Almond and Strawberry Cake

If I knew you were coming, I'd have baked a cake. But what use is waiting when I could have the cake all to myself? Luckily my gluttony is negated by the level of which my hunger is sated when I eat a slice of this cake. This is a cake that looks much more difficult to make than it actually is and is perfect as a dessert or as a part of an afternoon tea. Unfortunately by using fresh fruit the cake doesn't last beyond 2-3 days at room temperature but that shouldn't be a worry. I had a moment of inspiration a week or so ago after I posted on my twitter account that I had found frozen strawberries and ground almonds in my freezer. I asked my followers (that sounds ridiculous) for ideas but it seems they're much more shy and retiring than they make out! That wasn't a worry though as I soon had a flash of creativity. This is not a million miles away from a classic Lebanese cake known as sfouf that I made before (click here) but the emphasis here is less on spice and more on the interaction between a crumbly almond base and moist fruit pieces. This is definitely a crowd pleaser :-)

a handful or so of strawberries (approx. 300g)
150g ground almonds
150g butter
125g caster sugar
125g self-raising flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
50g Marcona almonds (flaked)
icing sugar for dusting

Heat your oven to 180C. Grease and line a 13'' cake tin. Mix all the ingredients minus the strawberries and the flaked almonds. The cake mixture should be quite thick but that's okay. Scoop half of the cake mixture into the cake tin and then layer with the whole strawberries. Pour on the remaining half of the cake mixture on top of the strawberries (you can use a moistened spatula to spread evenly). Top with the flaked almonds and bake in the oven for 45 minutes or so or until the surface of the cake is golden brown. Cool on a wire rack and serve with a dusting of icing sugar. If you want to spoil yourself serve with clotted cream ice cream.

Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad

Oh yeah! Giving it to you Fergus Henderson style! This dish comes to you straight from the kitchens of one of the saviours of British cuisine. This is a dish that Anthony Bourdain considers his ultimate comfort food. This is a dish so warming, unctuous and decadent that it'll brighten up those idle Autumn evenings. This is a dish...that my mum really likes! Yeah! Oh.

So, anyway, I went to the Ginger Pig and bought some really nice looking veal marrow bones and followed one of the simplest recipes ever for one of the most delicious things ever. This is so rich and filling that I wouldn't recommend eating too much of it but it's a great autumnal treat. The only change I'd include (for personal taste) is the addition of sumac to the parsley salad to give it an even bigger zing and cutting through more of the fat. Oh and I used sel gris! Good salt is a must.

To make this dish follow the recipe here. :-)

Rose and Pistachio Pots

So at last here is the dessert from the underground restaurant event I held last month! It's a continuation of a recipe I posted when I first started this blog and it has slowly evolved into the dessert below. Anyway, enough babbling, here it is!

Strawberry and Rose Jelly
1 sachet of powdered gelatine or vegetarian equivalent
500ml moderately hot, but not boiling, water
100g sugar
3 tablespoons good quality rose water
two handfuls of strawberries

Pistachio Cream
A small carton of double cream (or low fat equivalent)
a handful of roasted, unshelled, unsalted pistachio nuts
3 tablespoons of sugar
1-2 tablespoons of water

Cake Layer
1 small Madeira cake (recipe)

You'll need to prepare the jellies and Madeira cake 3-4 hours (or even the night) before serving so plan ahead. The Madeira cake should be cooked and cooled (or bought from the shop!) by this point and cut into rounds encompassing the entire circumference of your chosen ramekins (there should be enough to make 6 pots). Put the water, sugar and 3/4 of the strawberries in a pan and make sure the water doesn't boil. Take the pan off the heat after 2-3 minutes. Mix the rose water in and make sure the sugar has dissolved. Strain the liquid into a measuring jug and vigorously mix in the gelatine making sure it is fully dissolved. Cool the mixture at room temperature. Place the Madeira cake rounds at the bottom of your ramekins and press down. Pour the liquid into the ramekins and let it cool down for 20 or so minutes. Place a few remaining strawberries in the jelly and use a toothpick to make sure they go into the position you want (presentation is important!). When the jelly has completely cooled down place the ramekins in the fridge.

Crush the pistachio nuts in a plastic bag until quite fine (make sure they're not all powdered - texture is important) and place them into a pan with the water and sugar. Heat together for a minute to so and leave to cool down whilst you whisk the cream. When the cream is fluffy add the pistachios making sure to fold them in. You might need to whisk the cream to get some more air into the mixture. Layer a teaspoon or so of the cream onto the jellies and top with extra crushed pistachios. Refrigerate for 20 minutes and then serve. Note: If you wanted to go all the way and make this into a trifle you could just add a custard layer!

Kabocha Squash, Oxtail and Ox Cheek Soup

This is one of those really comforting recipes. A really cheap but wonderful autumnal soup that you can leave on the stove for a few hours whilst you get on with your day. It combines the sweetness of Kabocha squash with an umami-rich stock made from oxtail and root vegetables. But that's not all! This dish also has pieces of stewed ox cheek in it and is finished with a zesty garlic and lemon panko pangrattato. This dish was in fact not made by me, so credit must go to my brother for this! We ate this a week or so ago when everyone in our family was ill and we needed something comforting to eat. This definitely helped. Sorry I don't have a pic of the final dish. My camera failed me on this occasion!

1 kabocha squash
1 echaliom shallot
1 medium onion
2 carrots
1 swede
1 parsnip
1 leek
2 bay leaves
6 cloves of garlic
1/2 kilo ox tail
1/2 kilo ox cheek
1 litre chicken stock
10 peppercorns
5 teaspoons of panko
half a lemon zested and juiced
a glug of olive oil

Brown the meat in batches in a large pot and set aside. Dice the shallot and onion and fry until translucent. Crush four of the garlic gloves, add to the onions and fry off for half a minute. Cut the rest of the vegetables roughly and add to the pot. Add the meat once again and then cover with the chicken stock. Add the peppercorns and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Turn to a low heat and simmer for two to three hours. The soup is done when the stock is thick and the meat is tender to the touch and falling off the bone (in the case of the oxtail). 10 minutes before serving the soup you can make the pangrattato. You need to fry off 2 cloves of crushed garlic in a little olive oil for half a minute. Add the panko breadcrumbs, the lemon zest, a little seasoning and a squirt of lemon juice. Sprinkle on top of the soup before serving.

Also, before I forget, I'm sorry about my irregular posting. I'm currently reworking the site and new things should start to appear in the near future. It'll be worth it. I promise!

Banana Cake

There's something amiss in the dining room. There are five places set but only four of us are present. I look around and shrug my shoulders. My father is always late. He spends hours doing something that should take half an hour. The scary thing is that I'm pretty sure I'm inheriting that trait. The more I realise how similar I am to my parents and the more I push to be different, the more aware I become of how all the paths in front of me are leading to the same destination. But that's okay.

Sometimes you can't rush things. I like spending time mulling things over but I think that my dad could represent Lebanon in the Olympic mulling-things-over team. Not that there is such a thing. Sorry to disappoint. It takes another twenty or so minutes before he's back. He was at the supermarket, he says. He didn't buy much, he adds. My dad has a habit where he sticks by a simple set of essentials that he buys on every trip to the supermarket. This hasn't changed for years. Bread, eggs, milk, cheese and bananas. The thing is, those are all staple food items but he has one extra issue to contend with - he always buys far too much. In his mind it's better to have too much than to have too little. Not that I necessarily agree with that theory but he'd grown up in a country during a long civil war - you had to always stock up just in case.

The bread, eggs, milk and cheese all get eaten before their expiry date but the bananas always linger. As banana connoisseurs know, there's nothing wrong with a browned banana, but when they turn that unappealing colour the collective mindset changes and bananas get left to rot. Herein lies the problem. We always have too many bananas going off at the same time. So over the years we've had to find a way to use them. Aside from smoothies or milkshakes, this is probably the simplest and tastiest recipe you could make. I've layered it with crunchy peanut butter and nutella to make this really difficult to resist but having it naked (the cake, not you) is just as rewarding.

3 overripe bananas - mashed
130g of butter + more for greasing
250g plain flour
2 large eggs - lightly beaten
150g soft brown sugar
2 teaspoons of baking powder
a sprinkle of cinnamon + nutmeg
peanut butter (optional)
nutella (optional)

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease and flour a cake tin (1kg capacity). Whisk the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Add the bananas. Sift the other ingredients into the mixture and work until fully incorporated. Pour into the baking tin and bake for 45minutes -1 hour or until browned and a toothpick comes out of the deepest part clean. Cool on a wire rack. Cut up into big portions and serve up with peanut butter and the nutella or a vanilla cream. This is no-nonsense and decadent in a different way. It'll keep at room temperature for four days (covered in cling-film).

Griddled Tuna Steaks with Curried Chickpeas

A couple of days ago I was having a conversation with a friend when a dreaded question popped up. It was a question that I'd constantly batted away because it always put me in an awkward situation. But there was no way I was going to escape it this time. I just had to brace myself, listen up and answer it without making too much of a fuss. If you found out you only had one hour left on Earth, what would be the last thing you would eat? She asked. That question niggles away and always seems to activate my inner Larry David...I just don't know what I'd eat. I'd want to eat everything - like I was in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, I'd take a bite out of the lamppost...take a bite out of an...Oompa-Loompa. But people like real answers and I didn't know what to say so I went through a list of things I wanted to eat. Mum's kibbeh, the biggest steak in the world, chips, labneh, nutty gelato, a really greasy burger/kebab/hot dog, pizza, a croissant made out of too much butter, cheese, otoro sashimi...

I'm pretty sure at this moment it had been 3 or 4 minutes since I'd said a word but my friend knew better than to wake me from my moment. Mmm. Fatty tuna. There's something so luxurious about eating tuna belly fat (clearly it's not inherent in the description) that to me is more rewarding than a great steak or a greasy kebab. I guess it's a pure and relatively guilt-free mouthfeel that also activates ancient synaptic connections that associate animal fat with pleasure and satiety. That and the fact it costs an arm and a leg and I hardly ever get to eat it...It would definitely be a fine way to say goodbye to the world. And the Bluefin species. I joke.

Tuna is way and beyond one of my favourite things to eat and overfishing is definitely a massive issue for responsible eaters. Ethically sourced tuna is without a doubt one of the better things to have in your fridge and I find it much more rewarding than chicken. I think we should be eating less chicken and more fish. Chicken is the meat world's pasta - so ubiquitous and so easy to cook that you wouldn't serve it for a special occasion (unless you had an amazing recipe). One of my favourite lunches is this griddled tuna steak recipe which I pair with curried chickpeas and a medium boiled egg. A boiled egg on top makes everything better. Serve it on the weekend with some rosé if you want to pretend that summer is still here. Oh, yeah, and one question: If you found out you only had one hour left on Earth, what would be the last thing you would eat?

2 tuna steaks
1 can of chickpeas
1 medium onion
2 tomatoes
1 teaspoon tomato puree
a small handful of chopped coriander
2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
a pinch of garam masala
a pinch of dried chilli flakes
zest of 1 lemon and the juice of half
2 eggs

Dice the onion and fry in a little sunflower oil until translucent. In another pan dry roast half the cumin and the mustard seeds until you can smell the essential oils of the spices in the air. Crush the seeds in a pestle and mortar and then add the seeds, the chilli flakes and the garam masala to the onions. Fry for 20 seconds and then add the tomato puree and cook out for half a minute. Add the chopped tomatoes, chickpeas and seasoning and let simmer on a low heat for 10 minutes. Add the coriander to chickpea mixture when you've turned the heat off. Dry roast the other half of the cumin seeds before crushing and massaging into the tuna steaks. Add the zest and the lemon juice and let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes. Boil the eggs at this point to medium (you could also poach them). Heat up your griddle until it's smoking and sear the tuna steaks (making sure not to overcook). Dish up the chickpeas, add the tuna on top and the egg on top of the tuna steak. Sprinkle a little salt onto the egg and garnish with coriander. Easy peasy.

PS - Sorry I didn't update for a while. I didn't have access to the internet on my computer for a few days!