Monthly Archives: October 2011

Ottolenghi’s Orange Polenta Cake

Commissioned to provide dessert for dinner at friends’ and without time to go to the shops, I looked round the kitchen for inspiration. I couldn’t help noticing these oranges languishing in the fruitbowl – the good intentions we had when shopping just didn’t seem to have the same impact when grazing for snacks. So I had a flick through some of my less-used baking books for a new idea to use them up. I was quickly disheartened though as I was missing some key ‘exotic’ ingredients such as, er, cocoa powder. But really, I knew in the back of my mind what was going to happen. I was going to make a second attempt at this beauty.

It’s an ‘upside down’ cake, with a glossy layer of caramelised sugar and slices of orange, topped with a moist, crunchy cake layer, dense with ground almonds and polenta and scented with zest and orange blossom water.

From the moment I saw it in the fabulous Ottolenghi book, I knew I was going to give this a go. Fruit, almonds, polenta, caramel – all lovely things. I waited, at
first, because I just knew it would be just perfect for my Dad’s birthday – he loves oranges, it’s both his favourite fruit and colour. And he’s bloody hard to buy presents for and nothing says filial love like home baked goods, right? But I messed it up. I didn’t leave enough time for it to bake (actually I panicked and
turned it into individual orange upside down cupcakes which was actually pretty neat) and, worse, I lost my nerve at the caramelising stage. So my first attempt produced lovely, moist, orangey, syrupy cupcakes (which my dad loved) but inside I knew they just weren’t right. This time round, I steeled my nerves and waited for proper browning (and a little burning round the edges). I also cut the cake ingredients by a third as would have made a pretty massive quantity for four and I wanted it to cook in a slightly shorter time (hmm, theme here..?) I lined my trusty springform tin, as advised by the cautionary tale in the book about caramel/juices spilling in a new oven. I didn’t do it well enough – there was still some leakage. And I suspect I took it out a wee bit early as it felt a little delicate when turning it over (ok, it sort
of broke). I had the genius idea of making up some more caramel to pour onto the top to disguise the fact and make up for the stuff that spilled. Certainly no one complained, and I was pretty happy with the finished result. It still had a gorgeous texture, moist with crunch (the book said use quick-cook polenta but I like the grittiness), and full of juicy orange sweetness, deepened by caramelising, and disappeared pretty fast…


The Liverpool Supper Club

Having spent a lot of my  time in London reading food blogs, I’m very familiar with the concept of the supper club – in which someone hosts a meal in their own home (or another informal venue) for a small-ish group of guests, in
exchange for a suggested donation. Appealing as this idea is, it often seems to come with a bit of intimidating foodie-ishness and requiring superhuman organisational skills to book places for one on a suitable date. So while I may have had not one but two dreams about going to the legendary MsMarmitelover’s now (srsly), I never actually got around to going to one in waking life. Before I moved to Liverpool I became aware (via Twitter) that a group of friends (Tom, Jo and Lucy) had decided to organise one here, so it was high on my to do list, especially when I saw the very stylish menu (designed by Jo, also an illustrator) for their second outing, with appealing Greek-themed dishes.

So on a wet and windy Thursday evening last week, I arrived on my own and a little nervous and  windswept, but within minutes I was brought into the very cool apartment where Tom and Jo live, handed a glass of prosecco with Morello cherries and introduced to some interesting people – my shyness didn’t last
long. Once seated at an attractive, cheery table, we were brought ‘Pikilia’ sharing platters, an impressive range of mezze-style dishes showcasing lots of flavours, textures and skill. The fritters were perfectly fried, the butternut and tahini dip a combination I hadn’t thought of but was creamy and comforting, with plenty of  sesame depth, and the olives were amazing. The mains of lamb (or for me,
vegetable and haloumi) kebabs had been cooked over a wood-fire and the split-pea puree and orzo pasta were good accompaniments. I think the star of the show though was the poached pears with rose & honey, served with filo, pistachio praline and home made ice-cream. It exemplified perfectly the thoughtful, balanced approach to each course – there was lots going on, but never over the top. I heard lots of happy sighs around the table!

All this was finished off with coffee and home made petit fours – mini chocolate brownies (one of the best I’ve tasted) and crumbly, lemony amaretti.

Guests brought their own wines but there was a friendly sharing vibe, particularly as Jon from Scatchards wine had made some suggested pairings and this was a great way of tasting some new and things for a wine ignoramus like me, especially a dry, almost savory sherry – Lustau Manzanilla Amontillada and a the lovely floral  Moscat d’Asti with dessert. Special points to Liverpool Supper Club for being very vegetarian-friendly, as well as lovely friendly people. I could see they were accommodating about allergies too, which gives me hopes for bringing Dr E along to one of their dinners in future. I was enjoying my food too much to remember to take pictures until dessert, but there are some here and another good write-up on Sid’s restaurant blog here. Hope the next one comes round soon!

Early tastes of my new life in Liverpool

This is my first post since, two weeks ago, I left my lifelong (almost) home of north east London and started a new life and adventure in Liverpool. I was leaving a job I hated, working for a government I hated, and a city I love but found exhausting. Dr E has a job in Liverpool and we’ve got to know it as an interesting, friendly place, and so it seemed like a good chance for me to break away and have the late gap year (or early mid-life crisis) that was awaiting. I hope this time gives me opportunities to learn and experience new things, more time to cook and to make things, to read and to write, to do more good than bad. Beyond that, I’m feeling open-minded and excited. I’m a  little bit addicted to
variety and new things and hope I can sustain that here – there’s a vibrant culture and diverse communities so I am sure I’ll be all right.

My first weekend here I was pleased to be welcomed by the Hope Street Feast as a quick intro to some of Liverpool’s food ‘scene’. I was somewhat overwhelmed by the prevalence of cupcakes. I wanted to try Laura’s little bakery as she’s a strong twitter presence but frankly there was too much of a queue and it was too far away from the coffee stall. I had a salted caramel cupcake from Blackburne house’s stall (which was nice but, if I’m being picky, could have carried more flavour). Also took home some goodies: sweet, flavoursome little strawberries from a farm stall,  a selection of 3 beers from  Peerless brewery –  the woman on the stall was sure I would like them all (all light girly enough ones) and so far I’ve
very much enjoyed the Triple blonde – fairly billed as ‘zesty’ – very hoppy and refreshing, and thought the Viking Blond was nice though not as exciting. I also treated myself to a lovely nutty sheep’s cheese from the Liverpool Cheese Company whose name I couldn’t remember but have decided from the website it must have been the Berkswell Ewe. Mmm.

I’ve dipped my toe into the restaurant scene starting with:

Chilli Banana – fabulous Thai food. Very slow service but it was Saturday night and it was worth it.

Sahara is a very decent Lebanese near the university with good mezze –  perfect haloumi, rich, spicy muhammara – we only needed more pitta – and for mains we had an aubergine-rich, tender vegetable stew. All accompanied with BYO
chilled-outness, dated décor and cheeky scouse service.

I’ve been to Host before and knew I was going back soon – it didn’t let me down.

I’m wowed by Liverpool’s cafes, Bold St Coffee does an unsurprisingly delicious, complex cup. I’ve tried out Oomoo, a friendly chilled-out cafe just around the
corner where. I had a good americano, and slice of peanut butter cheesecake. I wouldn’t normally pick cheesecake but as a peanut butter enthusiast my fancy was taken. This was delicious, creamy with a subtle peanut flavour filling on a crumbly nutty base. And somewhere nice to sit, and change from a fiver. Am definitely going back there, not least to try out the extensive range of teas and was pretty appealed by the savoury muffins, too. Moon & Pea did me a great cup of coffee, nice brunch (eggs florentine) and somewhere nice to sit outdoors on a sunny day. I thought I’d have to go back to try out those desserts, but my little brother was not deterred by the heat, tucking into an immense sticky toffee pudding to the amusement of the staff (I had a spoonful. It was amazing).


I could hardly miss out the pubs and have sampled a few nice pints in the Philharmonic, Leaf, and a little boozer in Southport when I popped up there for one night of the British Fireworks Championships (long story!)

Believe it or not, I have done other things than just eat and drink. I’ve also been exploring and even at times looking for a job. I got involved in the Abandon Normal Devices festival which gave me a great chance to see some fascinating contemporary art being shown and created and to talk to loads of interesting people. I partied in the Kazimier’s created world of Atalonia, heard some  interesting electro-punk at Static, played with pigs’ bladder footballs, watched monkeys watching humans acting as monkeys, and people acting as fictional people going through a ’70s self-actualisation seminar. It’s made me think about loads of questions. What’s the role and representation of time in art and how
art acts with and against a ‘history’ of events? These new forms of art pose challenges to the role of the ‘human’ as essential but also as creator and spectator. AND is ambitious, posing challenges to big hegemonies, such as science and the commercialisation of sport, but at times succeeded in doing so in a fun, engaging way. The pace was pretty exhausting, but there really are always fantastic things going on and it really enthused me for my time in Liverpool.