Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Forever Nigella: Chocolate Raspberry Heart

This is my first ever entry submitted to a blogging challenge, the Forever Nigella challenge started by Sarah of Maison Cupcake.

This month's theme was Seduced by Chocolate, and what could be more appropriate for the month when we celebrate Valentine's Day, than the Chocolate Raspberry Heart recipe from Nigella Lawson's Feast. The recipe can also be found in this Daily Mail Online article from 10/02/2005, called Nigella's Valentine feast, which is an extract from her book.

OK, so my main deviation from the recipe will be immediately obvious - it doesn't look like a heart. I didn't have a heart-shaped baking tin, so I had to make-do with two 9-inch round cake tins instead. Apart from that I followed the recipe faithfully.

I used Green and Black's cocoa powder for the cake, and Green and Black's 72% cooking chocolate for the ganache.

I didn't use a Kitchen Aid either, so I had a little bit of trouble folding the flour evenly into the mixture. I think I am more used to North American methods of mixing layer cake batters, and I often have problems with British instructions.

My sponges came out rather dry, but I blame that on my fan oven, which has been causing me a lot of baking problems recently.

The ganache was just right in consistency - it didn't set too quickly, before you have time to spread it on the cake, nor did it refuse to set after the cake had been iced.

The assembled cake looks very pretty, if I do say so myself, with a lovely glossy chocolate icing. Unlike Ms. Lawson, however, I don't have any young children, so I have to take full responsibility for the icing not being perfectly smooth!

See the Forever Nigella web page for all the other entries and this month's winners.

My Top 10 Rhubarb Recipes

After a very cold start to the winter, which saw everything covered in snow for the better part of December, we have been having rather warm, wet weather for most of February, and the spring plants are making up for lost time. In our front garden, the daffodils are just about ready to bloom, and in the back garden the rhubarb is growing.

Most years, although the rhubarb starts coming back up around Christmas, I figure it doesn't really get big enough to eat until around Easter. This year, Easter is late, and the rhubarb seems early - although none of the stalks that have come up are full-sized yet, if we picked the small stalks we have now it would probably be enough for a small rhubarb crumble.

The appearance of the rhubarb leads me to reflect on my favorite rhubarb recipes, so here is a list of my top 10.

1. Stewed Rhubarb and Ginger, from The English Country Cooking Diary 1988 by Maxine Clark.

2. Lamb and Rhubarb Stew, from The Legendary Cuisine of Persia by Margaret Shaida.

3. Upside-down Rhubarb and Ginger Cake - from Rachel's Favourite Food at Home by Rachel Allen. (See the recipe here on the UKTV Good Food Channel website.)

4. Rhubarb Ice Cream, from Rachel's Favourite Food for Friends by Rachel Allen.

5. Rhubarb and Strawberry Crumble, from Bake by Rachel Allen.

6. Rhubarb Sponge, from Rachel's Favourite Food for Friends by Rachel Allen.

7. Rhubarb Chutney, from The Guardian Weekend, March 2, 1996 by Rowley Leigh.

8. Rhubarb and Date Tart, from The Archers' Country Cookbook by Martha Woodford.

9. Rhubarb Crumble, from Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course.

10. Rhubarb Fool, from The Cookery of England by Elisabeth Ayrton.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

La-Lot Beef Soup

Having come across some la-lot leaves for the first time in an Oriental supermarket the other day, I got out my Oriental cookery books, and found that I only had 2 Vietnamese recipes which called for la-lot leaves after all. This seems to happen to me over and over again when I come across some new ingredient which I'm sure I've read about in some cookbook or other. When I actually buy the stuff, I can't find the recipes I was sure I had for it, lol.

I ended up using the la-lot leaves in this very tasty as well as colorful Vietnamese soup, from Simple Art of Vietnamese Cooking by Binh Duong and Marcia Kiesel, and I'm sure we'll be making it again. The la-lot leaves, piper sarmentosum, are apparently related to the vine that produces black pepper.

La-lot Beef Soup
4 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups steamed white rice, preferably long grain jasmine rice
2 whites of scallions (spring onions), thinly sliced
1/2 t ground black pepper
3 T Vietnamese fish sauce (nuoc mam)
8 ounces lean beef (top round), cut into very thin slices
3 T vegetable oil
1/2 t dried chili flakes
2 stalks lemon grass, flattened with the side of a knife, and cut into 2" lengths
2 medium tomatoes, cut into thin wedges
10 la-lot leaves, cut into wide strips

In a large bowl combine the scallions, black pepper, and 1 T. of the fish sauce.

Add the beef and toss to coat. Set aside to marinate for 10 min.

Put 1T of the oil in a small saucepan over high heat. When a chili flake sizzles, drop in the rest and remove from the heat. Set the chili oil aside.

Bring the stock and the lemon grass to the boil in a large saucepan, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 min.

Heat the remaining 2 T. oil in a wok over high heat. Whent he oil starts to smoke, add the beef and brown it on both sides, stirring once or twice. Add the tomatoes and stir fry until the beef is cooked., about 2 min. With a large spoon, add the beef and tomatoes to the soup. Bring the soup to the boil over high heat, add the remaining 2 T. of fish sauce and the reserved chili oil. Remove from the heat and stir in the la-lot leaves. To serve, spoon rice into each soup bowl and ladle the soup over it. Eat with chopsticks and soup spoons.

London on a Grand Scale

Got off the tube at Green Park this morning, a part of London I haven't seen in many years. I was immediately impressed by the tall, grand, old buildings, as I passed the Ritz Carleton Hotel, what seemed to be various other grand hotels, Patisserie Valerie, and then as I walked down St. James's past a window displaying Cuban cigars, and another window belonging to a perfumery. I was headed for King's Street, and the famous auction house Christie's. I had been told that Christie's were having an auction of impressionist paintings in the next few days, and that prior to the auction the paintings were on display and could be viewed by members of the general public, something that would never have occurred to me. I thought that with my track record as regards art galleries (I managed to live in Paris for more than a year and never set foot inside a gallery or museum, but that's another story...), I had better take the opportunity to see these works of art. The display was quite impressive, several rooms of paintings, all from private collectors, featuring painters like Picasso, Renoir, Gauguin, Pisarro, Chagall, and many others that, not being an art expert, I had never heard of before. There were also a few Rodin sculptures and a Henry Moore. My favorite painting was one of a blue vase with pink flowers on a blue background, Les Lys Magiques, by Marc Chagall. I also loved the colors of Terrasse a Vernon by Pierre Bonnard, the blues and greens, and for some reason I also decided I liked the pale mauve monochromatic Brume sur l'Oise by Gustave Loiseau.