Wednesday, 8 June 2011


"He's a French bloke. Wakes up, in France. Has a biscuit. Thinks, 'what did I do yesterday?'... for 3,000 pages. It's brilliant, very French."
- Bernard Black talking about Proust in Black Books

I didn't tell you guys, I made another attempt at reading Proust this year! Well, I kind of had to; you don't really sign up for a module called The Painting as Phantom: Diderot to Proust without knowing you're gonna have to pick up even just a part of Temps Perdu.

The daunting task of reading this amazingly intense and looooong piece of literature was made less daunting by the excuse I created to make madeleines! I had treated myself to a madeleine pan earlier in the year in anticipation of this and I decided that if I made these delicious cakey-biscuity pieces of yumminess, the act of reading Proust would be transformed into a doddle of a task.

So I made them, and they were delicious. And then I read Proust. And that was... interesting. But the madeleines were good, and I guess that's what's important.

They were more than good, they had an entirely Proustian effect on me. For those of you who have read In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu if you're fancy), you'll know that early in the novel Proust's narrator eats a madeleine and is transported back to his childhood, when he used to have tea and madeleines with his grandmother. Every mouthful of madeleine I had took me back to the hotel where I worked in France back in 2009. Every morning, after getting up ridiculously early to ready and serve breakfast to the guests, I would have a madeleine, or two, with a chocolat. With every bite I could hear the whirring of the drinks machine, the unique ring of the reception telephone, and the ever so slightly shrill voice of my boss in the distance. It was a profoundly odd experience.

I think ol' Marcel may have been onto something.

Madeleines (adapted from Daniel Boilud's recipe, found here)

3/4 cup/3 oz/75 g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
3/4 cup+ 2 tbsp/3 oz/75 g granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp packed light brown sugar
zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
6 tbsp butter/3 oz/75 g, melted and kept warm

1. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, mix the sugars, eggs, honey, and lemon zest using a whisk. Add the flour mixture and whisk until just combined. Add the butter, and stir until just incorporated. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 1-1 1/2 hours.

3. Preheat the oven to 400ºF/200ºC. Liberally grease your madeleine pan. Place all the batter in a piping bag and pipe into each mold to about 2/3 full. If you don't have a piping bag, you can always use a ziploc/ sandwich bag and snip off one of the corners with a pair of scissors.

4. Bake for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350ºF/180ºC and rotate the pan. Continue to bake about another 5 minutes, until the centres have risen and the edges are golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven, turn it upside down and tap it against the counter to release the madeleines. Serve warm.

Makes 1 dozen large-sized madeleines. See the link for how to make mini madeleines.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Pork and Vegetable Gyoza/ Dumplings

I'm really pleased with how these turned out, especially as I have been missing GOOD pan-Asian cuisine!

Pork and Vegetable Gyoza

1/2 tbsp finely grated ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp honey
75-100g pork (the best thing to use is leftover roast pork, but you could use a chop if you want), chopped to a texture similar to mince
extra virgin olive oil, for frying
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 sweet red pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
4 spring onions, finely chopped
a small handful of fresh coriander, finely chopped
a splash of sesame oil
dumpling wrappers (you can totally make your own if you want, there's a good recipe here, but if you're lazy like me you can buy these from your local Chinese supermarket)

1. Mix together the ginger, garlic, chilli, soy sauce, vinegar, and honey in a medium-sized bowl. Add the pork and mix.

2. Place a wok in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add a splash of olive oil. Sauté the vegetables until they're tender. Tip the bowl with the pork and marinade into the wok and stir-fry over a medium high heat until the vegetables look soft.

3. Tip all the mixture into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely minced. Transfer mixture back to the wok, add the coriander and a splash of sesame oil and combine.

4. Take the mixture off the heat. Place a rounded teaspoon of the mixture in the centre of a dumpling wrapper. Using a pastry brush or your finger, wet the surrounding area with water. Fold the wrapper in half to form a crescent and press to seal. Repeat until you have no more filling.

5. Put some olive oil in a large frying pan. Once the oil is warm, place the gyoza in the pan with a little space in between each one. All the wrappers to crisp and brown, then add a little hot water (about 2-3 tbsp) and cover for 5 minutes, so that the gyoza can be steamed through. Once there is no more water left, you're done! Transfer the dumplings to a platter and serve immediately.

Makes about 15-20 dumplings

Monday, 23 May 2011

Pea and Mint Soup

Yes, yes, I know. Where have I beeeeeeeeeen?

Unfortunately, until now university and other general life things have gotten in the way of both my cooking time and my writing time. However, exams are over now and with the summer approaching and all the new opportunities that it brings I'm committed to getting back to some serious cooking, eating, and prattling.

... and Pimms drinking. I love Pimms.

Now that we've dealt with that little life update shall we get back to the important stuff? Yes, let's...

A few months ago, I made the decision to truly make myself suffer during lent. I always get that idea around mid-February, when I've well and truly given up on my New Year's Resolutions and am feeling heartily ashamed of myself. This year, I thought that it would be a good idea to give up meat. and booze. and biscuits.

Those who know me know that I am most definitely of the carnivorous persuasion, and that I like a drinky and a biccie from time to time. So this was looking like it was going to be a challenge. And it was.

But I'm very glad I did it. Without having chicken or pork or beef to depend on for dinner most nights, I had to think a lot more about how to get all my nutrients and how to make meals that would fill me up and taste good.

One recipe that does all the above (and is perfect for our wonderful summer weather) is to be found below. I hope you enjoy it.

Pea and Mint Soup (adapted from a recipe by Sophie Dahl)

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 small spring onions, roughly chopped (you can substitute this for a medium sized onion if you absolutely must, but I find it has a harsher taste)
3 cups/1 lb/450 g frozen or fresh peas
4 cups/32 fl oz/1 l vegetable stock
A handful fresh mint, finely chopped
Salt and pepper

1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil and then fry the spring onions for about 3 minutes. Add the peas and stir well to coat them in the oil.

2. Add the mint and the stock and cook for 10-15 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes. Transfer to a blender and whizz it all up. You could always use a handheld mixer if that's all you have but you'd probably have to do it in batches.

3. You can either garnish with mint and serve hot, or put it in the fridge to cool before serving. Miss Dahl suggests swirling in 1 tbsp of crème fraîche, but I object to soups that are too creamy so I omitted it.

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