Flirting with Flavour


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Harissa and Honey Marinade

This past February I returned to the UK for three weeks to visit friends and clear my head. I am very lucky in that I was adopted into two wonderful families during my years living over there, both with mums whose skill in the kitchen is unparalleled. In fact, much of my cooking-coming-of-age took place in one of those inspiring kitchens, which had previously played host to the culinary explorations of Nigella Lawson! Or, at least, being that it was the previous home of Nigel Lawson, I like to tell myself that.

The Playhouse in the Garden

Every once in a while a flavour profile will leave you so captivated that you just must go back for seconds. And thirds. And perhaps fourths? I had sent a copy of Balaboosta to A as a Chanukkah/New Years gift and then received one myself for Christmas, but had yet to crack it open. Lucky for me, A’s mum had and a good number of the dishes we ate over the week I stayed with them were inspired by it. Everything was delicious. Having first been thoughtfully crafted by Einat Admony and then recreated by A’s mum, it couldn’t not be.

aubergine with harissa-honey chickpeas

But what was the dish that sparked a flood of inspiration? That would be the Harissa and Honey Hot Wings. A’s mum used the whole chicken and it worked just as well, serving it with crisped lacinato kale, which I now simply cannot imagine this dish without. The honey perfectly balances the heat of the harissa, which is much more subtle and full-bodied than the spice of a jalapeño. I, who rarely takes seconds, simply had to have another piece. This is huge for one who, in the past, has avoided all things spicy, because they tend to make my head explode. Rest assured those of you reading this who also struggle with spice. Yes, you may want to use a bit less harissa (I sometimes go a bit overboard, it’s just that good), but if you are working on embracing spice like I am, it will help turn your life around!

Upon my return to Philly, I had to find harissa and quick! Einat does give a recipe for making your own harissa, which I would like to try sometime, but for now I am happy using Les Moulins Mahjoub’s traditional harissa spread. I have used the harissa and honey marinade on anything and everything (but chicken!): chickpeas, mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, all of these together, you name it. It works and it is delicious! And I almost always serve it on a bed of crisped lacinato kale. I suppose any kale would do, I just happen to be partial to this Italian variety. Most recently I have also started serving it with roasted aubergine, since it’s in season. Like I said, it’s a winning flavour profile, with which you really can’t go wrong!

ready to go in the oven

So enough chit chatting away, here is the recipe I know you’ve all been waiting for. I wouldn’t judge if you had even skipped straight to the bottom of the page… No, but really.

 

Harissa and Honey Marinade

Ingredients

½ cup honey

1/3 cup olive oil

3 Tbsp harissa

2 Tbsp fresh lime juice

1 Tbsp kosher salt

Method

Whisk together all the ingredients. Taste and, if you think you can take a little extra kick, add another dollop of harissa. I dare you.

* * *

And here is a recipe to use the marine to make my favourite quick dinner of roasted aubergine topped w/ harissa-honey chickpeas and mushrooms.  It makes enough to 2, or 1 with leftovers for lunch the next day!

Ingredients

1/2 recipe of Harissa and Honey Marinade

2 baby aubergines

1 can organic chickpeas (it really does make a difference to use organic)

10 baby bella mushrooms

8 leaves of Lacinato Kale with the ends cut off

Method

1. Preheat oven to 375F

2. Prepare the harissa and honey marinade.  Chop mushrooms into quarters and place in medium bowl.  Rinse chickpeas, combine with the quartered-mushrooms, and toss with the marinade.  Allow to sit for about 15 minutes.

3. After about 10 minutes, slice each aubergine in half lengthwise, leaving a thin layer of skin connecting the 2 halves on one side.  Score each half with a knife, making sure not to cut through the skin.  Place aubergine in an oven-proof pan, then pour the chickpea-mushroom mixture over them.

4. Bake at 375F for 25-30 minutes, until the aubergine yields easily to a fork.

5. While the aubergine mixture is baking, crisp the kale in a cast-iron pan.  Drizzle 1 TBLS of olive oil in the pan and heat over medium-low heat then place a few leaves at a time in the pan and sprinkle with some sea salt.  Once crisp, but not burnt, remove from pan and continue until all leaves are done.  If you plan on having leftovers, I recommend only crisping the kale you will use in the moment.

6. Enjoy!!


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The Perfect Summer Cake for Everyone

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My niece graduated from high school last weekend. Wow, that sentence makes me feel old. Perhaps I should qualify that I am only 6 years older than my niece. Phew, now that feels better; less like I should have a coherent life plan.

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My sister is a phenomenal cook. A love of cooking and baking definitely runs in the family. As she and I were discussing the all-friendly menu for last Sunday’s graduation celebration, I offered to help out in any way I could. When we realised we had overlooked the sweet part of the meal, my duty became clear. The only thing is, my niece, while she loves to have dessert, is obsessed with being healthy. This makes sense for a girl recruited to play Div 1 lacrosse at Mercer. So I wanted to make something that she would actually enjoy and not end up feeling like she’d cheated on her dietary routine. Plus, it had to be me-friendly. I wasn’t about to make a dessert I couldn’t partake in!

A quick read through my inbox revealed this Honey Almond cake with Raspberries, Orange, and Pistachio from Cookie + Kate. It looked perfect. Naturally gluten free, refined sugar free, and it utilised delicious summer fruits. As much as I love chocolate, there are occasions when it’s just too heavy… At the bottom of the recipe Kate suggests that the cake might also be good with lemon and blueberries. I took this suggestion and ran with it.

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As a disciple of Amanda Hesser’s, I of course must use Meyer lemons if they are available, so rushed off to the farmers market hoping to find some. Meyer lemons and blueberries in hand, I remembered a truly outrageous lemon polenta cake I had made a few years back from one of the River Cottage cookbooks and thought – why not sub in some cornmeal? The recipe below is what was born out of this inspiration. A little bit later in the summer, when blueberry season is in full swing, it will probably be even tastier. That said, it is delicious as is and everyone has seconds! Some even thirds … 🙂

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Honey Almond Polenta Cake with Meyer Lemon & Blueberries

Ingredients

1 cup firmly packed almond meal
1 cup cornmeal, fine grain polenta, or corn flour (not to be confused with corn starch, which is called corn flour in the UK)
1 tsp baking powder, heaping
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp fine-grain sea salt

3 eggs, beaten
2 Meyer lemons, juiced & zested
2/3 cup honey + 1 tsp (separated)
1/4 cup olive oil
8oz blueberries, preferably organic (plus a few for garnish)

Powdered sugar to garnish

Method

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Grease 10″ springform pan & sprinkle with almond meal, line bottom with parchment paper
2. Whisk together dry ingredients (almond meal, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom, nutmeg, & salt) in large bowl
3. In another bowl combine eggs, olive oil, lemon zest, and 2/3 cup of honey. Mix well.
4. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until just a few clumps remaining. Gently fold in blueberries.
5. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and springs back to your touch. If you insert a toothpick, it should come out clean.
6. While you allow the cake to cool slightly on a rack, combine the lemon juice with the 1 tsp of honey in a small saucepan on the stove. Stir over medium heat until honey & juice are just blended.
7. Use a pastry brush to brush the honey-lemon juice over the cake while warm (though not to worry, it will still soak in if you let it cool all the way first). It will soak right in!

Enjoy! It also makes a phenomenal breakfast cake 🙂


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What to do with a green papaya?

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Papayas are tricky. At least I find them to be so. You buy them and set them out to ripen and before you know it, it’s gone bad. OR, in your haste to avoid the former, you cut into it too early and all your sweet anticipation is dashed by a bitterness that just won’t go away. But perfectly ripe papaya is just so melt-in-your-mouth delicious that despite all of that, you know you’ll try again the next time you’re at the store.

So last time, my mom and I decided to hell with it, we’re getting a green papaya. You see, green papaya is simply unripe papaya, with one great advantage. You buy it unripe, you know that when you cut into it, it will be unripe. No surprises, which means you can actually plan on using it at a specific time without worrying if it will taste right or not. Of course, if you’re looking for a sweet, fruity treat, green papaya will not satisfy your craving. But if you’re ready for some adventurous food experimentation, then green papaya is your easy ticket to bliss. Especially if you have a food processor. If you don’t already, go out an buy one now. Seriously. Not only does it make it easy peasy to grate an entire papaya into green papaya salad, it is the means by which you will whip up heaven in a bowl. Oops, I meant hummus.

Thai Green Papaya Salad (Som Tum)

Ingredients

1 green (unripe) papaya
1 carrot
1 red bell pepper
1 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts

1/2 jalapeño pepper
3 T chopped cilantro
4 T lime juice
3 T soy sauce or tamari
1 T fish sauce (can simply use all soy sauce/tamari to make it vegetarian)
2 cloves crushed garlic
3 T coconut sugar (can also use palm sugar or regular sugar)

Method

1. Peel the papaya and remove the seeds.
2. Grate the papaya, carrot, and pepper. You will get about 4 cups of grated fruit/veggies all together. Set aside
3. Dice the jalapeño and macerate in a mortar and pestle to release the juices.
4. In a large bowl combine the papaya, carrot, red pepper, cilantro, & macerated jalapeño.
5. Add the lime juice, soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar, & garlic. Mix well, making sure to crush everything together so the sauces and fruits/veggies mix entirely.
6. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Once you are happy with it, toss in the peanuts & serve. Enjoy!


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Driving over the bridge from New Hampshire into Maine, I’m greeted by a sign exclaming: Welcome to Vacationland!

The past week has been full of good friends and good food, starting with an impromptu batch of homemade shakshuka and ending with a full array of vegan, gluten free ice creams, with lots of lobster in between.  It had been at least 10 years since I was last in Maine and I had never been to Boston, so I was certainly determined to experience the most I could!

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Shakshuka success! (photocredit: David Friedkin)

What a delight it was to wake up in the middle of the Maine woods this Saturday morning, the smell of french toast wafting up the stairs.  I wandered down to find H in the kitchen with her mom and the ensuing girl-talk, and fresh scrambled eggs with red onion and mushrooms her mom whipped up for me (since I couldn’t eat the french toast), were both highlights of the weekend.

Vacationland!!

Vacationland!!

Later in the day, I had the opportunity to visit my grandmother’s best friend right on the water in Biddeford Pool, basking equally in the stunning coastline, good company, and delicious lobster roll – sans roll, of course, which really just meant oodles and oodles of lobster meat on a few greens 🙂 – at Pier 77.

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The View from Pier 77

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The outside of Pier 77

And to finish off a glorious day, H’s parents took us all out to Boone’s in Portland, where if I hadn’t yet had enough lobster, I made sure to get my fix on all things seafood.  To start our table shared fried oysters and clams (in a GF batter!), as well as 4 different types of oysters on the halfshell.  While, I could have done without the clams, the oysters – raw and fried – were outrageous.  I usually don’t care for raw oysters, but these ones were perfectly tender and slid right down.  For the main, I lucked out and was sitting with three other foodies, also wanting to try everything, so we decided to get a bunch of dishes and split them:

New England Clam Chowder;
Crab Cakes;
Baked Stuffed Lobster with Scallops;
Baked Stuffed Haddock with Lobster and Buerre Blanc;
Charred Arctic Char a la plancha with a Buerre Blanc Sauce;
accompanied by sides of crispy brussel sprouts and coleslaw.

It was a LOT of food and we licked our plates clean, leaving just enough room for dessert – an outrageously rich flourless chocolate cake covered in dark chocolate ganach and studded with York’s peppermint patties to celebrate H’s mom’s birthday (and made by her as well – can you tell yet, how much I admire this woman?!).

Sunday night became a St Andrews reunion, running into former hallmates and catching up with Principal Louise Richardson at the Boston screening of Ever to Excel.  Afterwards, a few of us broke (gluten free) bread and wine at Legal Test Kitchen.  I got lobster again.  I know what you’re thinking – branch out girl!!  But let me tell you, when one is used to only partaking in lobster once a year and the said specimen generally comes from ShopRite, the fresh Maine variety is a temptation that it would be a sin to turn down!

“angry lobster” (GF)

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Crema Catalana (perhaps better known as Creme Brule)

Sharing all these delicious meals to you is making my mouth water, despite having just eating the best gluten free pizza I’ve ever had at the Two Boots in Grand Central Terminal (today is another travel day, this time destination: home).  By the way, if you ever find yourself at Two Boots (they have locations all over NYC as well as in Baltimore and New Orleans), I highly recommend the Tony Clifton – shitake mushrooms, vidalia onions, sweet red pepper peto, and mozzarella.  The plain cheese pizza is very good, as well, and the crust is thin and NOT grainy.  What a concept!  Even my food-normal friend enjoyed it, though she did comment that the wheat crust was better.

All of the above are more than enough to get excited about going to either Maine or Boston (or both!), but the crowning glory was dessert last night.  I had dinner at Canary Square in Jamaican Plain with 2 dear Pocono friends, which was great.  Canary Square is farm to table, definitely worth checking out.  But their dessert list wasn’t exactly inspired, so we took a walk down the street and were lured into a small storefront, FoMu, calling itself “alternative ice cream and cafe”. Turns out there is no dairy in the entire store.  None.  The majority of their ice creams are made with coconut milk, though there are a few soy-based, and the flavours range from dark chocolate, to cardamom pistachio, from avocado, to mocha chip, from apple spice donut, to pumpkin spice.  You get it.  They have basically every flavour you could ever imagine.  You can imagine what a treat this was, since I am usually relegated to whatever non-dairy flavour the supermarket has on its shelf and while these have certainly expanded over recent years, FoMu blew them all out of the water.  It was heaven.  I got my favourite gelato combo – dark chocolate with cardamom pistachio and chocolate chunks.  Yum.  Next time you are in Boston, go there.  And if anyone from FoMu reads this – can you please open a store in Philly?!

mint chip with rainbow sprinkles

mint chip with rainbow sprinkles

dark chocolate + cardamom pisatchio topped with TAZO chocolate chunks

dark chocolate + cardamom pisatchio topped with TAZO chocolate chunks

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espresso “ice cream” topped with Newman O’s

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“fall into FoMU” – yes please!


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London’s Best (mostly gluten free) Cupcakes

In honour of a certain person’s upcoming visit, I have decided to share my list of the top cupcakes in London with you all.  For those of you who, like me, have to stay away from either wheat or gluten, I hope this helps you take full advantage of all London’s many bakeries have to offer.  Only a couple years ago it was next to impossible to find gluten free cupcakes in this city.   I am happy to report that not only have they become more prevalent, they are also steadily increasing in quality, so you can actually find absolutely delicious (and regret-free) cupcakes, as well as many other baked goods!  Trust me, I know that feeling of jubilation that comes when you notice that single option among 20 in a coffee shop that you can eat.  Even if you’re not hungry, or it’s not the flavour you were craving, you’ll probably buy it (proof – I bought Caffe Nero‘s new rye carrot cake last weekend. It was actually pretty good… but that could be the joy of being able to buy a cafe treat speaking).  The cupcakes below warrant more than the surprise-buy, they deserve cupcake-specific trips, I promise!  And if a state of euphoria ensues, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you… 🙂

By the way – these are in no particular order.  Because most bakeries only do 1 gluten free option, where you go and which you choose will depend on your mood!

Primrose Bakery

Their Primrose Hill location is the original (and source of their name), but they now also have a small storefront in Covent Garden that is the perfect location for that sweet treat after (or before!) a long day of studying.  A deliciously dense flourless chocolate cake is available everyday and most days they also have a chocolate almond cake (sold by the slice) or cupcakes.  On some special occasions they switch it up and make some of their signature flavours with a gluten free base, such as rose!  I know I said these aren’t in any particular order, but Primrose is probably my favourite bakery in London.  For my birthday, B “surprised” me with a custom decorated chocolate almond cake.  It really is everything you could want in a chocolate cake.  Dark, dense, moist, and CHOCOLATY.  The almond gives the crumb a really nice texture and complements the dark chocolate beautifully.  I have snuck bites of their non-gluten free selections and would readily recommend them as well.  The violet cupcake was particularly special, with violet permeating the cake and the frosting.  I have really never had anything quite like it.

birthday cake from primrose bakery!

birthday cake from primrose bakery!

chocolate almond cupcake from primrose bakery

chocolate almond cupcake from primrose bakery

primrose bakery storefront in primrose hill

primrose bakery storefront in primrose hill

Hummingbird Bakery

Red velvet has been my favourite cupcake, since discovering Red Velvet Cupcakery with my aunt back in early 2009 (they remain, btw, my favourite cupcake shop).  I had yet to find one, though, that was gluten free, until last fall, that is, when P surprised me with a box of four of Hummingbird‘s gluten free red velvet cupcakes.  When I first saw the box I must admit I started running through all the various excuses I could make to not try one in front of him, fearing  they were probably regular cupcakes and while they looked gorgeous, I did not want to risk eating the wheat.  When P informed me that they were gluten free, a lot of jumping, screaming, and hugging ensued.  Yes, all for the cupcakes.  The frosting is a tad too sweet for me – they could do with making it more “cream-cheesy”, but they are delicious and certainly satisfy my craving for a good gluten free red velvet cupcake, when I don’t feel like baking them!  Hummingbird also sells vanilla cupcakes with either vanilla or chocolate frosting as part of their “made without” range.  And if you give them enough advance notice they’ll bake you pretty much anything special order.  Primrose (above) and Bea’s (below) do the same.

cakes in the window at hummingbird bakery in south kensington

cakes in the window at hummingbird bakery in south kensington

outside hummingbird bakery's south kensington shop

outside hummingbird bakery’s south kensington shop

Bea’s of Bloomsbury

One cloudy afternoon last September, after a long day of stressful and exhausting flat hunting, I convinced B & P to peak into the Bea’s on Theobald’s Rd.  I’d read about it, I said, but hadn’t had the opportunity to try anything from them yet.  We obviously ended up sitting down (a much needed break!) and I ordered their gluten free chocolate cupcake.  I have since had it numerous times as part of their full afternoon tea, which by the way, is definitely one of the best (and most fun) afternoon tea options in London.  One word – ganache.  The frosting on their chocolate cupcake is not just any old frosting, it is a deep, dark chocolate ganache.

afternoon tea at bea's of bloomsbury (st paul's)

afternoon tea at bea’s of bloomsbury (st paul’s)

The Freefrom Bakehouse

Considering my frequent visits to Borough Market and self-professed love for red velvet cupcakes, it is surprising that I did not try the Freefrom Bakehouse‘s red velvet cupcake sooner.  Boy am I glad I tried it now, though, instead of waiting until I was about to leave London.  Hummingbird’s is great (and available from their various locations every day), but theirs is the best I have had aside from Red Velvet Cupcakery’s in DC.  The frosting actually tastes like cream cheese (thank you!) and the cake, well it’s moist and the perfect median between dense and light crumb.  Best of all?  It does not taste like it’s gluten free!  All too often gluten free baked goods end up tasting grainy and like something is missing.  Well, it is.  Flour.  But none of the cakes, cookies, and other treats from Freefrom taste like that.  They all stand up on their own, indistinguishable from their flour-full counterparts.  It is well worth tracking down these guys at either Borough or any of the other markets and festivals they set up at.  And don’t wait as long as I did!  Go now!

Violet

I read about Violet (Claire Ptak, founder of Violet, worked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley before moving to London) and stumbled upon it at the Broadway Market two years ago.  In that instance I took home a variety of their cupcakes/babycakes – salted caramel cupcake, chocolate cupcake, flourless chocolate babycake, almond and polenta rhubarb babycake – and was blown away.  I was subsequently inspired to make my own version of the almond polenta cake (it’s naturally gluten free!), though I still need to perfect that recipe.  It has taken me two years to get back to visit their stall at Broadway and this time I came away with their spelt and vegan chocolate cupcake with violet frosting.  Warning, this one is not gluten free (in fact, spelt has a higher gluten content than wheat flour does).  The spelt flour gives it a gentle nuttiness that compliments the dark chocolate cake, which is delightfully moist.  And the violet frosting, well, it’s perfectly sweet and somehow manages to stay way from the risk of seeming like you’re eating potpourri.  Then again, I would expect nothing less from a Chez Panisse alumna.  They are at Broadway Market every Saturday and their storefront on Wilton Way is open Tues-Sun.

selection of violet cakes

selection of violet cakes

violet cakes

violet cakes

almond + polenta rhubarb babycake

almond + polenta rhubarb babycake