Hot Cross Biscuits

Apparently my Grammy made much more than just biscuits and pies and “Frenched” green beans. She also only served broccoli with hollandaise, always made her own bread and tended a beautiful garden that yielded an enormous bounty of fresh veggies. In the words of my mom, her adoring daughter

“  My Mom grew up in poverty - emotional and financial - and her childhood home was chaotic.  No-one cooked or cleaned and there was never enough food.  So her home had to be perfect.  She was remarkable.”

She was remarkable. And while she may have made a slew of other delicious foods, I will always think of her biscuits (“cloud biscuits” because they are heavenly and light). They were magnificent.

These are just a slight variation, I use butter instead of shortening, because I suspect she might have too, if it wasn’t for budgeting. And here of course, I’ve added some spices and currants to the mix, and topped them with an icing cross to be festive. But they are none the less my Grammy’s cloud biscuits, and they are remarkable, much like their creator.

Hot Cross Biscuit

2 cups AP Flour

¼ cup Sugar

1 ½ tsp Cinnamon

½ tsp Ground Ginger

½ tsp Ground Nutmeg

4 tsp Baking Powder

½ cup Butter, cut into small cubes.

½ cup Currants

1 tsp Salt

2/3 cup Buttermilk

1 Egg

1 Yolk

1 cup Icing Sugar

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

In a large mixing bowl mix together all of the dry ingredients.

Toss in the butter and using your hands (or a pastry cutter) and break the butter up into pea-sized pieces.

Add the egg to the buttermilk and whisk it until combined.

Add the liquids into the flour mixture and stir until it just starts to come together.

Add in the currants and press the dough out, and then fold it in half. Repeat this 5-10 more times until the dough has lots of layers and has formed a cohesive dough, but remains very soft- as soon as you start to feel the dough resisting stop.

On a lightly floured surface press the dough down so that it is ¾ inch thick. Cut the dough into circles- do not twist when you do this! Go straight up and down!

Put the circles on a parchment lined tray and put them in your freezer for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Mix the yolks with 1 tbsp of water. Brush the egg wash on all of the biscuits and bake for 20 minutes, or until the outsides are nicely browned. Allow to cool completely.

Meanwhile mix together the icing sugar and vanilla extract with 1 tsp of water. Put in a piping bag (or a Ziploc with a hole cut in it) and pipe on the crosses.

Eat immediately!

Sunday Salads- Roasted Butternut Squash with Pomegranate and Za’atar

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The Italian in me just wants to make the simplest food. It doesn’t want to be fussy. It doesn’t want spend hours cutting things just so or mixing 25 ingredients into a salad dressing. My Italian side also pretty much just wants to make gnocchi and tomato sauce all day, which, though delicious, would not make for the most interesting blog.

Fortunately, I have fallen deeply in love with Middle Eastern food. The rich flavors, the complex spice mixes, the vegetable forward way of eating.  The more I cook like this, the more I realize that the Italian way of eating simple food, not doing too much to it, that totally unfussy way of cooking seems to fit right in.

It’s actually been kind of exciting to me, to try new spices and spice blends and treat them to the ways I’ve always cooked food. This salad is a great example. I love squash, and roasting it up with red onions and tossing it with some greens and nuts in a simple vinaigrette is something that I would always do. But in this Middle Eastern update, I toss the onions in pomegranate molasses before roasting them, and add fresh pomegranate on top. I toss everything together with some salt and lemon and za’atar, an amazing spice blend of oregano, cumin and sesame seeds, that you can buy already blended and ready to go. Then I put a bowl of garlicky yoghurt on the side to dip the salad in.

The result is something so much more complex and rich than I would have ever made before, but is still incredibly simple and easy to do.

Small miracles friends. They do happen.

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Poached Eggs with Seared Trout and Minty Pesto

My M

om grew up with what she calls “Depression Era” food. The sort of get-as-much-fat-in-you-while-you-can-because-you-don’t-know-when-food-will-be-around-next. The sort of food inspired by the hardships her parents faced when they were young. She had never had a green bean not cooked in cream sauce until her twenties.

It wasn’t food that was based around quality ingredients, or fresh ingredients, or local produce, except incidentally. In fact I’ve only really heard her talk about a handful of things she ate as a kid. Mostly we talk about her moms “cloud” biscuits, which are legendary in my family. They are outrageously good. As are Grammy’s gingerbread cookies and her pies. The other food-things that my mom talks about from when she was wee, is corn and trout, which are things her dad made.

For corn, my Grampy would have a pot of water boiling on the stove, and then, and only then, would he go outside and cut the corn, shuck it, and bring it inside to boil. The pot had to be boiling. It’s the only way to eat corn.

The other thing my Grampy did was go trout fishing. He’d wake up at the crack of dawn and escape the kids and watch the sunrise. And then he’d fry up trout for breakfast for the family. My mom starts smiling when she talks about those trout.

I’ve been thinking an awful lot about Grampy lately. I cleaned out my desk the other day and found a slew of cards I’ve written him and never sent. Which is ridiculous. I’ve got stamps, I’ve got envelopes. I’ve got cute little cards. They have thoughtful notes written out. Why haven’t I sent them? They do no good here.

The other thing I found was all these letters that he’s sent me. His is so witty, and smart, and funny and charming. There is so much of his personality in those letters, a personality I don’t know very well because we live so far apart.

So the other day I was thinking about him, still kicking it at 94, when I walked by my local fishmonger and there were the most beautiful little trout in the window. And I knew I had to get some for breakfast.

I’m sure this is not how my Grampy made trout. I can’t imagine him making a pesto or poaching an egg, although it’s possible that those are two skills he has that I don’t know about. But it’s a very me breakfast, poached eggs and beans and pesto, with a bit of him thrown in, in the form of little river fish.

And it was wonderful. 

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Tuesday Tutorials- The Mighty Macaron!

Oh le macaron.

Those perfect jewel toned cookies that take you entirely out of where you are standing and promptly in front of Pierre Herme in Paris.

They are a glorious little things aren’t they?

Except when they’re not. And sometimes they really, really aren’t.

Sometimes they are dry little meringues with a sad dollop of filling that makes the whole thing downright miserable.

Macarons done right are magnificent. Done poorly, are no good at all.

So today, I’m going to show you how to make macarons, the proper way. 

I have made literally every mistake I think it is possible to make with a macaron. I have sat on the floor and wept not understanding what it is I have done wrong, and that is sadly, not at all an understatement. I’m not being dramatic. I have wept.

But here’s the good news. I have made every one of those mistakes so that you don’t have to. I can tell you every trick I’ve learnt so that you can do them perfectly.

Let’s get started shall we?

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Arugula and Harissa Frittata

Breakfast is not my favorite meal of the day, at least during the week. During the week it’s an apple, maybe some green juice if I was on top of things to buy it (I don’t have a jucier, not do I have space in my tiny kitchen!). On a good day I’ll scramble and egg and throw some salsa on top. Totally premade, store bought crappy salsa. I’m too busy. I’m not organized enough to make overnight oats. Every few months I’ll make a batch of homemade instant oatmeal and think “I should do this more often!” and then I eat them all and don’t make it again for 4 months.

Breakfast is not my place to shine on a weekday.

Weekends though? That’s another story.

I love brunch, in a major way. Soft poached eggs, potatoes, vegetables cooked in interesting ways. Bacon. Sausages.

I have two qualms with most brunches though, the first, is that, unless I got too deep into some bourbon the night before, I want my brunch to be light enough that I still want to move afterwards. I love me some bacon, but maybe I need some salad with it, so shoot me. The second is that, and I am totally tooting my own horn here, but I’m pretty good at cooking brunch. If I go out I want those eggs to be perfect. And if they aren’t I’m going to feel a bit jilted. A good brunch doesn’t come cheap, and I want it flawlessly.

Which means I end up making brunch at home a lot of the time. I’m just a bit finicky about some things, especially in the mornings.

So this is the sort of thing I end up making. It’s incredibly simple, very satisfying, rich without being heavy, and almost foolproof to execute. It’s just the ticket for an no fuss brunch in.

 

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Blood Orange Tart!

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You know when you see foods that’s too pretty. Like it can’t possible taste good?

I kept seeing pictures of blood orange tarts, and thinking “oh my gosh they are so beautiful, but I bet they aren’t super delicious”. I’m rarely a big fan of cooked oranges. I felt like baking them, even in a buttery crust, might not be the best idea. I mean, blood oranges are perfect as is, why do anything to them?

Well, I’m here to tell you that you should.

You should make a pastry cream, you should make some super flakey dough, and you should layer a whole bunch of blood oranges on top.

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Because suddenly the butter and vanilla bring something extraordinary to the blood oranges, and the oranges themselves stay almost exactly the same. They are still juicy, and bright and crisp, they just happen to have married themselves with some sweeter things.

It’s a simple tart, but one that’s rather showy, and one that perfectly uses up the remarkable produce available right now.

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Tuesday Tutorials- Pastry Cream!

Pastry cream is one of those things that I hated as a kid.  I was totally obsessed with these cinnamon danishes a local café made, only the cinnamon ones, because all the fruit ones had pastry cream in them, or as I called it as a kid “sweet mayo”. It was creamy, it was flavorless, and it was unessesary. Not into it.

And then I started working for pastry chef who made the most incredible blueberry tarts. Extraordinary blueberry tarts. They were made with the most beautiful wild blueberries, the softed shortbread crust, and the thinnest layer of the creamiest pastry cream known to man that had just had a hint of vanilla and lemon. It was a total revelation.

Now, pastry cream is a staple for me. They add a sophistication to tarts,  to pies, to cookies. To danishes.  The best part is that it is super easy to make.  You can make it with cornstarch or flour, if you’re gluten free, and you can easily change the milk to coconut milk if you’re dairy free. If you want a bit of a caramel flavour, you can change the sugar to brown sugar. It’s a wonderful thing.  Get into it!

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Sunday Salads- Fennel, Citrus, and Pistachio Salad

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So, I think I need to stop following people from LA on Instagram. I have never thought that much about it, or California to be honest, but this time of the year every time I look at my phone it is flooded with pictures of the most beautiful citrus fruits, and the bright colours, and it takes all I’ve got not to pack up everything and move South.

As that would be a wee bit impulsive, instead I’m buying enormous amounts of the most beautiful California citrus from the organics shop down the street from me. It’s not really the same even a little bit, but it gives me my bright colour, fresh fruit fix that I need through these grey days. Seriously, have you ever tried a Cara Cara orange? It might be the best orange I’ve ever had.

This is a salad that you could make with nearly any citrus, and if you can’t find cara cara oranges where you are, don’t worry. Any one will do, but if you have the change, this is the perfect place to make it shine.

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Tuesday Tutorials- Ganache! And Coconut Truffles!

Today, let’s take about Jordan.

He’s handsome, and charming. He’s so kind, sometimes it blows me away. He also has no problem saying no to me, which I find to be an incredibly great thing about him. He will bend over backwards to do anything for me, but if I’m bring a brat, he won’t hesitate to tell me.

He’s tall, but not too tall. He makes great cocktails.

Generally, he is an exceptional guy. I’m very fond of him.

His greatest fault though, is his lack of a sweet tooth. I am constantly shoving pastries around him, and he’ll eat a bite or two, and then move on. He’s supportive, he tells me if it’s great, but he’s not into eating a huge bowl of something.

Unless it’s chocolate. That man can down chocolate. Brownies, ice cream, cookies, consider it gone.  And above all, he has absolutely zero control when it comes to ganache.

He gets a sneaky look in his eye, and if I leave him near a bowl of it for an hour, the bowl will be scraped clean when I return. It’s actually kind of crazy.  And for that reason, I don’t make it often.

Except after Valentines. I always feel like guys have a rough go on Valentines, I mean, no one wants to be told that they have to be extra nice one day or they’ll get in trouble, even though no one really knows why they have to be extra nice. But none the less, off they go. Jord bought me some gorgeous flowers, made me a beautiful meal of pistachio roasted lamb and wild mushroom risotto, and took me to an awesome show. It was a wonderful night. And as such, I made some ganache.

This is the ganache recipe to end all ganaches. It is perfect in every way. I so wish that I had come up with it, but the geniuses at Eleven Madison Park did.

To make a ganache you are basically emulsifying chocolate with fat and liquid, and it can be a bit finicky. This one uses honey (well, if we’re being totally real here it uses cornsyrup, but I use honey because it’s more delicious and non GMO) and it helps the whole thing stay together. The butter we whisk in at the end makes it just the tiniest bit richer, and the whole thing has the perfect consistency for making truffles, or glazing cakes, or eating by the spoonful out of the bowl.

Sometimes, you have to give the man a treat.

 

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