Letters from April 2000

A Scottish Daughter-in-law

Tartan kilts swirled, sporrans bobbed up and down as we danced and swung to the lively tunes of the Gallivanters Ceilidh Band .  This exuberant Scottish Ceilidh was held in the Caledonian Hall of the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh to celebrate the wedding of our second son Toby and his lovely Scottish lass Penny.  As ever food played a part in this event.  Toby and Penny met in Verbier in Switzerland in the Winter of 1997 where they were both cooking in separate ski chalets for the Winter season.  For Toby it was love at first sight, Penny soon came round to the idea. Their relationship stood the test of a trip around Australia, Toby followed Penny to Edinburgh and proposed in the Botanic Gardens hence the romantic and nostalgic return visit. Toby looked unusually formal in a black suit with a Nehru collar and a rust coloured Irish linen shirt underneath.  Penny looked utterly lovely with two beautiful shawls draped over a copper coloured raw silk dress embroidered with little flowers which was made for her by a friend who makes theatrical costumes

Penny’s Mum made the wedding cake, three tiers of Walnut cake with soft white frosting.
The reception was held in the trendy Malmaison Hotel overlooking the harbour where the Royal yacht Britannia is in its final resting place.

We ate a delicious meal of Seafood Chowder, Chicken Liver Pate, Roast Cod with Pea Puree, Duck Confit on a Beetroot Rosti with Roast Parsnips and Frites.    The desserts included a luscious Chocolate and Amaretto Cheesecake and a lovely Fresh Fruit Salad.
We then  made our way to the Botanic gardens through the spectacular East Gates to the  Caledonian Hall at the Royal Botanic Gardens where many more friends joined the party.  The Scottish  Ceilidh dances are wild and exuberant and seem to involve hundreds of people swinging and swirling for ever and ever.  We danced the Gay Gordons, Dashing White Sergeant, Flying Scotsman, Strips of Willow, Irish and Scottish 8 hand reels and a Canadian Barn Dance which Penny’s Mum remembered dancing during her summer holidays on one Scotland’s western isles to the gramophone of Dougie the Boatman!  We had the best fun and partied into the early hours.

Here are some of the recipes we enjoyed from the kitchen team at Malmaison –  Roy Brett Executive Group Chef,  Chef Paul Ryan who hails from Cork and Pastry Chef Clair Marwick who shared her delicious cheesecake recipe with us.

Malmaison Hotel,  The Shore, Leith, Edinburgh. Tel. 0044 131 468 5000

 

Malmaison Mussel and Sweetcorn Chowder
 

Serves 20

I kg (2.2lbs) mussels
50g (2 ozs) shallot or onion, finely chopped
2 sprigs of thyme
8-10 parsley stalks
small bay leaf
1 litre (1¾ pints) of  dry white wine

250g (9ozs) flour
250g (9ozs) butter
25g (1oz) butter
1 tablesp. olive oil
200g (7 ozs) onion, in scant ¼ inch dice
200g (7ozs ) celery, in scant ¼ inch dice
200g (7ozs ) leeks, in scant ¼ inch dice
200g (7ozs) carrots, in scant ¼ inch dice
30g (1 bulb) garlic, crushed
100g (3½ ozs) flat parsley
400g (14ozs) sweetcorn
500ml (scant 18 fl.ozs) double cream
salt and freshly ground pepper

Wash the mussels in several changes of cold water.  Put into a saucepan with the dry white wine, thyme, parsley stalks and bay leaf. Cook over a medium heat until the mussels open, 6-8 minutes.  Scoop out the mussels, remove the beards, discard the shells and save the mussels.  Strain the mussel liquor and keep aside.
Melt the butter, stir in the flour and cook over a gentle heat for 3 or 4 minutes.  Add the strained mussel liquor.
Meanwhile, melt 25g(1oz) butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a sauté pan.   Add the diced onion, celery, leek, carrot and crushed garlic.  Cover and sweat over a gentle heat for 4 or 5 minutes.
Add to the base with the mussels, sweetcorn, cream and most of the chopped parsley.   Bring to the boil, season, taste and correct if necessary.
Serve with a little extra snipped flat parsley sprinkled over the top.

 

Malmaison Amaretto Cheesecake
 

Makes 2 x 12 (30.5cm) inch cheesecakes
Serves 24
250g (9ozs) butter
200g (7 ozs) castor sugar
200g (7 ozs) plain flour
200g (7 ozs) ground almonds
600g (1lb 5 ozs) best quality chocolate (64% cocoa solids)
675g (1½ lb) Mascarpone cheese
3 eggs
75g (generous 2½ ozs) castor sugar
4-6 tablesp. Amaretto
2 x 12 inch (30.5cm) loose bottomed tins, lined and greased

Preheat the oven to 150C /300F/regulo 2

Melt the butter, add sugar, flour and almonds.  Mix well.
Divide the mixture between the two tins and press into the base of the tins.  Cook until golden, 20 minutes approx.  Cool and spoon 2-3 tablespoons Amaretto over each base. Allow to soften.
Melt the chocolate in a pyrex bowl over barely simmering water.   Warm the Mascarpone slightly.
Whisk the eggs and castor sugar until light and creamy. Gently fold in the Mascarpone and finally fold in the melted chocolate.
Divide between the two bases,  cover and allow to set in the fridge for 30 minutes. Do not keep in the fridge for a long period as it will harden too much.
Remove from the fridge at least 20 minutes before serving to allow to come to room temperature.  Serve with softly whipped cream

Walnut Cake with American Frosting

Serves 8
7ozs (200g/generous 1 cup) plain white flour
2½ level teaspoons baking powder
A pinch of salt
3ozs (85g/three quarters stick) butter
½ level teaspoon pure Vanilla essence
8ozs (225g/generous 1 cup) castor sugar
3ozs (85g/scant 1 cup) very fresh walnuts
4 fl ozs (100ml/½ cup) milk
2 eggs

Filling
2ozs (55g/½ stick) butter
4ozs (110g/1 cup) icing sugar
A few drops of pure Vanilla essence

American Frosting
1 egg white
8ozs (225g/1 generous cup) granulated sugar
4 tablespoon (5 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) water

3 x 7 inch (7.5 x 18cm) round tins

Decoration
5 or 6 walnut halves

Meanwhile make the filling
Cream the butter and add the sieved icing sugar and a few drops of vanilla essence.  When the cake is cold, sandwich together with the three layers together with butter cream.
Next make the frosting: This delicious icing is just a little tricky to make, so follow the instructions exactly.  Quick and accurate decisions are necessary in judging when the icing is ready and then it must be used immediately.  Bring a saucepan of water large enough to hold a pyrex mixing bowl to the boil.  Whisk the egg white until very stiff in a pyrex or pottery bowl.  Dissolve the sugar carefully in water and boil for 10 minutes approx.  until the syrup reaches the ‘thread stage’, 106º-113ºC/223º-236ºF.  It will look thick and syrupy when a metal spoon is dipped in, the last drops of syrup will form a thin thread.  Pour this boiling syrup over the stiffly-beaten egg white, whisking all the time.  Sit the bowl in the saucepan of simmering water.  Continue to whisk over the water until the icing is snow white and very thick (this can take up to 10 minutes).
Spread quickly over the cake with a palette knife.  It sets very quickly at this stage, so speed is essential.  Decorate with 5 or 6 walnut halves.

 

Breads and cakes for Easter

Baking breads and cakes for Easter is a tradition that has endured for centuries. Many countries and ethnic groups have their own specialities, which have stood the test of time. Most involve eggs and fruit. The eggs would have accumulated during the Lenten fasting period and they also symbolised Spring and rebirth.  Sultanas, raisins, and spices were always considered a luxury so they too would have been included in many celebration cakes. Greece, Cyprus and Crete particularly have many special Easter specialities and both sweet and savoury breads play a central role in Greek religious life as part of Orthodox ritual and as celebration food. The Lenten fast is broken by the sharing of this rich Easter bread.
A handsome Italian from Siena called Riccardo Chianella, a student on the last 12 week course gave me this recipe which his grandmother cooked every Easter in the Foligno area of Italy.
The Easter bunny biscuits are simple to make, they will delight both young and slightly older Easter revellers, perhaps you might like to hide them in the garden for a bunny hunt on Easter Sunday morning. Have fun !

Easter Bread


This almond-topped bread is from Rosemary Barron’s book ‘Flavours of Greece’ published by William Morrow & Co. New York. This bread which breaks the Lenten fast has pride of place on the Easter Sunday table. Rich in eggs and butter (foods forbidden during Lent), these shiny loaves display all the baker’s artistry with their splendid decorations of spring flowers, leaves, or berries shaped in dough. Many of these Easter breads are so beautifully crafted that they are used as wall decorations throughout the year. Red eggs, signifying both rebirth and the blood of Christ, are an important part of the decoration – they delight the children but, unlike our traditional Easter eggs, are never eaten.

6 white eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons red food colouring
a few drops of blue food colouring
1 tablesp. Olive oil

For the Bread dough:
4½ ozs (125g/three-quarter cup packed) light brown sugar
4 fl.ozs (100ml) tepid (110F) water
1½ tablesp (2 American tablesp.) active dry yeast
15 ozs (425g/3 cups) plain white flour
12-15ozs (340-425 g/2½-3 cups) strong white flour
4 fl ozs (100ml) + 1½ tablesp. milk, heated to tepid (110F)
2 tablesp. olive oil
5 free-range eggs
Juice of ½ orange
2 tablesp. finely grated orange zest, briefly dried in a low oven and pulverized in a mortar with ½ teasp. sugar or 1½ tablesp. orange extract
½ teasp. Vanilla extract
1 teasp. fine-grain sea salt
3 tablesp. (4 American tablesp.) unsalted butter, melted
1egg yolk
1 tablesp. honey
2 ozs (50g/½ cup) blanched slivered almonds

Half fill a stainless steel saucepan with water, bring to a boil, and add the food colourings. Gently boil the eggs for 20 minutes; add a little more colouring if necessary to produce deep crimson eggs.  Let the eggs cool in the water, remove them, and set aside to dry. Dip a paper towel in the olive oil, and rub each egg all over with it.
To make the bread dough:
Dissolve 1 teaspoon of the brown sugar in the water and sprinkle the yeast over. Set aside in a warm place until foamy, about 10 minutes.  Sieve 10 ozs (285g/2 cups) of the plain flour into a large bowl, make a well in the centre, and pour in the yeast mixture. Knead and gradually add the 4 fl.ozs (120ml) milk, remaining plain flour and 7½ ozs (210g/1½ cups) of the strong flour, or enough to make a light, smooth, and elastic dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, and brush with olive oil. Cover with a warm damp kitchen towel and set aside in a warm draft-free place for 1 hour, or until at least doubled in bulk.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl until light and frothy and beat in the remaining brown sugar, the orange juice, orange zest, vanilla and salt. Add to the dough with 2½ tablesp. of the melted butter and knead in enough of the remaining strong flour to make a soft dough. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead for 3 minutes.
Form the dough into 2 braided or round loaves on buttered baking sheets; if making round loaves reserve a little of the dough for decoration. Roll the reserved dough into thin ropes with the palms of your hands and break off small pieces to make into spring symbols, such as flowers, leaves or berries. Decorate the tops of the round loaves with these shaped. Set the loaves aside for 2 hours in a warm draft-free spot t rise. Heat the oven to 400F/200C/regulo 6.  Place the eggs either around the centres of the round loaves or between the decorations, or arrange the eggs between the briads. Brush with the egg and honey glaze, sprinkle with the almonds and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350F/180c/Regulo 4 and bake 20 minutes longer, or until golden brown, transfer to racks to cool.  Discard the eggs once the bread is cut.

 

Easter Bunny Biscuits


These are rather fun to make for Easter – the kids can make them too.
6 oz (170g) plain white flour or 5½ oz (155g) white flour and ½ oz (15g) ground rice
4 oz (110g/1 stick) butter
2 oz (55g) castor sugar
For Decoration
icing, raisins, tiny speckled eggs
rabbit shaped biscuit cutter

Mix the flour, ground rice (if used) and castor sugar in a bowl, rub in the butter and continue to work until the mixture comes together in a firm dough.  Roll into a one-eighth inch (3mm) thick sheet on a floured board. Stamp into ‘bunny’ shapes with a cutter. Bake in a preheated moderate oven, 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 14-15 minutes or until pale and golden in colour. Cool on a wire rack.
Decorate with icing, raisins or speckled tiny chocolate eggs where appropriate.

Pizza Pasquale (Easter Cheese Bread)


Originally from Umbria in Italy, this particular recipe comes from Foligno. It is traditionally eaten on Easter Sunday, together with a brunch composed of Italian salami, hard boiled eggs etc. which has been blessed by the priest at the church.
5 eggs
5 pinches of salt
1 tablesp. of Extra Virgin olive oil
1 tablesp. of milk
7 ozs (200g) of mixed cheese (Parmesan cheese and Pecorino (hard sheep cheese) or
3½ ozs (100g) Parmesan cheese and 3½ ozs (100g) Cheddar cheese grated
White flour
30g Pizzaiolo baking powder

Beat the eggs with the salt, oil and milk. Add the cheese, mix. Add the flour until you reach a consistency of a very wet dough. Add the baking powder. Mix and pour on an oiled tin lined with paper. Bake at 160C/325F/Regulo 3 in a conventional oven for 45 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack and eat when cold.  Note: Tin must be filled no more than half as this mixture will rise more than double.  The dough must be very wet (add milk or oil). If using baking powder reduce by half as it leaves a bitter taste..

Simnel Cake

Warm, freshly baked Simnel Cake is just about my favourite festive cake of the year, it’s the traditional Easter Cake in our family, rich and juicy with plump fruit. It has a layer of almond paste baked into the centre and a thick layer of almond icing on top. The cake is decorated with eleven balls of almond paste, which represent eleven of the twelve apostles. Judas is missing because he betrayed Jesus.  There’s still time to make it for Easter. We love to eat it on Easter Monday when we take a picnic to the woods at Glenbower and eat it beside the stream in the midst of wood anemone and wild garlic.

 

Simnel Cake


Simnel Cake is a traditional Easter cake. It has a layer of almond paste baked into the centre and a thick layer of almond icing on top. The 11 balls represent 11 of the 12 apostles – Judas is missing because he betrayed Jesus.
8 ozs (225g/2 stick) butter
8 ozs (225g/1 cup) pale, soft brown sugar
6 eggs, preferably free range
10 ozs (285g/2 cups) white flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
2 ½ fl ozs (35ml/generous ¼ cup) Irish whiskey
12 ozs (340g/2 generous cups) best quality sultanas
12 ozs (340g/2 generous cups) best quality currants
12 ozs (340g/2 generous cups) best quality raisins
4 ozs (110g/½ cup) cherries
4 ozs (110g/½ cup) home made candied peel
2 ozs (55g/scant ½ cup) whole almonds
2 ozs (55g/generous ½ cup) ground almonds
Rind of 1 lemon
Rind of 1 orange
1 large or 2 small Bramley Seedling apples, grated
Almond Paste
1 lb (450g/4¾ cups) ground almonds
1 lb (450g/4 cups) castor sugar
2 small eggs
A drop of pure almond essence
2 tablesp. (50ml/¼ cup) Irish whiskey

Line the base and sides of a 9 inch (23cm) round, or a 8 inch (20.5cm) square tin with brown paper and greaseproof paper. Wash the cherries and dry them. Cut in two or four as desired. Blanch the almonds in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, rub off the skins and chop them finely. Mix the dried fruit, nuts, ground almonds and grated orange and lemon rind. Add about half of the whiskey and leave for 1 hour to macerate.
Next make the almond paste. Sieve the castor sugar and mix with the ground almonds. Beat the eggs, add the whiskey and 1 drop of pure almond essence, then add to the other ingredients and mix to a stiff paste. (You may not need all the egg). Sprinkle the work top with icing sugar, turn out the almond paste and work lightly until smooth.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4.
Cream the butter until very soft, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs and add in bit by bit, beating well between each addition so that the mixture doesn’t curdle. Mix the spice with the flour and stir in gently. Add the grated apple to the fruit and mix in gently but thoroughly (don’t beat the mixture again or you will toughen the cake).  Put half of the cake mixture into the prepared tin, roll about half of the almond paste into an 8½ inch (21.5cm) round. Place this on top of the cake mixture in the tin and cover with the remaining mixture. Make a slight hollow in the centre, dip you hand in water and pat it over the surface of the cake: this will ensure that the top is smooth when cooked. Cover the top with a single sheet of brown paper.
Put into the preheated oven; reduce the heat to 160C/325F/regulo 3 after 1 hour. Bake until cooked, 3-3½ hours approx., test in the centre with a skewer – it should come out completely clean. Pour the rest of the whiskey over the cake and leave to cool in the tin.  NOTE: When you are testing do so at an angle because the almond paste can give a false reading.  Next day remove the cake from the tin. Do not remove the lining paper but wrap in some extra greaseproof paper and tin foil until required.
When you wish to ice the cake, roll the remainder of the almond paste into a 9 inch (23cm) round. Brush the cake with a little lightly beaten egg white and top with the almond paste. Roll the remainder of the paste into 11 balls. Score the top of the cake in 1½ inch (4cm) squares or diamonds. Brush with beaten egg or egg yolk, stick the ‘apostles’ around the outer edge of the top, brush with beaten egg. Toast in a preheated oven 220C/425F/regulo 7, for 15-20 minutes or until slightly golden, Decorate with an Easter Chicken. Cut while warm or allow to get cold, or store for several weeks covered or in an airtight tin.  
NB
: Almond paste may also be used to ice the side of the cake. You will need half the almond paste again.  This cake keeps for weeks or even months, but while still delicious it changes both in texture and flavour as it matures.


Chef of the Year

Jean Georges Vongerichten – Named Chef of the Year by Esquire, New Yorker Magazine and Time Out New York. Recipient of three James Beard Foundation Awards – best chef in New York City, best new restaurant and best chef in America – all that and 4 stars from The New York Times, the highest accolade that prestigious newspaper bestows.  The cooking of Jean-Georges Vongerichten with its French and Asian influences, sophisticated, yet startlingly uncomplicated, has earned him endless rave reviews. The flavours of his food are instantly appealing. Vongerichten has created a culinary style that is highly creative and intensely flavourful, yet remarkably simple.  Most of his recipes use very few ingredients and his books, unlike most chefs’ tomes are very workable for the dedicated home cook.
Jean Georges who was born in rural Alsace in North Eastern France, grew up eating traditional food cooked by his mother and grandmother. As a teenager he was passionate about food and went to cooking school. By the tender age of 16 he was cooking at L’Auberge de L’lll, a 3 star Michelin restaurant considered to be the best in Alsace. He later went to work with luminaries like Paul Bocuse, Eckhart Witzigmann (Munich), and finally Louis Outhier of L’Oasis on the French Riviera.  It was he who sent Jean Georges to the US and Asia where he discovered the flavours of lemongrass, ginger, galangal, cilantro and coconut milk. This was in the early eighties, when no French chef would dream of blending Asian flavours with classical French. In fact it is still considered by many to be little short of heresy.  In 1991 he opened Jo Jo in New York, Vong opened a year later, (there are now Vongs in London and Hong Kong) , and then Jean Georges which earned a rare four star rating.  In New York last week I visited one of his newest ventures the Mercer Kitchen, in the basement of the trendy Mercer Hotel in Soho. I started with a Rocket Leaf Salad with Shaved Fennel and Parmesan, light and delicious. Then Roasted Beets with a blob of soft goat cheese, earthy & gorgeous. A delicious thin crust pizza topped with raw tuna and wasabi mustard was also inspired.
The main course was Grilled Lamb Steak with Flageolets and Sun chokes. Understandably by this stage I was struggling but I still managed to taste a couple of desserts all in the way of research.  Jean Georges’ Undercooked Chocolate Cake, originally a mistake, has been one of the most popular and copied desserts in New York.  When you cut into the brownie-like crust with a spoon the warm centre oozes out, this brings out the kid in everyone. Its best served with a blob of softly whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.

Jean-Georges Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef
By Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman, published by Broadway Books, New York 1998.
Mercer Hotel, very trendy, lots of Europeans stay there. (Mercer) Kitchen in basement, 99 Prince St, Soho, New York, Tel. 212 966 5454.