Almond macaroons

31 May 2018

I was bracing for a tortuous journey, recipe testing my way back to a niggling childhood memory: the almond macaroons from the health food shop close to our school in Sussex — seriously — in that faraway decade before I was even a teenager. I remember their sweetness and texture, it was practically like eating marzipan, with a  compulsive chewiness from lightly caramelized rims. And in my memory, they were enormous.

I’d planned the macaroon journey before, some years ago. I made one improvised attempt that was actually quite good, if I remember well. And that was that.

This time I perused all of my books. I found a recipe in Alice Medrich’s cookie bible Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy. And that is that. I have found another perfect macaroon. Not, as I’d intended, by patient trial and error, incremental recreation, milligram by milligram of sugar. I haven’t the patience, there is no time. These days, when it comes to cooking, I shoot from the hip.

So these are not the macaroons of my childhood, but perhaps some memories are best left unperturbed.

Almond macaroon recipe by Alice Medrich
I’ve changed the quantities slightly and I like to use whole almonds rather than blanched

250g almonds (whole or blanched)
330g sugar
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
3 to 4 large egg whites (to be added progressively)

Process the almonds (either whole or blanched depending on taste and practicality) and the sugar together in a food processor until very fine and starting to pack together on the sides, at least 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the almond extract and 2 of the egg whites. Process briefly, for a few seconds, until the mixture starts to form a lump around the blade.

Continue to add egg white little by little, until the dough, as Alice Medrich so perfectly describes it ‘has the consistency of very thick, sticky mashed potatoes.’

Drop spoonfuls of batter 2 inches (5 cm) apart onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Alice Medrich suggests heaped teaspoons, I like to use tablespoons for bigger cookies.

Let the cookies stand for 30 minutes before baking (if pressed for time it is ok to skip this resting period).

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F) and bake the cookies for 20 to 25 minutes until they just begin to turn brown on the edges.

Let cool completely before removing from the baking sheet.

If you can manage, don’t eat them immediately, like all things almond they improve overnight and will keep for up to 4 days in an airtight container (after which they start to lose chewiness and flavour).

Pasta with pesto, shrimp, and garlic

15 May 2018

We make this often, and it barely warrants a recipe. It belongs to the ‘dinner in a minute’ ‘good idea’ ‘pantry meals’ category — a family of dishes which is always useful to have and expand upon.

We aim to always have pesto in the fridge. I’ll admit I rarely make my own (except occasionally ramp pesto). So I buy it in large quantities at a good local Italian deli. It keeps very well, always under a thin layer of olive oil, and can also be frozen.

Shrimp is a difficult proposition when one is attached to local and sustainable, and I confess that it is one exception I have been willing to make. So I buy frozen shrimp, where it is easily available to me, from a company that seems to have ethical standards (I hope! — And so it claims).

Pasta and garlic should, of course, always be on hand.

And hunks of Parmigiano, which no self-respecting Italian would ever grate over a bowl of shrimp. But I am blissfully free from cultural tyranny.

Pasta with pesto, shrimp, and garlic
The key to this simple recipe is in the proper order and timing

Quantities for 2 to be adapted accordingly
300g shrimp, frozen or fresh
4 cloves garlic
2 Tbsps pesto (also very good with ramp pesto)
200g pasta
Parmigiano

Prepare a pot of cold water large enough for the amount of pasta, with a small handful of coarse sea salt. Bring to a boil.

If using frozen shrimp, take them out of the freezer, in a colander, and put them under flowing cold water for half a minute. Place on a plate to de-freeze. If using fresh, just peel the shrimp.

Finely slice the garlic. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan large enough to comfortably hold all the shrimp (crucially, the shrimp mustn’t be crowded or they will stew rather than turn golden and crisp). Fry the garlic until just golden brown (beware, it goes very fast!). Remove immediately and reserve.

Place the pasta into the boiling water and let cook for about 10 to 12 minutes until al dente.

Pour a little more olive oil into the frying pan and fry the shrimp over high heat, turning them over once. They should become deep-hued and golden, but this takes just a few minutes, be careful not to overcook.

Strain the pasta, mix in the pesto, and serve in bowls with the shrimp and garlic, and freshly grated Parmigiano if desired.

A path of least resistance lamb shoulder

9 March 2018

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It took me less than twenty minutes of hands-on preparation, I timed it. This could even have been brought down to 15, had I used ready-ground spices, but, as many corners as I opted to cut here, pre-ground spices was one step I was not willing to take. So it took me 20 minutes, including grinding the spices. This being said, the spice call is everyone’s to make. The point here is the path of least resistance.

We need these types of dishes. I don’t mean the 10-minute weeknight dinner of frozen peas and fried egg, devoured alone, somewhat smugly and a tad self-consciously, under harsh kitchen lights. That’s indispensable too. But I am speaking of another kind, a spectacular feast worthy of any guest (incidentally, here, enough to nourish at least six), that doesn’t require a week’s preparation. A meal that lithely slinks through the cracks of everyday life. Twenty minutes of work — and a day of foresight. Let time work its magic.

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The recipe evolved gradually to become the most hands-off possible.

First, choose a boned lamb shoulder. I ask the butcher to give me the bones on the side, which I scatter around the dish while it simmers. But I want a boneless cut. For this meal, I can’t be bothered with carving the meat around the bone. That is how stress-free I intend it to be.

There is no browning of meat or onions. The ingredients, blithely cut, peeled, and chopped, are all tossed into the dish together with the meat, spices, and aromatics. The low, slow metamorphosis will happen undisturbed. Meanwhile, watch a film, learn the piano, fold the laundry — whatever suits your hobby.

A couple of hours later the meat is cooked. But resist touching it yet, it will have to cool, spend a while in the fridge, and wait for tomorrow until those guests arrive.

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Lamb shoulder recipe
Must be made at least half a day ahead

One boneless lamb shoulder, approx. 1.7kg (optionally with bones on the side)
4 or 5 onions
5 or 6 garlic cloves
A large piece of fresh ginger (or 1 Tbsp ground ginger)
2 lemons
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp and a generous sprinkling sea salt
1 Tbsp cumin seeds
1 Tbsp fennel seeds
1 Tbsp ground turmeric
1 Tbsp olive oil
Almonds
Green castelvetrano olives
Prunes for a sweet touch (optional)

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F).

Peel and slice the onions. Peel the garlic cloves. Peel and slice the ginger. Grate ribbons of lemon peel, then juice the lemons (reserve).

** If you have 10 minutes to spare, by all means take the time to brown the onions. It will only deepen the flavors. But it is fine, and more tagine-like, not to.**

Arrange the onions, garlic, ginger, lemon peel, and bay leaves at the bottom of a dutch oven large enough to hold the lamb shoulder. Sprinke generously with salt. Place the shoulder on top (and bones if using).

Grind the cumin and fennel seeds. Stir into a paste together with the turmeric, salt, olive oil, and lemon juice.  Rub the spice mixture over the lamb shoulder. Pour a little water at the bottom of the pan (about half an inch/ 1 cm).

Slide into the oven and cook, firmly covered, for 2 1/2 hours.

Remove from the oven. Let cool, and once cool place in the refridgerator overnight (or for a few hours at least).

Take the lamb shoulder out of the fridge approximately 2 hours before serving. Turn the oven on to 175°C (350°F). Scoop off the layer of fat that will have congealed and let the shoulder come to room temperature for about 1/2 hour. Sprinkle a handful of almonds and a handful of olives (and a handful of prunes, if using) over the lamb and slide into the oven for about 1 hour.

Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

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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.

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Bircher muesli recipe
F
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
Yogurt
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.

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Super easy marmalade — say what?

26 January 2018

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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.

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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.

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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…


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