Archives for the month of: February, 2011

…and whiskers on kittens…

I recently bought myself a new bike, a beautiful sky blue Pashley Poppy. Every time I look at her I sing ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ in my head. Poppy fills the most ordinary bike ride to the pub with delight; there’s something uplifting about the spring-like colour and the way you have to sit very upright, like you’re extremely proud of owning her. And this sort of quiet joy, I think, is key to surviving February. Because February is the kind of month where every time you leave the house, you’re disappointed anew by the coating drizzle, seeping into your clothing like the realisation that summer is many long, grey months away. With this sort of challenge to the spirits, it helps to make the ordinary more celebratory. And why not start with breakfast?

Since entering this business that is catering, Tom and I rarely get to have breakfast together anymore (except for the odd hasty Sunday bowl of porridge). But then I’m often stumbling around, crease-faced and dressing-gown-swathed, long after most people have departed for the office, so don’t feel too sorry for me.  I’m also a little slow in the mornings, which is perhaps why it took me so many unthrilling breakfasts of muesli or toast and marmalade which, nice as they were, passed unremarkably, until one day a couple of weeks ago some synapses connected in my pre-caffeinated brain and said, loudly, ‘pancakes!’ (I’m not a neurological expert, but I’m pretty sure that’s how my brain works). So I sprang into action, relatively speaking – one of the glorious things about pancakes is that even in a poorly stocked household you’ll have all the ingredients already – and I haven’t looked back. Cooking pancakes for yourself alone is, for me, just on the right side of self-indulgent – it’s not really necessary, but it feels in some way fortifying. It’s sufficiently more effort than pressing down the toaster button that you feel like you’re doing something nice for yourself, but it’s not so difficult that it can’t be managed while the coffee brews.

I have my favourite pancakes, which are an undeniably heavy (though I prefer to think of it as sustaining) banana and buckwheat combination. These are quite different, sort of wholesome and light. The recipe is one I cut out from Waitrose Food Illustrated, before its much more rubbish incarnation as Waitrose Kitchen, and which, I believe, originated with Miss Sophie Dahl. Apparently her TV programme was infuriating, but I never saw it, so I can enjoy her pancakes with impunity. I had a half tub of ricotta in the fridge which worked perfectly with the halved recipe (and if you feel like making your own ricotta, see my earlier post).

Spelt and ricotta pancakes

Makes 4 pancakes to serve 2, or 1 very hungry person

125g ricotta
2 tbsp milk
1 egg, separated
40g spelt flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp lemon zest, optional (I wasn’t organised enough to have lemons, so I left it out)
1/2 tbsp maple syrup, plus extra to serve
oil or butter, for the pan

Combine the ricotta, milk and egg yolk in a large bowl. Stir in the flour and baking powder.

Whisk the egg white to stiff peaks in a separate bowl, and fold into the first bowl. Add the lemon zest, if using, and maple syrup, and stir in.

Heat a little oil or butter in a frying pan and drop in dollops of batter, about one large tablespoon per pancake. Cook for a couple of minutes per side.

Serve with more maple syrup and whatever suitable fruit you have on hand. Banana is always my first choice.

Any remaining batter is fine kept in the fridge overnight and used the next day – it separates a bit, but will come together again with a quick stir.

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Things I like this week:

Awesome necklaces. (I particularly like the moustache and the Pegasus)
Sea of Bees gig at the Old Bookbinders.
Oxford getting an independent record shop again.
Banana-buckwheat pancakes for breakfast.
And these rice crispy cakes.

Nothing with ‘rice crispy’ in the title can really be called sophisticated, but these are a slightly more grown-up version of the rice crispy cakes that you probably remember from formative cooking experiences with a bowl of chocolate, a packet of cereal and some paper cases. They’re a bit crunchy, a bit chewy, but mainly they taste of sugary peanut butter. My childhood self would never have gone anywhere near these due to textural issues with anything spreadable that wasn’t marmite, but I know better now.

Peanut butter rice crispy cakes

Makes 8 big bars or 12 more child-sized portions

200ml peanut butter, smooth or crunchy
200ml maple syrup, honey, agave nectar or a combination
1 tsp fine-grain sea salt (if your peanut butter is unsalted)
110g crispy rice cereal (Kallo does a wholegrain one)

Combine the peanut butter, sweetener and salt (if using) in a saucepan large enough for all the ingredients and stir over a low heat until smooth and melted (obviously if you’re using crunchy peanut butter, it won’t be completely smooth). Add the cereal and stir to coat. It will seem like a high cereal to syrup ratio at first, but after a good mix it should be well covered. Transfer to a 20cm square tin and press in firmly with the back of a wooden spoon. Refrigerate until completely cold and set.

Adapted from ‘Super Natural Cooking’ by Heidi Swanson

After literally years of begging, I finally got an ice-cream machine for Christmas. The arguments against, running for the aforementioned dismal ice-cream machine-less years: we have a very small kitchen, and it’s already overfull of infrequently used equipment. Being able to access pints of ice-cream within minutes at all times cannot be a good idea, medically speaking. The novelty will quickly wear off and it will end up like the juicer, in the graveyard cupboard of tired-of gadgetry.

Well, having been in possession of the Magimix Le Glacier 1.5 for over a month now, I can refute those arguments thus: 1) most of it lives neatly in the freezer, with the actual plug in bit taking up a relatively small amount of space in a cupboard. Plus, the bowl doubles as a handy ice-bucket! 2) Friends! Friends will come round and eat ice-cream. 3) I have already been through my extensive cookbook collection and made a list of every single ice-cream flavour I hope to make. The list currently stands at 50+ flavours. Does this sound like the action of a person for whom the novelty is wearing off?*

Number one on my list was a flavour that we thought we’d invented, and were busily patting ourselves on the back for our genius when I discovered a recipe for it in Snowflakes & Schnapps by Jane Lawson, a beautiful if somewhat over produced book I’d never quite got round to using. It’s so good that I instantly gave up any thought of making up my own, although I do think there’s room for improvement in the form of additional chunks of actual gingerbread/ginger cake. Incidentally, some friends came over a few days after I made it and brought chocolate mousse. The chocolate mousse and leftover gingerbread ice-cream came together in the hands of fate and lo, it was good.

Gingerbread ice-cream

Makes about 1.5 litres

375ml whole milk
500ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice (I left this out as I had none)
a small pinch ground cloves
8 egg yolks
1 1/2 tbsp molasses (I used blackstrap)
95g soft brown sugar

Put the milk, cream, vanilla and spices in a saucepan and bring just to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Take off the heat, cover, and set aside for 15 minutes. Strain through a sieve into a bowl.

Whisk the egg yolks, molasses and brown sugar together, then gradually whisk in the milk mixture (or the other way round, if you only have one large mixing bowl and used it for the first bit). Pour the lot into a clean saucepan and cook over a low-medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until it thickens to spoon-coating consistency. Cool slightly, then refrigerate until cold and churn in ice-cream machine.

From ‘Snowflakes and Schnapps’ by Jane Lawson

*I reserve the right to tire of the ice-cream machine and start buying in Ben & Jerry’s at any point subsequent to this post.