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One Vine Day

In which I attempt to be entrepreneurial, teach at Borough Kitchen and make dolmades…

I’m sure you noticed that we’ve had some weather recently. Scroll to the end for my dolmades recipe that works either as a light snack in the summer sunshine or comforting ballast should it turn to rain.

Harringay Local Store

In the meantime, I’m very bad at self promotion but here goes: the BIG NEWS of the last few weeks is that my ready meals are available in the lovely Harringay Local Store on Green Lanes and will be coming to the Deli At 80 as of next week. There’s a rotating selection of dishes each week (check my Instagram to find out what’s on the menu) and its a chance for north Londoners to try my food without committing to a whole freezer fill.

Good And Ready Meals

This sort of go-getting entrepreneurialism really doesn’t come naturally to me so I owe thanks to the proprietors of these lovely local institutions for being so welcoming and encouraging when I approached them. I hope to expand my range of stockists soon so will keep you informed.

I’ve also been teaching a lot at the Borough Kitchen Cook Schools. Confusingly, nether of these are based in Borough, which is home to the original fancy pan shop, but in the sister shops in Hampstead and Chiswick. The pasta and fish classes are my particular favourites to teach but they’re all a lot of fun. Get in touch if you want to know which precise classes I’ll be teaching over the next few months or to arrange a private lesson in the comfort of your own home.


Dolmades

dolmades

I let the domain subscription on my old Clare Cooks blog lapse recently. Most of the photography on it was terrible but I stand by the recipes so I’ll be reposting some of them here as the opportunity arises. I made some dolmades the other day so it seemed like a good time to revisit this one.

I think my platonic ideal of a dolma is lemony, herby, spiced but not overwhelmingly so, and studded with solid little pinenuts and plump sultanas. I like the versions with meat but have kept these veggie as the real pleasure of the things is textural: soft rice in a taut leaf wrapper.

I make no pretence of authenticity. My recipe contains saffron in an attempt to recreate a version my husband James and I ate on the last night of our honeymoon at a lovely restaurant called Ochre in Oia, Santorini’s prime spot for sunset-botherers. They specialised in putting a modern twist on traditional Greek classics. I don’t generally think it’s a cuisine that benefits from being fancied-around with, but they did it quite sensitively and I was particularly taken with their dolmades. Let me know of you give it a try!

Ingredients

  • 60 (or so) vine leaves

  • 3 tbsp olive oil

  • 1 onion, finely chopped

  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed

  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

  • 1 tsp ground cumin

  • 200g rice

  • 50g pine nuts

  • 50g sultanas

  • generous pinch saffron

  • 1 lemon

  • handful dill fronds, finely chopped

  • handful parsley leaves, finely chopped

  • 1 litre vegetable stock 

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 200C/gas mark 6. If you’re using fresh leaves, have a sinkful of cold water and a pan of boiling water ready. Snip the leaves off their stalks, wash them in the sink, stack into piles of roughly 20 and blanch for a minute. Put them back into the the cold water then drain and set aside. (Piling them up before blanching means they’re orderly when it comes to rolling.)

  2. Soften the onion in the oil over a low heat. Don’t let it brown.

  3. Meanwhile toast the pinenuts in a dry frying pan over a medium heat or on a baking tray in the oven. It will only take a couple of minutes so watch carefully and transfer to a bowl as soon as they begin to go golden and smell nutty. Also put the sultanas and saffron threads in a small bowl and add enough boiling water to cover.

  4. When the onion is translucent and tender (about 10 minutes) add the garlic and spices. Let them cook for a minute until fragrant. Then add the rice, stir to coat it in oil and cook for another five minutes.

  5. Add the pinenuts, the sultanas in their saffron water and 300ml water. Put a lid on the pan and let the rice cook for about 15 minutes. You want it soft but still a bit chalky in the middle. Check as it goes and add more water if necessary. When it’s ready, stir in the lemon zest, fresh herbs and a few grindings of black pepper.

  6. Wait until cool enough to handle and then make your rolls. Lay a vine leaf on a chopping board and put a small amount of filling just above where the stalk used to be. A teaspoonful is plenty for a small leaf, a big one can take up to two. Roll once from the bottom then fold in the sides before continuing to the top. They should be firm but not too tight as the rice will continue to swell whilst cooking.

  7. Lay them in a neat layer in a baking dish. Anthony Worral Thompson (That well-known expert in Greek food) advocates putting a layer of sliced tomatoes underneath to stop them sticking which I think is a nice idea (like I said, authenticity isn’t my game here).

  8. When they’re all done, squeeze over the lemon juice, add enough stock so the dolmades are just submerged, cover with foil and cook for 45 minutes. Allow them to cool to room temperature then drizzle with more oil before serving.

If Ifs And Ands Were Pots And Pans

  • If you want meat dolmades then add 200g mince just after the garlic and spices and brown before adding the rice.

  • Consider other herbs, especially oregano or mint.

  • Chopped walnuts would make an interesting, slightly more bitter, alternative to pine nuts.

  • No vine leaves? Try savoy cabbage.

  • A tabbouleh-style bulgar wheat filling would be lighter than rice.


Current kitchen listening: ANTHROPOCENE REVIEWED

I discovered this via the always-fascinating 99% Invisible and binged the whole lot in a day. John Green (whose novels I have not read but which include The Fault In Our Stars) muses on various aspects of the human era and rates them on a five star scale. It’s full of interesting facts and I love his wistful humour. The most recent episode includes an evaluation of Sycamore Trees which was all the prompting I needed to commend it to your ears.

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. 

 

 

 

 

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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