Pizza joy

A pizza is very easy to get hold of. One can head to the local takeaway, or to a restaurant, be it a chain or single business, or pick up a slice from a street vendor, depending on which country one is in. Some may be disappointing, others may be delicious, but they're all just there in easy reach, a short distance from your home.

This pizza's availability is a little closer (in your own kitchen) and dare I say it, cheaper too. It's from Jamie's Italy by Jamie Oliver, a cook book I am working my way through in what is turning out to be a year of mainly Italian food. You should be able to make a batch of pizzas from this recipe.

Firstly, you make your pizza dough: get a kilo of strong white bread flour, one level tablespoon of salt (a tablespoon? [Really, you don't need to use that much if you don't feel like it]), two 7 gram sachets of dried yeast, a table spoon of golden caster sugar (ditto as per the salt. [I really haven't noticed the difference in the two attempts I've made at this recipe]) and a pint of tepid water.

Add the sugar and yeast to the water and leave for a few moments, while you place the sugar, salt and flour into a large bowl. Once the yeast and sugar have bubbled up, add this to the flour and get to mixing and kneading for a little over ten minutes. Roll this dough into a ball, cover with clingfilm or a tea towel and leave for at least 15 minutes, during which time you can make some tomato sauce.

Heat a saucepan, add a little olive oil and fry a finely sliced clove of garlic for a few moments. To this by now golden garlic, add a handful of basil leaves, two tins of plum tomatoes and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook on a low heat for about twenty minutes, mashing the tomatoes as you go, after which, let it cool.

Now get back to your dough. Divide the slightly risen ball into six smaller batches. Take one of these, lightly dust your work surface with flour and roll the ball out until you have a vague circle of dough that is about half a centimetre or a quarter inch thick. Now, it's topping time; while you do this next step, turn your oven onto 200ºC.

Regarding toppings, the world is your oyster. You have the tomato sauce. You will have acquired some mozzarella cheese. Really, you could stop there, add both and make a lovely margherita pizza, but let's not stop there this time: this is a variation I could never quite trust in any establishment until now, as it involves an egg on the surface.

You will need: six table spoons of tomato sauce; two baby artichokes from a jar; three slices of prosciutto; a handful of stoned olives; one egg, 85 grams of mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper.

Spread the tomato sauce over the pizza base. Onto this, scatter the torn artichoke pieces, over which you lay the prosciutto slices and the olives. Crack over the egg. Place torn pieces of mozzarella everywhere you see a gap. Drizzle with a little oil then season with the salt and pepper. The oven should be hot by now; place it in and cook until crisp and golden.


After! And lots of it, too...

You will have one delicious pizza. But then you'll look in your dough bowl and remember that you have five balls to go. No matter; continue cooking. You may feel that the first pizza didn't quite go as it should and you'd like another attempt. You may find that you are with others who may just want a pizza of their own. Or you may realise, like me, that you'd like to eat this all week. (This is how I tend to eat: one dish cooked in bulk, to reheat during the coming week, at home or work with little fuss.) While you're doing this, consider the may other toppings that you could try later.

In any case, you can set up a pizza production line, to be consumed right there and then, or to cool and be frozen, for defrosting and heating up at a later time. In any case, you now have your pizza; easy to get hold of, in your own kitchen.

Finger lickin' good

The blog has been looking a little unloved this week.  Busy busy, and hardly any time to cook.  But I do have a quick hit and run recipe to drop off in between trips: yesterday Newcastle, today Edinburgh, and tomorrow Barbados!  My travels are varied and interesting, what can I say.  Hoping to pick up some culinary inspiration while I'm away - maybe for some good fish dishes, since they are something I rarely prepare at home.  However, my recipe for this week is not fish but fowl.

And something which sounds like a kids' meal, or something to be purchased at KFC.  But hear me out.  Making chicken fingers yourself is so much more satisfying (and hopefully a little less artery-clogging!) than heading to the closest fast food restaurant.  It's also possible to make without the help of a Dutch oven (which I admit I had to look up).  A deep pot with reasonably thick walls should do the trick.  You can play around with the spices you use as well.  I stuck with the ones in the recipe, but adding chili flakes might be an interesting twist.

The quantities below should serve around 6 people.  I was cooking for two so I ended up with way more of the flour mixture than I needed.  I also read the recipe incorrectly and added the flour to all the spices before coating the chicken in them rather than after.  So, one to make again and refine a bit further.  But they were still delicious.

Chicken fingers
(adapted from Saveur)

2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1½ tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dry mustard powder
1 cup flour
4 eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups finely ground fresh breadcrumbs
canola or vegetable oil, for frying

In a medium bowl, toss together chicken, sugar, salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika, and mustard; set aside. Place flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs in 3 separate shallow dishes; set aside. Pour oil to a depth of 2" (although I did this with less and it worked fine) into a 6-qt. Dutch oven and heat over medium-high heat.

Working in batches, coat the chicken in flour, shaking off the excess, and dip in eggs.  Then coat in breadcrumbs. Fry chicken until golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining chicken. Serve with a green salad and some mayonnaise, ketchup, or if you're feeling ambitious, the recipe I used for this gives instructions for a rather nice looking dipping sauce.  Just because I was too lazy to attempt it, doesn't mean that you should be!


Must be something about Sundays

I was racing to the finish last night as I wanted to get my blog posted before the new week started.  As I typed and kept saving, up popped not one, but two other blogs and as soon as I'd posted, a fourth one appeared almost immediately.  And among us, we could have  had a good meal of what was there:  everything from soup (pea) to nuts (peanut butter) with  a vegetarian option (pasta) and two entrees for choice.  It was a good feeling of camaraderie to be doing the same thing in different places simultaneously.  I enjoyed it anyway.  Thank you fellow bloggers all!


Two or three things I know about slow cookers - short ribs or pork shoulder, for instance!

We received a slow cooker as a wedding gift back in 2001. It sat in its box for a few years before I decided to give it a try. I had a book of slow cooker recipes, mostly for rather uninspiring stew-like things.

Norman found a better recipe book in a local bookstore, and I began to get more into the spirit of things. Still, it always bothered me that so many involved complicated prep. I wanted one of two things from my slow cooker. Either it should be possible to bung stuff in with minimal prep and eat it later, or it should make things possible that wouldn’t otherwise be possible or would be much more difficult.

I found the answer to the latter requirement in slow-cooker cannelloni. I like cannelloni, but it’s a pain to make. But by modifying a recipe in the book, I found that you can stuff dry tubes with ricotta and spinach, put them in the bottom of the slow cooker, smother with diced or pulverized tomatoes from a tin, throw in a bit of oregano, and leave them for a couple of hours. That worked.

I was having more difficulty with the former type of recipe. Most called for stuff to be cooked before it went in. Well, if I’m going to do all that work on the stovetop, what’s the point of the slow cooker?

The other day at the market, we were chatting with the woman who works at the new butcher shop near the entrance. (She used to work at another market stall, but when one of the guys who worked with  her opened his own business, she went to work for him. In her previous job, she was rather grumpy and now she is clearly happier and often stops to chat.) She suggested we try some short ribs. She said she browned them a bit and cooked them in the oven in beer for a couple of hours. It sounded like something one could try in the slow cooker.

So we bought two sets of short ribs, cut them each in half, and browned them. Into the slow cooker they went, with a large can of beer mixed with a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, some onions cut in quarters, and a couple of bay leaves. Five hours later we ate them and they were wonderful.

Today I am trying a pork shoulder. I didn’t even brown it first. I don’t think it will matter much. I’ve given it the same beer-mustard-onion-bay-leaf treatment and so far, it smells wonderful. If all goes according to plan, I will shred the meat into a version of pulled pork and serve it with barbeque sauce.

Anyway, here is what I am starting to understand about slow cookers.

1. Meat works better if it has bones in it. After a few hours, the meat falls off the bones anyway, but things like boneless chicken breasts never get the same consistency.
2. Beer is really good for tenderizing meat and doesn’t taste beery when the cooking process is complete.
3. It is possible to do minimal prep for maximal effect.

As Peg Bracken once said, “Don’t just do something, sit there.” My sentiments, exactly.

Goulash - nationality not important

Goulash could be a variation on the beige sweater

Ever notice how you tend to buy variations of the same garment over and over?  In my case it's 3/4 sleeve, silvery beige/oyster/gold  short cardigans.  I have many and yet not enough and whenever I see a new one with perhaps some detail that I hadn't seen on a previous one, I add it to the collection.  And yes, I wear them all.  I love them.  They are comfort wardrobe.

In the same way, I go for recipes with similar ingredients and if you can't tell by what I've posted (with perhaps an exception or two) then I'll have to hit you over the head with it again tonight.  I eat desserts but I can't make them (will work on this for the blog though).  I use a bread maker but am inspired to try Jonathan's recipe since it looks like something I could manage.  Emily leaves me gasping, both for the complexity of some of  her recipes and for the extraordinary photography.  Rochelle's chocolate mousse and Sal's Awesomeness, Pippa's celery or cauliflower: all are on my list to make now as they make them look like something we must not die without trying. And I'm still waiting for Stevie to weigh in with her Banoffee pie! Kit is addicted and it's a wonderful and quintessentially English pud.

But if I'm going to stay in my comfort zone for now, and I am, then it has to be the one-pot simple option for a supper meal. 

What do you think of when you hear the word 'goulash'?  I think Hungarian and then I think meatballs but I don't know that the latter is really part of it.  Goulash is or can be as American as apple pie and is called Beefy Mac, American chop suey (contradiction in terms there), Johnny Marzetti (huh?) or, of course, American Goulash as they wouldn't let the Hungarians take credit for something they think they do so well.  And actually they do, or this recipe which is American, makes it simple and very good.  Great for a Sunday night supper in fact, which is what Kit and I have just finished. 

500g lean beef mince (turkey is fine too in this case)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
375ml water
250ml passata or napoletana sauce
400g tin tomatoes
1 ½ tbsp soy sauce
1tbsp Italian seasoning
2 bay leaves
150g dry elbow macaroni (I used rotelline since I had no macaroni.  It worked just as well).

And the glass of wine is in there to encourage the cook!

In a large pan on the hob, cook the mince until brown and then add onion and garlic and cook until onions are translucent.  Stir in water, tomato sauce, tin of tomatoes, soy sauce, and spices.  Bring to a boil over a medium heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the pasta, cover and cook for another 20 minutes until the pasta is soft.

Great on its own but chutney is a good condiment and crusty bread goes well with most things.

A real pea souper

I've always been cautious when it comes to devising my own recipes.  My rule of thumb is to make the recipe as written the first time, and then play around with it after that.  But somehow I rarely get to the experimentation stage where I start substituting most of the ingredients and thinking about what would work better.  This is part of why I started the blog: to develop my own style of cooking that isn't just cribbed from someone else.  So yesterday I devised my own cookies (coconut, maple and chocolate chip - they need some refining, but I'm sure will show up in a future entry).  And today, an improvised pea soup from the ingredients I could find in the house.  Adapted from a recipe I found in the Saturday Times a few years ago, but different enough that I'm going to claim some of the credit for it!  Very easy to make, but so delicious.

Pea and basil soup

2 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots (or one red onion), sliced
450g frozen or fresh peas (I think frozen probably work best, unless you have an hour to devote to shelling pea pods)
4 tbsp torn basil
2 tbsp dry white wine
400-450ml vegetable stock
80g pea shoots (go substitution crazy here - the recipe called for spinach, but I had pea shoots in the house and thought it would enhance the flavour of the peas nicely.  I think rocket would also work)
salt and pepper, to taste
200ml creme fraiche 
2 slices parma ham

To make the soup, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan.  Add the shallots, and cook over a medium heat until soft but not browned.  This takes about 5-7 minutes.  Add the peas and the basil, and cook for another 2 minutes or so.  Then pour in the wine, and cook until it has bubbled and reduced.  Pour in enough stock to just cover the peas, and then bring to the boil.  Add your salad leaves of choice, and cook until they have wilted.

At this point you can either blend your soup in a food processor, or using a hand mixer.  I would recommend adding one of the latter to your kitchen inventory, if you don't have one already.  They are so useful, and save you having to wash up all the fiddly bits attached to a proper blender.  The original recipe suggested that you sieve the mixture after you have blended it in order to remove the lumps.  But I like a bit of texture in my soup, so I stopped at this point.  To finish it off, add the seasoning and the creme fraiche, and stir until mixed.  Toppings are entirely up to you - I fried some parma ham slices and added some fresh basil which worked well, but I'm sure there are other things you could add.  Or just eat it unadorned.  It's certainly good enough for that.

Comfort(able) Food: Mac & Cheese and Peanut Butter & Oreo Pie

Random Monday plans got accidentally rescheduled into Valentine's Day plans, and it seemed like the perfect excuse to deploy two of my favourite, and most completely indulgent, comfort food recipes.

I call this comfortable food because I've made it so often I don't need recipes; and of course it's delicious. I don't believe there's any such thing as unhealthy food - all things in moderation, and what might not be good for the body is more than likely good for the soul.

Dessert comes after the main course, of course, but the pie needs at least three hours in the fridge, preferably more, so that comes first. HOWEVER, I should point out that serving both of these for the same meal makes for a very rich very filling dinner.

And so, without further ado:

Peanut Butter & Oreo Pie
This is adapted from an original recipe by the glorious Pioneer Woman (who also has an utterly incredible mac & cheese recipe of her own - her site is well worth a roam). These measurements make six generous mini pies in creme-brulee style ramekins and ought to be enough for one plate-size pie.

1 packet of Oreos (in the UK the basic pack that I've seen in most supermarkets contain 15 - if you're using more adjust accordingly)
100g of butter (margarine works fine)
100g of peanut butter (crunchy or smooth according to taste - most people I know are quite firm in their preference)
150g of cream cheese
75g of icing sugar (this avoids the pie being too overwhelmingly sweet - adjust for taste, you'll probably want a bit more sugar if you're using crunchy peanut butter).
100ml of single cream

If you have a food processor (and can be bothered cleaning it afterwards), use it to crush the Oreos. Or, do what I do and improvise a pestle and mortar with a mixing bowl and (clean) wine bottle...

Blend until the white filling has been mixed in with the biscuit crumbs. 
Melt the butter, mix into the biscuit crumble.
Spread the mix onto your dish(es). (Pro tip: if you're using little ramekins, the bottom of a small glass does a perfect job of flattening the pie base; if you're using a pie dish, anything flat and round slightly smaller than the dish circumference - pan, plate, whatever).
Bake for 5 minutes.
Leave to cool.
I'm impatient, so I put them outside (and stood guard for seagulls).

Mix the peanut butter and cream cheese together.
If this photo grosses you out, this is probably not the recipe for you.

Add the cream and sugar a bit at a time, checking for taste and texture (you want it stiff enough to keep it's shape but not an effort to spread).
Mix thoroughly.
When the base is completely cool, spoon the mixture on and smooth over.

Refrigerate for at least three hours. The topping sets quite quickly, but the longer you leave it, the more the base softens - it's just as tasty but harder to serve and eat when the base is still crispy, but if you prefer it that way then serve within a couple of hours. I've eaten this after nearly a week in the fridge - much softer, still good! It's never lasted long enough to go off but I'd say a week is probably as long as you want to leave it.


Mac & Cheese
[Notes: a) The photos here are of me making an industrial sized double portion for several meals including a potluck, so don't use them as a gauge; b) I have never in my life actually measured the quantities of anything that goes into this, so the amounts below are my best estimates - adjust according to taste. c) The veg is entirely optional. Also delicious with bacon (with or without the veg too).]

1 packet of macaroni (usually 500g) (I've made this with all kinds of pasta imaginable, but the particular texture of the macaroni really is best)
Approx 300g of mature cheddar (or roughly 150g each of mature and extra mature for a sharper taste - using only extra mature doesn't work as well, I find, as it doesn't blend quite so smoothly)
1 veg stock cube
1 small onion (optional)
Garlic according to taste - I'd probably use 4 or 5 cloves, but I really like garlic (optional)
150g of mushrooms (optional)
3 tablespoons of plain flour - approximately, adjust as you prepare the sauce to achieve the texture described below.
50g of butter (margarine works fine too)
150ml of milk (I use semi skimmed but whatever you have in the fridge!)
Dijon mustard (about 3 teaspoons but this is very much a matter of taste)
Breadcrumbs (probably a few tablespoons but this'll depend on the surface area of the dish you use)
Black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 200c.
Boil the water for the pasta, with the stock cube.
Chop the vegetables into roughly macaroni-sized pieces.

Fry the vegetables over a medium heat. A dab of the butter or a small amount of olive oil will work equally well.
Cook the macaroni - stirring regularly (it sticks much more than other types of pasta), until it's just shy of done - it should be soft enough to bend rather than break when pressed, but still firm. It will cook more in the sauce in the oven.
Here's a nifty trick that makes it extra awesome: drain the water from the pasta into a bowl and set aside. You'll use it for the sauce, which makes it lighter than using milk but thicker and more flavourful than just water or stock (this is true of all pasta sauces).

The vegetables should be ready about the same time as the pasta - you want them fully soft but not browning. Put both into the dish you'll be baking the mac & cheese in. Add a dab of butter or marge to stop the pasta congealing.
To make the sauce (if this explanation doesn't work for you, look up how to make béchamel - don't let the fancy cuisine word alarm you, it's just cheese sauce!):
If the cheese isn't grated already, grate it now, set aside.

Melt the butter in the bottom of a saucepan on a low/medium heat.
When it's completely melted but before it starts sizzling, lift off the heat, and slowly add the flour, mixing vigourously. You should end up with a gold-ish-coloured mix with no excess moisture - it's rather hard to explain, but I'd say it has the rough consistency of pureed veg, maybe a bit dryer.
Let this mixture cook, stirring continuously. Keep an eye on the heat - don't let it burn or stick.
Slowly add the milk, still stirring to keep the mixture as smooth as possible. Don't panic if you end up with lumps, they're usually quite easy to break down. The mixture will thicken as you stir.
Slowly add the pasta water - you probably won't need all of it - until the sauce has the consistency of thick soup.
Add about a third of the grated cheese, stir until melted.
Add mustard. Like I said, I use about three teaspoons, but it's entirely a matter of taste. If you've never made it before, go a teaspoon at a time and taste, bearing in mind you'll add more cheese before the dish is done.
Add black pepper to taste.
Keep on the heat and stirring until you're ready to add to the pasta.
Mix straight into the pasta in the dish.
Add another third of the cheese and mix thoroughly.
Spread the final third of the cheese on top of the dish.

Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top.
Bake for 25 minutes at the top of the oven.
For a crunchy golden finish, turn on the grill for 5 minutes (keep an eye on it so the top doesn't burn).

Serve hot! 

If you're not serving immediately: if keeping for less than 24 hours, cover but don't refrigerate. If refrigerating, serve within three days. I would recommend microwaving individual portions rather than reheating the whole dish in the oven as it will dry out rather.


Empty cupboard salmon and vegetable frittata

We've discussed the value of back pocket recipes, of those 'what to eat when there's nothing (or almost nothing) to eat' meals that work out so well but often can't be recreated.  Usually those 'what to eat' evenings have me scouring the cupboards for tins and packets, and the freezer for vegetables that will add colour and another of those all important five-a-day items to my mish mash meal.

Our grandparents solved the 'what to eat' evenings with bread and dripping and a hot cup of strong tea.  The fate of so many made alarming cardiac statistics fifty years ago.  Our parents' generation was a little more switched on to nutritional values and health issues and their taste buds were not about to be insulted with dripping, so they went for scrambled egg on toast.  It's a good standby, comfort food of the highest order and makes a great breakfast, but feeding two hungry men and a moderately hungry woman after a long day can't adequately be done with breakfast food.  Why not have a bowl of cornflakes and be done with it?

Yet eggs have all kinds of beneficial properties and they are enormously versatile.  Whipping up a quiche is all well and good but this isn't about quiche:  now we're talking odd items which need to be combined into a cohesive and palatable whole.

Enter FRITTATA:  easy, quick, endlessly versatile and elastic when it comes to amounts. 

My inclination would have been to put a tin of tuna into this one, but I discovered to my surprise and dismay that Kit had scarfed the one tin of tuna in a sandwich a few days ago so all I had in the arsenal was a tin of salmon.  So be it.  A root round in the fridge produced a few more ingredients and away I went to produce

Salmon and vegetable frittata

I've tried to get the amounts in some reasonable proportion but really, as long as you can adequately cover the base with the egg topping/filling, the gram amounts are not too important.

5 good sized potatoes, peeled, sliced and boiled
200g mushrooms, sliced finely and sauteed in a mix of olive oil and butter
2 green onions (more if you like onion), chopped finely
200g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 - 240g tin red salmon, drained and flaked
5 -7 eggs beaten lightly with 150 ml milk (the more eggs the more milk)
100g grated cheese (cheddar is as good as any but really any mild cheese will do)

Assemble ingredients and then layer first four in a greased oblong casserole dish.  Pour egg mixture over all and let it run into the corners, then sprinkle grated cheese on top.  Bake in a 190ºC oven for 15 - 20 minutes until cheese is melted and slightly brown and the whole has a 'set' look to it.  The above amounts serve four comfortably.

Apologies, dear readers, to the strict vegetarians among you.  It will be just as good if you leave out the salmon and add another vegetable.  But I've included this recipe in the Vegetarian section of the index simply because it doesn't fit neatly with the fish category (have we even got one yet?) and it so easily could be a veggie option.


Salted chocolate cookies

I never used to have the knack for making cookies.  Most recipes I tried would either come out too crunchy, too crumbly or not cooked enough.  Sometimes they would be too small, and other times they would all bleed into each other in the oven so that I ended up with one giant supercookie.  Which isn't such a terrible thing, but doesn't look all that pretty when you serve them.

Then I discovered Orangette, and what will henceforth be known as the magic chocolate cookies.  These things are amazing.  Chocolate-y but not overwhelmingly so, just the right level of chewiness, and low fat.  And they come out right every time.  I'd definitely recommend trying them.

But since this blog is primarily for new recipes...here, have a second Orangette chocolate cookie ;)  This caught my eye the other day and while I don't usually like mixing savoury and sweet ingredients, the idea of combining chocolate and salt was intriguing.  Well, I'm pleased to say the risk paid off.  The salt cuts the sweetness nicely as long as you don't add too much - just a few flakes is enough.

Salted Chocolate Cookies
(Taken from Orangette)

225 g (8 oz) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (ideally 70% cacao)
155 g (1 ¼ cups) all-purpose flour
50 grams (½ cup plus 2 tbsp) unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
115 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
225 g sugar, plus more for rolling the logs
2 large eggs
¼ tsp table salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
75 ml (1/3 cup) whole milk
coarse sea salt, for finishing

Pour water into a saucepan to a depth of about 2 inches. Bring to a simmer. Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl that will rest securely on the rim of the saucepan, and put it on top of – but not touching – the water. Heat the chocolate, stirring occasionally until it melts and is smooth.  Just make sure that no steam from the saucepan gets into the chocolate as moisture is apparently bad for it.  Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa, and baking powder in a medium-sized bowl. In another bowl, beat the butter on medium-high speed until creamy. Slowly add the sugar, and continue to beat until the mixture is completely smooth and soft, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in the salt and the vanilla, and then add the melted chocolate, beating to incorporate. Add the milk, and beat until combined. Finally, add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just incorporated. The dough will be quite thick and stiff.

Depending on what size cookie you’d like, divide the dough into 2 or 4 portions. Put each portion on a large piece of cling film, and roll it into a log, using the film to help shape it. Twist the ends to seal. Chill overnight, if you have the patience for it.  I was making mine as dessert, so I used half of the mixture the night I made the dough.  It worked fine, although it was quite difficult to cut into thin circles.

When you’re ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350°F, and line a baking sheet with parchment  paper.Put another sheet of parchment paper on your work surface. Take a few spoonfuls of sugar, and pour them onto the parchment, making a ridge of sugar of approximately the same length as your dough logs. Remove a log from the fridge, unwrap it, and roll in the sugar to evenly coat. Using a thin, sharp knife, cut into slices (the size of which depends on how thin or fat you like your cookies!). Put these on the baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie. Sprinkle each cookie with a few flakes of coarse sea salt.

Bake for 10 minutes, or until the top of the cookies looks set but still feels a little soft to the touch. Transfer to a wire rack, and leave the cookies on the pan to cool. Repeat with the remaining dough.

The recipe says these cookies last for up to a week, but I have a feeling they won't be around that long.


Cauliflower soup for people who don’t like cauliflower

Earlier I promised this recipe for cauli-phobes and here it is. I learned it from someone at my first job, an overworked woman called Suzanne, who, after I volunteered to help her with some conference organizing, invited me to lunch one Saturday. She made this as we talked. I had always found cauliflowers a dull vegetable, edible but forgettable, but this take on them appealed to me.

According to Niki Segnit in my well-used copy of The Flavour Thesaurus (a gift from Alison last year), “It was Louis the XIV who popularised cauliflower in France. He liked it boiled in stock, seasoned with nutmeg, and served with melted butter.” Frankly, I think Louis understood that cauliflower is simply a good nutmeg carrier. Back in his day, of course, it was an expensive spice that probably only royalty could really use in quantity. I use enough to make even the king envious.

Segnit praises nutmeg for its ability to make “sweet creamy dishes less cloying [think fettuccine alfredo] and cruciferous vegetables less bitter.” Hm. Note to self: try with broccoli rabe (which I find very bitter and in need of help).

Cauliflower soup

Olive oil
1 or 2 shallots, chopped
1 head cauliflower, chopped up into florets and other bits
Several cups of stock (or water, if you don’t have any stock)
Nutmeg to taste

Pour a small puddle of olive oil into a skillet, heat, and add the chopped shallots. When they are soft, stir in the chopped-up cauliflower. Stir for a minute, then add enough stock or water to cover the veggies. Let it cook, uncovered, as the cauliflower softens and the stock reduces.

When the cauliflower is soft (jab a few pieces with a knife to check), use a slotted spoon to transfer the bits of vegetable to a blender with some of the liquid. If you are a cauliflower-sceptic, transfer the whole lot. If not, leave a few florets intact for texture.

Put the blended cauliflower back into the skillet, and season generously with nutmeg. Serve with baguette, the crustier the better. Louis would understand.