Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Smart as a carrot

Carrot Halwa seved with Ice Cream

My dad is the sweetest man, kind to his bones, but like lots of northern men of his generation, he can be a little short on the compliments (‘Don’t be daft.’) So it’s rather marvellous when your appearance garners his greatest accolade ‘smart as a carrot’. I’ve no idea where this phrase comes from, though I’ve never heard it outside of my native north east. What I do know, with absolute certainty, is that you don’t want to be its antithesis: ‘a bag of tripe’. When I was a kid, my dad’s Saturday afternoon treat while he listened to the football results was a bowl of tripe with vinegar. I used to think it looked like a crumpled heap of greying laundry. This isn’t usually what I’m aiming for when I leave the house.

Today’s smart as a carrot dish comes from Karuna, who works with Séan. When I’m testing recipes, a church fête’s worth of cakes, biscuits and tarts can come out of the Lickedspoon kitchen. It would be impossible for us to eat them all, so I take some of them to the park and the rest Séan takes with him to the office. They are a very good tasting panel. I get notes: too sweet, not sweet enough, too many nuts, or too few, love the coconut, hate it. I’m grateful for the feedback, but I’m thrilled to get my hands on this recipe. Several of you commented on the White Chocolate Cake saying you love cardamom, so I hope this appeals to you too.

Next week, tripe… Maybe.

Recipe all written out Karuna’s recipe, such neat writing, such a messy fridge.

Carrot Halwa

Served with gold-leaf!

I didn’t have jaggery (and, shamefully, couldn’t peel myself out of the kitchen, walk around the corner and buy some) so I used molasses sugar. It meant my halwa ended up quite dark. I also got a bit distracted and let it simmer a little too long, so it was very thick and intensely fudgy. No matter, I just sprinkled on a little gold leaf and it was delicious with the ice cream. But, note to self, next time jaggery and pay attention.

Serves 6-8

450g carrots, peeled and sliced
280ml semi skimmed or whole milk
280ml double cream
4tbsp shelled, unsalted pistachios
225g jaggery, raw sugar or molasses sugar
55g granulated sugar
10-15 cardamom seeds
½ tsp fennel seeds
200g ground almonds
4 tbsp ghee or clarified butter
4 tbsp almond pins

The ingredients

Put the carrots, milk and cream in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and stir well. Reduce the heat to a simmer and simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has reduced to half the volume and has become thick and heavy.

Carrots away Carrots boiled in cream.

Molasses in Adding the molasses sugar.

While the carrots are cooking, roast the pistachios in the oven at 180˚C/350˚F/Gas mark 4 until just fragrant, about 8 minutes.

Put both sugars into the carrot mixture, stir to dissolve and simmer for 10 minutes.

With a small, sharp knife, halve the cardamom pods and remove the seeds. Discard the shells. Grind the cardamom and fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar, or in a bowl with the end of a rolling pin, until fine.

Reduce the heat under the carrot mixture and add the ground almonds and ghee or clarified butter. Stir for about 10 minutes until the halva starts to pull together into a solid mixture. Stir in the ground cardamom and fennel.

Serve in dishes at room temperature, or straight from the hob, with cream, ice cream or kulfi. Garnish with the toasted pistachios and almond pins.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Feeding the five hundred

Séan nearly made himself late for work yesterday. (Actually, he did make himself late. He made me put the 'nearly' in, in case any of his colleagues read this post. Oh.) He was bedding in the latest guests at Lickedspoon Mansions. At 7am, a knock on the door heralded the arrival of a brown cardboard box containing 500 worms. He couldn’t wait to get them into the wormery, where they will feast on the finest scraps and peels, the ghosts of meals past, and in turn they will feed my tomatoes, strawberries and flowers. And, unlike other guests, they won’t hog the bathroom, get drunk, insist on playing 80s vinyl or show tunes until 2am.

If you live in Hackney, you can buy the same wormery as ours, usual price £92, for £25 if you contact Wriggly Wrigglers and quote product code H0596. If you don’t live in Hackney, check with your local council as many of them have subsidised recycling schemes now.

500 worms and counting

And another lovely thing…

My friend Fiona emailed me on Tuesday to congratulate me on Love and a Licked Spoon making it into this month’s Elle Decoration. I knew nothing about it, so it was the most wonderful surprise.

Elle Decoration

If you’re visiting because you read about my blog in Elle Deco, thanks so much. Do stick around, join in and share some food stories of your own.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

What do we talk about when we talk about cake?

White chocolate and cardamom rosewater sponge

We went to Victoria and Helder’s for dinner. I told her I’d been to watch my nephew Angus play rugby. This is how long we’ve known each other. He was born just after we met. He’s now well over six feet tall and learning to drive.

Candle lit drinks

In those seventeen years, we’ve been each other’s autodial for crises large and small, deadlines and hemlines, heartbreak and house hunting, mortgages and marriages. She held my hand on my wedding day; I made the cake and a speech (complete with quotations from the Mary Tyler Moore show) at hers.

On this most recent sunny evening, we tucked into Helder’s barbecued cauliflower and spatchcocked chicken. He’s Portuguese. He knows his way around a grill. And I brought along a cake for pudding.

Helder's BBQ

Cake: the shortest measurable distance between now and then, something about its comforting sweetness pulls memories from their recesses better than any truth drug. Cutting into a big, soft slice is the culinary equivalent of ‘Once upon a time…’

Slice of cake

Our husbands really like each other, which is great as when they go off on some kind of techno gizmo riff, V and I can indulge in all of our ‘Remember when…’ conversations.

Like the time when, in our single days, we used to take each other out to dinner on Valentine’s Day.

Like the time when I was being pursued by a Nigerian musician and I forced her to come with me to an Ogoni wedding in a community centre in Dollis Hill. In a wedding album far, far away there are pictures of us drinking neat gin out of the bottle cap with the band.

Like the time we hitched a ride in a lorry up the Holloway Road with a French waiter we’d kidnapped from our favourite local restaurant. We were headed for a snooker club. This was in the days of stricter licensing laws and it was one of the few places you could get a drink after midnight, but you needed a bloke to sign you in.

Like the time she was invited to a reception at Number 10 and spent all day working out what her perfect opening line to the Prime Minister would be. When the moment came, what came out of her mouth was ‘Gordon, do you realise you have ink all over your sleeve?’

Like the time when I got a call for a job I really, really wanted and was so stressed out, over prepared and sleep deprived by the time I got to the interview, when the questioning got challenging my best retort was a tetchy ‘Look, you called me. If you think you’re going to make me cry, you’re not.’

Eyjafjallajökull fortold?

Victoria and Helder’s son Luca, my gorgeous godson, spent a lot of time in April making volcanoes. Then Eyjafjallajökull erupted. We are watching very closely for what he next moulds in clay, in case it’s a Tory government.

White chocolate and cardamom rosewater sponge

White chocolate and cardamom rosewater sponge

This recipe is from Fiona Cairns’ cake-alicious book, Bake and Decorate: Tea Time Luxury (Quadrille, £19.99). It’s full of fabulous sweet treats, from fondant fancies and rosebud fairy cakes to gilded chocolate tiffin and strawberry, mint and balsamic cheesecake. It’s also crammed with Fiona’s great cake decorating tips, finely honed after years of being baker to the stars. It’s beautiful too, with photographs by the wonderful Laura Hynd. Laura took gorgeous pictures for Mark Diacono’s book, Taste of the Unexpected, which comes out in the autumn and for which I wrote the recipes.

Serves 8

130g unsalted butter, softened, plus more to grease the tin
20 green cardamom pods (or 1 tsp ground)
170g self-raising flour
100g white chocolate, chopped
130g white caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract

100g white chocolate, finely chopped
100ml double cream
2 tsp rosewater

150g icing sugar, sifted

Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan 170C/350F/Gas mark 4. Fiona Cairns makes this cake in a heart-shaped tin measuring 23cm at its widest point and 6.5cm deep, as did I, but she suggests a 20cm round, 7.5cm deep tin as an alternative. Butter the tin very well, then line with baking parchment.

Cardamom pods

Deseed the cardamom pods: split them with the point of a knife, empty out the little seeds and grind them to a powder in a pestle and mortar. There may be a few pieces of husk mixed in, so sift the cardamom powder together with the flour to remove them. (My note: or use 1tsp ground cardamom. I like the one from lovely spice company, Steenbergs,  - they do mail order.)

Place the chocolate in a food processor with half the sugar. Process until as fine as possible. Take 2tbsp hot water – not boiling or the chocolate will seize – and leave it until you can just dip in your finger. Dribble it into the chocolate, processing until most has melted. Add the remaining sugar and butter, cut into knobs, and process well. Add the eggs, flour and vanilla and mix again. Don’t worry if there are tiny pieces of chocolate left in the batter.

Pour into the tin and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Rest in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack, removing the papers. Leave until absolutely cold.

Meanwhile, make the ganache. Place the chocolate in a bowl and, in a pan, bring the cream and rosewater to the boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate, leave it for a few seconds, then gently stir until smooth. Leave until cold, chill slightly, then whisk until it thickens.

White chocolate

The ganache is delicious and would be wonderful in other cakes too.




Split the cake in half and invert so the flat base forms the top. Fill with the ganache and top with the second layer of cake. Place the icing sugar in a small bowl and add 1 ½-2 tbsp water until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour it over the cake and allow to trickle down the sides. (My note: I found it took about 3tbsp to get the icing trickle-able, but also that it was perhaps a little sweet, so sweet it overwhelmed the delicate cardamom and rosewater flavours. Next time, I might add a little lemon juice or rosewater to the water to thin it.)

To decorate, I scattered some sugared rose petals over the top. In summer, it would be lovely with real rose petals, if you have a good, unsprayed source.

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