A Day In The Life Of A Private Chef

Twelve days into a month long job in the picturesque region of Ramatuelle (near St. Tropez) means it’s high time to let my friends and family know just exactly what it is I’m getting up to out here. To try and sum it all up in three words…it would have to be food, sun and mosquitoes.

For a bit of background, last year myself and a great friend who I met at Ashburton, Nell, signed ourselves up to all the temporary chef agencies out there, with the hopes of finding a position ANYwhere, be it at a shooting lodge up in Scotland, a Manor House in the English countryside, pretty much anything we could get. We actually offered ourselves up as ‘two for the price of one’, applying for single chef’s positions with the view of sharing the accommodation, and the wage.

We struck gold with a two week job in a beautiful villa in Ramatuelle, owned by a family from Notting Hill, who’ve had this place for fifteen years, spending practically every holiday here. It is a home away from home for them. Every year, the three children have their respective school and university friends over during a jam-packed few weeks, whilst the parents have their family friends to stay. That’s where we come in. To feed them!
This year, much to my (and the family’s) disappointment, Nell was busy working at a fine dining restaurant in Spain. Fortunately for me, my position as a sous/crew chef onboard a private motor yacht doesn’t start until September. So when I was asked back to cook for the whole month of August, it was an easy answer. Admittedly, I toyed with the idea of going alone. It would have been absolutely do-able, but the ‘down time’ would have probably been too isolating for a whole four weeks. (I mean, I love my kindle, but not that much). So this time, the family sorted out another Ashburton graduate to accompany me – a girl my age called Katie.

Now to our typical day, á la villa, from dawn ’til dusk.

The alarm goes off at 7am, time enough for a half hour swim in the pool before the family starts to get up. On a good morning I do 100 lengths (that’s happened about twice). Our humble abode is the little pool house, down at the bottom of the garden. It is snug (code for cramped), and we get all sorts of weird and wonderful wildlife finding their way inside. Crickets, lizards, spiders…you name it. My tolerance levels have had no choice but to increase.

The pool, in all its early morning glory. 

At 8am we walk up to the main house. I pocket a few fresh figs on the way, as I bloody love them (and no one else seems to! Bizarre). One of us turns off the security system while the other opens the front door. A scary, deep, digital voice booms ‘Arretè!’ through the entire house, and we can enter without the Gendarme being called. First things first, we let Daisy out of her cage and let her have a roam outside. Daisy is a long haired sausage dog, who is thirteen years old and doesn’t seem to cope with the heat all that well. She’s very slow, and gets all doe eyed when we cook especially juicy, fatty pieces of meat. We’re under strict instruction not to feed her, and we totally don’t. Promise.

After opening all five thousand of the shutters, doors and windows, the one with the driving licence (me) hops into the Renault people carrier (nicknamed ‘The Beast’, by me) for a pain au chocolat & croissant run. Whilst the one left behind sets up for breakfast. This involves laying the table, putting out our lovingly homemade granola, with assorted jams, honey, coffee and tea. By the time I return, that’s all done, so we start chopping fresh fruit for the table. Most days it’s peaches, as we always seem to have a glut of them, but often it’s melon, pineapple or mango. Any figs I try to sneak into the medley end up in a sad, forgotten, soggy mush at the bottom of the bowl. We make eggs, bacon, tomato, mushrooms & toast to order, when any of the family or guests fancy a cooked breakfast. During all of this we find a quick moment to eat our own grub, which for me is the homemade granola with figs (obvs), apple compote (Katie calls it Pomme-pote) with Greek yog & milk. If there’s a stray pain au chocolat, which there funnily enough always is, that gets eaten too.

First things first, I drive ‘The Beast’ with my bin liners in da back.

Across the way from the Spar, the Croissant Chaud pop up, where the kind lady gives you ‘one for the road’ if you buy over ten.

We go for the pain au chocolat and the croissants pur beurre. I’m partial to the odd pain au raisin.

Upon my return, the table is beautifully laid.

The breakfast bar, minus Greek yoghurt, milk and chopped fruit, which is all kept in the fridge until the last minute.

Anything cooked for brekky is made on request.

After everyone is fed and watered, we sit down with the matriarch of the family and discuss the day’s menu. We mostly have free reign with lunch, with the general rule being a quiche or tart, a carb-based dish, with the usual suspects of heirloom tomatoes, green salad with Parmesan, sliced baguette, assorted hams and a cheese plate. We try all sorts on them, recently having a bash at a ricotta & sundried tomato shortcrust pastry tart, sweet potato & feta muffins, with a chicken Caesar salad. Homemade Caesar salad goes down ridiculously well with everyone for some reason, and is great for us, as it uses up roast chicken and day-old baguettes. 

Poached salmon & dill fishcakes.

Sweet potato, feta, chilli & sunflower seed savoury muffins.

Chargrilled sweetcorn, avocado, feta & tomato quinoa salad.


Sweetcorn fritters with crispy bacon and roasted red peppers.

Avocado & Asian noodle salad.

Pesto courgetti with mozarella & toasted pine nuts.

Quiche Lorraine with summer couscous & courgette fritters.

Our pick of the ‘scraps’.

But before we can embark on the lunch prep, we must write an epic shopping list and take a trip to the Spar, making sure to include the oh-so glamorous job of taking the bins out. Here in Ramatuelle, you have to drive your rubbish to a communal bin area, and fling it all in. This aspect of the job is on a par with the washing up, with regards to how much I enjoy doing it. The Spar is a ten minute drive away, during which I get overtaken by the odd Ferrari, Porsche, or any car that is too impatient to deal with my terribly slow gear changing (I unashamedly drive an automatic at home). We get all meats, cheeses, bread and store cupboard items at the Spar. There is a well stocked fruit & vegetable market over the road, but our employers prefer the top end quality of a green grocers a bit further away, called Laurent Primeur. Imagine a Wholefoods, complete with the synonymous price tag. Everything in there is immaculate, as if God himself has carved each aubergine from the original, perfect aubergine that once was. The sales assistants even carry your overpriced vegetables to your car. That’s why they are able to charge nine euros for a pomegranate.

The ever-reliable Spar, with a cracking butchers, bakery and cheesery (?) inside.

We usually get back to casa del villa at 11.30am, to serve lunch at 1pm if the family are going on their boat in the afternoon, but 1.45pm if not. Once they’ve helped themselves to the spread, we then dig in before they come back for seconds. During the course of the morning, I tend to nibble on the odd apricot, peach, really any fruit that’s lying around and looks like no one will be brave enough to go for. In the oppressive heat, fruit tends to go off rather quickly, especially as the family like to have it all out, nicely displayed in bowls. More for me!

Whilst they’re eating, we do a big wash up and any prep for the rest of the day. When there are thirteen hungry teenagers swimming and roaming around being obscenely active all day, it pays to have something up your sleeve for the afternoon. Katie isn’t much of a baker, so I get to bake to my heart’s desire. Usually it’s something chocolatey – brownies, banana & Nutella brownies, macarons, all flavours of cookies. We often do a big batch and freeze cookie dough rolled into logs. At the moment we have milk chocolate chip, and oatmeal & cranberry on ‘standby’. There is a more health conscious family coming soon, so my notebook is filling up with raw ‘super’ seeded flapjacks, dairy free coconut & cashew slices, basically anything you can put a goji berry on and call healthy.

Banana & Nutella muffins.

The son’s 21st triple chocolate birthday cake. That’s white chocolate on the top, not cheddar cheese, btw.

At about 3pm, we halt proceedings and have our afternoon break. There used to be a chef and his wife who would confidently stroll to the pool and plonk themselves on a lounger, to while away their hours off. That’s not quite what we do. Usually we go back to our room, I have a lightning change into a bikini, grab my kindle and lay outside, for my daily vitamin D. That gets a bit much, so I roll over and fall asleep for a bit. Then I fetch Katie, we find some shade and do a spot of YouTube yoga. After showering, we lay on our beds and watch a bit of a film. By that time, it’s 7pm and time to go back up to the house.

My daily sunbathe. Usually flat on a towel, on the overgrown grass at the bottom of the garden. It’s so private, you may think you can do like the French and go topless, but in actual fact there is a hive of gardening activity, which I learnt the hard way. When the family are on their boat, we can go upstairs for a swim and a more comfortable perch on the loungers.

The donut is my fave, followed by the pizza slice, then the lilo, which is perfect for reading my kindle (uber carefully).

Canapés and drinks are at 8.30pm, with dinner served at 9.15pm. This is WAY too late for me (being someone who eats dinner at 6pm at home), so I have a small meal of whatever’s lying in the fridge before starting to cook again. Sometimes with a big glass of grenadine to give me an energy boost. Every night, they like a dip with crisps and crudités. We do various flavours of hummus, guacamole, baba ghanoush, tzatziki, that sort of thing. For the actual canapés, we can go to town. Favourites of theirs have been our mini dill scones with cream cheese & smoked salmon, goats cheese & caramelised onion puffs, and sundried tomato palmiers.

 

Melon wrapped in Parma ham.

Mini dill scones with cream cheese & smoked salmon.

For dinner, they like an informal setting. We lay the table with lots of candles, and put the food on the side, dished up in beautiful bowls and colourful serving platters that don’t match. Most days, our employer will say, ‘We fancy chicken,’ or ‘We fancy lamb,’ so it’s up to us to decide which way to cook it, and what to serve it with. There is a plethora of Middle Eastern books in the house, which we make really good use of. Persiana, Ottolenghi’s first book, Plenty, and Jerusalem are just a few. Other favourites are River Cafe, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Veg Every Day, Jamie Oliver’s first ever cookbook, and the Leith’s cooking bible. We take inspiration from all of those, but I’m just as likely to make something I’ve seen on a blogpost or Instagram page. Some unusual dishes have been real hits lately, one being a blood orange & radicchio salad with sumac & dill. We try not to repeat dishes, but if we find a real goodun, then it might appear twice. Ottolenghi has an amazing way of serving broccoli, that has made me not want to have it any other way, ever again. Par-boil the florets, drizzle with oil and season, before griddling them on a high heat to create char marks. Sauté slivered garlic and chilli in olive oil, then toss with the broccoli. Divine!

Griddled aubergine with saffron yoghurt.

After clearing dinner, we put on a pot of coffee and brew either mint or verveine herbal tea, from the garden (naturally). When it’s just casual, dessert can be a lime granita, berries & creme fraiche pavlovas, something light and simple. When there are guests, we can bring out more of the big guns with a rich chocolate torte, lemon tart, or cheesecake. Once dessert is cleared, we’re usually at about 11.30pm, and it’s high time for bed.

Chocolate macarons.

So that is my typical day from start to finish, or at least what it has been like for the past two weeks. We’ve cooked for a maximum of nine, which we can barely fit around the table as it is, and from Saturday onwards we will be cooking for thirteen. So that might well be a different kettle of fish, and may even call for a new blogpost. À bientot! 

Popcorn, Peanut Butter & Chocolate Fudge Torte

IMG_3739A word of warning – this one is not for the faint-hearted. John Whaite, winner of the Great British Bake Off 2012, came up with this blood sugar-spiking recipe as a bake he deemed suitable for enjoying on Christmas Eve, as described in the GBBO Christmas cookbook. Now, I don’t know about you, but the idea of spending Christmas Day fighting a stonking sugar comedown doesn’t quite tickle my fancy. But in any case, the marriage of toffee popcorn (a childhood favourite bought from Spar Express many a time), salty peanut butter and a decadent chocolate fudge had me waiting for an opportune moment to unleash this beast on unsuspecting hungry folks. It was admittedly nowhere near Christmas-time, but it went down a treat.

Ingredients

For the sponge

  • 5 eggs
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 120g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 50g butter, melted

For the peanut butter & popcorn mousse

  • 75g toffee popcorn
  • 200ml double cream
  • 90g smooth peanut butter
  • 50g condensed milk
  • 100g soft cheese

For the chocolate fudge

  • 250g condensed milk
  • 50g smooth peanut butter
  • 50ml double cream
  • 200g dark chocolate

For the caramelised popcorn decoration

  • 100g caster sugar
  • 50g toffee popcorn

Method

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line the base of a 23cm round springform cake tin with greaseproof paper. My circular cake tins were all a bit too diddy, so I plumped for a square one. Break the eggs into a large bowl, and whip up with an electric whisk for 1 minute until they are light and fluffy.

IMG_3714Add the sugar and whisk on full speed for 5 minutes, until the mixture has quadrupled in volume and you reach the ribbon stage.

At this juncture, I had to jump ship and switch bowls, as the mixture seemed to take on a life of its own. I had created a monster.

IMG_3715IMG_3716IMG_3718IMG_3719Using your suitably XXL sized bowl, sift over the flour and cocoa powder, add the melted butter and gently fold together.

IMG_3720IMG_3721Pour into the prepared cake tin, and bake in the oven for 25 minutes.

IMG_3722When the sponge is nicely risen, and an inserted knife into the centre comes out clean, invert it onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely, keeping it inside the tin.

To make the mousse, use a food processor to blitz the toffee popcorn into a chunky rubble.  IMG_3723IMG_3725IMG_3726Add the cream and mix for another 10 seconds, until it has just thickened. Add the peanut butter, condensed milk and soft cheese, then blitz again briefly until it has all come together. It should be a thick and spreadable consistency, so now you can transfer it into a bowl and pop it in the fridge until later.

IMG_3727Cut the cooled cake in half. Get rid of the greaseproof paper, and place one half of the sponge back in the tin, pressing down gently to make sure it’s at the bottom.

IMG_3733Scoop the entirety of your peanut butter & popcorn filling onto the sponge, and spread it out evenly. Use a palette knife or the back of a spoon, until it is smooth and reaches the sides.

IMG_3734IMG_3735Top with the other half of the cake, and pop it in the fridge.

My sponge flopped all the way down onto the wire rack and ended up with these indentations, but thankfully the ganache-to-come saved the day, and hid all unsightly grooves.

IMG_3736To make the fudge topping, put the chocolate, condensed milk, double cream and peanut butter into a saucepan, and stir gently over a low heat.

IMG_3728IMG_3729Allow everything to melt together, until it eventually becomes a smooth, glossy fudge. Pour it over the cake and put back in the fridge to set for at least an hour.

Finally, the last step! To caramelise your already caramelised popcorn. This may seem a tad unnecessary, potentially a case of over-egging the pudding? But nay! The topping was actually what most people who tried it exclaimed their love for. It kept them coming back for more, so don’t be scared to be generous with it and bloody well pile it on.

Firstly, place a sheet of greaseproof paper over a kitchen surface. Heat a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the sugar, and slowly let it melt, stirring occasionally for about 8 minutes, until it becomes a dark caramel.

IMG_3731 Add the popcorn, quickly stir to coat it all, and tip onto the greaseproof paper to cool down and solidify.

IMG_3732Remove the cake from the fridge at least an hour before serving. Run a blunt knife around the edge to release it from the tin, and transfer to your chosen plate. Decorate liberally with the broken up popcorn, et voila, you have created a rather festive masterpiece!

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Honey, Pistachio & Walnut Baklava

IMG_4142The other day, I was accompanying my Mum on her (what seems to me) daily mammoth trip to Boots, when we were beckoned over at the entrance by an interesting bunch of twenty-somethings with the offering of freshly baked pastries. A dreadlocked figure handed us both a diamond shaped sticky looking morsel in its own little paper boat, and we happily tucked into what was the tastiest baklava I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. My automatic next move was to ask for the recipe, but they insisted on educating us about the entire history of Israel first. Once we’d pocketed a library’s worth of notes, nodded and exclaimed at the appropriate moments, I deemed it suitable to strike up the baklava conversation again, but it turned out nobody knew the recipe after all because someone’s mum had made it.

So to the drawing board I went!

A mish-mash of cookbooks, blogposts and recipe websites gave me a delicious outcome of sweet, flaky, crispy goodness that lasted a good 10 days. It actually developed a much more intense flavour over time, so definitely think ahead and bake some a good couple of days before you’d like to serve it. Your taste buds, and your guests, will most certainly thank you.

Ingredients

  • 1 packet (270g) of filo pastry sheets, thawed
  • 200g butter, melted
  • 125g walnuts
  • 125g pistachios
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 150ml water
  • 90g honey

Method

To kick off proceedings, begin by making your syrup (it needs time to cool down, which is conveniently while you’re assembling the baklava). In a saucepan combine the sugar, lemon juice, water and honey. Bring to a boil over a high heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, and then let it bubble away for 5 minutes without stirring. Once it’s smooth, thick and glossy, remove it from the heat and set aside to cool.

IMG_4132Preheat the oven to 160°C. Liberally butter an 8×8 inch pan, and trim the filo sheets so that they fit snugly into your pan. Once they’re the right size, lay them out on a table top and cover with a damp tea towel so that they don’t dry out.

To make the nutty filling, pop the walnuts and pistachios into a food processor.

IMG_4128Pulse until finely chopped.

IMG_4129Transfer to a bowl, and mix in your cinnamon.

IMG_4130IMG_4131Place your first filo sheet into the baking pan, and brush generously with melted butter. Layer another sheet over that, and brush again with the butter. Repeat this until you have a layer of about 4-6 sheets of filo, remembering to brush each time.

IMG_4133IMG_4134IMG_4136Spread about half of your nut mixture over the top.

IMG_4135Repeat this with another 4-6 buttered filo sheets, followed by the other half of the nuts. Finish off with the last few layers of filo, and brush the very top with butter. Now this final step is very important, which I stupidly forgot to do. Cut the pastry lengthways into 4 strips, then cut across diagonally to create those lovely, signature diamond shapes.

In my haste to get these in the oven, I shoved them in and remembered halfway through the baking time that they hadn’t yet seen a knife. So as you can tell, my pastry was already crisp when I cut them, and I sadly didn’t end up with beautifully neat lines.

Luckily, this had no impact on the flavour, merely the aesthetics!

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Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the top is an even golden brown.

Remove the baklava from the oven and pour the cooled syrup over the whole thing. You should hear it sizzle, which means it will stay crisp, and not become soggy. Let it cool on a wire rack, uncovered at room temperature, preferably overnight. This allows the syrup to penetrate each layer, also acting as a bit of a preservative, making it last for 1  to 2 weeks.

IMG_4140IMG_4141Dig in, and marvel at your epic mid-morning coffee breaks to come. Mazel tov!

Salted Caramel Brownies

IMG_3761Dang, these are good.

Chunks of homemade salted caramel running through the squidgiest brownies that ever were. If you happen to have a horde of Easter chocolate to use up (like I did) then I highly recommend you put it to good use and bake these little beauties. The original recipe calls for 50% dark chocolate, but my Lindt egg just happened to be the perfect weight, so ended up being sacrificed for the job. My brother has hailed them as the best thing I’ve ever baked, putting them firmly at the top of the list to bring in for his birthday at work. This recipe makes about 16 squares…so to make enough for the 250 hungry accountants he works with, I may have to whack out the ole calculator.

IMG_3758Ingredients

Salted caramel

  • 100g caster sugar
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 40ml double cream

Brownie

  • 85g chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 115g unsalted butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 85g plain flour

Method

Start by making your caramel. Put a piece of greaseproof paper over a plate, and lightly oil it to make sure the caramel comes away easily when the time comes. Warm the sugar in a saucepan over a medium heat, stirring occasionally so that it melts evenly. Cook until it’s a light copper colour.

Take the saucepan off the heat, then stir in the butter, cream and salt until combined. Return to the heat and bring back to a simmer, cooking for about 5 minutes, until it is bubbling away and looks a nice shade of caramel.

IMG_3749Pour over your greaseproof paper plate, and pop it in the freezer to firm up.

IMG_3750It will take about 20-30 minutes, so in the meantime you can start on your brownies.

Preheat the oven to 180°C , and line an 8×8 inch baking tin with greaseproof paper. Melt the chocolate and butter in a glass bowl over a saucepan filled with gently simmering water. Stir until completely melted, smooth and glossy.

IMG_3751Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the vanilla and salt.

IMG_3752 Fold in the flour with a spatula, or a large wooden spoon, until completely combined.

When the caramel has sufficiently firmed up, take it out of the freezer and use a sharp knife to cut into 1 inch squares. Please excuse my haphazardly sized ‘edge bits’. They didn’t quite make their way into the brownies, but that funny looking fella did make his way sneakily into the picture frame.

IMG_3753Try a piece and just think, how clever you are for having replicated the middle of a rolo entirely from your very own kitchen! Well done, you.

Gently fold in most of the squares into the batter, and pour into your prepared tin.

IMG_3755Artfully place your chosen few over the top, to give people a bit of a clue as to what lies beneath.IMG_3756Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, until crispy on the outside but still moist and fudgey on the inside.

IMG_3757Cool them in the tin for as long as you can, preferably putting them in the fridge overnight to firm up. It will make cutting them a doddle, and you can stack them up high and mighty to impress yo friends.

IMG_3759Do let me know of any clever ways you have of using up leftover Easter chocolate (if any of it ever ends up leftover, of course). I’ve always had my eye on creme egg brownies, but only having the one this year left me a bit reluctant to give it up in any baking scheme. Maybe next time!

IMG_3760

Peanut butter, Chocolate and Chickpea Blondies

IMG_3609The idea of using beans in your baked goods has been floating around the interdaweb for a while now, what with Deliciously Ella and her bore off black bean brownies. Now I’m a real lover of the ole humble bean, with your traditional hummus a staple snack in my household. A tub of the stuff (freshly made obvs, it’s as easy as anything) has pride of place in its own little area on the shelf in my fridge. So when these bean-filled blondies came across my radar, my heart sang! Blondies are the paler friend of brownies, and taste ri-dic-ulously good, undoubtedly due to 99.9% of their content consisting of brown sugar and butter. But you’ll be happy to know that this recipe you see here is a lot less dangerous for your blood glucose levels. Maple syrup is way more natural and totes better for you, am I right?

I hope I’m right…

Anyway, you should just bake these over the weekend. They taste just as scrumptious as any pure bred blondie you’ve ever tried.

IMG_3611

Ingredients

  • 1 tin chickpeas, rinsed & drained
  • 120g crunchy peanut butter
  • 150ml maple syrup
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 120g chocolate chips (I used a mixture of white and dark)

IMG_3601

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C, and line a small brownie pan or loaf tin with greaseproof paper.

Pop all of your ingredients, except the chocolate chips, into a food processor. Whizz em up until the batter is nice and smooth.

IMG_3600

My food processor is only diddy so I had to transfer the batter to a larger bowl before adding the rest of the maple syrup. Used my noggin to avoid a terrible overflowing.

IMG_3602

Fold in most of the chocolate chips, keeping a handful behind to scatter artfully over the top.

IMG_3604

Bake in the oven for 60 minutes, until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. A word of caution! These are not like brownies, in that the more under-baked they are, the better. These are really at their best when the edges are properly browned, and the chewy crust gives rise to a squidgy centre.

IMG_3606

Leave to cool in the pan for 30 minutes, before removing and leaving them to set fully for another 30 minutes. Cut into squares to make 16 if you, too, have a tiny brownie pan.

IMG_3607

Now tuck in! Just think of all that protein. Protein that tastes just like cake can only ever be a good thing. Reward yourself, like moi, after that gruelling run as part of your training for the Bath half…oh wait no, that anecdote is completely fabricated. It is far too cold to run right now, and there is simply too much baking to be done.

Oh, and they’re vegan (if you use special chocolate chips, or none, or nuts). So give yourself a big ole pat on the back, you’ve saved some lives today, my friend!

Browned Butter Coconut Bread

IMG_3577Hands up if you love brunch. *Puts both hands up with gusto.*

Just what is it about this particular meal that we bloody well love nowadays? For me, it’s the step up from the standard Special K with semi-skimmed milk to a fully fledged affair of a meal in its own right, with all the (un)necessary adornments. Guacamole and a poached egg, anyone? This badass brunch recipe you see before you comes from my very good friend, and private chef extraordinaire, Nell. She discovered this gem of a bread whilst practising recipes for her upcoming job in France, as a fully fledged chalet chef. Being responsible for lavish breakfasts in a chalet that, in all honesty, looks more like a mansion on the slopes, had her trying out all sorts of wonderful delights. Fluffy ricotta pancakes included.

Those lucky, lucky guests.IMG_3575Now this coconut bread originally comes from a man called Bill Granger, who I think may be the very man that transformed Australians into brunch-loving crazies. Correct me if I’m wrong. But there is one transformative act that I sincerely insist you do to this coconut bread. Do not treat it as banana bread. This simply isn’t a loaf shaped cake, masquerading as bread. Treat this exactly as you would treat bread. Cut a thick slice, pop it in the toaster, spread it with copious amounts of butter, and if you’re feeling really fancy, a dust of icing sugar when nobody’s watching.

Toasted coconut, nutty browned butter, and warmly spiced cinnamon all come together to make heaven a place that lives in your mouth. Don’t even just have this for brunch. Go mad, and have it at any time throughout the day. Treat yourself.

Ingredients

  • 1 egg
  • 150ml milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 160g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 70g desiccated coconut
  • 50g butter, browned

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C, and grease a loaf tin generously with butter, or oil. Start off by browning your butter. If this is a step too far, then go ahead and just melt the stuff. But browning it gives the bread a deeper, nuttier, toastier flavour that is just too good to miss. Heat the butter in a saucepan, swirling it occasionally, until it stops foaming and brown flecks start to appear. Once it is uniformly brown and your kitchen has a beautifully nutty aroma, take the pan off the heat and leave to one side. IMG_3563IMG_3566IMG_3565Measure the milk into a jug, and whisk in the egg and vanilla extract. Sieve the flour, cinnamon, salt and baking powder into a large bowl. Stir in the sugar and coconut.IMG_3567Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, and pour in the milk mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon until combined.IMG_3568Pour in the butter, and stir until just combined. Be careful not to overmix, to keep your bread as light and fluffy as possible.IMG_3569Pour the batter into your prepared loaf tin, levelling the top in a rather rustic way with the back of the spoon.IMG_3572Pop it in the oven for an hour, until the crust is nicely browned and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave it to cool in the loaf tin for half an hour, before turning it out to cool on a wire rack.IMG_3574Optional but recommended: give your loaf pride of place on its very own wooden chopping board, next to the toaster with a pack of Anchor for company (or President, if you’re posh). IMG_3576Happy brunching, folks!

Apple Crumble Shortbread

Section 5When the lovely people over at Denby emailed, reminding me to enter The Great Denby Cake Off this year, I simply couldn’t resist!

This time of transitioning seasons is possibly my favourite period for baking. The days are getting shorter, colder and darker…but in a good way. It’s oh-so-cosy to stay inside in the evenings wearing your favourite checked pyjama bottoms and fluffy socks, warming up with a cup of tea. It was this setting that sparked the idea for my Cake Off entry. A sugary sweet, spiced slice of apple crumble. Not just to be enjoyed warm out of the oven with a dollop of custard, but perfect to wrap up and take with you for a stroll in the park.IMG_3218Ingredients

For the shortbread

  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 130g plain flour
  • 120g unsalted butter

For the apple layer

  • 2 apples
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

For the crumble topping

  • 50g oats
  • 70g light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 30g plain flour
  • 50g unsalted butter

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line an 8×8 inch baking pan with greaseproof paper, leaving some hanging over the sides so you can easily lift out the shortbread later.

In a large bowl, use a wooden spoon to vigorously mix together your shortbread ingredients – the caster sugar, vanilla extract, plain flour and unsalted butter. Add the generous pinch of salt if you love the contrast of salty and sweet, like me!IMG_3207Pop the dough into the baking pan, pressing down firmly with the back of a spoon to flatten it as much as possible.IMG_3208Bake in the hot oven for 15 minutes until golden brown all over. Meanwhile, you can crack on with the filling!

Peel your apples, quarter them and slice into wedges as thinly as you can. In a bowl, sprinkle the apple slices with the flour, sugar and cinnamon, then toss gently to combine until they all have a hearty coating.IMG_3210To make the buttery crumble topping, mix together the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and flour in a bowl until combined. Cube in the butter.IMG_3211Rub the butter into the dry ingredients using your index fingers and thumbs, until the mixture feels like wet sand. Try a little bit of it now, and thank me later. This stuff is crazy good. IMG_3212Once your shortbread base is done, remove it from the oven and place the apple slices on top in a fairly uniform fashion so that they fit nice and snugly.IMG_3213Sprinkle over the crumble topping in big and little chunks, pressing down slightly to help it all stick.IMG_3214Bake your Autumnal beauty in the oven for 40 minutes, until the crumble is dark brown and crispy. Cool them in the pan for at least half an hour, before removing to slice up into bars. They can keep in the fridge for three days, and in my opinion are best enjoyed slightly warmed up in the microwave with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.IMG_3219Share the baking love with your family and friends this Autumn, and have a go at making our country’s much loved dessert of apple crumble into tasty bar form. These little fellas are sure to put a smile on anyone’s face after a long, hard day. They have already been requested by my new flatmates to be made again soon, which can only be a good sign!

Happy baking!

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cheesecake

Praise be! My blogging hiatus is officially OV-ER. Since graduating from Ashburton cookery school last month, a fellow student and I landed the job of our dreams, as private chefs for a family in St. Tropez for two weeks.IMG_3036 IMG_3039 We absolutely lived the life we love. We hosted a dinner party for twenty eight people (imagine pan frying twenty eight fillets of seabass), worked fifteen hour days, burnt ourselves TOO many times and never once drank a cup of tea while it was still hot.IMG_3052 IMG_3061 IMG_3063Now back on the beautiful island of Jersey, there is one precious month of freedom before my return to Bath to finish my degree. The aim is to cook, bake, create and enjoy as much as possible, before the prison sentence work begins.

The other day, my godfather (a wonderful cook, who inspires me to follow ma dreamz) asked me if I wanted to bake a cake for his work’s Macmillan coffee morning. You don’t need to ask me twice! This bake is a little practice run for the big day, as he’s pulling out all the stops with a Black Forest Gateaux AND a Yorkshire Apple Cake. Upping the chances of winning, hey? This no-bake cheesecake, inspiration all thanks to What Jessica Baked Next, is utterly indulgent, deceptively easy and a dream to decorate.IMG_3092

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 18 oreos
  • 50g butter

For the filling

  • 340g full fat cream cheese
  • 40g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 150g smooth peanut butter
  • 15 Reese’s peanut butter cups
  • 125ml double cream

Method

Grease an 8 inch springform cake tin with butter, and set aside. Blitz the Oreos to a fine crumb in a food processor, or by smashing them to bits with a rolling pin in a plastic bag. Melt the butter in a microwave or on the hob, and mix into the biscuit crumbs.IMG_3082

Spread the mixture over the cake tin base, pressing down firmly with the back of a spoon so it’s compact. Put this into the fridge to set while you make the filling.

Lightly beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until smooth and soft. Add the icing sugar, vanilla and peanut butter, and beat with a wooden spoon to combine.

Whip the double cream to soft peaks in a separate bowl, then gently fold that into the mixture.IMG_3084

Chop the Reese’s peanut butter cups into chunks.IMG_3083 Mine were the large flat ones, so I chopped them into about six pieces. If you have the small cups, just halve them. Fold them through the mixture.IMG_3085

Once everything is fully incorporated, use a spatula to pour the cheesecake filling over the biscuit base, smoothing the top.IMG_3086 Leave it in the fridge overnight to set, before removing it from the tin to start the fun part – decoration!IMG_3087

An error on my part was drizzling melted dark chocolate over the top. It looks lovely, but when I went to slice it, the chocolate shards didn’t break and it just crushed the cheesecake instead. Baking fail! Grated chocolate shavings instead next time.IMG_3091In any case, piping whipped double cream and decorating with more Reese’s cups is always a safe bet. Do you have any favourite cheesecake recipes? Share them with me. I’d love to hear them, because there is no way I am losing this bake off!

IMG_3092

We seafood and eat it

Along came Week Five, and with it the ominously named task, ‘stun crabs and cook’. As with every group that comes through this course, it opened up a real can of worms. For so long, people have assumed various ‘humane’ ways of killing crabs and lobsters, which every few years get shred to pieces by some sort of experimental study. All we can say is that for now at least, Ashburton have adopted one of the latest trends, a fancy machine which supposedly minimises suffering by stunning the crab before it goes onto the boil. They call it the green mile! Any way you look at it, it’s going to be a bit gruesome, but to be as educated as possible on the matter is what’s important when you decide to cook seafood yourself.Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 19.30.55 Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 19.31.12

We were given cock crabs, the males, which are much bigger and have a higher yield of meat to the ladies. Commonly they have one claw bigger than the other – one for pinching fine things and the other for crunching. Where us humans have one central nervous system, consisting of our brain and our spine, crabs have two main nerve centres. This is why some chefs choose to kill them using two screwdrivers, which is apparently a very instant death. Lobsters on the other hand, have thirteen of these nerve centres, which could become a tad fiddly if you were to go down the screwdriver route.IMG_2765While us girls were more than a little bit squeamish about the whole affair, we all decided that the least we could do to honour our crabby friends was make the absolute most out of them. We separated the brown meat from the white, spending a good half an hour picking away at every nook and cranny to minimise waste. The most painstaking part of the process was to pick through the resulting meat to check for any rogue bits of shell. You need complete silence in the room, as you pick up a little pile of the meat and throw it down onto a tray. If there’s a piece lurking in there, you should hear it ‘crack’.

It bloody well took forever! Feeling very smug, after three safety checks, all that was in my loot was one tiny piece. Some of the more slapdash among us had FOURTEEN chunks to be removed. Shocking!

The resulting dish from all that hard work was mini crab fishcakes, with a pineapple and chilli salsa.IMG_2797The fishcakes were bursting with flavour, as a result of including the brown meat too (something that people are so put off by, but it packs a real punch). The salsa was fresh, zingy and complemented them perfectly. On my way home, I bought a pineapple and whipped up a batch for Ettie and Al to demolish over the weekend when they came to visit!

Next up was my favourite dish of the entire course, hands down. We prepared our very own squid, which wasn’t anywhere near as difficult as I anticipated. You barely even need to use your knife, the different parts just come away and you’re left with the tentacles and the main body, which you have to turn inside out like a sock. That was the trickiest bit! You then score the flesh in a criss-cross pattern so that it cooks evenly.

Chef Tom taught us that the key with squid is to either cook it super quick on a very high heat, or braise it in a stew on a low heat for hours. We cooked ours hard and fast, with plump and juicy scallops which we also prepared ourselves. The bright orange bit is the roe, which contains both the male and female reproductive systems. Who knew, scallops are hermaphrodites!

We cooked a fair amount of each component, but I chose to present mine as more of an ‘amuse bouche’, mostly due to the fact that we were given such tiny plates.
IMG_2796Caramelised scallop and squid with pea puree, fried quail’s egg and Parma ham crisp. With a piece of lightly tempura battered squid, too! The sweet, smooth puree paired beautifully with the tender seafood, and the Parma ham crisp gave a balancing salty finish. Don’t get me started on the quail’s egg…next time I’d put at least three on the plate! Altogether it made up a veritable feast for the eyes, and the belly.IMG_2799We were given a precious second opportunity to practice filleting flat fish, which is going to be part of our assessment. This time, it was a lemon sole, and was much easier than the first plaice. IMG_2823We baked it in the oven and served it with a brown shrimp, pine nut and rosemary butter. My family and godparents would love this dish. We are all big fans of ordering ‘sole meuniere’ when we go to France – basically just a whole fish swimming in melted butter!

For the sweets, we were given the individual task of whipping up our own hazelnut praline. With two of us working on one pod, someone always has to be relegated to the gas hob while the luckier one uses the induction (more control, less temperamental). This week, the lovely Sam has been my partner, who grew up working in his Dad’s Chinese restaurant. To say he is familiar with the workings of a gas hob would be an understatement – he is an absolute master of the flame! Poor Jen opposite me was lumped with the gas hob, and ended up making a blackened praline. Paul, being the generous and kind hearted man that he is, shared his beautifully brown powder with his partner so that they both ended up with winning souffles.IMG_2846Click here to witness the moment of truth! It was light, fluffy, nutty and sweet. Everything you want in a pud.

After that, we learnt the traditional art of bread and butter pudding. Buttered white bread, layered in a (more modern) cappuccino cup to create caves, not flattened together with no space to breathe. These caves are where you’ll trap your vanilla custard, so it becomes lovely and oozy when you dig your spoon in. We scattered each layer with raisins, and gave it a dusting of cinnamon and icing sugar once it came out of the oven.

IMG_2838Gloriously indulgent, a true British classic. Chef Phil had a stellar way of using up his leftover praline, he scattered it in between the layers of his bread and butter pudding to enjoy at the weekend after his Sunday roast. Any chance of an invite?

Gettin’ piggy with it

This was our week to tackle the pig. Being one of the animals where you can eat ‘anything but the oink’ makes it a no-brainer to have on your restaurant menu, to get you that all important profit. Belly pork is one of the cheapest cuts of the animal, which came as a big surprise to me, considering that it always appears at the finest of places! It also happens to be one of my Dad’s favourite dishes, so I had to nail that one.

We served the pork tenderloin ‘en papilotte’ (in a bag) after stuffing it with ripped sage leaves and lemon zest. To accompany the meat we positively slaved over our dauphinoise potatoes, making sure to slice them paper thin, season every layer, press down and slather with garlic infused cream until it became golden and crisp in the oven.

Surprise, surprise, we sautéed some greens on this day! Possibly the first time we have plated up anything nutritious, so far on this course. Just to juxtapose any health benefits of said greens, we brought the dish together with a beautiful cider cream sauce, using the cooking liquor from the meat (and copious amounts of butter, naturally).IMG_2779Now for the all important belly pork. We lovingly braised it for five hours resting atop a mirepoix, before pressing it between heavy slabs overnight in the fridge.

The next day, we were in for a real treat. A posh roast dinner!IMG_2786Roasted belly pork with roast potatoes, glazed parsnips & carrots, cauliflower cheese, apple sauce and gravy.

Now, this wasn’t just any old roast. The taters were roasted in our very own homemade duck fat. The cauliflower cheese was smothered in the richest white sauce known to man, spiked with English mustard. The apple sauce was reducing for hours, and flecked with tarragon just before serving. The carrots were blessed by a sacred Monk who lives at the top of the hill, and were basted in liquid gold at regular intervals.

You get the idea. Basically, it was great!

Our final pork dish used up the rest of the belly, and was real unusual. It was a take on ‘surf ‘n’ turf’, served with a butterflied sardine on bean and tomato stew, with mustard sauce.

IMG_2821Filleting the sardine was the strangest experience ever! We were so used to using our sharpest filleting knives, working close to the bone and trying our damnedest to leave the frame as clean as possible. With sardines, you hardly even need to use a knife. You can just tease it apart, and the spine comes right out, like magic!

As a little aside, Chef showed us how to make marshmallows. We were each given a filled piping bag to make our own fluffy clouds.

IMG_2776 IMG_2778Flavoured with cherry, they weren’t quite my cup of tea. My batch ended up in the capable hands of Ian, the bus driver.

Much more up my street was the tropical Eton mess. Whipped double cream with crushed up baby meringues, layered with vanilla & Grand Marnier mango and pineapple.

IMG_2784An extremely simple dessert, but it hit the spot! Next time, I would omit the vanilla from the fruit, and incorporate it into the cream instead. Or I would push the boat out a bit further and make it into a roulade…then smash it all into pieces if it cracks!