Showing posts from 2011

TOP 10 POSTS IN 2011

Here are the ten posts which received the most traffic on this blog in 2011. Thank you to all my readers, and Happy New Year!

Nigella's Crustless Pizza

Don't Make These!

Rock Shandy

Terribly Clever

Easy Saturday Supper - Lamb Mechoui

The Best Chocolate Tart

Marmite Spaghetti

Cheat's Mango Sorbet

Nigella's Buns

Friday Supper: Steak & Leffe Pie

Guests posts invited for 2012. Please contact me via the comments box on this post, or Facebook or Twitter (@crosseyedpiano) if you would like to contribute.


A classic Italian dessert which has, like Black Forest Gateau, Crepe Suzettes, trifle and profiteroles, become something of a cliché. Done badly, it is sickly, cloying and claggy. Done well, it is light and fluffy, a pillow of marscapone and egg whites over a coffee and liqueur-soaked sponge base.

I have to confess to a real fondness for Tiramisu, and I often order it if I see it on an Italian restaurant menu. The best I've had was at Ca'an Mea, a wonderful and eccentric restaurant just outside Badalucco in Liguria (more here), where it was, inexplicably, served in an enamel chamber pot. My friend Nick also makes a mean version.

The word "tiramisu" literally translates as "pick me up" and it was invented within the last 50-odd years. It is traditionally made with "savoiardi" or Boudoir biscuits/lady fingers, eggs, sugar and mascarpone cheese. It's lighter than a cheesecake, or a trifle. There are countless variations, using panettone or other …


A classic French dish cooked for an old friend from university, who happens to be half-French and lives in Nantes.

Our get-togethers, which are infrequent, sadly, but always filled with chat, laughter, music and food, begin around 6pm with an "apero" (aperitif), usually something fizzy, sometimes tarted up into Kir Royale with the addition of Crème de Cassis or Crème de Mure. I made Coq au Vin (which is literally "chicken in wine") because I wanted a dish that could be prepared in advance and left so that Anne and I could get on with catching up on the last 18 months. Also, Coq au Vin is definitely a dish that benefits from being allowed to rest so that all the flavours can meld together.

I had intended to serve brown bread ice cream but forgot to pre-freeze the bowl of the ice cream maker in time. So, for pudding we had soft amaretti biscuits (not homemade), Madeleines purchased from Carrefour in Les Gets, and Charbonnel et Walker truffles. Oh, and more wine....


Venison, or rather its living original, deer, has been "in the news" lately as the YouTube film of Fenton the Dog chasing deer in Richmond Park has gone viral. Possibly one of the funniest things on YouTube at the moment, and an example of that particularly English form of schadenfreude, it is also a warning to dog owners, to keep their hounds under control when around deer in the park.

I live not ten minutes walk from Bushy Park, a lovely expanse of open space between Teddington and Hampton Court, and the park has many deer, of different varieties (as well as the famous Bushy Park parakeets, and green and spotted woodpeckers). Autumn is the rutting season and sometimes if I wake in the night, I can hear the deer grunting and bellowing.

Venison is a lovely alternative to beef, and is better for you as it is leaner. It has a rich flavour, but not over-poweringly gamey, and it also makes delicious, rich sausages. Sandy's, the fishmonger in Twickenham, sells wonderful, hom…


I  first discovered these delicious little confections at the old café at the Victoria & Albert Museum. A friend and I used to visit regularly for exhibitions or simply to drift around the galleries, taking in the treasure trove of decorative art from Medieval metalwork to swords of the Samurai. Our visit would always begin with coffee and custard tarts at the cafe. Imagine our disgruntlement, then, when the café was taken over by another franchise, tarted up (forgive the pun) and relocated in a different part of the museum. Despite offering a fair to middling patisserie counter, the Portuguese Custard Tarts were no more.

Fortunately, my disappointment was short-lived, as a local café, which I frequent with girlfriends for coffee after school drop off (for those friends with kids still at primary school) and before the gym, now stocks them. They are just as delicious as the ones at the V&A, and a perfect small cake to have with a big mug of coffee.

I w…


No relation to the more sophisticated Globe Artichoke, these knobbly roots make a delicious, nutty winter soup and are great with potatoes in a gratin, or even as a pizza topping.

My father used to grow Jerusalem Artichokes, and when I was little, I liked to help him dig them up. We'd shake the dirt off them, place them in a colander and take them in for my mum to turn into something delicious. They are neither from Jerusalem nor are they artichokes, but they are easy to grow and push out all sort of lush green growth up top while the gnarly roots develop underground. Their flavour is nutty, strangely redolent of oysters and the merest hint of soil. When pureed, their texture is an unparalleled silkiness. Peel them if the skin is really tough; if not - and these days they come helpfully pre-washed - keep their skins on for added flavour and roughage.

Treat them as you would potatoes: boil them or roast them, slice them and put them in a gratin with lemon, and cook until their ski…


To celebrate my entry into "middle middle age", I cooked a Thai-inspired supper for good friends. My son cleverly sourced gyoza (Japanese dumplings "like we have at Wagamama, mum!") and spring rolls in the oriental supermarket in Kingston, and I bought prawn toasts from Waitrose. The only canape I made myself was Chinese pancakes filled with smoked salmon and cucumber and, as we found, a rather too generous helping of wasabi.

The main course was Thai green curry and green papaya salad, fragrant and lime-infused, simple yet delicious. But the culinary piece de resistance was undoubtedly pudding - Indian ice-cream or kulfi - served with homemade brandy snaps.

I remember making brandy snaps as a child with my mother. I loved the way the mixture spread and bubbled in the oven, taking on a lovely burnished chestnut colour as it cooked. We'd take the sheet of mixture out, let it cool for a few moments, before shaping the brandy snaps on a wooden spoon. They are very …


Black garlic is the new foodie trend to hit the supermarket shelves (I found it in my local Tesco), though it has been a staple of Asian cuisine. It will either be short-lived, and will disappear as mysteriously as it appeared, once the furore has stilled, or it will become as ubiquitous as sun-dried tomatoes and preserved lemons, now crucial components of any good cook's store-cupboard.

Black garlic is made by fermentation and the process results in molasses-black garlic cloves which have a deep balsamic sweetness while retaining the tangy flavour of garlic. The fermentation process leaves the cloves soft and melt-in-the mouth, rather like dried fruit. In health terms, it has twice as many antioxidants as raw garlic, and in Taoism is said to grant immortality. A thoroughly good ingredient, then.

In cooking, it lends depth and pungency to a stew. I chucked a clove into my Chicken Cacciatura last Saturday, and the friend who came to dinner spotted it - or rather he noticed an inte…


This recipe for a warming, fragrant lamb stew, comes from Jamie Oliver's very first cookbook The Naked Chef. He looks incredibly young on the cover, but a quick check of the copyright page confirms that this book was published in 1999, when Jamie was but a lad, and had just burst onto the scene with his first tv series. I remember enjoying it very much: he was refreshingly laid back yet entirely enthusiastic about food and cooking and I loved the simplicity of his recipes. I still do, and regularly return them - because they work. And they are easy to make!

I still have a lot of time for Jamie, though I got a bit tired of seeing his gurning face on the Sainsbury's adverts (he seems to have severed his relationship with the supermarket to concentrate on other projects), because I feel he truly believes in what he does, with passionate commitment. And his recipes remaining interesting, tasty and easy to construct.

This lamb stew is redolent of a tagine where ingredients are coo…


Literally, "green tart", this is a regional speciality of Liguria (my current foodie obsession), where it is sometimes also called Torta Pasqualina, or Easter tart. It bears more than a passing resemblance to the Greek spinach and feta pie spinakopitta.

The mountainous landscape of Liguria does not lend itself easily to cultivation and so this tasty vegetable tart tends to be made with whatever is available at the time. I've eaten it made with spinach or chard, potatoes, onions, and leeks. In the village of Molini di Triora, where I have stayed each time I've visited Liguria, you can buy a slab of freshly made torta verde for breakfast, or enjoy it as a canape (stuzzichini) with an early evening aperitif. It has a thin, crisp pastry and a layer of vegetable filling within. The pastry is very simple, just plain flour, olive oil and water, and the trick is to keep the whole ensemble thin - about 2 cms including filling and pastry.

Here's a rough recipe: you can of …


The Great British Bake Off on BBC2 has proved a surprising culinary hit, it appears, with viewing figures the highest for any cookery programme in recent memory, outstripping the pneumatic Nigella and the comely, doe-eyed Sophie. Certainly, I have enjoyed the few episodes I have caught. Maybe it is the cosiness of the subject - baking - that makes it so popular. We can almost smell the aroma of bread baking or a banana loaf straight from the oven. The presenters, Mel and Sue, are engaging and entertaining, with a nice gentle tongue-in-cheek take on the proceedings. I'm less keen on the judge Paul Hollywood who can be cutting and harsh in his comments, and who seems rather impatient with a bunch of (mostly) women with floury hands trying to turn out perfect petit fours to please him.

I happened to catch the bread episode a few weeks ago as this is probably the element of baking that interests me the most (I'm not a great cake or patisserie maker). When I stopped full-time work …


A welcome return to a favourite place, Molini di Triora, a "miniature Bethlehem" which clings to the side of a mountain some 20 miles inland from Sanremo and the Italian Riviera.
The road from Taggia, on the coast, snakes up the Valle d'Argentina in a series of hairpins and unnervingly blind corners (especially if you meet the Triora-Sanremo bus coming the other way!), through hamlets, villages and small towns, past olive groves and terraces growing almonds, walnuts, beans, tomatoes. There's no room for traditional pastures in this mountainous landscape and so the locals make do, growing fruit and veg wherever they can. Almost every garden has sunflowers, bean canes, zucchini and tomatoes, while the woods offer good "wild food": mushrooms, rabbit, boar and deer.
The region is famous for its food - and rightly so. Its capital, Genoa, is the city of pesto, that slick pungent green sauce made from pounded basil, sharp pecorino cheese and pine nuts. On the way up…


Here's a simple yet flavoursome tagine that is easy to make and delicious to eat. It's perfect for early autumn, with its sweet and smokey hints of cumin, saffron and turmeric, yet light too. Quick to assemble, it can be put in the oven and forgotten for an hour. It even makes its own sauce while cooking. Serve with fluffy couscous or rice, and plenty of chopped fresh coriander. A tagine cooking vessel is not essential - though it does lend a certain authenticity to the dish!

Simple chicken tagine
1 chicken thigh (bone in) per person
1 large onion, finely sliced
About 1 tsp chopped fresh ginger, or bottled ginger. Or failing both, ground ginger
1 tsp cumin seeds or ground cumin
1 tsp chilli flakes or harissa paste
A couple of garlic cloves, chopped
A couple of carrots, cut into batons
A tin of chickpeas
Salt & pepper

Optional extras:
Half a preserved lemon, flesh removed and finely chopped
A handful of dried apricots or dates, chopped
A handful of olives
Chopped, fresh coriander

Put ever…


In anticipation of my forthcoming long weekend of gastronomy in Liguria, I cooked Italian sausages and polenta for supper last night. Italian sausages are made from the ham/bacon parts of the pig (i.e. different to traditional English pork sausages), and are often seasoned with fennel or aniseed. The very high pure meat content makes them particularly delicious. They are stupidly easy to cook, and are traditionally served with lentils on New Year's Day in Italy (recipe here). Because I was serving them with fluffy polenta (also stupidly easy to make, despite the 'food mystique' which seems to surround it), I made a rich tomato sauce, spiked with fresh chilli and garlic. The sausages were baked in the oven, while the polenta was bubbled and whisked on the hob 5 minutes before serving. I use instant polenta - just follow the instructions on the packet and be aware that polenta has a habit of expanding during cooking!

To make the tomato sauce, fry a couple of cloves of peeled…


I've sent Other Half off to Twickenham to buy buffalo milk coffee ice cream from Laverstoke Park Farm shop. This ice cream really does have to be tried to be believed. It is truly the most deliciously creamy and wonderful ice cream I have ever eaten - and I'm not normally a fan of shop-bought ice cream, even the most upmarket kind. Its strong coffee, almost espresso, flavour makes it a wonderful accompaniment to a rich chocolate cake or chocolate brownies. To ring the changes, because I am always making chocolate brownies as a pudding when people come round for supper, I've made chocolate amaretti biscuits. These are not those crunchy almond biscuits you sometimes get with a cappuccino in your local Italian cafe. No, these are amaretti morbidi, or soft amaretti, and I have blogged about them before, in a different form (Sour Cherry Amaretti). People often think that such sweetmeats are difficult to make, but they are not. In fact, I knocked out these biscuits in 5 minutes…


Padrón peppers hail from Spain (pimientos de Padrón), which is where I first tried them about 20 years ago while on holiday in the hills of Andalucia, north of Malaga. They were served simply: fried in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. Most are sweet and mild, about every one in twenty is fiery and spicy. They are often served as a tapa. For many years, I could only buy them at Garcia and Sons, a Spanish supermarket down the grotty end of Portobello Road in W11, but recently Waitrose has started to stock them (presumably because they have become fashionable amongst middle-class foodies thanks, doubtless, to some TV food "sleb"). As they are seasonal produce, Waitrose will not always have them, so when they do, I always buy several packets. We often have them as a tapa with chilled white wine (or very cold fino sherry), or as an accompaniment to a Mediterranean or Indian meal. I have also recently come across a recipe for Padrón peppers in tempura batter on the Cook Eat…


Oxtail with chorizo and Rioja

I saw this dish being prepared in an episode of Rick Stein's recent, excellent tv series on Spain and its cuisine, though I had read the recipe in my copy of Casa Moro: The Second Moro Cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark, and thought I would like to make it. Seeing it being made convinced me it was my kind of dish: slow-cooked, aromatic and hearty.

The dish originated in Cordoba where it was made from the tail of a bull recently killed in the corrida. It is often served in bars near the bullrings all around Spain, and was apparently a favourite dish of writer and bull-fighting fan Ernest Hemingway. Like all good stews, it benefits from being made in advance, if possible. Despite the long list of ingredients and two stages of preparation, it is very easy to make.

I have always liked oxtail and remember eating it fairly regularly as a little girl. It fell out of favour during the 'BSE Years', but has come back into vogue with the popularity of "f…


Tempura is a Japanese dish consisting of various kinds of fish, vegetables and shellfish coated in a light batter and deep-fried. But you knew that didn't you?

Tempura is quick to prepare and make, and is a brilliant supper dish for weekdays. I particularly like aubergine batons, king prawns, squid and sweet potato done this way. If I'm at Yo! Sushi, where, if dining with my son, I can be guaranteed to spend no less than £40 on a lunch which is basically self-service, I usually order the soft-shell crab in tempura. You can make your own tempura at home. You don't need specialist equipment, though a deep-fat fryer is useful; otherwise, use a deep frying pan or saucepan filled with vegetable or sunflower oil. The only other proven tricks are to use ice-cold water, preferably fizzy or soda, to make the batter and not to beat the batter too much - it should be lumpy as this encourages air bubbles to form and keeps it light and crispy. Keep the pieces to be fried fairly small an…


National treasure Marks & Spencer is following in the footsteps of that other National Treasure, the Sainted Delia, and has launched a range of "cheat's cooking" ingredients and ready-made sauces. I am not usually a fan of such products, preferring to make my own sauces etc, but I have to admit I'm a recent convert to this range. If you're in a hurry, or don't enjoy cooking, this is ideal for knocking up a quick yet flavourful meal. The ingredients pots are helpfully sold alongside "real" ingredients such as chicken breasts, prawns, noodles and fresh herbs. I am particularly partial to the Green Thai Curry Paste, which, when combined with a tin of coconut milk and some diced chicken or salmon, makes an authentic-tasting Thai curry, almost as good as the one I made from scratch with ingredients purchased from my local Asian supermarket. The Red Thai paste is also good: a teaspoonful with prawns adds a wonderful piquancy, and needs only some noodl…


It's the holidays for me now, a 7-week break from piano teaching, so this week I've decided to have a clear out and a tidy up. I started with the kitchen drawers, at the back of which I found a 'Savu Original Food Smoker Bag', an ingenious 'device' which hails from Finland. I can't remember where or when I purchased it, but I suspect it came from somewhere like Lakeland, which offers a million kitchen gadgets and gizmos you think you can't live without. The Food Smoker Bag is just what is says on the packet - a foil bag containing natural raw wood "specially selected from Finnish forests", which, when heated, creates a delicious smoked flavour. You put the food in the smoker bag, seal it up, place in a pre-heated oven and cook. The end result is a pleasantly smoked flavour. It's particularly good for fish.

There are, of course, more sophisticated ways to achieve a smoked flavour, the most obvious being the barbecue (note: a 'proper'…


As my mother-in-law frequently, and correctly, points out, I am very lucky to live close to the heart of the best city in the world, and have access to all it has to offer, should I desire it. There are specialist food shops, markets like Exmouth Street and Borough, wonderful food halls and a myriad of other retailers purveying wondrous delicacies. Yes, I am really very spoilt.

However, what I do lack is Olives et Al, a wonderful small specialist retailer which started out 18 years ago selling olives, and has since developed into a company which supplies oils and vinegars, pestos and tapenades, wonderful snacks, and other lovely foodie goodies. From humble beginnings, the company now has a well-stocked and friendly factory shop on the edge of Sturminster Newton, a small town in Dorset, where I stayed on my wedding night. Despite living in a leafy suburb of London, which has several good delis on its high street, I cannot buy Olives et Al products locally, so whenever I am in Dorset, I…


I'm enjoying a mini break in darkest Dorset (well, Blandford Forum, to be precise, an almost perfectly extant Georgian town, the result of a fire in the 1700s and an extensive rebuilding programme masterminded by the Bastard Brothers. I kid you not.). Apart from having to contend with two dogs - and I'm not good with dogs - who bark ceaselessly just before 9am every morning when it's walkies time, I also have to face off the Aga every time I want a cup of tea or a piece of toast.

I've blogged, and grumbled, before about the Aga. For someone in possession of a 6-burnergas hob atop a professional-style modern range oven, I find the Aga quirky and unsophisticated to cook on. It has only two 'settings': hot and not hot. It loses heat very quickly if one of its lids is left up, and if someone has been using the hot plate before you, you have to wait at least an hour for it to heat up again, just to make a cup of tea. Making toast is a feat in itself: turn your back …


First, apologies to Demon Cook fans and followers for the lack of posts recently: I have been exceptionally busy in my other life as a piano teacher, with end of term concerts, paperwork (to ensure I get paid next term!) and various other piano admin. The end of term is nigh, at last, and I can look forward to a rest and lots of therapeutic cooking and piano playing (mine - and other people's at Prom concerts this summer).

Now, for tonight's supper. When I asked Other Half what he fancied for dinner, he said "Moroccan style lamb chops, grilled" which I instantly translated at Lamb Mechoui. Hailing from Morocco, mechoui is whole lamb, spit-roasted over the embers of an open fire, basted with a mixture of butter, saffron, cumin, salt and paprika. Translating this to a more domestic setting is simple enough: swap the whole lamb for chops. The spice mixture remains the same. I sometimes do this on the barbecue, which probably lends a more authentic flavour to it, but othe…


Eight for dinner tonight, and I wanted to make something simple and elegant. One of the guests does not eat meat, so rather than make a dish especially for her, everyone will have fish.

I've got a bit of a "thing" for Thai food at the moment, ever since that glorious (and somewhat boozy) supper at Caroline's last month, and my discovery of the local Asian supermarket. Perhaps it has something to do with the change in the weather, for the better, that I crave bright, fresh flavours, rather than sultry stews and slow roasts?

This recipe is from the Sainted Delia, her 'Summer Collection', a book I return to fairly frequently, as it does contain a lovely selection of summery food (the homemade lemonade recipe is hard to beat). Like many of the dishes I cook, this can be easily made in advance and set aside until you are ready to cook. For a starter, I'm doing my take on Chinese pancakes: instead of crispy aromatic duck, I'll fill them with a mixture of cr…


I've borrowed the title of this post from the back page of the Waitrose food magazine, where each month a celebrity reveals something about him- or herself through a series of food-related questions.

Who taught you to cook? I am largely self-taught, and have always enjoyed experimenting and tinkering with food. I learnt the tricks of pastry-making from my mother ("keep it cold"). I hated domestic science lessons at school because everything had to be so tidy, but I still use the basic roux sauce recipe that I learnt in school.

Is there a dish you've never really mastered? Less "mastered" and more "attempted". I haven't tried Baked Alaska yet, nor Beef Wellington, though neither is particularly daunting for me. Watching 'Masterchef: the Professionals' last winter taught me a lot: food that appears complicated is not always what it seems. Often, it is in the construction and presentation of a dish, rather than the actual ingredients or coo…


Also known as 'Tunisian Eggs', this is a popular and regular supper dish in my house. I've been making it for years, ever since I discovered those delicious Middle Eastern spicy lamb sausages called mergeuz. I used to buy them at Harvey Nicks food hall, until I discovered my local fishmonger (Sandy's in Twickenham) sold their own, homemade version (along with a great selection of other sausages, including boerwoers, venison and cajun - great for barbecues!). I have also found merguez sausages at the Whole Food Market, Kensington, and in various Middle Eastern delis and supermarkets on Goldborne Road (good for Middle Eastern ingredients generally).

Chakchouka is a popular breakfast dish in north Africa, and there are several variants. For vegetarians, you can of course omit the sausages. I love the eggs which are cooked on top of the ragu of tomatoes and peppers, and I sometimes add slices of Halloumi, that squeaky Middle Eastern sheeps' milk cheese. I serve Chakcho…


As London broiled on the hottest day of the year (so far), and those of us who had to use the Tube today cursed the lack of air-conditioning, my foodie thoughts turned to long, cold drinks and light but piquantly-flavoured dishes. In between these foodie musings, I was doing my 'other' job, as a music reviewer for, enjoying a lunchtime Schubert recital in the relatively cool Wigmore Hall. When I got home, I had to teach, an extra lesson for a student, not one of mine (though soon to be, officially), who is taking her Grade 2 exam next week. The heat made her sloppy and forgetful, and when I sat at the piano to play through the aural exercises, the keys felt sticky, in all senses of the word. After she left, I downed half a pint of Diet Coke, a drink I normally eschew, but sometimes it's surprisingly refreshing. Then I wrote my review for Bachtrack; by the time I'd tried - and failed - to think of a snappy title for the article, it was 7pm, so I went to th…


Forgive the Jamie-esque title of this post: but I couldn't stop myself.....

Last week, I went to the new oriental supermarket in Kingston (near John Lewis) and purchased a shed-load of exotic ingredients which I will probably only use once before consigning to the back of the larder where they will moulder away with all those other curious condiments I bought thinking "that looks interesting" - such as lavender cordial from the south of France (never tried) and Italian fruits in mustard (also never tried). The herbs were so cheap at the Asian supermarket, that I made two vats of green Thai curry sauce, and then chucked the rest of the kaffir lime leaves away because they were turning brown. Of course, I should have dried them for future use, but there was Liszt to be practised and Schubert to be refined: sometimes it ain't easy being a cook AND a pianist....

I love crispy aromatic duck, that staple of your local Chinese restaurant. I don't actually eat it at my l…


I'm not very good at following recipes, except for things like cakes and pastry where the right quantities of ingredients are required for the special chemistry to work to achieve the desired end result, and often the best meals are the ones which are the result of chucking in a bit of this or a handful of that, and seeing what happens.

This is how my 'Asian-inspired seared beef salad' came about, and the subject of this post. I ate a rather delicious seared beef salad at Wagamama a few weeks ago. Usually, when I eat at Wagamama I have No. 40 ('Yaki Soba') or No. 42 ('Yaki Udon'), or, if I need something warming, No. 35 ('Kare Lomen' - prawns and noodles in a curried coconut sauce). But I'm on a low-carb regime at the moment (boring, I know, but necessarily), and it was a hot day, and I'd just walked along the river from Twickenham, so I opted for No. 67 Ginger Beef and Coriander Salad, marked "new" on the menu.

I'm a big fan o…