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Posts tagged ‘Recipes’

Going Khoo-Khoo for la Gastronomie Française

In a few days time I am leaving the windswept wet isles of Great Britain behind me in the woosh of a high-speed train all the way from London to Avignon in the South of France. I am practically delirious with anticipation, already envisaging my stripy blue and white t-shirt set amongst the rolling Provence countryside with a little black beret to match; spending my long sweaty journeys on the tube with teach-yourself-French flowing firmly into my ears; playing old French favourites Piaf and Trénet around my home; and now, super-indulging in la bonne vie of ultimate gastronomic excellence: French cuisine.

I don’t know all that much about French cuisine, being firmly inducted as I am into the Spanish school of cookery, but I do have one exeedingly pleasing French cookbook on my book shelves, and even that one I bought more for the fine pictures of Paris than through any hope of mastering French gastronomy. However, as technique goes, Rachel Khoo‘s Little Paris Kitchen certainly makes things less intimidating, and opening the book up for the first time in months, I set about creating a weekend fully loaded with French delights.

You’ll have to excuse what follows as being something more of a pictorial indulgence than an ingredient-by-ingredient recipe rehash. While I will try to stay faithful to Khoo’s recipes where I can (and of course reminding Daily Norm readers that the recipes are entirely her copyright, and of course urging you to buy her picture-perfect book ;-)), or otherwise link up to them where I can find them already published online, this post is really an unapologetic celebration of food, of the beauty of ingredients, of fresh produce, of flavour combinations and of the results that can be achieved through a toil in the kitchen.


So first up was a simple Gratin au poisson fumé, a rather simple little light lunch to make, once you master the creamy rich béchamel sauce. It’s also a great way to use up odds and ends from your fridge. For the béchamel, you need to melt 30g of butter in a large pan over a medium heat, adding 30g of plain flower and beating hard until it becomes a smooth paste. Take off the heat, leaving to cool for a couple of minutes, before gradually whisking in 500ml of milk. Place back on a medium heat, add 1/4 peeled onion, a clove and a bay leaf and simmer for 10 minutes, whisking frequently. Finish by removing the onion, clove and bay leaf and seasoning with a little salt, white pepper (if poss) and a pinch of nutmeg. Then  it’s just a case of mixing this with around 750g of cooked, sliced baby potatoes, 200g of smoked haddock or other smoked fish, a handful of chopped parsely and sprinkling a handful of comté or gruyere on top and then popping into the oven or 200 mins at 180C. Serve with a fresh salad to cut through that creamy, cheesy sauce. I sprinkled my bake with a little pimento (you can take the boy out of Spain, but not Spain out of the boy…).

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An alternative use of the béchamel is to mix it with 300g of cooked macaroni, and placing that in the oven with a load of cheese sprinkled on top – it makes an awesome macaroni cheese which easily beats the supermarket favourites thanks to Khoo’s welcome addition of aromatic flavourings in the sauce.

My macaroni

My macaroni

Onto the plat principal, which in anticipation of our voyage south just had to be a fresh summery fish dish. I wanted to make Khoo’s Trout en papillote dish, but failing to find any trout stocked in my local fishmongers, settled on a freshwater char, which I gather is a close cousin of Monsieur Le Truite. I did however opt for the en papillote technique, the masterful and easy method of cooking fish efficiently, ensuring that the moisture and flavour is all locked in and doesn’t escape the dark cavernous entrails of an oven.

My Char and her fellow ingredients pre-papillotte

My Char and her fellow ingredients pre-papillote

Basically, all you need to do is take one trout per person (or one large char did it for the two of us), and rub its insides with a marinade of the grated zest of one lemon, salt, pepper and 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Then fill the fish’s belly with finely chopped fennel, and rest slices of almost cooked baby potatoes alongside the fish (sufficient for the number of people the fish will serve). Then that’s it – lie the fish & co. on a large piece of baking paper and seal closed ensuring that those juices can’t get out – and if you’re wondering how this should be done, check out Rachel Khoo demonstrating herself! I served the fish with a good dollop of thick creamy crème fraîche and a little salad by way of pretence that I am in fact very healthy (and pigs will fly etc etc). The fish was unctuous, tasty, moist and so beautiful to look at – well before it was cooked anyway. 



All wrapped and ready to go

All wrapped and ready to go

The less beautiful but delicious finished dish

The less beautiful but delicious finished dish

Finally, les desserts, and I went for two French classics which, while a little technical, are made pleasingly approachable in Khoo’s book. The first was Îles flottantes (floating islands), which I can very handily give you a link to to save me trying to unsuccessfully summarise what are three fairly complex processes to make this well-worth-the-effort delicious dessert. I first had some floating islands – unctuous soft meringue floating in a creamy vanilla custard soup – at La Bofinger in the Marais in Paris. After making may way through an indulgent multi-tiered mountain of oysters and seafood, this seemed easily the most decadent way to close a French meal, and now having made it myself, I am delighted to have so easily mastered what is surely one of life’s most decadent of desserts. I particularly love Khoo’s almond praline touch – sprinkled on top this gives the subtle eggyness of the meringue extra sugar and a much needed crunch.

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For dessert number two (made the following day I might add – we’re not that greedy), I decided to indulge cataclysmically, with a creamy, ambrosial champagne based dessert, perfect to accompany the glasses of champagne which were already bubbling away in the hands of my partner and I by way of celebration of our fourth anniversary. Rachel Khoo’s ultimately delicious Sabayon de Champagne avec fraises just had to be the winner of the weekend. It was quite simple to make, and way too simple to eat – we finished off this exquisite elixir in mere seconds, but it was worth those few mouthfulls of pleasure.

Anniversary champagne

Anniversary champagne

To create this delight, simply whisk 4 egg yolks with 25g of sugar over a bain marie (heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water) until the mixture is thick and pale yellow in colour. Then add 100ml of champagne and whisk until the sabayon is very thick and foamy – this takes around 5-10 minutes, and you know when it’s done when you draw a shape in the mix and it stays put. Then simply pour into bowls and serve with stawberries. Oooo la la what a summer’s delight!

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Vive le France! We’re coming to get you!

For more details of Rachel Khoo’s cuisine check out her BBC series page.


Flavours of Spain – Part 2: Tapas

When most people think of Spanish cuisine, they think of tapas, and why not? These little dishes are a fantastic excuse to sample as many tastes and flavours of dishes from all over Spain as you can manage, while encouraging the shared social environment which the small dish concept inspires. Unable to decide what large dishes to cook when I was over in Spain, and with no recipe books close to hand, I decided to opt for a few simple tapas dishes which I could remember off the top of my head and which are inspired by my own tapas experiences in Andalucia and beyond. Having cooked these tapas creations, you can then supplement your tapas feast with olives, bread with delicious olive oil and different flavoured dipping salts and platters piled high with fresh serrano hams and manchego cheese (see mine at the bottom). You’ll find yourself with way too much food (unless you’re feeding a small army), but the beauty with tapas is that much of it will last for days – bonus!

Salted almonds

Great to kick of your evening as a moorish accompaniment to a glass of wine or two, these salted almonds are really easy to make. Take a baking tray and pour in enough olive oil to cover the base. Then throw into it (carefully – I’m not encouraging kitchen recklessness you do understand) 250g of blanched almonds, and sprinkle them with some good quality sea salt and a teaspoon of smoked pimenton. Give the whole lot a good toss, and place in the oven at 180 degrees c for around 20 minutes, tossing every so often during cooking. Be careful not to leave them in for too long – they may look ok on the outside but they can become burnt on the inside if the cooking is overdone.

Salted almonds

Ensalada Rusa

Russian salad is a tapas staple in traditional tapas bars all over Spain. You can alter the amounts of ingredients below depending on how many you’re cooking for. This made enough for a good 6-8 small tapas-sized helpings.

Start by making your own mayonnaise (if you can be bothered). Whisk up a large egg with a teaspoon of dijon mustard, 2 teaspoons of white wine vinegar and half a teaspoon of salt. Then to this very very gradually whisk in 300ml of oil – for those who like a mild flavour, use sunflower oil, but for a traditional Spanish flavour, extra virgin olive oil is a must. Doing this in a food processor is definitely the easiest way, but for those like me who are in a little holiday home in Spain without the best equipped of kitchens, the good old balloon whisk and a determined wrist can still do the job. Once you have made a nice thick mayonnaise, squirt in the juice of half a lemon (to taste) and 1-2 crushed cloves of garlic.

My homemade mayonnaise

Meanwhile have around 1kg of small new potatoes boiling away nicely (chop them as necessary so they’re roughly the same size). Once tender, leave to cool. Once the potatoes have reached room temperature you need to add a good 4-6 tablespoons of mayonnaise, two tins of tuna (preferably in oil), a one or two of cooked diced carrots and a good handful garden peas, 4-6 chopped gherkins, two tablespoons of capers and some chopped parsely. Then whack in a good dose of seasoning to taste, and play around with flavour – you can add more mayo, more garlic, more lemon, different herbs – whatever you like. I guarantee it will be delicious whatever you try (within reason – obv).

A small portion of Ensalada Rusa

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Flavours of Spain – Part 1: Almejas con hinojos

Regulars of The Daily Norm will know that in my heart of hearts, I am no happier in my kitchen than when cooking up some Spanish flavours to tantalise the taste buds and enliven the corazon. To recreate the rich smells imbued with garlic and pimenton, shellfish and saffron in London is one thing, but to cook in a Spanish kitchen, when already surrounded by a cacophony of those same scents wafting in the air from the nearby houses of my Spanish old town neighbours is an entirely different experience. It is hard not to be inspired, not least by the nearby market, where fresh fish is in abundance, rich meaty steaks are plentiful and vibrantly coloured fruit, vegetables and the spices intrinsic to the flavours of Al Andalus are in bountiful supply in the mercado in the next door street to my house. That is not to say that I felt totally free to indulge. The price of food in Marbella, together with the inflation of the euro, has seen a really hike in food prices – some days I found it more expensive to eat at home than out in a local fish bar. Consequently I had to indulge my culinary ambition with a more limited budget for ingredients.

Samplings of the Marbella market

This dish is perfect for the prudent shopper. Buy yourself a kilo of clams (or almejas) and a fennel bulb and you’ve got the main components of the dish. I made this dish up, having bought myself a fennel bulb (purely because of my love for the liquorice taste) and upon a bounty of clams so fresh that they were popping and moving before my very eyes. Some white wine, an onion, and a few spices later, and I created this dish, Almejas con hinojos – clams with fennel.

Clams cooking in the pot

Almejas con hinojos

Chop one onion and 2-3 cloves of garlic finely, as well as a bulb of fennel. Sweat the ingredients together in a large pan on a low heat in a good glug of oil and a good dose of seasoning and a teaspoon of fennel seeds for about 15-20 minutes until the onions/garlic/fennel are soft and near translucent, but not browned. Turn the heat up to medium, and add a teaspoon of smoked pimenton (paprika) and the washed clams. Place a lid over the pan and cook until the clams have opened (around 4-5 minutes depending on their size). Once opened, turn up the heat a little more and add a good glass or two of dry white wine, along with a good handful of chopped parsely and stir so the clams get a good dose of alcoholic indulgence. Cook for a further 5 minutes, just to cook off the wine a bit and that’s it. Your clams are ready. Serve with a few hunks of fresh bread, a glass more of that white wine, and remember to discard any clams which have not opened.

And served up

Enjoy the flavours of Spain, as a burst of mediterranean freshness mixes with the smokey garlic pungency of arid España all in a single mouthful. Surely there is no better way to escape the onset of autumn?

And a candlelit garden full of summer evening warmth in which to eat the clams


Quick canapés to impress your colleagues

Apologies in advance for the rather fuzzy quality of my photos. As with the food featured, the photos were created in something of a rush. And this is the nature of my feature today – for in making up some canapés which don’t look half bad on a plate (they certainly look better than a packet of crisps and some sausage rolls) when you have neither the time nor skill to cook up a storm, party food doesn’t come much easier or quicker than this.

When my team at work decided that we should have a little drinks gathering to wave goodbye to a colleague of ours, I decided that some canapés were in order. But with only a few hours to spare the evening before, and with the prospect of travelling with said canapés on the London underground the following morning I had to think simple.

I came up with the following canapés which were a resounding success, are deceptively simple to make and which despite the ease of their creation, have the ability to seduce both in appearance and flavour.

My canapés

Slightly less glam – the canapés set out on paper plates and tupperware at work

Anchovy and parmesan palmiers

These are a simple savoury variation on my previously posted sweet palmiers recipe. Simply replace the sugar with a handful of freshly grated parmesan and four rows of anchovies laid out parallel to the long sides of the puff pastry (which you roll inwards). Then freeze for 10 minutes before cutting into slices and cooking in an oven at around 200 degrees centigrade for around 20 minutes. These treats are salty but mega moorish.

Proscuitto-wrapped grissini with a home-made pesto dip

Such an easy treat, but this one went down the best. Simply wrap one end of some Italian grissini (bread sticks) with proscuitto or parma ham. For the dip make some pesto – I wizzed up half a clove of garlic, four large handfuls of fresh basil with a handful of lightly toasted pine nuts and the same amount of freshly grated parmesan, a good dose of salt and enough olive oil to loosen up the mixture once blitzed in a mini food processor – there’s nothing quite like the smell of freshly made pesto to evoke the pleasant green lands of Roma, picnicking outside the Coliseum – and that was my pesto. I only used about 2 heaped tablespoons of this, adding those to 300g of soft cheese and there was my dip – creamy, with the exquisite flavour of the mediterranean.

White gazpacho

This is one of my favourite Rick Stein recipes and works great as a starter (in larger portions) or as a canapé in small shot glasses or flutes with a few white grapes scattered into the mix. It’s a creamier more indulgent version of the typical Andalus tomato gazpacho and is so easy to make. Simply soak 200g of stale white crustless bread in 400ml of cold water for around 30 minutes. Place this soggy bread mixture into a liquidizer with 100g of blanched almonds and 1-6 cloves of garlic depending on how strong you like your garlic (I only use one, and I think that’s strong enough) and whizz this up into a smooth paste. With the motor still running, gradually add 150m of good quality olive oil and 4 tablespoons of sherry vinegar. Then add around 400m of more water – more if the soup is too thick. Check the seasoning and add salt if necessary. Then the key is to get the soup nice and cold, so refrigerate for at least 4 hours – overnight preferably. Serve with white grapes and a drizzle more of oil.

White gazpacho as a starter

Smoked trout dip

This one is slightly more controversial as it’s meant to be a mousse, but for some reason mine wouldn’t set. However, it turned out very well as a dip for the variety of crackers we had at the party, so why not add it in here. All I did was to whizz up 165g of smoked trout in a food processor with 225 g of creamed cheese, a squeeze of lemon juice, a sprinkle of dill (to taste) and 2 tablespoons of cream (it could be the cream which prevents it from setting – perhaps try without – I didn’t have time). If you have the time to chill the mixture and get it into a neat piping bag, you will probably succeed where I failed in piping little individual canapes of the mousse onto a blini or even a slice of cucumber. This looks great with some caviar on top. But failing that, serve it up as a simple dip – it’s delicious, especially when eat with the anchovy palmiers.

Figs stuffed with dolcelatte

Finally, and for the easiest of them all, a load of plump dried figs, slit them open as though you are performing a delicate surgical operation, get messy by breaking off some creamy dolcelatte and lovingly stuff each fig with your own fair hands – it’s sticky work, but strangely satisfying. You can seal the deal with some proscuitto wrapped around the fig, or leave it off for veggies (I do however find that a strand of ham makes these canapés looks lightly less poo-like). They’re not the most attractive canapés in the world admittedly, but for ease of method, and for richness of flavour, they don’t come better than this.

Tis soon the season to be jolly, so canapé season is just around the corner – these recipes are perfect for the kitchen shy host with the most – and these will enhance any bash with minimum skill or time required. Enjoy!

Eating España, again – Part I: One starter and two mains

Ever the diplomat, and clearly qualified for a high powered job in the Foreign Office, whenever a country get’s a bit of bad press, I try to do my bit to remind all the cynics out there that despite financial plight, banking crises, and the incessant need for multi-billion euro bailouts from reticent cash-strapped neighbours, the culture which made these economically shaky countries great survives through the monetary meltdown. This is no more so than in my beloved Spain, where the great flavours and platos ricos were born from poverty, using basic and cheap ingredients which, when combined, produce a flavour sensation which captures in its aroma, colour and savour the very essence of that culturally diverse country. Consequently, just like I did for poor old Greece a few weeks ago, I’ve returned to my London kitchen, and cooked up a feast in honour of Spain’s great gastronomic heritage.

Here are just a few dishes I tried out over the weekend. In this post I’m going to share three great savoury dishes from apple-lush Asturia, seafood-filled Catalonia and the once-moorish highly spiced lands of Andalucia. Later in the week, I’m moving on to the sweet stuff, when I’ll share a traditional Santiago almond cake, and some divinely Sevillan orange-burst creme-caramels.

Centollo a la sidra (Baked crab with cider)

This recipe takes its inspiration from the Asturias region of Spain, where Cider is the drink of choice and sidrerias can be found in every town and village. My take is in turn based on the recipe by Claudia Roden in her fantastic book, The Food of Spain: A Celebration (Penguin, 2012) so all credit must go to her. These little ramekin filled dishes make a perfect starter or, as I did, served as a light lunch with a little side salad. In Asturias, they make this filling and stuff it back inside the shell of their txangurro spider crabs. While not attempting any such culinary craftsmanship, I paid homage to their skills by serving my dish in a mini le creuset pot with a little crab shell on the side, just for decoration (you eat with your eyes before your mouth etc etc).

To make your own crab dish (whatsoever you may chose to stuff it in) take a chopped medium onion which should be sauteed over a low heat until soft. Add to it one peeled and chopped tomato, a pinch of chilli powder (or cayenne pepper) and another pinch of salt and cook over a medium heat for around 8 minutes. Next take a fillet of cod (around 150-250 g depending on how many ramekins you want to fill) and cook for about 5 minutes or until it begins to flake, turning it once. Flake the cooked fish and add 250g of cooked white and dark crab meat, 175ml of dry cider and 2 tablespoons of chopped flat-leaf parsley. Cook for around a minute. Oil 4 small ramekins or two big mini casseroles (like mine) and spoon the mixture in. Sprinkle with fresh breadcrumbs, a few blobs of butter and place under the grill until the breadcrumbs are browned. It’s probably best you leave the ramekins to cool for a couple of minutes once they come out of the grill before you serve them!

Fideuada del señorito – (smoked) seafood pasta

This is a pasta dish straight from the gutsy seafood-filled region of Catalonia, and brought to my attention, once again, by Claudia Roden although once again, I’ve gone my own way with it and shaken it up a bit (sorry Claudia). The dish, for no apparent reason, translates as “of the young gentleman”, perhaps because the short pieces of pasta and shelled prawns make the dish particularly easy for young senoritos and senoritas to eat. Either way its truly delicious for us adults too. You should service it with a good blob of alioli (garlic mayonnaise). If you can’t be bothered to make you own mayo, just add crushed garlic to shop bought mayonnaise. Mine is thick and yellow because I made it with extra virgin olive oil straight from a vineyard next to my Partner’s family home in Tuscany (yes yes, I know, it’s not Spain) so well worth the rather tedious effort of making it from scratch.

My alioli

To make the pasta, heat 4 tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan (or paella pan if you have one). Cook around 400g of cubed smoked haddock (Claudia Roden uses monkfish, but I didn’t have any to hand – I adore smoked haddock and loved the results in this dish – it gives a subtle smokey flavour which works amazingly well with the alioli on the side) and cook on a medium heat for around 3-5 minutes. Next add 4-6 baby squids, sliced into rings, cooking for a further couple of minutes before adding a dozen or so peeled king prawns and an equal number of scallops. Cook until the prawns are nice and pink (1-2 mins). Place all the cooked seafood to one side in a separate dish, keeping it warm. Preserve any liquid. Using the same pan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil and stir in 1-2 crushed cloves of garlic. Just before the garlic colours, add 3 chopped tomatoes, 1 heaped teaspoon of pimenton dulce (or sweet paprika), a little salt and a good pinch of saffron threads (and at this point pause and indulge in the aroma of Spain, a warm mediterranean evening wafting past your nose, a magical culinary noche brought to life in your kitchen, wherever it may be). Sorry, where was I… ah yes, The tomato will quickly thicken so at this point I added 120ml of oloroso dry sherry (although dry white wine will work too). Wait for that to reduce down, cooking for around 10 minutes.

Add around 300g (for 2-3 people) of spaghetti, broken into 3-4cm pieces to the tomato mixture, making sure it is well coated. Then add around a pint of boiling chicken stock and add back the cooked seafood, stirring it into the pasta/ tomato mix. Cook until the pasta is al dente. This should use up all the stock, but add a little more if the liquid dries up before the pasta is cooked. The dish should be moist when its finished.

And that’s it! Serve with some sprinkled parsley and a good dollop of alioli – the mixture of smoked fish and pimenton with delicate seafood and a pungent winey tomato sauce is to die for, I promise. Oh and don’t forget to give the whole thing a good squeeze of lemon juice – the acid cuts across the strong salty smokeyness perfectly.

Pollo en pepitoria (Chicken in a mildly spiced saffron, pine nut and almond sauce)

Last up it’s down to the Med and the region of Andalucia where the influence of 700 years of Islamic rule can still be felt from the rafting voices and spasmodic dancing of gypsy culture emanating from Seville, to the use of mild moroccan spices in their food. This dish is no exception. It was first cooked for me by my mother, who in turn got it from chef Rick Stein, who in turn nicked it from Australian chef Luke Mangan who opened a restaurant specialising in a mixture of Spanish and Moorish cuisine. Despite this chinese-whisper-like chain of chefs, all of whom have no doubt made changes here and there, the dish is nonetheless emblematic of Southern spanish cooking, with its warm aromatic spices and plentiful use of almonds. Moreover, the use of a “picada”, that is a nutty paste stirred into the chicken, is popular across the whole of the Iberian peninsula.

Start off by hard boiling two large eggs for 10 minutes. You’ll need these later. Allow them to cool and then peel off the shell.

Next deal with your chicken. Some people will use a whole chicken, in which case they’ll chop up and use the legs, wings, breasts etc. I only really like chicken breasts and am not therefore much help on how to use these other bits of the bird – but you can. I use four chicken breasts. Cut these into fairly large pieces (probably three from each breast) so they remain moist.

My spices: they smell as good as they look

Onto spices. Lightly crush approximately 10 cardamom pods and remove the seeds from inside (this is fairly tedious but worth it, I promise). Discard the shells and add the seeds to a pestle and mortar into which should also go 1/2 teaspoon of coriander seeds, 1/2 teaspoon saffron strands, 2 cloves, 1 cm piece of cinnamon stick, 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg and around 10 peppercorns. Grind to a fine powder and enjoy the aromas while you’re doing so.

Now heat around 4 tablespoons of oil in a casserole. Add two peeled whole garlic cloves and a slice of white bread. Fry on both sides until golden. Transfer to a food processor. Now season the chicken lightly and fry until golden on the sides. Remove and set aside. Now in another tablespoon of oil, add 1 large onion, finely chopped and fry lightly until soft and sweetened but not brown. Stir in the spices, cooking for 1 minute and then stir in 200ml of dry oloroso (or other) sherry or white wine and 200ml of chicken stock. Return the chicken to the pan with 2 bay leaves, a handful of raisins or dates (these are my addition, but are optional) and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook gently for around 20 minutes (40 minutes is probably necessary for chicken legs etc).

In the meantime heat a frying pan and dry roast 40g pine nuts for 1 minute and 40g blanched almonds for 2 minutes. Leave to cool. Add the nuts and the yolks from the hardboiled eggs to the bread in the food processor along with 10-12 tablespoons of cooking liquid from the chicken. Grind to a paste (this is the “picada”). Chop 20g more of blanched almonds to sprinkle over the dish at the end.

Once the chicken is cooked, stir in the picada paste and simmer for a couple of minutes longer until thickened. Stir in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice approx and make sure your seasoning is on course. Finally, in a separate pan, stir fry those remaining chopped almonds for a couple of minutes in a little oil until golden. Serve your chicken with the sauce and sprinkle the almonds on the top with some parsley.

OK, we’re done. Three dishes bringing the flavours and character of Spain directly into your house. On second thoughts maybe this post isn’t so helpful to the Spanish economy after all – once these amazing cooking aromas fill your home, you’ll have no need to go on holiday again!

Madeleine Melody

OK, so admittedly, the macaron attempt a few months back didn’t exactly go to plan, as my post “Macaron Madness” will testify. So I’ve turned to another Frenchie patisserie favourite which has turned out to be slightly easier to master. In fact, I’ve mastered quite a few French favourites of like, including Crème brûlée with a picture-perfect crackable burnt caramel top (courtesy of my new favourite kitchen toy – the mini blow torch) albeit that on my third attempt, the Crème brûlée somehow managed to revert into a kind of mousse brûlée (this being the one which was rather embarrassingly cooked for two French guests – I was full of bravado about English boy being able to cook French food to perfection and then that little mishap occurred… naturally I pretended it was a purposeful reinvention of the classic). And crossing over the Pyrenees to Catalonia, I’ve also recently mastered Crema Catalana, the lighter, citrus and subtly spiced version of the Crème brûlée, a dessert which previously had me stumped – it was either too runny or like jelly. Anyway, I digress, back to France…

I’ve been intending to cook madeleines for some time, ever since I picked up one of those shell-shaped baking moulds as an impulse purchase purely because it was made of silicone and is red (thus matching my kitchen colour scheme to perfection). Nonetheless, there my madeleine mould remained, creased up in my pots and pan cupboard in a way that only silicone could, until one day, a few weeks ago, when my ears customarily pricked up to the words “Paris” on my television screen and I found myself falling instantaneously in love with a new cookery programme: Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris Kitchen. This programme is a must for any Paris lovers – it’s worth watching alone just for the stunning views of Montmartre roof tops, the Tour Eiffel by sunset, Paris viewed from the roof of the Grand Palais where they keep beehives (who would have known?!) as well as a quirky soundtrack featuring an ecclectic mix of old French classics from the likes of Charles Trenet as well as punchy tango chill from the Gotan Project. But by far the star of the show is the little teeny weeny kitchen which gives the show its title, as well as the equally tiny, affable and engaging proprietress of her little kitchen restaurant, Rachel Khoo. She aims to cook undaunting French classics, more often than not with a contemporary twist. She makes French cooking accessible and very unpretentious, which lets face it, makes a change, and she fills the hearts of us english with a certain pride – she is after all a London girl who has made it good in the closed culinary world of Paris.

Rachel Khoo

Anyway, it was Rachel Khoo who, in her first episode, made madeleines with a twist – she places a single raspberry in each madeleine before cooking and then, once hot out of the oven, pipes the raspberry’s little opening full of an oozy lemon curd. No wonder I was inspired to take out my funny red silicone tray and try this recipe out. The results were good (see photos below) – the madeleines, unlike those which you can buy cheap in Monoprix, are unctuous and moist, and this is no doubt helped by the the lemon curd and and raspberry, both of which combine to provide a delicious mid-Madeleine treat to break up an otherwise buttery flavour. Rachel Khoo, I salute you.

Pre-cooking - the madeleine mix in my silicone mould complete with raspberries, hole facing upwards

Et voilà, the finished madeleines

I told you I'm obsessed with Paris...

Rachel’s recipe for madeleines à la crème au citron can be found here.

Bon appetite!

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My Easter Day Spanish Feast Spectacular

Easter day is over, but the Spring has only just begun, and now is as good a time as any to think succulent chicken, sweet wine imbued ice cream and cute little marzipans, just in case your summer beach body needed to endure any further damage! On Easter Sunday I followed my pro-Spanish theme of the previous week by cooking a Spanish feast of which Goya himself would have been proud. And it was so tasty, I feel compelled to share all the ideas with my faithful Daily Norm readers so that you too can go all España this Spring.

First however I should express my gratitude to Claudia Roden who, in her fantastic new book, The Food of Spain, gave me much of the inspiration for the feast.

The table

My table was all trussed up for Easter, with a spray of fresh chrysanthemums displayed alongside slender branches of pussy willow in a group of bottles, to contemporary effect. Amongst the flowers sat the must-have fluffy chicks of Easter, while at each person’s place, a damask-style napkin was topped with little paper hens.

To start…

I had to restrain myself from cooking a full-on starter because I knew that otherwise this Spring-like luncheon would become more akin to a Christmas day gorge-fest. Instead I provided some simple tapas, olives, nibbles and delicious mature manchego cheese from the land of Don Quixote, which I’ve discovered is best served sliced and drizzled with honey and sprinkled with thyme – a divine combination which would probably work well with similar hard sheep’s cheeses.

The chicken

The star of the dish was a roast chicken, but with added Spanish flavour. In a simple twist on the humble roast chicken, the chicken is at first basted in grape juice before being roasted, breasts down, for 45 minutes. Once flipped over, the breasts are again drizzled in grape juice. Meanwhile, the chicken cavity is stuffed with chunks of apple giving it a fruity aroma, while the dish is served with caramalised apples and grapes which can be either sautéd or oven cooked alongside the chicken. For the grape juice, you need to blend around 500g of grapes in a food processor and then press the pulp through a sieve to collect the juice. You should get around 250ml of juice. I was worried that the chicken, exposed as it was to the oven (I usually bake it partially wrapped in foil) would be dry, but with regular basting with the grape juices, the chicken was succulent and fruity, while the skin was ravishingly caramalised.

I served the chicken with some oven baked parsnips glazed in honey and wholegrain mustard and a generous portion of cute little Jersey Royal potatoes, straight from this year’s first harvest.


Desserts don’t get much more Spanish than a brandy and walnut cake served with a raisin and sweet wine ice cream (helado de pasas y vino dulce). The cake on its own is fairly dry, so certainly benefits from the ice cream accompaniment. Following the Asturian recipe cited by Claudia Roden, I whisked 4 eggs and 200g caster sugar into a thick pale cream, adding 75g melted butter and 3 tablespoons of brandy into the mix. I then grinded up 500g of walnuts in the food processor which were folded into the cream mixture. It was poured into a greased spring-form cake tin and baked for around 45 minutes. The key to this recipe is the syrup which you then pour over the cake when it comes out of the oven. For this dissolve 100g sugar in 250ml water and simmer for around 5-10 minutes until syrupy. Then add a tablespoon of brandy for that alcoholic touch and pour it over the hot cake. Leave the cake for at least an hour to “drink” the syrup. The result is coarse but gooey, perfect with a raisin and wine ice cream – mine was made with a Spanish moscatel wine, but the syrupy sweet Malaga wine would be even better (let me know if you want the recipe – it’s a little to complex to set out here!)

Afternoon tea

What better way to end the day than with that Toledo favourite which I absolutely fell in love with in Spain than little marzipans. I couldn’t believe how easy they were to make! Simply take 200g ground almonds and 200g icing sugar and mix well. Then in a food processor add a few drops of almond extract (not too many or the flavour will overpower) and 2-3 tablespoons of water (you don’t need much as the almond oil makes the paste moist). And that’s it – once you have your paste, you can roll it into balls or make all sorts of imaginative shapes like I did. Once your creative side has been satiated, lay the creations on a baking tray and leave for around 12-24 hours. The marzipans will harden slightly on the outside and remain soft and moist on the inside. The best thing is that they will last for ages!

My Semana Santa nazareños

You can, by the way, glaze the marzipans for added luxor, but I tried this with Claudia Roden’s suggestion of whipped egg whites and icing sugar and it made my marzipans look as though they had been buried under a snow storm. Next time I’ll  stick to a simple egg-white glaze – and just 1-2 minutes under the grill.

¡Buen provecho!