Friday, 25 June 2010

The Time Short Foodie

As a time short foodie, if there was ever a case for practicing out my recipes yesterday was a fine example. I’ve been getting up at 5 am to write, indeed, it is as I am writing this it is 5.35am. This way I get peace and quiet before the family wakes and the mad school dash. I dropped the children off and headed with Bunny, father in Law, to the market. I should explain at this point that Bunny is a nick name (real name Brian Dunstone.) I should also explain that Bunny is an artist. Not just any old artist, but the real McCoy he was resident at the Royal College of Art and won the Priz de Rome. He has offered to do some of the photography for the book. I feel very privileged.

I headed straight to Mick’s fruit stall where Anne and Mick have the best fruit and vegetable stall you can imagine. It is so beautifully presented that it looks as though it is laid out waiting for a photo shoot every day. Josie, and Anne and another lady were delightful in helping me buy the vegetables in super slow motion, whilst keeping my three year old entertained with strawberries and serving other non posing clients.

A chap called Nick, whom I have known since school days, was on the market square buying Breakfast. He invited us for a coffee on the way back to the car & seeing as we’d finished earlier than expected we headed back up to Zebedee’s on the Drapery. Nick has opened an amazing eclectic retro collectables shop above the coolest cafe bar I have ever stumbled on. Seriously. With my basket stuffed to the brim with fruit and veg, the sun shining at just 10:30am, the atmosphere in Zebedee’s was like an Italian Riviera cafe. We had a spontaneous coffee and a Vecchia Romagna, Italian brandy.

The rest of the morning was spent at home photographing some of the Elderflower chapter. They are only in season for a short time. The cottage opposite is being rethatched and I couldn’t help but notice this gorgeous hunk of chap, with a mop of blonde hair, and a wicked grin working on the thatch. Luckily he is a friend of my brothers, so he very amenably agreed to pose for some shots drinking Elderflower cordial and eating cupcakes for me. Wez ate three, sitting on a pile of thatch in hob nail boots and a string vest. The photo’s work brilliantly. Real life. Delicious.

With a recipe to write up, the shopping to do for the recipes tomorrow and the children’s supper to organise, and the work I do for our own busines I took vanilla cupcakes out of the freezer before heading out. I cheated and fed the children in the supermarket restaurant. I arrived home just 20 minutes before I was due to be picked up for the bring your own dish Year 3 mum’s night out. As Cathinka arrived in her open top sporty, looking glam, I was just finishing piping the butter icing on the cupcakes. Isobel saw no reason why she shouldn’t some to the party, and joined in grabbing handfuls of Geraniums to decorate the cakes. She was not happy as I explained it was just me going out. Alastair thankfully arrived home just in time to scoop a screaming Isobel up in his arms and kissed me goodbye. I sat in the car with a sense of living the dream. . I had managed to do everything I needed to do for the day. Well Almost. Husband asked me what I had left him for supper. You know, he is going to have to learn to boil and egg.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Elderflowers, Rocket Fuel and a Book Contract.

This week’s recipe is Elderflower and Rose syrup. It has an extraordinary affinity with champagne, which is a bonus really because that is what I’ve been drinking. Oh yes. Alastair took us all out last night, children as well, to celebrate. Heather H B's advice, I mentioned in my last post. Her motto is words that matter. Her words certainly did matter .. they were like rocket fuel, and now I have lift off!

It seems odd now to think how much I fretted about which food to take and how the publishers would view my ideas, especially how they would rate the importance of good photography. I believe that you eat with your eyes, and I worried that my convictions might have sounded too ambitious.

Typically, Wednesday was spent doing the food and photography for Saturday's Chronicle and Echo article, and I threw together what has turned out to be a superb cupcake. Rhubarb and Vanilla, with an Elderflower and Rose Buttercream. It was so thrown together that I have to go back and redo the buttercream and measure the quantities used.

It really is the most amazing feeling to know that the book in your head is going to be published. The tricks, idea's, passion and planning that go into my everyday life will be shared.

The publishers are an Independent run business in near Oxford. They are exceptional people, with a wealth of experience, they seem down to earth, relaxed knowledgeable, and I instantly felt very comfortable with them. The set up is really professional, but has a family feel, and I noticed how well they interacted with their team; always a good sign. They also have many authors that repeat publish with them, some obviously for many years. I am not in any position to judge anything in the publishing industry, being as I have literally just got the contract today, but my instincts are good and I felt at home. I left inspired and ( as if it were possible, ) even more motivated.

The book has to be written by December, and will be published in May, so it couldn’t be more fitting with the initial plans (see egg picture at the top of the page with the date on!) It is to be called Prepped, and is about being prepared for anything real life can throw at you.

I’ve so much to get done this weekend, putting the recipes and chapters in order, and now that there is an order and structure outlined for the book, my brain can slow down a little and I can focus. I can even see the final book in my head. I even see it in my hands and can almost turn the pages.

The child in me is leaping up and down shouting for sheer joy. The sensible me is actually typing this entry at the kitchen table working on the blurb, whilst my husband is watching the football, and oblivious to it all is the stray cat I rescued a couple of weeks ago, who is snoring loudly in a basket next to me.

How amazing is this!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Lemons and a Random act of Kindness

There is something magical about food, and whenever I mention to someone that I have started writing a recipe book there is always a reaction. People always, without exception, talk to you about food, their favourite, their fantasy meal, or a recipe they tried out. Forget talking about the weather to get a conversation going – talk food.

This week something amazing happened. I have been grinning like a lunatic since I was called by a small successful publisher and they want to see me next week. I owe a huge thank you to a lady called Heather, who is a seriously amazing agent in the literary world. Although sadly she wasn’t able to represent me she put herself out of her way yesterday morning to give me some great leads. Her words were like rocket fuel, and I wasn’t going to let them go to waste. So the advice I followed resulted in the meeting next week. Really .. it was a good job that the interested publisher got my answer machine, and not me, because the whoop of delight as I listened to her message was as though I had got the winning numbers of the lottery louder!

Now I have butterflies.

This random act of kindness reminded me of an incident that happened to me aged 19. Returning to the Dordogne from Paris I had my bag stolen. I was so upset I managed to board the wrong train and ended up in Toulouse instead of Brive. Hungry, with no money, no passport and no idea what to do, I went to the station loo. In came an impeccably dressed French lady, to use the loo, and found me red eyed and slightly hysterical. She gave me 50 Francs. More than enough to get a meal and catch a train back to Brive. I asked for her address to return the money, but she refused to give it to me. She asked, instead, that whenever I had the opportunity to do a good deed that I pass it in the same way, and the good deed would return to her when she needed it most. Almost two decades later and I am still passing on good deeds. That 50 Francs has gone a long way, and I hope each time that it will reach her. Perhaps this advice was part of a bigger loop?

There was a marvellous recipe in a magazine I read called Delicious for Lemon Curd Ice Cream. I can’t recommend the recipe or the magazine enough. Squeezing the juicy lemons made got me all citrusy. With the asparagus season coming to an end this week’s recipes are based around Lemon & Asparagus. I think the Quiche recipe is outstanding, it will be in Saturday’s Chronicle and Echo.

Speaking of good deeds, I always try and buy my Fruit and vegetables from Stephen Troop, from K F Troop and Son green Grocers, Brixworth. I’ve even started cycling in to pick up my bits. Yesterday though, I had to take the car, as he lent me a large box of his prize lemons for an hour for the photos. Food makes a wonderful thank you. I made it back up the village as fast I could with a large cone topped with a large dollop of Lemon Curd Ice Cream, luckily I passed him in his van as he was off to do deliveries, before the ice-cream had the chance to melt.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Chocolate, Vanilla and Cardamom Biscotti.

I've been playing with Cardamon again. In fact I made six lots of these just to get the right balance.
The cardamom merges together with rich cocoa and soft vanilla. This terrific combination both compliments and exaggerates the deeper flavours of coffee like no other biscuit I know.

A traditional, twice baked, hard Italian biscuit, these fragrant biscotti can also be served with fruit fool or ice-cream. Alternatively, they make an elegant sweet for a supper party. The crunch of the almonds works brilliantly with plate of baked figs drizzled in honey and a slice of creamy gorgonzola. It’s an effortless yet classic blend.

The final flavour is significantly improved using freshly ground cardamom. If you have the opportunity, grind your pods up with a pestle and mortar, discarding the outer green husks.
What I really adore about these biscuits, is the fact that it takes less than ten minutes to have them made and in the oven. They are super fast, super simple, sophistication. What’s more, a jar full makes a handsome present. They store for a week or two, and improve with age.
Cooking & prep time 50 minutes
Clear up time 10 minutes

300 grams Whole Almonds
350 grams Self Raising Flour
50 grams of Cocoa Powder
200 grams Vanilla sugar OR caster sugar with vanilla essence
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1 level teaspoon of course sea salt.
1 level teaspoon Ground Cardamom
6 Large Eggs
75grams Chopped Roasted Hazelnuts

Preheat the oven 180 Celsius/ gas mark 4/ 350 Fahrenheit
To add a good crunch to the almonds gently roast them a heavy based frying pan. Take care as they burn easily.
In a bowl mix the sugar, flour, sifted cocoa powder, cardamom and salt together.
Beat eggs, (vanilla essence if necessary) and milk in a food mixer then slowly add the dry mix to form a loose dough adding the roasted almonds at the end, and stirring them in gently .. you don’t want to break them up.
Transfer the mix on to a large greased baking tray making two logs. These should be 10 inches long and no more than 4 inches wide. Leave a gap between the logs as they expand. Sprinkle evenly with hazelnuts.
Bake for 20 - 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool. Next, to avoid the biscuit breaking apart as you cut through the almonds use a very sharp knife cut straight down, with the heel of your hand pressing down on the top of the knife. Don’t saw. Cut into 3/4 inch portions and return to the oven. Toast for 10 – 12 minutes on each side. Don’t be tempted to overcook them; they need leaving on a wire rack for an hour or two to dry out completely. Transfer to an air tight container.
Makes 30 - 35.