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Tuesday
Jul082014

the perfect strawberry bellini

i’ve made strawberry bellinis a few times but have never been happy with the result that comes from using a strawberry puree – the texture of the drink, even when i sieve the puree to try and get it really smooth, has never been what i hoped for; the flavour has also never had the freshness and perfume that is so wonderful in a ripe flavoursome strawberry.

so, when i read belinda harley’s method for allowing her strawberries to “ooze” i was intrigued. i had thought about using the method that i adopted for my strawberry shrub, but that relies on sugar to lure out the strawberry juices, whereas this version just uses a bit of heat and a bain marie technique.

while i was making this it smelt amazing  and fresh but towards the end of the time specified it started to smell a bit “cooked” – more like strawberry jam than fresh fruit. i was worried i’d ruined it. the resulting juice also had that slightly jammy flavour (and was very much not sweet!) but once it was added to my fizz (i used a dry cava) it was absolutely perfect. the resulting bellini is clear, fresh flavoured and full of strawberry perfume. i will definitely be using this method again.

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Saturday
Jul052014

raspberry, lemon and yoghurt cake

 

lemon and raspberry are flavours that work together to create a wonderfully fragrant summer deliciousness, which this cake exploits to the max. the lemon cake, with a hint of vanilla, is studded with soft red fruit and topped with a lemon icing, into which more raspberries have been stirred, so they streak it with their scarlet juices.

i ate this warm out of the oven, and again chilled by the fridge later in the day. either way it was perfect and so nice to share with new friends.

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Thursday
Jul032014

first encounters with croatia – exploring split

we started our recent holiday with a week in croatia – a few days in split, croatia’s second city, a port town and a very beautiful and ancient one at that. we then spent some time on hvar, an island an hour away from split via catamaran.

this was our first visit to croatia and to be honest i hadn’t really thought about the food and drink that we might encounter, having mostly heard tales of a beautiful country with wonderful beaches, which was all we really wanted – a week of peaceful seaside time. however, we very quickly found that the food and wine in croatia easily matches the loveliness of the country.

in split we stayed in a wonderful place – divota apartment hotel – where the very welcoming staff provided us with a range of local restaurant recommendations. one of these was for a place very close by, just behind the croatian national theatre - paradox is a wine bar that has an extensive range of local wine from small producers, available by the glass and bottle, which they serve with local cheeses and a few cured meats, most of which were also sourced from local artisans. cheese and wine – what a heavenly way to start our trip!

the staff were fluent in english (as we found everywhere we went) and provided us with a lot of detailed information and advice about the wines we tried which made it much easier to be adventurous in other places throughout the holiday. i’m not sure how many glasses we had but my receipt includes reference to debit (a dalmatian white made by bibich) posip (another locally grown white which was a favourite and we drank it in quite a few places), plavac mali (a local red, another favourite and again, something we often had), babic zuki (a wonderful red), grabovac’s chardonnay sur lie (a prize-winning full-bodied white) and a sweet plavac. not bad, eh?

the cured meats ranged from spicy cured sausages to tender slices of ham called pršut similar to serrano/parma ham. the cheeses were also very varied – goat, cow and sheep milk plus a range of maturities. there were a few other dishes on the menu, of which we tried a very wonderful lightly cured brancina (seabass) and smokvenjak, a type of fig “salami” (no meat involved, just fruit, honey and spices) which reminded me of panpepato and was a lovely accompaniment to the desert wines we tried.

we had a similar and similarly good casual meal at zinfandel, another nearby restaurant which uses multi-tiered cake stands to serve its range of meat, cheese and salad. again has a good range of local wine by the glass – we added malvazija to our list of local wines. here you can also get larger more complex dishes.

another lovely meal was a couple of excellent pizzas courtesy of galija, a pizzeria with a wood fired oven. i particularly loved mine which i had with spicy salami and whole green pickled chilli peppers! lots of chilli peppers! thankfully they weren’t too spicy - it wasn’t quite what i was expecting but it was delicious. however, the cheesecake which david ordered to follow was truly dreadful.

our final meal in split was lunch on the run at kavana central, a canopied restaurant overlooking one of the squares – we shared an enormous octopus salad (a regional speciality i’d read) which david followed with pasta in a creamy sauce with pršut and truffle (i was surprised by how often truffle featured in dishes!) and i had a mixed plate of grilled fish and seafood. the food here was nice enough but not particularly exciting.

all the meals we had were washed down with an abundance of local wine (and sometimes beer) and yet were still very affordable, ranging from 50-70 euros for the two of us.

but if you find yourself in split, there is one final place i recommend you visit – nadalina, a local chocolate shop where i bought various bars flavoured with local favourites - lavender and almonds, figs and prosek (a local sweet wine)  plus honey. however they’re also known for making chocolate records which can, apparently, be played and will produce a tune as you can see here!

Tuesday
Jul012014

tomato and fennel tart

i really enjoyed making this tart – after another couple of weeks away from home it was the perfect thing to spend time on and to get me resettled in my kitchen.

it’s a rowley leigh recipe and was meant to have anchovies on as the finishing touch. this was a large part of what drew me to it but which i couldn’t include as the tin i had (smoked anchovies which it took me an age to track down just before we left london - brindisa at borough market occasionally stock them, in case you also want some) exploded as i opened it and i didn’t want to risk eating them in case they had gone off. the smell of smokey fish oil that was all over my face and clothes also put me off.

however that’s not the point of this dish - the pleasure for me came with slowly making it. taking my time to make pastry; to slowly cook fennel until it softened; to slice tomatoes, salt and then dry them so they wouldn’t make the tart soggy. slowly assembling the tart – pasty thick enough to handle and not worry about it splitting; fennel pureed with cream and egg yolks which is then baked in the pastry case until is develops a gentle custard texture; laying out the sliced tomatoes on the tart and then finishing it with basil leaves and a drizzle of grassy olive oil.

i don’t think it’s a perfect recipe – the pastry was a little soggy as i didn’t check it had cooked through enough as part of the blind-baking (this was when the anchovy incident occurred and i had to take a quick shower); i’d probably roast the tomatoes next time so that their flavour is even more concentrated; and of course there are the missing anchovies.

still, it was a pleasure to make and a pleasure to eat – the mild creamy fennel flavour and the sharpness of the tomatoes work really well together and i’ve enjoyed eating the leftovers – scooping the filling out of the pastry case and spreading it on rye crackers.  which in turn prompts thoughts of vegetable pates of other sorts – perhaps something to try on another day.

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Wednesday
Jun112014

strawberry shrub

 

i’ve been back from holiday for a few days and i have to confess, i’ve been very lazy since i got over the initial flurry of unpacking, laundry and other settling back chores. i think it’s the heat – it’s been hotter in frankfurt (around 34c!) than it was in croatia and italy and sadly i don’t have a swimming pool or beach easily to hand, to help me cool off.

instead i’ve been drinking lots of water and eating strawberries. i bought too many strawberries though and so i needed a plan to help use some up. sorbet or granita was an obvious thought but something reminded me about shrubs, so i thought i’d try something new.

in this context a shrub is a drink that is made with fruit, sugar and vinegar. there are lots of variations, with some recipes using fruit juice in place of the vinegar as well as versions made with alcohol. hard-core shrubbers often make their own vinegar for the shrub, relying on wild yeasts on the fruit or in the air – it’s a fascinating thing to learn about!

however, it was the simple vinegar version that intrigued me – the aim is to create a drink that is a balance of sweet and sharp flavours, with the fruit acting as the bridge between the two but also playing the starring role as far as flavour goes. this can then be used in cocktails or non-alcoholic drinks (topped with soda or sparkling water).

there are lots of different methods for making shrubs and i decided to avoid ones that boil the fruit and vinegar together (too hot in this weather!) as i had read that the cold-process is better at retaining the fresh fruit flavour, which is what i wanted from my strawberries. in this method, the fruit and sugar are mixed together and set aside until the fruit juices are drawn out and a fruity syrup created (48 hours in the fridge was all that was needed). this is then mixed with the vinegar and put in the fridge.

apparently the flavour mellows and balances over the space of a couple of weeks. i mixed my fruit and vinegar together and tasted it straightaway – definitely vinegary and not particularly pleasant – and then again a few hours later when i bottled it, and there was already a softening of the vinegar tang. i can’t to see what it’s like in a couple of weeks!

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