I’ve entered this in the Covent Garden Soup Co Soup of the Month Competition, so I thought I might as well post the recipe here too. No picture!

Ingredients:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
4 large carrots, cut into rough chunks
500ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp soy sauce 
6 tbsps dessicated unsweetened coconut
Salt and pepper
A few coriander leaves or a pinch of dessicated coconut to garnish (optional)

1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Soften the onion, taking care not to burn. Add the garlic and cook gently for a couple of minutes. Stir in the ground cumin.
2. Add the carrots, pour over the stock and bring to a boil. Pour in the soy sauce. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pan. Allow to cook for 10-15 minutes.
3. Stir the dessicated coconut into the soup, recover and cook for a further 5-10 minutes or until the carrots are soft.
4. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Transfer the soup to a blender and whizz until smooth. Add hot water (if serving immediately) to the soup until it has a smooth consistency, about 150-200ml.
5. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with a few coriander leaves or a pinch of dessicated coconut, if desired.

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Every day on my way to work I walk past an art shop. In the window they have the most beautiful paintings by an artist called Karl Martens. He paints birds, but focuses on the negative space around the bird taking inspiration from Chinese art. They’re so expressive.

Karl Martens

Karl Martens' Beautiful Bird Paintings

You can buy some of his paintings here and here, but be warned, they are expensive.

I had a go at making Felicity Cloake’s perfect flapjacks this weekend. The only problem was I didn’t really fancy buying the two types of oats she recommends and then have them sit around in my cupboard for months waiting to become granola. As far as I was concerned dual purpose muesli whose leftovers could be used for breakfast would do the trick. Her basic recipe definitely has its merits. It’s the first time I’ve managed to get truly chewy flapjacks. These would be great with a chocolate coating.

Ingredients:
250g Unsalted butter
65g Demerara sugar
100g Golden syrup
375g Muesli (if it has large pieces of dried fruit, such as banana, remove as much as possible from your flapjack muesli – aim for raisins, cranberries and sultanas only)
50g Dessicated coconut
1tsp Cinnamon

  1. Preheat oven to 150C. Line a 20×20 square cake tin with greaseproof paper. In order to get the paper to fit into the tin snugly mark out the square size in the middle of the sheet, fold in the side to each of the lines, then crease along the diagonals in each corner to create a lidless box. A little dab of butter in each of the corners will help the box keep its shape. Just slide the paper into the tin.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan with the sugar, syrup and a pinch of salt over a low heat. Stir it well until everything has melted and combined.
  3. Take the pan off the heat and add the muesli.
  4. Press the mixture into the lined tin and bake for 25 minutes.
  5. Allow the flapjacks to cool for 2-3 minutes before cutting them into slices while they are still in the tin. Leave the flapjacks to cool completely before removing them from the tin. If you’re impatient, only the top of the flapjacks will harden, leaving you with a crumbly, sticky mess. If in doubt, allow the flapjacks to cool to room temperature then put the tin in the fridge for a few hours to make sure they’ve really set.

If you ever go to Lisbon make sure you visit the restaurant upstairs at the Confeitaria Nacional. They serve good food at good prices in a sophisticated atmosphere. It’s simple food, admittedly – mostly heavy steaks and refreshing salads – but what makes it really worth it is the bread basket at the start of the meal. One bread in particular to be precise – Broa. The Broa at the Confeitaria has a distinctive moist, yet crumbly texture and a golden yellow hue that comes from the cornmeal used to make it. It’s almost halfway between a bread and a cake (a definitional problem furthered by its sweetness). It seems to go well with anything – butter, honey, soup or even just by itself.

Recreating the recipe from scratch wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. In fact, even with fluent Portuguese help I couldn’t find a recipe online that would come close to the Confeitaria product. They were either far too cake-y (with an abundance of eggs – very Portuguese) or too savoury. My starting recipe was Priya’s Portuguese cornbread. It was okay, but it wasn’t what I was aiming for. It was too dense, not at all sweet and not very yellow. From there I looked into what makes bread tick – as an age old art form (sort of), there’s plenty of info about how to make a bread dough do what you want. This guide to bread making was particularly helpful. I still haven’t managed to crack the Confeitaria’s secret, but the recipe below is the closest approximation I could achieve without expert guidance.

Broa

Broa recipe
Ingredients (makes 1 loaf)
250g Plain flour
125g  Cornmeal (quite difficult to find in the UK – Waitrose might have it)
125ml Lukewarm water (2 parts nearly boiling to 1 part cold)
1 tbsp Active dry yest
1/2 tbsp Sugar (for yeast mixture)
3/4 tsp Salt
25g Butter
1 Egg (lightly beaten)
75g Sugar
40ml Milk

  1. Mix the yeast, sugar and salt with the lukewarm water and leave to the side for around 10 mins until a thick foam forms on the surface.
  2. Combine the flour, cornmeal and butter in a large bowl. Pour the yeast mixture in and knead to an elastic, non-stick dough. Add the extra sugar, egg and milk. Knead back to a nice dry dough (you may need to add a little bit more flour).
  3. Lightly coat the inside of the mixing bowl with olive oil, put the dough in the bowl and leave covered in a warm place to rise for one hour.
  4. Punch the dough down, transfer to a baking sheet (or loaf pan if you have one/want a perfect looking loaf) and leave to rise for another 30-45 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 190C.
  6. When the dough has doubled in size bake in the oven for around 30 mins. You can tell whether the bread is done if it sounds hollow when you tap the bottom.

It was also my mum’s birthday last week. Since she’s a big fan of the game Angry Birds I made her an Angry Birds themed cake. I was at a bit of a disadvantage never having played the game, but I thought it would be fun so I pursued the idea. During the research stages I’d seen a couple of brilliant cakes. First of all was Anya Richardson’s amazingly detailed cake. Everything was on it. All of the characters with their funny expressions and even some blocks to knock over. Then I saw the unbelievable playable Angry Birds cake. I loved the idea and was very thankful for the little guide to making the characters, but such a masterpiece was beyond my scope. In the end I decided to make a simpler version of Anya Richardson’s cake, focusing on just a few of the characters (and not at all on the scenery!).

The cake itself had two ‘tiers’. The bottom tier was made out of digestive biscuit sponge (recipe below), loosely based on this recipe. The top tier was a simple lemon cake. I used the Hummingbird Bakery recipe, but a similar one can be found at joyofbaking.com. For the icing (beneath the fondant covering) I made the key lime icing from Ming Makes Cupcakes. I was aiming to create a blend between a cheesecake and a key lime pie. If there hadn’t been quite so much fondant, I think the effect would have been more pronounced, but overall I was very pleased with the taste and texture.

The characters were great fun to make. I made a few sketches from pictures I found of the game on google to try and work out proportions and rough shapes. Translating 2D images into 3D fondant characters was the biggest challenge. Fortunately, they’re really simple shapes. The birds are egg shaped (or triangle shaped for the yellow bird), while the pigs are just round blobs. I used pre-coloured icing for the majority of the characters. I only recoloured the yellow bird’s beak orange using a bit of gel food colouring. The fine details, like the pigs’ raised eyebrows, I did using a black food colouring pen.

The final element I included was the blocks on the top tier behind the pigs. I got the idea to make them from chocolate covered cake bites, after a visit to Bakerella’s blog. I modified her recipe a bit, using the digestive cake as the base and the key lime icing (recipe below). Surprisingly, for a decorative feature designed for aesthetic looks, rather than taste they were eaten faster than the cake itself.

Overall, the cake was well received. I’d love to make another one with all of the characters and more depth to the landscape. Maybe next year…

Recipes

Digestive Biscuit Cake
Ingredients (makes enough for a 9in/23cm cake tin)
225g/8oz Caster sugar
225g/8oz Butter
225g/8oz Self-raising flour
100g Digestive biscuit crumbs (the quickest way to make these is to break them up a little bit and then blitz  them in a blender)
4 Eggs
200ml Milk
1tsp Vanilla

1) Pre-heat the oven to 190C (180C for fan ovens) and line a cake tin.
2) Cream the butter and the sugar.
3)  Gradually add the flour and the digestive biscuit crumbs and stir in with a wooden spoon until combined.
4) Add the eggs one at a time, beating in until well combined.
5) Slowly add the milk, followed by the vanilla.
6) Transfer the mixture to the cake tin and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Chocolate covered cake
150g Cake (crumbled)
Left-over key lime icing
50-75g  Plain chocolate

1) Mix a few dollops of key lime icing into the cake crumbs. Keep adding the icing until the mixture has the consistency of fairly dry cookie dough (more akin to shortbread dough, than American style cookies).
2) Form the mixture into the desired shape. The smaller you make the shapes, the easier (and cleaner!) they’ll be to cover in chocolate. If you want to make rectangular or log shapes wrap the mixture in clingfilm and press it into shape on a worktop or flat surface.
3) Place the shapes on a plate or baking tray and refrigerate for an hour or two until sufficiently chilled to keep their shape when being covered in chocolate.
4) Melt the chocolate over a bain marie. Dip each cake shape in the chocolate and carefully place it back on the plate/baking tray before transferring back to the fridge for at least 20 minutes.

I made a double quantity of the key lime icing just to ensure that I’d have enough to ice the cake. I ended up having far too much, so I used the left over mixture to make cupcakes…

Key Lime Icing Cupcakes
Ingredients
115g Cream cheese
60g  Butter
250g Icing sugar (you could also use 225g caster sugar)
2tbsps Lime juice
250g Self-raising flour
2 Eggs

1) Preheat the oven to 180C and line a 12 cup muffin pan with muffin cases.
2) Make the key lime mixture by creaming the butter and the sugar first. Add the cream cheese and mix well. Finally, add the lime juice and beat.
3) Gradually add the flour and mix well.
4) Add one egg at a time and beat in using an electric whisk.
5) You can add a bit of milk to make the batter thinner at this point. It depends on how you prefer your cupcakes – if you like them dense then do not add milk, but if you prefer moist, fluffy cupcakes add about 60ml of milk.
6) Spoon the mixture into the muffin case and bake for about 20-25 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Quite a few birthdays fall in March. The first one is that of a bird-loving friend, who is studying birds for her PhD. For her birthday I made a card for her with an adorable Kentish Plover (Charadrius Alexandrius).

Card detail

Kentish Plover

I got inspiration for the bird from a beautiful collection of bird photos. The website is in Dutch, but it is easy to navigate. I came across the Kentish Plover in a variety of poses and finally settled on this one. The technique I used is very simple: I sketched the bird with pencil, selectively went over the lines with a uniball gel pen and then achieved a water colour effect by going over the lines and shading with a wet paintbrush. I learnt this technique at least five years ago in an art class and its still useful.

Cakes for Japan is a fantastic, charitable idea to raise money for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last week. All of the proceeds are going to the Red Cross. They’ll have a pop-up shop in Shoreditch on the 18th March and one in Edinburgh next week. The cakes and cookies look beautiful:

Painted Cookies by Nevie Pie

Once Wed Ombre Napkins

Once Wed Ombre Napkins

I’ve been looking at these all day, trying to think of an occasion that would be worthy of their beauty. They really are gorgeous, especially with those beautifully subtle flower arrangements. If my dining table looked like this then I would be truly happy.

(originally spotted on craftzine)

I don’t like soup. Generally, I’d much rather eat my vegetables whole. What’s wrong with that?

However, I love watching the food network. I was watching ‘Barefoot Contessa’  recently where Ina Garten made Butternut Squash and Apple soup. The combination sounded delicious – two things I love: butternut squash and apple juice. So I set out to make it.

Several challenges are involved in making this soup. First of all you have to keep a very close eye on the onions as they’re frying in the pan. This is harder than it sounds when you’re also peeling and slicing the squash (more on this in the next paragraph). Based on the experience I had it’s a good idea to either buy frozen cubes of butternut squash or peel and slice it before you start the onions.

The second issue is the butternut squash itself. The star of the soup just so happens to be one of the most difficult things to peel and slice in the entire world. If you can get frozen butternut squash I would strongly recommend buying that. If you like a challenge, I hope you enjoy spending half an hour grunting and swearing as you try to slice open the squash and scoop out the copious amount of seeds in the middle. The seeds. Just as you think you’ve surmounted the challenge you come upon the seeds. Small, numerous and ridiculously slippery. You could also roast the squash for 30 minutes or so in the oven. Still, you’d have to halve it and scoop out the seeds beforehand. Every option is fraught with trouble.

Hopefully, you haven’t been put off at this point. With the modifications I’ve made to Ina Garten’s original recipe it really is delicious. I found her recipe far too sweet and so I toned it down with a dash of soy sauce.

You can find the original recipe here.

Ingredients (to make 4-6 servings):
A knob of butter
1tbsp Olive oil
1 Large onion
1 Butternut squash
2 Apples
1tsp Cinnamon
Salt
Pepper
250ml Water (1 cup – if you have measuring cups)
250ml Apple juice (1 cup – if you have measuring cups)
1tsp Soy sauce

1.  Peel and slice the squash in half. It may help to use two knives to pry and split the flesh in half. Cut off the ends and scoop out the seeds in the middle using a spoon. Feel around in the cavity for any seeds that you’ve missed and pick them out. Cut the flesh up into rough cubes no more than 5cm x 5cm. Put to one side.

2. Dice the onion. Melt the butter in the olive oil in a large saucepan (you can use a stock pot, but it’s not absolutely necessary – just use the biggest saucepan (that has a lid) you have) and add the diced onion. Fry the onion for about 15 minutes, stirring it regularly, over a medium heat.

3. While the onion is cooking, peel and core the apples. Cut them into 2cm x 2cm cubes.

4. Add the butternut and apple to the saucepan with the onion. Add a dash of salt and pepper and a teaspoon of cinnamon. Pour over a generous cup of water, give everything a gentle stir and cover with the lid. Leave to cook over a medium low heat for about 40 minutes.

5. Make sure the butternut is soft and well cooked before transferring all the ingredients in the saucepan to a bowl or a blender. Using a handheld blender (or normal blender) puree the soup to the coarseness desired. Return to the saucepan. Add the apple juice and stir. Add more or less apple juice to achieve the desired soup consistency. Finally, add the soy sauce to taste and serve.

The soup, if stored in an airtight container the fridge, will keep for several days.

My friend was visiting from Paris over the weekend. To celebrate we all went to an Indian restaurant called Dishoom in Covent Garden.

Apparently, the restaurant draws on ‘the heritage and tradition of old Bombay Cafés’. Never having been to a Bombay Café I admit that this might have been lost on me. The atmosphere felt dark, stuffy and claustrophobic. This was especially the case when we were waiting at the bar for our table to be prepared. Squeezed between a pillar and someone’s shoulder it is nigh on impossible to look sophisticated holding your Bollybellini. I wasn’t terribly impressed by the rude waiter telling us to get out of the way either. Where were we meant to go?

The menu has some interesting choices available, particularly for snacks and starters. We ordered their crisps (poppadoms with a hint of lime, a sprinkling of paprika and something spicy), lamb samosas (crispy with a light, aromatic lamb filling – delicious!) and calimari (not what you’d expect in an Indian restaurant, but always a hit). After these nibbles I was looking forward to something more substantial.

However, the main courses were disappointing. For a start, there isn’t a great deal of choice. It’s mostly a choice between something from the grill or a Biryani. You can also have Roomali Rolls, but considering they’re just glorified wraps more suited for a lunchtime meal than dinner I stayed away from them. Decisions decisions. I have the most pathetic tolerance level for spicy food, so anything marked ‘(s)’ was immediately discounted. The only thing on the menu that described itself as ‘mild’ was the Murgh Malai. I was expecting something like butter chicken that would be creamy and delicious, melt in your mouth type food – not even a hint of that disagreeable burning sensation. What I got was a plate of tender chicken that set my mouth on fire. THIS was mild?! Yeah right… I ended up dousing the entire plate in a bowl of raita.

Another criticism lies in the portion sizes. My Murgh Malai was a side plate of chicken. Apart from a lime, a very small pot of slivers of cucumber and tomato (also spicy) and a sprig of parsley there was nothing else on the plate. I would have expected some sort of salad or a bit of rice to go with the chicken. In fact, I would have settled for a smaller portion of chicken if there was something to go with it. Those who ordered Biryanis fared a little bit better, although the presentation in a small stoneware bowl made the portion look smaller than it actually was.

Nevertheless, to end on a positive note, I have learnt several things from this experience. Firstly, not even dishonest chicken can make a night out with good friends less fun. Secondly, if in doubt, make sure the waiters/kitchen staff are aware of your spice intolerance. It’s not a recognised allergy, but for me (and hopefully others) it makes a huge difference. Finally, if all else fails, a bowl of cucumber raita will always help you through tough times.

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