dairy in the soup as the beans alone give it quite a velvety texture but a dash of cream wouldn't go amiss if you wanted to make it richer, perhaps to serve in small quantities as a starter?

Melt a little butter in a large saucepan. Chop the onion and cook until thoroughly softened and beginning to brown a little round the edges. Add the cauliflower along with the chicken stock and simmer for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile chop the bacon into matchsticks. Put them in a small frying pan and cook until golden brown and beginning to crisp. Use a gentle heat so the fat renders properly. When the cauliflower is soft, pour the contents of the slarge pan into a blender, add the drained beans and whizz until super smooth. Reheat and season with salt, pepper and a little lemon juice. Serve with a swirl of sour cream, the bacon and a sprinkling on finely chopped chives.

Thanks again to BAM Foods. They're doing an exciting-looking Christmas Bacon Box which is definitely worth checking out. 

So what else is going on? It's been a busy week with lots of Christmassy jobs. I dropped off a fully-prepped three course Christmas meal for a client on Saturday and was delighted to get a text the next day proclaiming it  the "BEST ever!!!"

So it's been hard work but worth it. Yet what's the point of being your own boss if you don't take advantage of the flexible hours? I shuffled stuff around on Wednesday in order to make it to a matinee of The Ferryman. Which was excellent. It's had a lot of "play of the year" hype but deservedly so (I think my personal play of the year was Rotterdam but this was a close second). I still get goosebumps thinking about the end to Jerusalem, Jez Butterworth's last play and had an equally physical reaction to the closing moments here.

It's set during the Troubles on a farm in County Armagh and there's a lovely scene in the second act where the whole extended family sit down to a Harvest Feast. There was a goose along with much laughter and dancing. Is it wrong that, even throughout my enjoyment of the play with it's subtle evocation of family dynamics, inescapable threat of the IRA etc, I was wondering what side dishes there were? 


Current Kitchen Listening: The West Wing Weekly

If you're a fan of the West Wing and haven't started listening to this yet then I urge you to do so. The premise is simple: each week Hrishikesh Hirway (who also makes the excellent Song Exploder podcast) and Joshua Malina (who played Will Bailey on the show), discuss an episode. They talk to cast and crew members about their time on the show as well as political lobbyists, speech writers etc. to get an idea about the issues being explored. It's all interesting but the real joy is the chemistry between Hrishi and Joshy. They're super smart and super funny providing both insight and in-jokes.

It's probably my podcast highlight of the week but this is a double edged sword as I'm always a little sad once I've finished listening and I'm deprived of their company for another seven days. I have tickets to see them when they come to London for a live episode next year and am nearly as excited about it as I am about seeing Hamilton. What's Next?

Clare HealComment
Sycamore Smyth X BAM Bacon (Part 1)

In which Christmas comes early, I make pancakes and listen to podcasts...

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling pretty festive. The Christmas Forest tree shop has arrived in Finsbury Park, my husband James has started practising carols on the piano and I’ve got a variety of yuletide feasts to plan for both private and corporate clients.

BAM bacon

Plus I was lucky enough to receive an early present from my friends at BAM Food who produce a range of hand-rubbed, hot-smoked bacon and were kind enough to send me some of their superlative rashers.

You obviously don’t need to guild the lily with bacon as good as this - it makes a fabulous, no-frills sandwich that would see off even the harshest hangover - but I thought it might be fun to create a couple of recipes with a little more to them whilst still giving pride of place to the pork.

I know BAM's co-founder, Jon Doody, from the UK's Chilli Cook Off scene, over which he has presided since 2012. He'd sent me some of their "Naked" bacon but also Chilli and Garlic flavours too so, knowing he's a man not to make false promises when it comes to spice, I couldn't resist starting with the chilli bacon. It's got a kick for sure, but a coquettish chorus line can-can rather than a roundhouse. 

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My early twenties were days when culinary ambitions were often dashed the constant mess and undone washing up of communal kitchens. Back then, a favourite low-maintenance dinner option was a baked sweet potato, the insides with a pinch of chilli flakes and plenty of butter, with a couple of rashers of crisp bacon on the side. This combination of sweet, spicy and salty ticks a lot of boxes for me and I the components seemed ripe for rejigging into a riff on an American breakfast classic.

(Chef’s note: Unless you can be bothered to get up and cook the sweet potatoes from scratch in the morning, I’d do them the night before. You can peel and boil them but baking is probably least fuss. Once they’re soft just slit the skin and scoop out the insides.)

 

Sweet Potato Pancakes with BAM Chilli Bacon and Maple Syrup (makes about 10)

  • 200g cooked sweet potato
  • 1 egg
  • 200ml buttermilk
  • 50g butter, plus extra for frying
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • ¼tsp bicarb
  • Pinch salt

To Serve

  • BAM Chilli Bacon
  • Maple syrup
  • Butter

Set the oven to 100°C - you'll need it to keep things warm. Cook the bacon first and pop it in there on on a kitchen paper-lined plate. Puree the sweet potato or pass it through a sieve into a mixing bowl. Add the egg and buttermilk. Melt the butter in a large frying pan, letting it brown slightly, then tip into the bowl too and whisk 'til everything is well combined. Put the dry ingredients in another bowl and sift over the sweet potato mixture. Gently fold together - it’ll be more like an airy, loose cake mixture than the kind of liquid batter you’d make for Shrove Tuesday. Put the frying pan back on a medium heat and add spoonfuls of the batter in flat dollops about four inches in diameter. Don’t crowd them in the pan or they’ll be difficult to flip - you’ll probably need to do them in two or three batches (keep cooked pancakes warm in the oven). Cook for a couple of minutes 'til golden brown on the bottom and beginning to set on top then carefully flip with a spatula and give them a couple of minutes on the other side. Make up a little stack for everyone, top with a knob of butter, add the chilli bacon and be generous with the maple syrup.

If Ifs And Ands Were Pots And Pans

  • There’s a nice explanation on The Kitchn website about the difference between bicarb and baking powder. Leave out the bicarb if you prefer a more dense, Scotch-type pancake.
  • I’m not sure why you’d want a baconless breakfast but if you were going to leave it out and top the pancakes with yoghurt and fruit or something, a tsp of spice in the batter would be a good addition. Cinnamon or allspice are the obvious contenders.
  • The potatoes add a discernible but subtle sweetness. If you weren’t going serve them with maple syrup (although again, I don’t know why you’d do this) add a couple of tbsp of syrup or caster sugar to the wet ingredients.
  • In her examination of American-style pancakes, the always-reliable Felicity Cloake recommends half-and-half flour and cornmeal, a suggestion from The Pioneer Woman blog. Buckwheat might be an interesting alternative for a slightly nutty, wholewheat vibe. 

I’ll be back soon with another BAM-inspired recipe but in the meantime check out their website. They do a classic “naked” bacon as well as the flavoured versions and a selection of hot sauces too which will definitely be worth trying.

Before I go though, I thought I’d introduce a new section on the blog. I listen to an awful lot of podcasts whilst I’m cooking so thought it would be nice to include some recommendations.


Current Kitchen Listening: Two Shot Podcast

I discovered this in the Observer's recent podcast supplement and have now binge-listened most of the back episodes. The format is simple: Craig Parkinson, best known for playing Matthew "Dot" Cottan in Line Of Duty, puts the kettle on and chats to other actors. But he's got such a knack for intimacy that it's full of thoughtful insight and personal revelation.

Parkinson tends to steer away from specific credits, focusing instead on what got people started in acting and the things they've learned along the way. So although everyone's story is different, after listening for a while a pattern begins to emerge: early inspiration, difficulties overcome, the importance of collaboration etc.

He's a generous interviewer, giving his guests plenty of space to think and talk, but also inviting the listener into the confidences being shared. From his opening greeting - “‘Ello! ‘Ow yer doin’” - you feel genuinely welcomed.

Some of my favourites so far have been the episodes with Neil Morrissey, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Danny Mays but they've all been diverting in their own way. Incidentally, Sanjeev Bhaskar was my first ever celebrity interview as a young journalist. I was clearly nervous and he was very sweet to me but Parkinson makes rather more of their time together...

Sycamore Smyth On Tour

In which I visit New York, go leaf peeping and eat the best noodles ever...

Apologies for the radio silence. I’ve been away. Visiting my brother - overachieving Heal Minor - and his family in New York. Our American cousin was in town too so it was the nicest week, hanging out, catching up, playing with the kids and generally eating our way round Manhattan and Brooklyn. We even made it out to the Hudson Valley for a spot of leaf peepin’.

Leaf Peepshow...

Leaf Peepshow...

Here, in no particular order are some of things I ate:

Russ & Daughters classic bagel

Classic Bagel from Russ & Daughters. Loved watching them hand-carve the salmon (which was delicious and not too smoky - you could really taste the fish) but it was the bagel itself which was the revelation here. Soft and chewy, although less dense than, for example, the famous Brick Lane version, and with a light but pronounced crust which wasn’t like anything I’ve had in the UK. Perhaps I just haven’t been to the right places though? Bagel recommendations appreciated!

I also paid my respects to that other Lower East Side institution Katz’s, stopping in for a Pastrami Reuben and to gawp at the table made famous by *that* scene in When Harry Met Sally. It was huge and delicious but I’m afraid no photographic evidence exists. Incidentally, you don't see Sally's order in the film but this article calls it as a turkey sandwich with Russian dressing on the side (where else?).

Black Ant guacamole

My brother and I went for dinner at a Mexican place called the Black Ant, it’s name not just a whimsical tribute to the Oaxacan insect but a straight-up menu preview. Their house guacamole was some of the best I’ve ever tasted, super creamy and garnished with chopped tomatillos which provided contrasting little bursts of sweet acidity. It was topped with “black ant salt” which was, as the name suggests, salt mixed with crushed black ants. Slightly tangy and genuinely delicious. We also ate some yucca-manchego and grasshopper croquettes which I was less enamoured of. Pretty tasty but if the cheesy centres hadn't been spun though with wiry little pieces of grasshopper, I'm not sure they would have lost anything... But eating insects is the future, right? Probably best to get on board now. This was the least gimmicky and most appealing argument for arthropod delciciousness I’ve come across yet. 

Xian Famous Foods cumin lamb noodles

Possibly my favourite NYC plateful was the Spicy Cumin Lamb Hand-Ripped Noodles at Xian Famous Foods. Broad, study-yet-silky wheat noodles and incredibly fragrant, savoury meat, all slick with chilli oil. We all ate way too much, way too quickly and then went to see magician Derek DelGaudio’s moving magic show In And Of Itself which I can also highly recommend. Those noodles though! I've been actively pining for then since returning home and will be attempting a recreation as soon as possible.

Momofuku Milk Bar crack pie

Another thing I’m definitely going to make at home is Momofuku Milk Bar’s famous Crack Pie. A slice of this oaty-buttery sugar bomb and an espresso kept be going through a stinking cold on a great but possibly-ill-advised 15-mile walk I undertook on my first day in the city. They helpfully provide a recipe on the website so now I just need an appropriate occasion. That and their Cereal Milk Softserve which also contains the trademark Milk Bar hint of salt amongst all the sweet. 

Outer Borough Taiwanese scallion pancake

On my last day we went to the last Smorgasburg food market of the season in Prospect Park to try as many "must-eat" dishes as we could whilst watching hipsters Instagram things served in coconuts. The stand out for me was a Taiwanese-style scallion pancake from Outer Borough, stuffed with popcorn chicken (I think there was Szechuan pepper in the slightly spicy batter) and garnished with herbs and pickled chillies.

That’s by no means everything I ate, just a few of the highlights. The great thing about being a chef is that this all counts as research! Hope you’re all well. I'll be back again soon...

 

Clare HealComment
The heat(ing) is on

In which I finally admit that jumpers alone aren't cutting it, crumble in the face of adversity and launch a competition...

There are two kinds of people in this life. Those who like to bisect the population along arbitrary lines and those who take a more nuanced approach. Also: people who put the central heating on as soon as the temperature drops below 'summer holiday', and radiator refuseniks like me.

In my book, unless the tip of your nose is cold indoors, the thermostat is strictly out of bounds. Yet that day came last week. Which means that not only is it time to raise the household climate to a heady 18°C but Crumble Season has arrived!

I came into a bounty of apples last week, courtesy of my father, so this seemed the only and obvious choice. His tree is a Cox and I’d always rather use eaters than cookers as I like the pieces of fruit to remain distinct rather than collapse into mush. They’re sweeter too, so you don’t need to add so much sugar (none in this case).

Apple Crumble

I left the apples alone on this occasion although blackberries are a welcome addition if you happen to have any. As are raisins. Everyone has their own idea of the perfect crumble and mine has two defining points: slightly tart fruit to contrast with the sweet topping and a crumble that is soggy underneath but craggy on top.

There is much debate about the makeup of the topping itself. I grew up with an oaty crumble, sort of like a loose flapjack, but these days prefer a more traditional flour-based version. I added some ground almonds, cinnamon and crushed amaretti biscuits too because, well - first crumble of the season - why not?

Apple Crumble

  • 1kg(ish) apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • 100g plain flour
  • 125g butter
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 50g amaretti biscuits, crushed
  • 50g caster sugar
  • tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of salt

Set the oven to 180°C. Put the apples in a pan with a squeeze of lemon juice and 2tbsp water. Taste a little piece. If they're very tart add a little sugar. Cook for a couple of minutes until the slices are slightly softened but still holding their shape then transfer to an ovenproof dish. Put the butter and flour in a food processor and pulse until they have reached a course breadcrumb texture. It's good to have a few little pea-sized lumps of butter as this gives the topping texture. Add the almonds, crushed biscuits, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Combine well and tip spread over the apples. Bake for about 40 mins or until golden brown on top and bubbling round the edges. Eat with cream or ice cream. 

If Ifs And Ands Were Pots And Pans

  • Almost any other fruit can be used and won't need cooking first. 
  • Add appropriate spices to the topping: ginger for rhubarb, star anise for plums, vanilla for summer fruit etc.
  • Leave out the almonds and/or amaretti biscuits for a plain and traditional crumble topping. Substitute for the same weight of flour. Or swap in wholemeal flour or some oats for a wholesome, rustic vibe. 

Crumbles freeze perfectly so do let me know if you’d like some added to a freezer filling order. Or if you have a plentifully-cropping apple tree of your own and need a help to bust a glut,  get in touch for a free consultation. I can turn them into crumbles, chutney, crisps or anything else you'd like.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel tart

I’ve also got a bit obsessed with caramel lately so, whilst I was baking, made this chocolate and salted caramel tart. The chocolate filling is to a Leiths recipe and always comes out well, rich and smooth and perfectly set. But I used the caramel from Paul A Young’s Adventures With Chocolate book which is not only easier but more delicious too (I feel bad speaking bad of my alma mater, but I refuse to lie to you about caramel).

To celebrate autumn I'm launching a competition. The winner will get a free dessert of their choice added to their next freezer filling order. All you have to do to enter is both join the mailing list and like the Facebook page before the end of October.

Good luck!

 

Clare HealComment
Southern-Style Hospitality

In which I make radish mushrooms, fishy flowers and audiobook recommendations....

"This most excellent canapé...": Smoked Salmon Roses, Caraway Blinis, Horseradish Crème Fraîche, Dill

"This most excellent canapé...": Smoked Salmon Roses, Caraway Blinis, Horseradish Crème Fraîche, Dill

I had a lovely time last weekend cooking for a 40th birthday party in Crouch End. There were canapés followed by a Deep South-themed buffet for the 25 adults whilst the kids (25 of them too) got hummus and crudités, chicken goujons, sausages and potato wedges. Carrot cake for afters too - the Birthday Boy’s favourite apparently.

(Question: Why, no matter what age a chap is celebrating, he's always the Birthday Boy and never the Birthday Man? Is it because 'The Birthday Man' sounds like he would be a Scandi-noir serial killer?)

"One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow shorter."

"One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow shorter."

I had a moment of madness the night before and decided to make radish mushrooms for the children. I got the idea from Rhik Samadder's review of the Ravanello, a tool designed specifically for whittling radishes into the shape of mushrooms. Which is obviously a wholly pointless thing to do but I was captivated by the Alice In Wonderland vibe and found the same effect was very easily achieved with a spiraliser and tiny melon baller. 

I was too busy to take many photos of the main courses which is sad. To be fair though, pulled pork is delicious but it's very brown and not terribly beautiful to look at. Here is a salad instead. 

I was too busy to take many photos of the main courses which is sad. To be fair though, pulled pork is delicious but it's very brown and not terribly beautiful to look at. Here is a salad instead. 

The food drew plenty of compliments which was gratifying but I think what I enjoyed most was knowing that I’d removed some of the stress from the party hosts. Parties should be fun - it really is fine to like food but not like cooking! 

 

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Incidentally, I was listening to the audio book of Sara Pascoe's Animal whilst I did a lot of the prep for this, particularly whilst rolling up strips of smoked salmon into little rose shapes, and can highly recommend it. She's not only very funny but has really done her research and provides plenty of insight into which bits of our gendered behaviour are evolutionarily engineered and which socially constructed. 

 

 

 

 

For those who are curious, here's the full menu for the party. If you've got an event coming up and would rather spend it talking to your guests than dashing in and out of the kitchen then get in touch for a free menu consultation and quote!

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Preservation Society

In which I add to the cookbookshelf, fall for the leader of the pack(aging) and go glut-busting...

There’s supposed to be a one-in-one-out policy in our house when it comes to books but, fortunately, it’s rarely enforced. Unless my husband James catches me with a tell-tale Daunt bag or is actually present when the Amazon/Hive packages turn up I can usually get away with a “This old thing? I’ve had it for ages…” routine.

Mmmmm. Tax deductible....

Mmmmm. Tax deductible....

Whether new or second hand, fact or fiction, I find books of all types hard to resist. But cook books especially. All that potential deliciousness... I’ve been pretty restrained recently, but I met my new accountant last week and he said I’d be able to claim tax on any food-related books I bought since they legitimately constituted “research”. And what do you think happened after that?

Sweet, Ottolenghi’s new collection of cakes and desserts looked pretty, well, sweet. And I also liked the sound of (Mr. Rocket & Squash) Ed Smith’s On The Side, a celebration of accompaniments. Plus I’ve just received a commission for a Deep South-themed birthday buffet and thought Brad McDonald’s book would provide some inspiration. All three contain plenty of recipes I can’t wait to cook and - just as importantly for me - read beautifully, full of personal stories and evocative descriptions.

New packaging - not too shabby...

New packaging - not too shabby...

I haven’t been able to spend as much time earmarking must-makes as I’d like though since it’s been another busy week. The latest freezer filling orders went out in new packaging - which I think looks jolly smart - and I’m menu-planning for several parties. If you’ve got a special occasion coming, whether an intimate dinner party or larger gathering, why not have a look at the sample menus or get in touch for a free consultation?

I wrote last week about summer’s slide into autumn but how there was still plenty of produce around. It struck me afterwards that plenty of people might have an excess of home-grown fruit and veg but inadequate time to make the most of it. Is this you? Are you burdened with an overabundance of apples or a surfeit of squash? I can help!

courgette crisps, fermented cauliflower, quince chutney

Drop me a line and let me know what you’ve got too much of. I’ll pick it up, transform it into something that keeps, and bring it back again. Fruit crumbles for the freezer, jams, pickles and chutneys. Ferments and kimchee. Fruit or veg crisps. There are all sorts of possibilities.

Pictured here: Courgette Crisps with Smoked Salt & Paprika, Green Chilli & Garlic Fermented Cauliflower and Quince & Saffron Chutney. All better options than letting things rot in the fruitbowl. Let’s bust a glut!

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Sycamore Smyth: Week 1

In which autumn arrives, I extol the virtues of lasagne and celebrate with a cake...

Well, Sycamore Smyth officially launched a week ago and what a week it’s been! I’ve been cooking up a storm (fun), dealing with a few packaging issues that came to light (less so) and learning the rudiments of bookkeeping (gah!).

But the first orders went out and were well received which made me very happy. One client even called to say how emotional she felt after sitting down to lunch with her two-year-old son, an opportunity for quality time made possible by having pre-prepared meals on hand. I felt a bit emotional myself after speaking to her! This is why I started Sycamore Smyth in the first place - to try and make these sort of small but tangible differences to busy people’s days.

The other thing that happened this week is that autumn bustled in, all efficient, and got straight on with the business of throwing leaves all over the floor. Is it just me or was that a slightly abrupt end to summer? Finsbury Park is covered in conkers and there’s a distinct chill in the air. I wore opaque tights for the first time since March and I had to escalate the Coat Level from 'Light Jacket' to 'Trench'.

lasagna

It’s clearly time to turn our minds away from barbecues and towards cosier things. How about lasagne? To my mind, the ultimate comfort food. I love the contrast between deeply flavoured ragù and soothing, creamy béchamel. And of course the layers of pasta make it carb heaven - perfect for when the cold starts to bite (although of course the lighter, courgette noodle version is still delicious). There are four sorts available on my Freezer Filling menu. Have a look and see what you fancy.

There are still traces of summer around though, specifically in the plentiful array of fruit available. My neighbours gave me a couple of bags of greengages which was an unexpected treat. Most ended up as jam, jade-green and subtly flavoured with vanilla and lemon zest. But I was in celebratory mood so saved the last few handfuls for a cake.

Yoghurt Pot Cake is one of the simplest baking recipes there is and works every time. You don’t even need to weigh anything - it can all be measured using the eponymous pot. I remember learning it during the first term at Leiths where it was recommended for anyone going to cater in ski chalets as it rises perfectly, even at high altitude. But I’ve since learned that it’s a family favourite in both France and Italy where it’s considered perfectly acceptable to eat cake for breakfast. It comes out with a lovely moist crumb, is endlessly versatile and easily thrown together in minutes.

Congratulations on your greengagement

Congratulations on your greengagement

I added some vanilla essence to the greengage version and fancied it up with a fennel crumble topping. Then did another one with the bananas that were going brown in the fruit bowl and some chocolate chips that have been sitting around looking a bit bloomy since Christmas. Both were delicious.

Yoghurt Pot Cake

  • 1 (120g) pot yoghurt
  • 1 pot oil
  • 2 pots sugar
  • 3 pots self-raising flour
  • 2 eggs
  • pinch of salt

Heat the oven to 170°C. Lightly oil the inside of a loaf tin and line it with baking paper. Empty the yoghurt into a mixing bowl and rinse the pot. Measure each of the other ingredients using the pot and add them to the bowl. Mix well then pour into the tin and bake for 45-55 mins. Cover the top with foil if it’s getting a bit too brown. The cake is done when a skewer comes out clean.

If Ifs And Ands Were Pots And Pans

  • If you’re adding fruit, about 200g works well. Two bananas (mashed), a couple of handfuls of berries etc. Halve or chop anything bigger than bitesize. About 100g will do for dried fruit, chocolate chips etc. The zest of a lemon or orange works beautifully too. 
  • I used Greek yoghurt and olive oil for the greengage version, added 1tsp of vanilla essence and, before baking, sprinkled over a crumble topping made with 30g each of plain flour, caster sugar and ground almonds, 1 tbsp of olive oil, 1 tbsp lightly crushed fennel seeds and a pinch of salt. It came out really nicely, adding a little bit of texture and an interesting flavour contrast to the fruit, but is by no means essential. The yoghurt was from one of those big pots of Total so I actually used a small water glass to measure everything out. The exact measurements aren't terribly important. As the proportions are right everything will be fine.
  • Plain or even fruity yoghurt will work well too. Any sort of oil is fine too.
  • I put 1tsp of cinnamon in the banana cake and used one potsworth of golden caster sugar and one of dark brown for a ore caramelised flavour.
  • If you use plain flour instead of self-raising, don't forget to add 1tbsp baking powder too. 
  • Experiment and have fun!
Introducing Sycamore Smyth!

Hello and welcome! I'm super excited to be launching my new venture, Sycamore Smyth. 

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It's a private cheffing service offering freezer filling and dinner parties. It's basically for anyone who wants to eat well, but lacks the time or inclination to cook themselves.

I've been catering for private clients since graduating from Leiths last summer, but was simultaneously flirting with other jobs, in both restaurants and offices. With September's back-to-school, new-pencil-case vibe, now seemed like as good a time as any to take the plunge and strike out on my own.

So here we are! The site is very much a work in progress. There's be more pictures and an FAQ section coming soon. But take a look around and feel free to get in touch with any questions or suggestions. It's been a hectic week with its fair share of teething problems but I'm excited. First orders have already gone out and there seems to be at least one satisfied customer: 

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