Gluten Free Orange and Almond Cake with Chocolate Ganache

Gluten free orange and almond cake with chocolate ganacheThe gluten-free part is irrelevant for me.  I am one of those people who has no food intolerances (also known as a European).  I consume dairy, eggs, gluten, saturated fat, in short: everything and have never been tempted into a purging of my diet in an attempt to achieve clarity of mind, gain energy or a slimmer figure (isn’t that what coffee is for?).  So yes-that it’s ‘gluten free’ is more informative than anything.

We used to make this cake at Melrose and Morgan, the girls from Triyoga up in Primrose Hill would come, perch on the corner of something small and daintily nibble on it (imagine a svelte glossy haired gerbil if you will) while they sipped on something seemingly virtuous and always caffeine free (chamomile tea, fresh mint tea, hot water with a slice of lemon-I could never figure out how much to charge for that?)

It was the one cake pastry loved to have on the cake rota because it was easy.  Boil some oranges, bung everything but the kitchen sink into a food processor and whiz.  When the kitchen timer went off to say it was ready, they could let it languish – oh up to 15 minutes more since this is one cake you can’t over bake (the almonds and orange keep it moist for an exceptionally long time).  In fact, a one day old orange and almond cake is almost better than one that is freshly baked.I never get sick of my (rented) tangerine treeI liked this cake a lot but it was a bit like that guy I always hung out with as a teen that was a good friend but not exciting enough to be elevated to the status of boyfriend.  And then I went to Sweet Things in Primrose Hill and all of a sudden, the orange cake went all Patrick Dempsey in Can’t Buy Me Love on me (it pains me that there are those of you who don’t know to what I am referring here let’s just say, the cake went turbo and that Patrick Dempsey was not always Dr. Derek Shepherd.) Read more of this post

Tomato Chickpea Salad with Celery

Tomato, Chickpea Salad with CeleryI’ve gotten into a good habit of late. After I drop Layla off at school, I come home and make lunch or however much of lunch can be made ahead of time. A recent favourite is Camargue rice with black beans loosely based on this Bon Appetit recipe. Another is a mung bean noodle salad with lots of lime juice, fish sauce, roast peanuts and herbs from my balcony.  And then there is this one.  A pasta salad, where the pasta makes up about a fifth of the whole deal.

You take a couple of small shallots or a red onion, or even the white part of 3 spring onions (but not a yellow onion) and you douse them in white vinegar.  Probably about 4 tablespoons.  I don’t measure my dressing.  I taste it.  If there is some left over, I use it the next day or get creative with it in the evening.  It’s only a problem when there isn’t enough.  A healthy pinch of salt goes in and then I leave it in the fridge until just before I dress the salad, when I add roughly the same volume of olive oil.  Keeping in mind that I will be liberally glugging more olive oil over the rest of the salad.Tomato chickpea salad Read more of this post

Pear Cake

Due to extreme sleep deprivation, a plummeting bank balance and occasional (Full disclosure? Frequent) boredom, this baby machine is now closed for business.

Subsequently, I have given away my maternity wear, pillows, baby books, to anyone who looks remotely pregnant- even if they are just fat.

Except for my underwear. The hideous ones with the high waist, cut low on the legs, I’ve still got those.

Uncomfortable underwear, shoes and mascara (that stuff hurts more than you can imagine when sharp bits flake off and drop into your soft eye) make me question the existence of feminism.  Forget the glass ceiling or pay disparity and consider the string.   Read more of this post

Rose Carrarini’s Ginger Cake

You may have noticed from my Twitter feed that I am in London. Two unexpected developments mean that I will be here until roughly the beginning of October.

I am staying in my old flat in Belsize Park with rented furniture. It’s jarring and familiar all at once. I’ve got the big stuff, a sofa to sit on but not the small stuff. The bookshelves are empty, my kitchen counter is bare. I actively miss my kitchen aid stand mixer and my Francis Francis X1 coffee machine. Which is ironic since I often chide my hoarder husband for his addiction to stuff setting forth my own superior nomadic roots and freedom from clutter as an example. As it turns out, if I was living back in my nomad days, my camel would be laden with all manner of kitchen equipment and I would have to hook up some sort of satellite dish to its behind to permit me to get online.London meanwhile is crazy. I’ve been coming back every few months for the last couple of years but living here is a different thing altogether. First there is the expense, I am winded every time I pay for something. I bought a little pot of churros at the Marylebone Street Fayre  yesterday and paid £4 (€5) for it. At Ginger & White, Layla spotted a mini cupcake so tiny I could have snorted it up my nostril (I have small nostrils), it set me back £2. Yet none of this matters because everywhere is full. The churros line was 20 people deep, Ginger & White is mobbed from the moment it opens to when it closes.All shopping interactions are social.  Everyone asks Layla’s name and makes some sort of comment, I stare at them sullenly having become acclimatized to the lean interactions in Berlin, necessary information only, superfluous banter cut off at the root to the point that at Lidl “Schönen Tag noch!” (Have a nice day) becomes a clipped “Schön” and even that is not flung about with any reliable frequency.  Speaking of Lidl, yesterday I went to Sainsbury’s and came home with a thumping headache at the range of goods on offer.  I had an altercation with Layla who was rooted to the spot in front of the display of Peppa Pig, My Little Pony and the like.  Why had I brought her to a toy shop if I didn’t intend for her to buy anything? She demanded from me?  Because despite the 4 aisles of toys, this is not a toy shop! I insisted. Read more of this post

Annie Rigg’s Chocolate Prune Cake

Prunes.

Thumbs up?

Thumbs down?For me? Definitely thumbs up.  No question. No contest.  Sometimes I prefer them to the real deal (plums).  (Without me being to indelicate or unladylike, let me underline that my love of prunes has to do with flavour and texture only and not an other activities they may set in motion.)There are prunes and there are prunes though.  They have to have their stone intact and come from Agen.  Even then, not all packaging, handling is equal.  Recently, I found some extraordinary prunes at Galeries Lafayette, I can’t be sure but I think they were from Thorem.  Today I found a jar of St. Dalfour giant french prunes at Karstadt on the Kudamm.  I ate half the contents on the way home.For this prune cake, I use stoned organic prunes reasoning that they would be simmered in alcohol, pulverized and have ground almonds and 70% chocolate as bedmates.  It’s a recipe by Annie Rigg’s which I found in the Easter edition of BBC Good Food magazine.  Despite the unflattering picture (seriously, take a look at the link, did they photograph it on a paper plate?) the ingredient list  and method moved me to bake.  Rigg’s suggests whipping up the 2 eggs and 2 of the yolks with the sugar, folding everything in and then whipping up the remaining two egg whites and folding those in at the end to keep it light.   Read more of this post

Rhubarb Crumble Cake

We were out this morning when our Amazon packet arrived. An office in the building accepted the parcel for us. When we saw the DHL notice Layla and I did an ‘Amazon dance’ – she because she knew she was getting some more ‘Harry and the Dinosaurs‘ books and me because I was getting ‘Relish‘ Prue Leith’s autobiography. Leith is the founder of Leith’s (imagine that) and a serious over achiever in life.

We skipped over to the office and handed over the DHL notice.  The girl handing over the box launched into a rant.  I could tell it was a rant because her cheeks flushed.  I asked her to slow down and repeat what she had said.“You should know.  This is the last time we are going to be accepting any packages on your or anyone else’s behalf.  Otherwise all we do is answer doors to give people their packages.”  She must have seen my perplexed expression because then she said “I realize that this is the first time we have accepted a package for you but nevertheless that is our decision.”

I shrugged my shoulders, smiled and said thank you.  But to you I say there goes another sufferer of the resentful martyr syndrome  and “Don’t you need to know someone before you chew them out? Or at least – Hell I don’t know – be aware of their first name?’  I feel like I should walk around the city, depositing fortune cookies with nuggets of self-help ensconced inside.  She would get; “Doing the right thing has no value if done begrudgingly” or “Life is too short to be this anal and you are too young to be this bitter.” or “Smoke some of this green stuff, it will take the edge off”. Read more of this post

Berlin Cooking Club, German Food (and a word in your ear about Supper Clubs)

Mel and Kelsie are probably strolling down a stretch of beach in Castelldefels as I write this.

It was their idea, the Berlin Cooking Club. The inaugural club had just 4 cooks and guests. Then it moved on to The Dairy. And yesterday it was hosted in Caroline and Tobias’s (of the famed Thyme supper club) spacious flat. 6 cooks, a cocktail girl and 11 guests.Included among the guests: Kristi and Dave who host a supper club of their own called Zuhause that is tearing its way to the top of the “Supper Clubs in Berlin you MUST visit” list.  (If the stunning photos on their website are not reason enough for you to go, Irish born Dave and Canadian Kirsti are immediately likeable, the kind of people you want to make dinner plans with within 10 minutes of knowing.)A cooking club is different from a supper club, it’s a group of cooking enthusiasts who meet regularly.  Each cook makes one dish, or perhaps pair up to make one big dish.  At our cooking club, we always set a theme (yesterday was German food, the time before Swedish, the time before that Lebanese) but with all those cooks in the kitchen, each with his or her own aesthetic, palette and idea of portion size, there are quirky variations between courses.  Unexpected sights in the vista occur, you know, you are driving by, pine trees whooshing past you, pine tree, pine tree, pine tree and then – oh, coconut tree.  Makes you want to stop the car and get out, or wake up (depending on which way you are inclined).  As a guest, the inevitable incongruity might appeal to you or not, the hook being the rock bottom cost (€15 per head yesterday including drinks) and the chance to meet other people’s vetted friends.As a cook, it’s as a convivial way as I can imagine to spend a few hours, utterly devoid of competition, replete with encouragement and ideas.

I volunteered to make dessert, I imagined a ‘schwarzwälder kirschtorte’ (black forest cake to you and me).  I love the combination of sour cherries and chocolate but I didn’t fancy the syrup laden, whipped cream plastered, chocolate shaving covered cake with gaudy glacé cherries perched perkily in yet more whipped cream.  I also didn’t want to be wrestling with a large cake or baking two cakes for that matter.  My vague idea was that I would make a sheet cake, use a circular cutter to portion it out (something that saved me when somehow our party increased in number from 14 to 18 in the last half an hour).  Syrup on top of that.  Sour cherry compote thickened with cornflour and flavoured with cinnamon, orange juice with a good glug of my grandmother’s homemade cherry liquor.  Mini meringues on the outside of that.  A small scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream on top of that.  Then a crazy wig of chocolate squiggles.Except the chocolate squiggles didn’t quite come to be.  I nabbed the idea from Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz’s Mission Street Food.  The idea being a homemade version of chocolate magic shell, made up of coconut fat and chocolate (ratio of 1.5 : 1).

“So I am supposed to squirt this chocolate into ice water and then it will set into squiggles.” I enthuse to some of the other cooks.
4 of us hunch over the bowl of ice water, I squirt, we hold our breath.  The chocolate sauce spreads out like an oil spill, not a squiggle in sight.
Tobias walks into the kitchen, finds us all huddled together, heads inclined over a large metal bowl.   He joins us to see what we were looking at.  “Why are we all staring at a bowl of mouldy water?” he asks.
“It’s not mould, it’s chocolate, we are trying to make chocolate squiggles, it’s not working.” I reply.
“Try holding the nozzle underneath.” suggests Caroline.  I do, I squirt, the squiggles looked vaguely fecal.  We abandon that idea.
“Why not just use normal chocolate without the coconut fat?” Stephan asked “Or more chocolate?”
“No, you know what, let’s just do it as Smucker’s intended,  as a chocolate hat for the ice cream.” I resolved (although I’ve still got the stuff in a squeezy bottle in my fridge and believe you me, this isn’t over, I am going to figure out this squiggle business!)
That my friends, is the beauty of a cooking club.  It takes you from bumbling along silently in the kitchen, where mishaps are deflating and lonely, to part of a group of curious people pitching in to save your day or less dramatically your dessert.  And lets face it, would I ever make a dessert with 6 separate components for my family of 2 adults and 1 seriously fussy 3-year-old?  Umm, no.  For a dinner party of 6? Well if I’m also making, canapés, a starter and main course – then probably not (although sometimes I do it).  For 14 people and eventually, 18? Yes! I like that challenge, especially when people end up enjoying what I’ve made.

To attend the Berlin Cooking Club, you have to be invited by one of the cooks (so get to know us!) but of course you can always start your own.  I thoroughly recommend it, more fun than a book club!Supper clubs are open to all.  And you really do need to go to a supper club because some of the best food you will eat in Berlin may just be at a supper club!  Certainly that is where you will find people behind the stove that care about what they are cooking and the ingredients they are using, you will be treated nicely, usually you will meet interesting people and pay well under what you would expect to for a similar meal in a restaurant. Read more of this post

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