It is a rare occasion for us to celebrate Christmas in Zurich, a rather welcome change as it has given me the opportunity to cook on Christmas Day, something which might prompt fear and dread in most people but has instead filled me with glee as the Christmas season started to approach.
You may or may not have noticed from my photos on Facebook and Instagram that I have a weakness for éclairs. Being able to indulge in éclairs from the wonderful pâtisseries in Zurich, it never occurred to me that I should make my own éclairs at home. But when I was recently asked to have a look at Ruth Clemens’ new book, Creative Éclairs, I was instantly inspired to create a batch of my own. After all, I’m no stranger to choux pastry; I often make profiteroles and chouquettes at home, and éclairs can generally be described as profiteroles in a different shape.
This is the ultimate “minimum effort, maximum effect” dessert. Served in little pretty glasses, these deconstructed cheesecakes will fool your guests into thinking that you have been labouring away in the kitchen Top Chef-style when, actually, they require no more than 15 minutes to create from scratch.
I ought to be more organised. In the final months of my pregnancy last year, I had busied myself photographing for many future blog posts in anticipation of the little one keeping me away from the camera. In truth, the camera hardly leaves my side these days as there seems to always be some cute baby moment to capture. And, in fact, he seems quite content to share the limelight with my kitchen gadgets that I have actually photographed enough recipes to keep the blog updated for the rest of the year. But if only I had time to sit down in front of the computer to process everything! And it is not even the baby who is keeping me from my “me time”. But more on that in another post (perhaps … if I manage to get around to it!).
My husband and I are delighted to announce the arrival of our first child, a healthy and bouncing little boy, in late November. He has inherited his mother’s love for sleep and eating, except, of course, his mother has been doing little of either in recent weeks 😉
In preparation for his arrival, I had lined up several posts in readiness for publishing on this blog in the coming months, but pregnancy is so often fraught with periods of distraction (particularly nesting in the third trimester) that my to-do list soon became a to-do item in itself. And since the Little One’s birth, I’m not even sure where that to-do list is anymore …
But as our Little One is approaching one month old (didn’t we just bring him home from the hospital??), bits and pieces of my former life are reappearing and I suddenly feel a sense of normality returning, if only very briefly. So I am stealing a moment right now to try and quickly post something, not to mention that I even found time to do some food photography this morning! Amazing how little sleep one really needs to function 😉
On a recent trip to London, I was reminded of my fond affection for Devonshire Tea, essentially a scone served with jam and cream. In fact, my desire for a daily scone fix made me brave enough to venture into a café on my lonesome most afternoons, just so I could sit down to a proper cup of tea with a plate of warm scones. There is nothing more restorative if you have been on your feet all day, visiting museums and shopping on the High Street
One such lovely establishment serving scones (although not proper Devonshire Tea) was the Patisserie Valerie in Covent Garden, a branch of what seems to be a patisserie/café chain store in the UK, although each one I came across seemed quite charming and unique, not necessarily catering to the masses. I found them to be welcoming enough to enter and sit by myself, sipping a warming cup of coffee or tea with something sweet on the side while I attempted, with travel guide books and street maps spread out around me, to plan my next place of visit. Stay tuned for an upcoming, although brief, travel post on London …
I recently offered to help out at a kid’s birthday party and somehow ended up with the task of making the actual birthday cake. My first thought was to make Nigella Lawson’s Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake, a simple two-tiered chocolate cake covered in a thick, chocolate frosting with maybe some (shop-bought) sugar flowers for decoration. Simple. I had made this cake many times before and knew it to be a very reliable recipe.
But as ran my eyes across my sprawling bookshelf of cookbooks, the Miette cookbook caught my eye and, before I could think about it reasonably, I sent a link to my friend to see if she approved of the Tomboy Cake, to which she replied that it was the most beautiful cake she had ever seen. And so I had unwittingly set myself an almost impossibly high challenge and wondered over the coming days how I was going to avoid disappointing the birthday girl.
The Tomboy Cake is comprised “simply” of three tiers of chocolate sponge, separated by a piped layer of raspberry buttercream, and elegantly adorned with an understated rose in the centre of the cake. It is called a “Tomboy Cake” because the sides of the cake are left bare and unfrosted, and thereby does not appear as feminine as it would if the whole cake were to be covered in pink frosting. It is a stunning cake to look at and equally deceptive in the level of skill required to achieve such a simple look.
Having been glued to the screen the last few months watching MasterChef Australia, I’m not sure if I should be relieved or depressed that the show is now finished. What am I going to do with all of this time now?? It is strange that, whenever I become engrossed in a TV cooking show, I spend more time on the sofa than actually in the kitchen. Most of the time, I am simply in awe of what these so-called ordinary, amateur cooks are getting up to in their Mystery Boxes and Invention Tests. And the Team Challenges, not to mention the amazing trips to exotic, foodie destinations overseas, seem like a lot of fun.
I have to admit that, whilst I am usually only inspired by a few dishes which the contestants cook, I am usually more impressed by the ingredients that they are working with. If I am ever to tinker with the idea of applying to go on MasterChef (which is very highly unlikely), I think I need to start filleting my own fish, cooking with beef short ribs, learn how to use (and invest in) a Thermomix, make my own pasta more regularly, memorise a few hundred dishes …
This is a cake which I love to make when we have guests over, and this extra-chocolatey version is a favourite at Easter.
The recipe is based on the Chocolate Cloud Cake from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites which has the inclusion of Cointreau for a liqueur kick and is simply decorated with whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa powder. But Nigella also offers an Easter version in her book, Feast, a child-friendly version whereby the alcohol is replaced with vanilla, the cake is swathed in a decadent chocolate cream, and this elegant concoction is then adorned with pastel-coloured, sugar-coated chocolate Easter eggs.
Whether you are making the original or Easter version, this is the perfect cake to make for anyone who has a gluten intolerance as it does not contain any flour. The absence of flour also guarantees that the cake will be tender and moist within, rich with chocolate flavour. The chocolate intensity of the cake depends much on the type of chocolate that you use. Nigella specifies using “best quality dark chocolate” which I interpret as meaning chocolate with minimum 70% cocoa solids, but I think 60% and upwards is fine (I used 68%). The dark chocolate might not sound kid-friendly but there is also sugar in the batter to sweeten things a bit.
I always look forward to seeing the vivid pink of the forced rhubarb at this time of the year, its season generally lasting from January to March in the northern hemisphere.
I love to have a jar or two of rhubarb compote in the fridge, which makes for a great accompaniment to have at breakfast with your toast or perhaps dolloped alongside a serve of natural or Greek yoghurt.
With spring just around the corner, my thoughts have been turning to more light and fresh meals. A cookbook which I frequently turn to during the warmer months is Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer (curiously re-titled as Nigella Fresh in the US). Not that it is necessarily a book which should only be opened once the weather starts to warm up – I often cook from this book in winter, too – but I like that it happens to be a book which I associate with summer, no matter the season I am in. Obviously what Nigella had intended when she wrote this book.
A recipe which I have earmarked since first purchasing the book, oh, 10 years ago (?!) but which I have regretfully never gotten around to making is the Keralan Fish Curry with Lemon Rice. With many thanks to Jodie over at the delightful and ever happy blog, Jo Blogs, I finally got the nudge that I needed after reading her insightful and playful review of this recipe.
I can’t say that I have always been a fan of carrot cake. Growing up, the idea of a cake with a vegetable component didn’t sound very appealing to me. And coupled with the fact that most carrot cakes I had tried were on the dry, dense and healthy-tasting side, I couldn’t really understand what all the fuss was about. But in recent years, fellow foodie friends have steered me onto the path to carrot cake heaven with their favourite recipes, and now I am a true believer.
I gladly present to you three tried-and-tested recipes …
Having had a frantic past couple of days, I had to re-prioritise a few things in order to squeeze in a spot of last minute Valentine’s Day baking for hubby. On my list of things to do today, Valentine’s Day sat up there with “Advise on price sensitivity of Project X”. For a day which only comes around once a year, I didn’t want to miss out on the festivities, even if I was going to be the sole participant.
Nigella has a lovely recipe for custard cream biscuits in Feast, a recipe which I faithfully follow each year for Valentine’s Day, but also at other times during the year when the craving calls.
I often approach Valentine’s Day with mixed emotions. Once upon a time, when I was a singleton, I would stay sofa-bound at home in front of the telly, à la Bridget Jones. But instead of wailing to Céline Dion on the karaoke machine, I would watch back-to-back murder mysteries, stuffing my face with all of my favourite junk foods, thinking all the while how blissful it was to be a slob without having to worry if this would be a turn-off to any potential suitor. My way of dealing with a potential future as a spinster was to eat my way through it. With a heart-shaped box of chocolate truffles.
Fast forward to today and the realisation that there is some truth to the saying that a leopard does not change its spots. That leopard is me. I still love to veg out in front of the telly with a (family-sized) bag of salt and vinegar chips, watching back-to-back DVD episodes, leaving the laundry and cleaning up to accumulate for another day (or two). What has been a blessing is that my husband doesn’t mind joining me on the sofa to watch whatever soppy TV show I happen to be engrossed in. He may feign rolled eyes at having to watch another episode of the Gilmore Girls but, secretly, I think he enjoys it. A match made in heaven, thankfully
One of my favourite cakes to make at this time of the year is the Clementine Cake from Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat, a cake which Nigella has quoted as being one of the most popular from her first cookbook, one which happens to be a firm favourite for me – I have 3 copies (UK, US and iPad version) just to prove my point.
Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings to everyone!
I hope you have had a wonderful season cooking and baking your Christmas favourites, as well as being inspired by some new recipes.
More importantly, I hope you are all enjoying this Christmas season in the company of good friends and family. Thank you so much for being a visitor to eat, little bird. This blog was started after several years of procrastination and perhaps intimidation by some amazing food blogs out there, but I am so happy to have bitten the bullet and to have met such wonderful foodie friends from all over the world. Thank you again for your company
The following recipe is inspired by one from Nigella Christmas, a book which is always a great source of comfort and inspiration to me at this time of the year. Nigella Christmas is a colourful and calorie-filled collection of recipes which are ideal at Christmas, but also for parties and entertaining in general. Oftentimes throughout the year, I find myself cooking from this book whenever we have a large gathering, particularly since a lot of the recipes are in the “serves 16-20 people” category. Though, most of the recipes can easily be scaled down to accommodate more sensible headcounts.
If you are looking for THE best ever cookie recipe, look no further. Be prepared to swoon once you try these.
Any recipe which calls for a heart-stopping amount of chocolate (like 500 g) is certain to provide relief from whatever it is that is causing you to seek solace in something sweet. This particular recipe comes from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Express, which comes via Elinor Klivans.
If I had to name one dessert as my “desert island dessert”, it would probably have to be profiteroles. It seems most people are abuzz with French macaroons these days (which I also adore) but, to me, the profiterole is what encapsulates a typically French dessert. There is something about the sweet custard encased in a soft choux pastry and then covered with a decadent chocolate sauce. Whenever I see it on a dessert menu, I often find it hard to resist, even if there might be many other more exotic desserts on offer.
Growing up in Brisbane, I remember eating profiteroles only on rare occasions when my French class and I would visit one of the few French restaurants in the area in an attempt to practice our clumsy French with the poor chef and waiter who probably had to put up with the same lame dialogue on a frequent basis. I often wondered if the Alliance Française or even the French Embassy collaborated with these few French restaurants to somehow facilitate unusually slow, clear and polite French with their customers.
To be honest, I was rather skeptical of this recipe when I first saw it. I’m not sure how the Thai would feel about having this dish ascribed to their region as I suppose it is more “Thai flavoured” than authentically Thai. Nigella makes the same faux pas with a Vietnamese soup in Kitchen but I’ll save this discussion for another time!
Weekends in our home often starts with pancakes for breakfast, but that’s only if I can manage to drag my lazy backside out of bed at a decent hour in order for the meal to qualify as breakfast! Hubby is usually up long before me, often starving by the time I make it into the kitchen.
I am a long-time fan of Nigella Lawson. I have all of her cookbooks, not just in English but also in German; the latter bought with good intentions of improving my German vocabulary upon moving to Switzerland and which has been successful to the extent of surprisingly fluent conversations with the butcher but otherwise not very useful when I am trying to renew my work visa or attend to other important matters in life. Still, when moving to a new country with little knowledge of the local language, knowing how to buy and order food is a matter of survival so I have never regretted my decision to focus intensively on the “Where is the supermarket?” chapter of my language book.