Banana bread

I made this in a little hurry before night shifts recently, so didn’t have time to think much about presentation. Then I realised I forgot to add in some chopped pecans! Chocolate chips can be added too if you are so inclined. Regardless, it came out fluffy and light and a pure joy to eat. The recipe is from here, but I reduced the sugar content as is my usual practice.

I’d bought some pretty ripe bananas for the cake, then realised it took another 10 days or so to to ripen to skin black stage (that is, very ripe/overripe) so this is not one to pull out of the bag at the last minute, or not if you don’t have four overripe bananas hanging around anyway. I filled the loaf tin with batter up to 1cm below the top edge, and had leftover batter for some muffins as well. If you do bake the muffins, about 20-25 minutes should suffice.

Do take care of yourselves in these unusual times, be kind and stay healthy.

Banana bread

285g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
110g softened salted butter, plus extra for greasing
175g caster sugar
2 large eggs
4 very ripe/black skinned bananas, mashed
85ml buttermilk (or normal milk mixed with 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice or vinegar)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Optional

100g coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
100g chocolate chips

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/350F/Gas mark 4.
  2. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add in nuts and chocolate chips if using.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar in a separate bowl until pale and fluffy using either a stand mixer or hand mixer.
  4. Add the eggs, mashed bananas, buttermilk and vanilla extract to the butter and sugar mixture and mix well with the mixer.
  5. Fold in the flour mixture in portions with a spatula.
  6. Grease a 20cm x 12.5cm/8in x 5in loaf tin (2lb) and pour the batter in, until 1cm from the top. Any excess batter can be poured into greased muffin tins.
  7. Bake for about an hour. An inserted skewer should come out clean when done. If baking the muffins, 20-25 minutes is sufficient.
  8. Remove and cool in the tin on a wire rack for a few minutes, then using a knife carefully run it along the inside of the tin to separate the cake and invert the cake onto the wire rack.

 

 

Chocolate chip cookies

I saw a post on NYTCooking’s Instagram feed about chocolate chip cookies and that sparked a sudden desire to have a go at baking them again. The first time I made chocolate chip cookies they turned out a disaster, having made the rookie mistake of overbaking them. I had added extra time stated in the recipe as I thought they were a bit too soft, not realising how much they would harden out of the oven. So! This was my second go and after consciously not overbaking them, they turned out great!

This recipe had really good reviews, and it helped to have a video as well so I could see what the mixture looked like every step of the way.

As usual, I couldn’t help making a few tweaks:

I reduced the amount of sugar used. In fact, I routinely do this for all baking recipes as I prefer not to have my cakes too sweet.
I added more flour to the recipe as the texture didn’t look quite right at the end, and some comments mentioned that as well.
I also reduced the amount of chocolate and added pecans to it. Next time, I’d probably reduce the chocolate even further to 100g and increase the pecans to 100g.
I cooked two trays of cookies at a time for 10 minutes, turning them around left to right after 5 minutes. Then I removed the upper tray and moved the lower tray up for another minute.

Chocolate chip cookies

Makes 15

75g caster sugar
125g dark brown soft sugar
115g salted butter, melted
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
150g 70% dark chocolate, cut into chunks
50g pecan nuts, coarsely chopped

  1. Using a hand whisk, mix the two sugars and melted butter in a large bowl until smooth.
  2. Add the egg and vanilla extract, then whisk until it gets slightly paler and a ribbon forms on the surface for a short while when the mixture drops in the bowl.
  3. Sift the flour and bicarbonate soda onto the mixture, then gently fold with a spatula until just incorporated. Do not overmix.
  4. Fold in the chocolate chunks and pecan nuts, again until just combined.
  5. Cover with cling film and refrigerate at least an hour, or overnight if you have time. You could actually leave it a few days as well. The longer you age it, the more complex the flavours will become. Also, chilling it for a bit prevents the dough from spreading too much in the oven.
  6. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  7. Scoop the dough using an ice-cream scoop or 1/4 cup measuring cup onto the lined baking sheet. Leave 4 inches of space between each scoop and 2 inches from the edge so the cookies don’t stick together when spreading out.
  8. Bake for 10-12 minutes. The edges should be slightly golden but the middle still soft. Always better to underbake than overbake cookies! Drop the baking sheet from a short height a few times on the counter when just out of the oven to get a lovely crinkled edge.
  9. Transfer the parchment paper with the cookies onto a wire rack and cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Then carefully peel the cookies off the paper and cool completely on the wire rack.

Mackerel with sambal (chilli paste)

I went to check out the fish market in Victoria Shopping Centre recently, wanting to find some nice seafood to cook with having been inspired by our recent trip to Venice. When I say fish market, I mean actually two stalls that sell fish so it’s a bit sad but we make do with what we have!

It’s nothing compared to the Rialto Market in Venice. My eyes were as large as saucers gazing at the variety of fish and shellfish they had there. Next time I go I might rent an apartment instead just to have an opportunity to cook some of that amazing seafood.

Anyway, I found some amazing clams that I used for spaghetti vongole, and also saw these massive mackerel on display. Certainly larger than the ones I usually see down in Cornwall. I could not resist getting two of these, and thought of making a Malaysian favourite, mackerel with sambal.

The usual way of making this is with whole fish, with two slits made on either side of the backbone to create pockets in which to stuff the sambal in. Then you would fry the fish whole. But my mackerel were huge and I didn’t fancy having to navigate them around my frying pan so I filleted them instead to make them more manageable. I am clearly no fishmonger but I think I did an alright job! Use a tweezer to remove the pin bones down the middle of each fillet. This time I left out the belacan and galangal, and it still tasted good but both would have added more depth of flavour to the chilli paste.

This recipe makes more sambal than what you need for the dish. Any left over can be used to stir-fry vegetables in, used to make sambal prawns or squid or even as a dip for crudités.

Mackerel with sambal

Serves 2 to 4

2 large mackerel, filleted to 4 pieces
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Salt

Sambal/chilli paste
12 red chillies
5 dried chillies
12 shallots
4 cloves garlic
20g dried prawns
1 tsp belacan (dried shrimp paste)
1 lemongrass, white part only
3 slices galangal
Lime juice to taste
Salt to taste
4 tbsp vegetable oil

  1. Soak the dried chilies and dried prawns in some hot water for 15 minutes to soften them. Drain the water off.
  2. Roughly chop up the sambal ingredients into smaller pieces, then blend in a food processor until you get a coarse paste.
  3. Heat up 4 tbsp oil in a pan over medium high heat and fry the sambal until fragrant and most of the liquid has evaporated. Season with salt and lime juice to taste.
  4. Heat up 2 tbsp oil in a pan over medium high heat. Season the mackerel fillets with salt on both sides. Fry the mackerel skin side down first for 3 to 4 minutes, until the edges on the top side start to whiten, then flip over and fry the other side for about 2 to 3 minutes.
  5. Serve with sambal dolloped generously over, and eat with plain boiled rice to soak up all the tastiness of the sambal.

Cod with dukkah crust and roasted fennel

I wish I lived near a market where I could buy fresh seasonal vegetables and do the continental thing of buying my produce every few days, depending on what’s on sale and what I feel like cooking. Failing that, I have to rely on my local supermarket. But sometimes that come up trumps when they have boxes of fresh fennel complete with delicate fronds peeking out. I couldn’t resist bringing home a couple.

A previous fish and fennel dish I made hadn’t turned out very well, so I decided to have a second go at it. A quick browse on the internet brought me to this recipe, which of course I’ve altered slightly. It’s so easy to make, especially if you’ve got leftover dukkah to use up, otherwise just use fennel seeds to marinate the fish as per the original recipe. Choose some thicker pieces of cod (or any other white fish) so it ends up flaky and has less tendency to overcook.

This turned out amazing, and I’m so glad I brought those fennel home!

Cod with dukkah crust and roasted fennel

Serves 2

2 fennel bulbs
2 pieces of cod loin
1 cup fresh orange juice
Zest from the oranges
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Salt and pepper
3 tbsps dukkah

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan.
  2. Pick off the fennel fronds and put to one side. Cut off the tops the fennel, then cut each bulb into eight wedges. Toss the fennel pieces in the oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place into a roasting tin and roast for 40 minutes, turning each wedge onto the other side halfway through.
  3. Meanwhile, marinate the cod in the orange juice and most of the orange zest. Leave aside some zest for serving later.
  4. Once the fennel has cooked, remove the cod from the orange juice and season with salt and pepper. Top with a generous crust of dukkah.
  5. Place the cod fillets on the fennel, and roast for another 12 minutes.
  6. Serve the cod and fennel with a sprinkling of fennel fronds and orange zest, and the juices from the pan.

Homemade dukkah

Dukkah, that fragrant spice mix has gotten really popular in the last few years. I’m sure the rise in popularity of Middle Eastern food, of which Ottolenghi and Sabrina Ghayour are a couple of famous proponents helps its case.

I had this at a dinner party hosted by a friend last year and could not stop dipping my bread into it, it was so moreish. It can be really flexible too, rubbed with some oil on fish before baking, or as a rub mixed in with some lemon zest for roast chicken or mixed in with tahini for a gorgeous dip, or even mixed in with a platter of roast vegetables.

But the simplest way of eating it is with a bowl of good extra virgin olive oil and lots of bread. So good as an appetiser, side dish or snack at a drinks party.

Dukkah

50g hazelnuts
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp sesame seeds
Sea salt to taste

  1. Heat a pan over medium heat. Toast the hazelnuts until just lightly golden.
  2. Add the rest of the spices and sesame seeds and toast for a few more minutes until fragrant.
  3. Tip into a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.
  4. Season with salt.
  5. Warm up some flatbreads in the pan.
  6. To serve, dip the bread into the olive oil and dunk it into the spice mix.

Pistachio, rose and raspberry madeleines

I’ve only just realised I can get electronic copies of my Ottolenghi cookbooks, what a numpty. Looking through the recipes online, I saw some lovely madeleines which reminded me of some delicious ones I had years ago at a dinner in Nopi. They were fragrant pistachio madeleines which were served with coffee. Which is to say, a really roundabout way of how I got to making these.

I modified this recipe from the BBC Good Food website. They were super simple to make and full of the nutty fragrance of pistachio. The tang of the raspberries act as a lovely counterpart to the sweet cake batter. Now I’m inspired to try all sorts of different madeleines!

Pistachio, rose and raspberry madeleines

Makes about 22

85g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
100g golden caster sugar
50g roasted and shelled pistachios
100g butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
1 1/2 tbsp rosewater
1 large egg yolk
2 large egg whites
Fresh raspberries, about 22

  1. Prep the madeleine baking tray by greasing each shell with some butter, then sift flour over them. Turn it upside down and tap off the excess flour.
  2. Preheat the oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5.
  3. Grind the pistachios in a food processor until fairly fine.
  4. Mix the flour, sugar and pistachios together in a large bowl.
  5. Add the rosewater and egg yolk to the butter and mix with a fork.
  6. Using a hand or electric whisk, whisk the egg whites in a clean large bowl until soft peaks form. This will only take a few minutes.
  7. Fold the butter mixture into the flour mixture, then gently fold in the egg whites a few tablespoonfuls at a time into the batter.
  8. Spoon a tablespoonful of batter into the moulds and press a whole raspberry into each one.
  9. Bake for 12-15 minutes until light golden brown.
  10. Leave to cool in the tray for a few minutes, then remove each madeleine and cool on a wire rack.

 

Venice – a love letter

La Serenissima is as enchanting and alluring as any guidebook or travel magazine could tell you. We recently spent a few days exploring, and subsequently getting lost in her network of alleyways, canals and bridges which really is as fine a way as any of getting to know the city. We walked through lanes that you could hardly believe led to a turning so suddenly small they were, or ones that crossed yet another bridge, or even sometimes dead-ended into a canal. I was charmed by the terracotta-hued buildings with paint gently peeling off the walls as they succumb to the saltwater and humidity, giving an air of graceful ageing to the grand palaces and humble homes.


Yes, there is a concern that the sea will finally consume it, with the annual floods and most recent aqua alta besieging the city. Or that the influx of mass tourism will squeeze the life out of real Venice with ever rising property prices and locals selling out. Or the effect of cruise ships on the sea beds around the island. But go a little deeper and true Venice is still there, especially in Cannaregio and Castello where life goes on as usual and you get to experience the true charm of the place.

Life on an island as unique as this does take some getting used to. I read Nicoletta Fornaro’s blog Naturally Epicurean before going and basically immersed myself in a local Venetian’s view of life and her beautiful photography. In one article she mentions how grocery shopping requires one to visit several different places or markets to get everything you need, which requires planning as you will be lugging home lots of heavy bags on foot.

G and I also remarked how different it must be to have to transport equipment to a work site, having seen construction workers with trolleys waiting for the vaporetto (water buses) in the morning. And how most residents probably wouldn’t require a standard driving licence, as you wouldn’t have a need for cars. The vaporetto are the work horses of the canals and they ply them all day long transporting people to and fro like clockwork. The traghetto cross the Grand Canal from one side to another, cutting short what would otherwise be a significant walk. And the skilful gondoliers take willing tourists for a short tour round the waterways.

But island living has its particular benefits – fish and seafood as fresh as you can get it being a particular highlight of our trip. A quick stroll through Mercato Rialto revealed fish so fresh it was stiff with rigor mortis still, scallops in their beautiful fanned shells, mantis shrimp, sweet local clams, goby fish, squid and octopus. Some of these we enjoyed in their many incarnations through the local cuisine.

Our stay also coincided with Carnival, and although it was cut short with recent health concerns there was enough spectacle on the street to enjoy gazing at. Locals really went all out in dressing up, parading around the streets and posturing for photographs. Masks galore and bouffant ballgowns recalled a masquerade of days gone by.

If you hear the siren call of this wonderful city, heed it. She has a way of getting under your skin and staying there. I for one will definitely return.

 

Lemon and blueberry bundt cake

I meant to bake this cake last weekend to bring in to work, then totally forgot whilst mooching about the house all day and only remembering the night before. So poor co-workers had to do without that time. Tomorrow we are going back to work a session with previous co-workers, so what better to celebrate with than with a gloriously buttery, lemony, fruity cake.

The cake before the glaze anointing. Look at how beautiful it already looks. It’s really a simple pound cake recipe (equal parts butter, sugar and flour) from here but I reduced the amount of sugar in the cake and in the glaze, and increased the amount of blueberries a little. You could bake it in a standard cake tin but a bundt tin just makes it look so impressive. Just make sure you prep your bundt tin well and the cake will turn out intact every time.

The cake post-glaze in all its glory. It’s got a beautiful soft crumb, offset by the tangy bursts of blueberries and sharp lemony glaze.

The perfect antidote to this blustery stormy weather we’ve been having!

Lemon and blueberry bundt cake

Ingredients

225g butter, softened
175g caster sugar
4 large eggs
225g plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
150g blueberries
Zest of 2 lemons

For the glaze

120g icing sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
Zest of 1 lemon

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/gas mark 3.
  2. Prepare your bundt tin. See how to do it here.
  3. Sieve the flour and baking powder together. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the mixture.
  4. Cream the butter and sugar together with either a handheld electric mixer or a stand mixer until light and fluffy.
  5. Add the eggs one at a time, and whisk until incorporated after each time. Don’t worry if the mixture looks curdled.
  6. Add the flour and baking powder mixture a few tablespoons at a time and whisk each time until a smooth batter forms.
  7. Toss the blueberries in 2 tbsps of flour/baking powder which you set aside, then fold them into the batter along with the lemon zest.
  8. Transfer the cake batter to the prepared bundt tin and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Check with a skewer, it should come out clean when the cake is done.
  9. Let the cake cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then invert it onto a wire rack.
  10. Mix the icing sugar into the lemon juice until dissolved. You may need to zap the mixture in the microwave for a minute or so to help with this.
  11. Generously drizzle the glaze over the cake, and sprinkle the lemon zest on top.

Kari Kapitan (Captain’s Curry)

Peranakan or Nyonya cuisine is the food of the Peranakan or Baba Nyonya people, a culture descended from Chinese people marrying Malay people, thus producing a unique cuisine most beloved in Malaysia. The culture is most prominent in Penang, Malacca and Singapore. Flavours are complex and reflect the work that goes into creating the dish. Ingredients often used include tamarind, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, candlenuts and belacan (fermented shrimp paste).

I made this for a pre-Christmas meal with friends but was in such a rush I didn’t get any good photos of it, but it was enjoyed by all. Then I also made roti jala, which are savoury net pancakes flavoured with coconut milk and turmeric. This was my second time cooking it in a month, so good was it the first time round but I left out the roti jala this time as they were hard work to make. The curry goes great with any plain carb such as boiled rice, any flatbread, chapati or roti paratha. You want plenty of carbs to soak up that addictive sauce!

I’ve used the recipe from a Singaporean website called The Meatmen. They feature lots of Nyonya recipes, and also generally Malaysian/Singaporean recipes. I’ve found their recipes to be reliable in terms of ratios and instructions. The flavours are always spot on. With my version of the curry, I liked it to have more sauce so used some water as well as coconut milk and less oil so used way less oil than the actual recipe.

Kari Kapitan

Serves 4 to 5

1kg chicken drumsticks
1 tbsp turmeric powder
1 tsp salt
2 onions (halved and sliced)
200ml coconut milk
1 tbsp finely sliced kaffir lime leaves
1 tbsp gula melaka (palm sugar) or caster sugar
2 tbsp tamarind juice or paste
8 tbsp vegetable oil (4 tbsp for frying chicken, and 4 tbsp for frying spice paste)

Spice paste
350g shallots
10g garlic
20g ginger
20g galangal
10g fresh turmeric
10g candlenuts (use macadamia nuts or cashew nuts if not available)
200g red chillies
20g belacan, toasted in a pan
50g lemongrass

  1. Marinate the chicken with turmeric powder and salt for 4 hours. The longer you can leave it the better, but even an hour is good.
  2. Add all ingredients for the spice paste into a food processor and blend until fine.
  3. Heat a wok to medium high heat with 4 tbsp oil and fry the chicken on all sides until brown.
  4. Using the same uncleaned wok, add a further 4 tbsp oil and fry the spice paste until fragrant. This will take about 10 minutes, and the paste will get slightly darker in colour. Keep stirring the paste so it doesn’t burn on the bottom.
  5. Add the sliced onions and stir until translucent. Add the chicken and stir for 5 minutes.
  6. Add the coconut milk, kaffir lime leaves, sugar and tamarind juice/paste and top with enough water to just cover the chicken.
  7. Simmer for 1 hour when the chicken will be tender. I didn’t have to use any extra salt, but taste and add more salt if you wish.

Coffee and cardamom pound cake

I made this cake to bring in for the night shift one day. I don’t know what came over me, making that broccoli and stilton soup for lunch and then making this cake before starting nights. I must have had a particularly restful weekend. Also, doing this satisfies my craving for having sweets but allows me to distribute the rest of the calories to other people. And boy does this cake need calorie distribution, what with having over a block of butter in it. Gareth doesn’t like cake see (except cheesecake), so I have to find people to gift the cakes to lest I eat it all myself. Lucky them!

This recipe in Ottolenghi’s Sweet cookbook appealed because the flavours seemed really interesting. Sometimes interesting can be ‘interesting’, but I trust Ottolenghi’s palate and was sure it would turn out delicious. And it did!

Just a few notes on the recipe, and things I might change myself when I bake this again. The recipe calls for 1 1/2 tbsp of instant coffee granules but the coffee taste wasn’t too evident in the cake so feel free to increase it by another 1/2 or 1 tbsp to see if that would taste stronger. I also decreased the sugar in the cake slightly. The actual icing tasted fabulously coffeeish so I would coat the cake completely with it, rather than drip down the sides. I weighed out the actual amount of icing sugar required and it seemed a huge amount. I must have spooned out about 150g or so to mix it in and it was very sweet already. So you probably won’t need the full 240g of sugar, add and taste as you go along.

The notes in the book are very useful on making ground cardamom. For the amount required in the recipe, use 40 cardamom pods. Crush them lightly with the flat edge of a knife and remove the seeds. Ground them down with a coffee or spice grinder. Much better than using store-bought cardamom, which can be quite difficult to find anyway.

It is a proper pound cake and will have quite a dense texture, but it doesn’t sit heavy at all. The recipe might seem a bit involved, but it wasn’t really and I quite enjoyed making it, and eating it. The night shift seemed to like it too!

Coffee and cardamom pound cake

Serves 10-12

90ml full fat milk, plus 20ml more for the coffee
6 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
200g self-raising flour, sifted
100g plain flour, sifted
1/2 tsp table salt
250g caster sugar
300g salted butter, soft and diced
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground cardamom
1 1/2 to 2 1/2 tbsp instant coffee granules
2 tsp good quality cocoa powder
1 tbsp extra butter, melted and extra flour for dusting

Icing
1 1/2 tbsp instant coffee granules
45 ml full fat milk, warmed
Up to 240g icing sugar, sifted (probably will require less)
30g salted butter, softened

  1. Grease a 23cm bundt tin with the melted butter using a pastry brush. Pour in some flour into the bundt tin, and tilting it on its side keep tapping and turning it around to ensure all the inside surfaces are coated with a thin layer of flour. Tip out the excess flour. Crucial step this, to ensure your cake tips out beautifully at the end.
  2. Preheat the oven to 195 degrees Celcius/175 degrees Celsius Fan/Gas Mark 5.
  3. Place the milk, eggs and vanilla extract into a bowl and lightly whisk to combine.
  4. Into a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer stir the flours, salt and caster sugar together. Then add the butter and half of the egg mixture and mix with a hand mixer or the stand mixer until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 1 minute. Then gradually add the remaining egg mixture and continue beating until incorporated. (Don’t worry if the batter looks split).
  5. Pour out half of the batter into another bowl.
  6. Add the ground cardamom into one batter half, and fold to combine with a spatula.
  7. Warm the extra 20ml milk and dissolve the coffee granules and cocoa powder in it. Add to the other batter half and fold to combine.
  8. Spoon the mixtures into the bundt tin in four alternate blobs, building up the layers until the batters run out. Then use a skewer or small knife to swirl through the mix to create a marble effect. Don’t overdo the swirling or you will lose the effect.
  9. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and set aside the whole tin for 10 minutes. Then turn the cake out onto a wire rack to cool.
  10. To make the icing, combine the warmed milk and coffee in a bowl. Add the butter, then the icing sugar gradually, tasting as you go along. You will probably not need all of the 240g, I used about 150g. Whisk until smooth and thick, then spoon all over the cooled cake.