Brilliant spiced cauliflower

11 December 2014

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A recipe to arouse the taste buds amid the cloying seasonal onslaught of cookies and chocolate, Glühwein and Christmas punch. Cauliflower is a demure vegetable, and this method teases it from fading bystander to zesty leading lady.

I first tasted this elegantly spiced cauliflower at Newman Street Tavern a few weeks ago. It was so good, so unexpectedly addictive, that we asked for the recipe. More precisely, my friend asked, I didn’t exactly dare. What’s more, it wasn’t the first time that evening — the server had just brought from the kitchen the handwritten instructions for an incredible fennel and watercress soup. Asking for another recipe from that delicious meal was pushing it a bit far, surely? Or perhaps not. It was of course, evidence of our appreciation.

Brilliant spiced cauliflower, adapted from Newman Street Tavern, with thanks
I had to extrapolate a little, especially for the spice mix, as there were no measurements. I’ve tested the recipe a couple of times and I believe this version comes close.

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 star anise

2 tsps sweet paprika

1 1/2 tsp turmeric

1 pinch saffron threads

3 cloves garlic

3-inch piece of fresh ginger

Sea salt

Olive oil

1 medium onion

3 small tender celery stalks

1 cauliflower

Freshly ground black pepper

Sherry vinegar

Freshly squeezed lemon juice

Fresh dill and/or cilantro leaves

In a small skillet, gently toast the cumin, anise, coriander, fennel. Just enough to coax out the aroma (be careful not to burn the spices!). In a small blender, grind to a fine powder together with the turmeric, paprika, and saffron.

Crush the garlic and grate the ginger and mix into a paste with one teaspoon salt.

Peel and finely dice the onion. Cut the celery stalks into paper thin slices.

Wash and cut the cauliflower into small florets.

In a skillet large enough to fit all the cauliflower florets in one layer, heat enough olive oil to generously coat the pan. Throw in the spice mix and stir for a few seconds, then very quickly add the garlic/ginger paste. Cook for barely a minute then add the onion and celery. Add a little oil if necessary. **Again, be very careful not to burn the spices!**

Fry the onion and celery until translucent then add the cauliflower florets with a splash of water.

Cook for just a few minutes, until al dente.

To finish the dish, season with salt and pepper, a splash of sherry vinegar and squeeze of lemon juice. Garnish with plenty of dill and/or cilantro leaves.

Travel with children | Four days in Amsterdam

4 December 2014

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Ideally, a break should combine some level of discovery, good food that needn’t be a quest, a hotel pleasant for both adults and children, a park, and somewhere to stop for a drink around four o’clock. Not all trips work, especially with mini people. Amsterdam met the magic mark.

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On the way we spent one night in Delft, which lends itself well to treading the cobblestones at dusk, along quaint canals lined with glittering merchant houses, in search of dinner.

Then a day in The Hague with a stop at the Peace Palace and lunch in a surfer café on the beach. It was a blustery Sunday and Scheveningen was alive with weekend strollers and kite-surfers.

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In Amsterdam, we sped along canals in the morning mist.

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We clambered up constricted staircases to an old clandestine church — an intimate museum that conjures one of Amsterdam’s less tolerant chapters.

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At the Rijksmuseum we lost track of time amid the lush collections of model boats, intricate arms, gleaming porcelains, and waggish magic lanterns before rushing up to an obligatory feast of Rembrandt, Ruisdael, Vermeer. The museum is gorgeously restored.

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And offers a very decent lunch.

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We visited the Van Gogh museum, as one must. It doesn’t reveal the artist the way the best museums might (I am thinking in particular of the Museu Picasso in Barcelona). The experience was rather like trudging through a mall during shopping season.

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Whizzing around on bikes is the way to see Amsterdam. It is probably safer than risking it on foot — entitled riders are pretty reckless so it’s best to secure similar swerving capabilities. And cycling around with children makes dashing along the canals, from one museum to the next, very fun. No moans, no hint of a complaint.

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We rode West to Café Restaurant Amsterdam, the best place to have a drink, read the paper, have a delicious dinner of simple plates (tiny grey shrimp, Dutch herring, mackerel fillets, rillettes, lentil salad with parma ham) with a glass of Sancerre, all in a nineteenth-century Pumping Station. Great food, a casual atmosphere, no pretense. Perfect.

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Later we met friends and found the parakeets in Vondelpark.

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We spent a morning at the stunning Scheepvartmuseum.

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And even managed to steal a visit to Droog. There is a cool sweet shop just across the street to occupy less patient gremlins.

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We stopped on a pretty gracht for that four o-clock drink.

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And we cycled along the harbor at night.

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We had booked the room with the swing.

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 Magic!

European Thanksgiving with a cranberry lime sauce

2 December 2014

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Perhaps I am feeling sentimental. Certainly I am feeling sentimental — it happens once a year, on Thanksgiving.

Moved by bonds tightened over many years, touched by new ties strengthened over the course of a meal. Each one is a little different, and a little bit the same. The food varies only slightly; we are with old friends, and new friends. Some guests come from halfway across Europe, some cannot come at all. Some are cooking turkey with apple chestnut stuffing on the other side of the Atlantic. Thanksgiving is messy, and loud, and funny, and, basically, happy.

Thanksgiving is the time when we feel most strongly all the invisible strings.

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Barely different cranberry lime sauce
This version uses lime rather than lemon (or orange). I think it’s the best.

680 g fresh cranberries

300 g (1 1/2 cups) sugar

2 cups water

1  lime

Wash the cranberries, check through them, and chuck any discolored or soft ones.

In a saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a lively simmer.

Add the cranberries and cook for about 15 minutes, until they’ve all popped. Stir in the zest and juice of one lime and cook for another minute or so.

Remove from the heat and transfer to a jar or bowl.

Three ginger cake

5 November 2014

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The best cake in my world.

Were we to play the hypothetical game by which I had to pick one single dessert, to the exclusion of all others, for the rest of my life, I would choose this one. It is incredibly moist and sticky, intensely gingery spicy — need I say more?

The recipe is by April Bloomfield, from her engrossing book A Girl and Her Pig, which is full of anecdotes and brilliant recipes. I made two very small changes.

Since I couldn’t find ‘light molasses’ anywhere, I substituted with a mix of blackstrap and honey. Bloomfield pointedly specifies against using blackstrap hence the mix. I played around with the quantities and using more than 1/3 cup blackstrap makes the taste overpowering. Also, I added bits of candied ginger to make it a ‘three’ ginger cake because… Well, just because.

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Ginger cake by April Bloomfield A Girl and Her Pig

8 Tbsps (1/2 cup or 110 g) butter at room temperature

2 1/2 cups flour

1 Tbsp ground ginger

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp sea salt

1 Tbsp baking powder

1 1/2 cups water

1 cup light molasses (or 1/3 cup blackstrap molasses and 1/2 cup light liquid honey)

1 tsp baking soda

1 packed cup dark brown sugar

1 large egg

1/4 cup finely grated fresh ginger

Two handfuls candied ginger (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325ºF (160ºC) with the rack in the middle of the oven.

Butter an 8-inch springform cake tin and line the bottom with parchment paper. Place the tin on a baking sheet (because the cake will probably leak a bit through the springform).

Sift the flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, salt, and baking powder together into a medium bowl. Stir well.

Bring 1 1/2 cups of water to boil in a small pot. Add the molasses (and honey if using) and the baking soda. Stir until everything is well dissolved. It seems like a lot of water but trust the wizard here — it works!

Beat the butter and sugar heftily for a few good minutes, until light and fluffy as they say. Add the egg and mix until it is well incorporated. Add the grated ginger and mix again until combined.

Now add about 1/3 of the flour/spice mixture. Mix well. Then 1/3 of the molasses mixture and stir well. Repeat this, in thirds, until everything is combined. The mixture will be very wet. Again — it works.

Pour the batter into the cake tin and carefully (because it is so liquid!) place it in the oven, with the baking sheet underneath of course.

Now very thinly slice the pieces of candied ginger.

After about 15 minutes in the oven, as swiftly as possible in order to not disturb the cooking, pull out the cake and evenly sprinkle the finely sliced candied ginger. **This is done now because if the candied ginger is added before the cake goes into the oven, everything falls to the bottom.**

Bake for another 45 minutes (the cake bakes for about an hour altogether), until a knife point comes out almost clean and no longer wet. Let cool a little before removing the ring from the springform.

Bloomfield likes this cake still warm. I loved it the next day. In any case I’d serve it with a big dollop of clotted cream.

Eating out | Spring at Somerset House

17 October 2014

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I don’t usually rush to a new restaurant the moment it opens. I have only a limited interest in the latest new hotspot. But, coincidentally, a few weeks ago at dinner with friends, we spoke about Skye Gyngell; about her cookbooks, about her previous restaurant, Petersham Nurseries, which I didn’t have the opportunity to visit while she was the chef. As the conversation migrated to her upcoming venture, in Somerset House, opening a few weeks hence, we were all excited to go.

I had not been to Somerset House since we moved to London last year, which means the last time I was there was to visit the Courtauld Gallery during a solo visit to London in my teens. That moment is my favorite memory of the trip, so stepping through the majestic building again rang of the past in a lovely, personal way. It was a good idea to meet before dinner for a glass of wine outside in the courtyard to savor the setting.

I own two of Skye Gyngell’s cookbooks and often leaf through them. I am invariably transported, intrigued and tempted, though I have only made very few of the dishes. Perhaps I am disconcerted by the idiosyncratic ingredients — one foot firmly settled in Italy while the other perambulates confidently through Asia — which make it hard for me to imagine the finished dish, to know where I am going. This should be thrilling; perhaps I play it a little safe in my own cooking. When I eat out, however, being surprised is exactly what I crave.

My first impression was to be disappointed by the familiarity of the menu. I was hoping for the spirited flavor combinations I have so long admired — and shyed away from — in the books. And so?

The starter was one of the best things I have eaten recently. I am still unsure how the combination of ‘Puntarelle and goat’s curd with mint and black olive dressing’ worked so well, but it was fresh, balanced and addictive in the most convincing way. I could happily have had just that all evening. Next, Slow cooked pork shoulder with girolles, daterrini, and polenta was predictable and a little disappointing, with nothing to elevate the flavors, no special zing. We shared desserts and I happily relinquished any claim to either the warm chocolate cake (you know me) or even Buttermilk pannacotta with damsons and wood sorrel, for yet another lunge at the Hazelnut and pear tart with creme fraiche and espresso — heaven.

The winter garden (pictured above), for smaller parties, holds most of the magic of the place. The main dining room is tall, light, feminine, and ultimately a bit bland. It reminded me vaguely of ABC Kitchen in New York, but lacking the lightness and playfulness which give that restaurant its irresistible charm. I don’t love the space.

Which brings me to the ultimate question: all things considered, am I impatient to go back? Unfortunately I must admit, despite some stunning dishes and, that evening, great company and a lovely night, not very. I realize it’s early days and one shouldn’t judge a restaurant on just one meal. But the place is a little too grand, the food not quite surprising enough — they seem out of sync. I imagine this meal in the lovely rickety setting of Petersham and can’t help but wish I hadn’t missed that. Luckily, I have the cookbooks, which I am now emboldened to try!

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Spring
Somerset House, Lancaster Place
London WC2R 1LA

Tel: +44 (0)20 3011 0115
Online reservations


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