Virtuous breakfast | Bircher muesli

6 February 2018

IMG_8860Of all places, I had a Bircher muesli epiphany at Tom (Aiken)’s Kitchen in Chelsea about six years ago. It was smooth, very creamy, mildly sweet, with a nudge of spices. It brought muesli back into my orbit.

I haven’t gone in search of that particular recipe — I suspect it to have been quite indulgent, and what I look for in muesli is a more virtuous form of breakfast — but that morning I was reminded of how delicious it can be. And in time I’ve revived the habit, which comes and goes and ebbs and flows with the mood, but is worth coming back to every once in a while.

One often thinks of muesli as a mixture of flakes, as it is commercially sold. But the intention of Dr. Bircher-Benner, who allegedly invented the morning grub at his health clinic in Switzerland at the end of the nineteenth century, was not to feed his patients more oats, but rather more raw foods, in particular fruits and nuts.

With this in mind, I have devised a mixture light in cereal and packed with other nutritional bits. Its intention is not to replace French toast, but to provide everyday healthy and none-the-less delicious morning fuel.


Bircher muesli recipe
or two, to be multiplied accordingly

4 Tbsp rolled oats
1/2 Tbsp flax seeds
1 Tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 Tbsp sunflower seeds
1 Tbsp chia seeds
1 Tbsp chopped almonds and/or hazelnuts
Juice from 1 lemon
Pinch of cinnamon (optional)
A scattering of raisins or other chopped dried fruit such as dates or apricots
One grated apple, skin on if organic
Fruit according to the season: kiwi, banana, rhubarb compote, berries, etc…

The night before, place the oats, seeds, nuts (and raisins and cinnamon if using) in a bowl (large enough that the oats have room to swell). Pour over the lemon juice, and just enough water to soak the mixture. Let sit at room temperature until the morning.

In the morning just before eating, grate an apple into the oat/seed/nut mixture, add a spoonful of yogurt (or to taste), and garnish with any additional fruit.



Super easy marmalade — say what?

26 January 2018


Two years ago I made marmalade for the first time. I discovered then the fastidious pleasure of the process — recorded here. Last winter, feeling compelled, I made marmalade again. Already I have found a shortcut.

It happened inadvertently; I started the New Year making marmalade by accident. Surely there is a symbolic truth to be culled from the incident. I had planned to make this — adequately rebaptised — ‘marmalade’ cake, so, as per the recipe, I began by boiling the oranges for hours.


But the day passed and so the moment, and the year started with boiled oranges but no cake. I do admit I let those oranges sit in the fridge for a few days, until it became high time to use them. And the easiest thing I thought to do was to make marmalade.


But there was no time to dedicatedly slice each sliver of rind — I’ve given up midnight baking and marmalade making for the minute — so feeling inspired by the process of the cake, I simply blitzed the whole oranges in the mixer. Then recooked the orange purée with an approximate amount of sugar (the ideal proportion is one to one, if one had thought to weigh the oranges beforehand). Ta-da! Orange marmalade in a minute. Because even though there are two long-ish periods of cooking, the hands-on part is very fast.

To wit — I made marmalade again a week later, in the time it took the rest of the family to prepare dinner.

Super fast blood orange marmalade
A glug of campari at the last minute of cooking gives the marmalade a boozy bitter kick

Organic blood oranges (or regular oranges, or, if using Seville oranges, boil for a good while longer — 2 to 3 hours)
Equal weight amount of light caster sugar
Campari (optional)

Special equipment: food processor

Weigh the oranges. Scrub them under cold water. Place the oranges in a saucepan and fill with water so as to submerge the oranges. (The oranges will float in the water, but not too much as long as they are propped up against each other.)

Cook the oranges for about an hour.

Reserve the liquid and let the oranges cool just enough to handle, then cut them into quarters, remove any ostensible pips, and throw into the food processor.

Mix for a minute or two, depending on the desired consistency. ***My family is divided on this one. Some prefer the little specs of rind as shown in the pictures above, while others like a smoother consistency. The difference is a few additional twirls of the blade.***

Scrape the orange purée into a saucepan, add an equal weight of sugar, and cook on a gentle boil until the marmalade starts to gel. Depending on the quantity, it could take 20 to 45 minutes. ***The way to test the gelling is to place one teaspoon of jam in the refrigerator until it cools, and check the consistency.

Meanwhile, boil some jars and lids for 5 minutes in a large saucepan with a few inches of water.

Immediately ladle the hot marmalade into the jars and seal tightly.

Now think of breakfast this weekend…

The neverending weeknight dinner conundrum — solved for today [Kale and cauliflower gratin]

16 January 2018

In the end, whether we are working parents or at home writers, mothers of none or fathers of five, whether we live to eat or eat to live, at some point this week we’ll have to think of something to make for dinner, and chances are we’ve run out of ideas.

Eating seasonally and locally always helps, as it drastically reduces the aberrant amount of options at our fingertips. My choice of fruits and vegetables is always dictated by it; it automatically induces variety and lends rhythm to the year. I love the languid accordion sway of the seasons — Autumn’s cornucopia, which slowly retracts to the last exhausted roots of early April, when the sole relay on the line, the first leaves of wild garlic, by a wisp, signal the green bursts of revival.

Meanwhile it is midwinter, and I offer you this cauliflower and kale gratin. It materialized one day because there happened to be cauliflower and kale. It has become a frequent dinner companion.

Kale and cauliflower gratin
Goes well with a piece of fish or steak, or, simply, a fried egg


For the béchamel sauce
60g (4 Tbsps) butter
2 to 3 Tbsps flour
1/2 litre (2 cups) milk
Salt and pepper

Grated parmigiano or gruyère


Preheat oven to 175°C (375°F).

Prepare the cauliflower by removing the outer leaves and cutting into florets. Wash in cold water. Prepare the kale by removing the tough inner stalks and washing thoroughly. Cut into large strips.

Scatter the kale and cauliflower in an ovenproof dish.

For the béchamel: Melt the butter in a small saucepan. As soon as it is melted, add just enough flour to absorb all the butter (it will become solid and lumpy). Stir and cook for a minute of two. Then quickly start adding glugs of milk. Incorporate the milk slowly, a little at a time, stirring well between each addition, until the béchamel, which will start as a big clump, becomes unctuously liquid. [I often add not only milk but a little water as well.] Season well with freshly grated nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

Pour the béchamel over the vegetables in the dish. Sprinkled generously with grated cheese.

Pop into the oven for a good half hour to 45 minutes, until bubbly and golden.

Let cool a few minutes before serving.


Plum cake with lemon and buckwheat

5 October 2017


Autumn is here, majestically, and there are just a few more chances to eat plums before apples and pears, like cuckoos displacing another’s eggs, occupy our fruit baskets until spring.

In this season, plums signal cake — a streak of autumn riding on the rays of summer; the rhythmic reassurance of an oven heating after months of outdoor grilling and barely any cooking.

And to the point, I already have at least one October plum cake on these pages somewhere. It is a fine plum cake, but there can never be too many, and as a genuine ritual it bears validation.

Like many of my cakes, this one is easy. It is loosely based on a basic pound cake recipe, simply transmogrified by those plums, some lemon zest, and a scattering of buckwheat. An astonishing combination.


Plum cake with lemon and buckwheat

Juice and zest from one lemon
240g butter
200g light brown sugar plus one or two tablespoons for the plums
4 large eggs
100g flour
50g buckwheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
100g ground almonds (or almond flour)
1 lb (450g) plums (one or a combination of greengages, Victoria plums, Italian plums, quetsches but not the plump watery supermarket varieties that have no taste)

Let the butter soften at room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Line with parchment paper and butter generously an 25cm (9″) round cake form.

Zest and juice the lemon. Set aside.

Wash, cut, and stone the plums. Toss the quarters with the lemon juice (not the zest!) and one or two tablespoons of sugar. Set aside.

Beat the softened butter and sugar thoroughly with a wooden spoon until creamy.

Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring well between each egg. Once all the eggs are incorporated, add the flours together with the baking powder, then the ground almonds and the lemon zest.

Gently add the plums to the batter and stir to combine. Scrape into the prepared cake tin, slide into the oven, and bake for about 40 to 50 minutes. The cake will be done when a knife/toothpick/skewer comes out clean (the juicier the plums, the longer it may take).

Let cool a little or completely before serving. As always, thick yogurt or clotted cream are fine companions.


Gooseberry and strawberry jam

12 July 2017



A happy accident, this spectacular combination, and one that has reconciled me with strawberry jam.

The last time I attempted to make strawberry jam, I chose a Christine Ferber recipe that requires to marinate the strawberries overnight, cook them once, let them macerate some more, strain the syrup, let it reduce, finally add the strawberries and boil until set. I followed the instructions, the infusion smelled divine, all was going very well. Until the final step. A few late evenings of jam prep, and the rest of life in between, and I actually fell asleep (!) as the strawberries were in their last phase of cooking. Having nurtured the sugary jewels, painstakingly, over the course of two days, I might have paid more attention.

That jam now sits somewhat abashedly on the shelf in the pantry with the incriminating label: ‘Burnt Strawberry Jam.’ It could have been intentional.

Here we are a couple of years later and, having made my favorite life-saving yogurt birthday cake with strawberries and gooseberries instead of raspberries, I had some berries left over. Forgotten overnight to marinate with some sugar for preservation until they might be consumed, I ended up cooking them. A tiny batch, two small jars and one additional tablespoon — we were all fighting for the scraps.


And so I can’t stop making this jam. I’m hoping to build some stock so the jars may last beyond the season.

Strawberry and gooseberry jam recipe

1 kg strawberries and gooseberries (I used about half and half, but I leave the ratio up to your inspiration)
850g caster sugar
2 small lemons

Trim (top and tail) and wash the gooseberries. Wash, trim and cut the strawberries into quarters (or more if they are huge).

In a large bowl, mix the fruit with the sugar. Add the zest and juice from both lemons. Leave to marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

The next day, cook the berries for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the jam gives signs of beginning the set (place a spoonful of juice in the fridge and, once cold, check for the ‘gelling’ effect).

Sterilize jars for 5 minutes in a pan of boiling water. Fill the jars immediately and seal tightly.




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