Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Spiced tangelo marmalade

I love winter. But after a while it can get a bit monochromatic. Which is perhaps why I found myself drawn, as if by magnetic force, to a tray of tangelos in my local supermarket. I'd never made marmalade before (or indeed anything with tangelos), but as luck would have it, my mother - a master marmalade maker - was down staying with me, so I took advantage of an in house consultation. And in reward she received a still warm jar to take back with her on the plane to Brisbane. My reward was a breakfast the next morning that was bright and sunny, sugary and sharp, a blaze of orange to obliterate the grey. This recipe uses spices for extra warmth. They're subtle, but still, a nice calm counterpoint to the juicy sour/sweet of the citrus. Smeared on toast, with a cup of black coffee, it's the tastiest cure for seasonal affective disorder, not to mention oh so pretty in that sleepy winter morning light.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014


It's great when you discover something you really, really love, and find out later that it just so happens to be gluten-free, even vegan. This is not because I have any food intolerances (in fact, one could accuse me of being intolerant of intolerances), but I do have a growing number of friends who do. Socca is not any new-fangled food made with faux flour or dairy substitutes. It's something that's been around for generations in the south of France and further afield in the Mediterranean. I must have had it when I was a 16 year old exchange student going to high school in Cannes, but my food memories of that time are mainly of pain au chocolat and cheese, which I'm sure is all I subsisted on at that time. My more recent memory of socca is of eating it at bloodwood, a restaurant that opened in my old neighbourhood just before I moved away. It's the sort of place that you wish was walking distance from your house and now that it's not, I'm forced to recreate their dishes all the way over the other side of town. Luckily, it's not that hard. All you need is chickpea flour, water, oil and a cast-iron skillet.

Socca, or farinata, or torta de ceci, is basically a savoury chickpea pancake - a crispy at the edges, nutty in the centre, burnished golden base on which to pile all manner of good things. My favourite toppings are labneh or goat's cheese with mushrooms (sautéd with garlic, thyme and rosemary) but really, you could do anything you like. Roast pumpkin would be lovely, blue cheese too, but if you're vegan, by all means skip the dairy.

There's a bit of advance thought required for this, in that you have to make the batter two hours ahead of time but really, when it's just a matter of putting ingredients in the one bowl and whisking them together (do it at breakfast time for lunch or dinner that day), it couldn't get any easier. It's the real definition of fast food, on the table in less time than it would take to pick up takeaway or wait for it to be delivered.

Adapted from a recipe by David Leibowitz, from his book The Sweet Life in Paris

You can use the quantity below to make one thick pancake or two or three thinner ones. I tend to favour the one big one, so that you can pile on your toppings, then slice it up at the table, family-style. You can find chickpea flour at health food shops, good delis or Indian grocery stores.

1 cup (130g) chickpea flour (besan)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (280ml) water 
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin 
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
freshly-ground black pepper, plus additional sea salt and olive oil for serving

Mix together the flour, water, salt, cumin, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Let batter rest at least 2 hours, covered, at room temperature.

To cook, heat the grill in your oven. Oil a 9- or 10-inch (23cm) cast-iron skillet with the remaining olive oil and heat the pan in the oven.

Once the pan and the oven are blazing-hot, pour batter into the pan, swirl it around, then pop it back in the oven.

Bake until the socca is firm and beginning to blister and burn. The exact time will depend on your grill (but it should be somewhere around the 5 minute mark).

Slide the socca out of the pan and onto a cutting board, then shower it with coarse salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Wholemeal chocolate chip cookies

You'd think it would be impossible for someone like me, such a devoted devourer of baked goods, to discover anything new about the chocolate chip cookie. But you'd be wrong. For I've recently stumbled across not one but two game-changers. The first is evident in the title of this post: wholemeal flour. Now, I've got nothing against the plain white stuff, as the recipe index of this blog will attest. But wholemeal flour with butter, brown sugar and bittersweet dark chocolate chips is a total revelation, adding a layer of nutty, chewy complexity to a classic cookie combination. So the second revelation: you can freeze cookie dough. Not as one big lump - that would defeat the purpose - but as individually rolled balls, to be taken straight from the freezer, popped on a tray, sprinkled with sea salt and baked to order. 

This means you can have freshly made cookies any time you like. In just sixteen minutes. For unexpected guests. For totally expected cravings. For no reason at all other than to amaze your friends and distract them from the crossword puzzle they insist on enlisting your help in solving even though you are (despite being a writer) totally hopeless at them. A picture tells a thousand words. Say no more.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Open-face feta and leek omelette

Morning, noon or night, there's something intensely satisfying about eggs. My appreciation for them started early with boiled eggs, which was a regular breakfast growing up. My dad used to draw elaborate faces on them for us, which we'd take ghoulish delight in decapitating. They were a common childhood dinner too, as the oozy yellow centres of cheese-filled jaffles. These days I most often eat my eggs scrambled - especially if I've got a bit of cream or an extra white or yolk to use up - or lately, fried in a hole cut in a single slice of bread, as per this genius blog post, which cooks both toast and egg simultaneously in a cast-iron skillet. But for a crowd, the best way to cook eggs (other than shakshuka, of course, which is equally effortless and delicious) is an omelette.

I'm not talking about delicate, light, made-to-order numbers that will have you chained to the stovetop in a flipping frenzy most of the morning but one big, vegetable-packed, feta-fied, finished-under-the-grill number to cut in thick wedges and serve with toast. 

Packed with green vegetables and herbs, the salty punch of feta and soft sweetness of tomatoes, this is the sort of egg dish that works at any time of day. Have it with toast for breakfast, as a sandwich filling for lunch or with a glass of wine for dinner. If you have an egg, you are fed. If you have six, so are your friends.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Swedish cinnamon buns

Cinnamon smells like morning. I've been seeing quite a bit more morning lately, courtesy of my hectic football-watching schedule. And when you're getting out of bed while it's cold and dark outside, you need a little extra incentive. 

Cinnamon buns were something I'd always asssociated with America. Maybe because inevitably the first thing you encounter after getting through customs at the airport is a Cinnabon franchise selling enormous, puffed-up, heavily-frosted buns. I like a bit of excess from time to time but that much sugar too early in the morning threatens to put you back to sleep rather than wake you up. When I was in Copenhagen recently - a place with no shortage of delicious pastries - I was pointed in the direction of Café Rosa by the brilliant English-language blog A Guide to Copenhagen, which introduced me to so many of my favourite places when I was there. Linn, who writes the blog (as well as her own super-cute cooking one which you can check out here) is a Swede living in Denmark and claimed that the buns sold here were as good as any she'd had at home. I'd only had the American version to compare to, but really, after the first bite, there was no comparison. Speckled with cardamom, lightly sweet, with a ribbon of buttery cinnamon threaded through the interior, the Swedish cinnamon bun is pretty well perfect. Especially with a cup of strong black coffee as you watch the sun rise in Sydney, and set on screen in Rio.