leftovers

21 Sep

008

Sunday afternoon, 5pm.

Cold mashed potatoes, salami, roast red peppers. Half a smoked mackerel. Tzatziki. One last Danish meatball with mushroom sauce. Toasted Ethiopian sourdough bread. Various combinations of all the above with a mug of green tea: a mash-up of cultures, perfect Sunday food.

There is a vase of fresh mint on the table, a jar of salt and several abandoned water glasses. I am listening to David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster” read in his languid, serious tones.

~~~

Lately:

I planted herbs on my balcony: rosemary, verbena, oregano. With which I made: A simple chicken liver pate: 100g chicken livers, seared in a little oil, then blitzed with shallots, oregano, salt and pepper until smooth. And lemon verbena religieuses, with a lemon curd glaze, one green leaf on top.

I poached organic chicken breast for my new (spoiled) kitten, Edith. She accepted it with a haughty, disdainful air.

I made fig jam with the Grape Leaf Club, a select few culinary nerds, while baking Toulouse sausages with the extra figs, red onions and tomatoes for our late supper.

I tried the twisted crown of a pesto pinwheel bread from the British Bake Off with radish-leaf and almond pesto.

I marked my Franceversary (four years!) with a cheese-party at my apartment: every guest brought their favourite cheese; I made bread, bought apples, grapes, chutney. And celebrated Ethiopian New Year with generous platters of food at a local restaurant. (Melkam Addis Amet!)

And in between, I have been eating a lot of boiled eggs. I like to draw faces on them with felt-tip pens, so they don’t get mixed up with the raw ones.

~~~

A Pocket Feast Paris

6 Aug

0 - acover (1)

Two summers ago, when a friend came to visit Paris. I was out of town but determined that she eat this, that and the other – that she dare not try an inferior macaron or miss out on the best Vietnamese fod in town. So I spent an afternoon in a coffee shop (Helmut Newcake) drawing all of my instructions into a notebook. Each page had something to eat and something vaguely cultural to do nearby.

I don’t know how many she followed. But the notebook was passed around, people ate things. Probably left a few buttery fingerprints on the pages, a good sign. Someone said, “but most of the cultural things are ALSO food things.” Which may have been a criticism but I took it as a compliment.

08 - helmut newcake

One summer ago I bribed another friend into helping me make the notebook into a real book. She is both computer genius and wise editor. We sat in the garden in the south of France, dinking wine and brainstorming titles.

A Greedy Guide to Paris? Hungry Hippos Eat Paris?

I can’t remember when we thought of “A Pocket Feast” but it seemed appropriate, a nod to Hemingway’s Paris, a literal description of its size.

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One month ago the books arrived from the printer. Glossy and colourful, still with the hand-made, scribbled drawings from its initial conception. We are pretty proud of it. And of the website that Florence made: foodie recommendations based on the Paris book, but with tips for Berlin and Sydney as well. (More cities coming soon!)

Another friend made us beautiful wooden stands for the books: they are currently on display at Shakespeare and Company and La Cuisine Paris. Someone else is working on a very cute video advert. I am so so grateful for all of the support and help and love that went into A Pocket Feast. It took a whole family to make it real.

37 - gontran cherrier2

If you would like to support us too: you can buy the guidebook A Pocket Feast Paris through our website – we ship worldwide. Buy one for yourself and one for presents – everyone comes to Paris evenutally! And you can like our Facebook page for more news and updates.

Thank-you a million – mille mercis! Et bon appétit!

strawberry vodka ice-lollies

13 Jul

 

DSCF1239

The extraordinarily nice French flatmate left for a sojourn in Argentina, so for now I am living with a wise-cracking American. We have frequent arguments about pronunciation (thorough, amenities, flaw) and lexicon (ice-lolly/popsicle.) If I risk winning, she plays the ace up her sleeve. The British are terrible because colonialism. My trump card is normally, I cook for you.

Besides that, we have a nice system going on: a box of grocery money that we top up each month. We go the market for exorbitant amounts of fruit and veg. I make packed lunches for our respective workplaces and she does the washing up. From our market haul last week we had tabbouleh full of fresh herbs; roast vegetables and coriander hummus; spicy lime chicken; and cauliflower soup and boiled eggs with faces drawn on them in felt-tip pen.

The strawberries though, at three punnets for one euro, unsurprisingly started going bad about half an hour after we brought them home. Beware a bargain. So the next day I bought a litre of vodka for my favourite summer drink, having finally run out of the stash in the freezer. Hulled and halved the berries, throwing away the mouldy ones. The rescued strawberries bobbed in their alcohol bath at the back of the fridge.

A few days later, we strained it, tested the pale pink liqueur (glorious) and wondered what to do with the remaining, pale and boozy berries. Seemed a shame to waste them…

Strawberry vodka ice lollies

inspired by Smitten Kitchen‘s strawberry-tequila popsicles – can also be frozen in ice-cube trays then blended to make more cocktails

1 litre vodka

500g strawberries, ripe

130g sugar

juice of 1/4 lemon

1/4 tsp black pepper

Hull the strawberries, remove any bad bits and halve any large berries. In a large plastic container, leave strawberries and vodka to steep for 3-5 days in the fridge. Strain the liquid into jars and keep in the freezer.

Heat the remaining berries with sugar, lemon and pepper in a medium saucepan. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and let simmer for 5 minutes. Cool, then blend. Pour into ice-lolly moulds or for a DIY version, half-fill plastic cups with the liquid then when half-frozen, push in the wooden lolly sticks. Or freeze in ice cube trays. Either add toothpicks later for mini lollies or blend into new and delicious summer cocktails.

talmouses au fromage (tricorner cheese pastries)

6 Jul

talmouses au fromage

From an old notebook of mine:

“How NOT to take a nap: Do not fall asleep on sofa with no trousers, oversleep and wake up at 11.30pm.”

“Call my restaurant PUDDING.”

“Playing the matchbox game – Chef grumbles.”

Sometimes I am grateful to my past self. (As for preparing nutritious meals and freezing half for later.) Sometimes my past self is wiser than I am. Sometimes I totally disagree.

In this case, my present self still fails at taking relaxing naps, does not want a restaurant AT ALL never mind one with a silly name; and only barely remembers the “matchbox game”. I believe it comes from a Monty Python sketch and subsequent dinner-table conversations with my parents, wherein they laughingly try to outdo each other for the most miserable childhood.

“…We grew up in a shoebox…. You were lucky, we only had a matchbox AND we had to eat gravel for dinner…. Dinner? Lucky! We….” etc

One note says: “Talmouses: favourite dish of Louis XI, 1461-1483: tricornes of puff pastry, brie, fromage blanc and egg.”

What? Where did that come from? What a silly name. Tall Mouses. Mice. Mices. Shaped like pirate hats?

Is it worth trying?

(Googles.)

We have puff pastry in the fridge! And cheese and eggs. Perfect. Lunch it is.

Post-prandial verdict: they were super delicious. Cute triangles of crisp pastry and melted cheese, what’s not to like? With a hint of spice and chili. Flatmate agrees, Louis XI had good taste.

~~~

Talmouses au fromage

Adapted from Elle - I basically just upped the cheese content. Excellent for using up the leftovers of that smelly cheese that is perfuming your fridge.

Makes 40-ish mini-pastries: enough for hors d’oeuvres for 6-8 or a light lunch with salad for 4

300ml milk

50 g butter

50 g flour

2 egg yolks

salt and pepper

pinch nutmeg or cinnamon

pinch chili flakes

180g cheeses, preferably some strong (mature camembert) and some melty (gruyere, emmental), grated or chopped

2 packets (550g total) all-butter, ready rolled, puff pastry

Heat oven to 200C. In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. Tip out into a mug or jar. Add the butter and flour to the same saucepan. Make a roux: keep stirring over a medium heat, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the paste is golden, smells a little nutty. Off the heat, add the hot milk a little at a time, whisking in between. Heat gently again, still whisking. (This makes a weirdly thick bechamel sauce, so I just heated it for a minute or two and then it clumped together.) Off the heat, add the egg yolks, cheese and salt/pepper/nutmeg/chili. Taste. It shouldn’t need much salt because of the cheese.

Cut out 7-8cm circles from the puff pastry. (You should get 30 or so the first time around.) Brush with a little water around the edges. Dollop a generous teaspoon of cheese mix in the middle of each and pinch the edges to make three corners. Firmly pinch the sides together up to the middle, leaving a 2cm gap open in the centre.

Roll out the scraps of pastry and stamp more circles. (You should be able to make 10 more.) Repeat.

If making ahead of time, brush pastry with a bit of egg yolk so it doesn’t dry out, clingfilm and refrigerate. They are nicest served straight from the oven.

Bake talmouses for 15-20 minutes at 200C. When the pastry is lightly brown and the cheese bubbling, they are done. Serve immediately.

Works as a snack with drinks, or for lunch with boiled eggs and a bitter salad (endive or rocket, cucumber, mache and a sharp dressing).

fanny zanotti’s earl grey tea loaf, with grapefruit confit

29 Jun

earl grey weekend loaf

A Sunday morning free is a precious thing for a pastry chef. At 11am normally my day’s work would be half-done, my eyelids at half-mast. This weekend though, I was on the sofa by the window, watching the grey sky.

I feel like today is a cooking day.

Isn’t every day a cooking day for you? replied my friend at the other end of the sofa, her legs crossed over mine.

No, but, cooking for fun. Like jam, or something. 

There was a recipe book already on the windowsill, under the pile of FT cuttings my mother likes to send me. The Paris Pastry Club is full of dreamy photos and snippets of poetry, as well as very precise recipes. I’ve been following Fanny Zanotti’s blogs through their various iterations for longer than I remember. I discovered the matcha brioche thanks to her. I took notes for my first month in Paris, visiting Pierre Hermé and Angelina. Eventually realising I would like to be a pâtissière too.

earl grey, twinings

The spicy nougatine was tempting, as well as the roast garlic bread. And the shameless crème brûlée for one. But the Earl Grey Weekend Loaf ticked all the right boxes: a simple loaf cake, flavoured with my favourite tea. For which I had nearly all the ingredients. That last grapefruit would be an admirable substitute for the clementine confit, to all intents and purposes a speedy marmalade.

It turned out a sweet, fluffy cake, elegantly speckled with fragments of tea. Delicately perfumed, it was good on its own, even better with a spoonful of bittersweet candied grapefruit peel. Next time I would make an effort to use real leaf tea (as advised) for a stronger flavour, but we had run out. And it was a Sunday and I had already left the house once to buy bacon. A slice of cake and a sliver of sky and I was happy to stay in the corner of the sofa for the rest of the day.

grapefruit confit

Fanny Zanotti’s Earl Grey Tea Weekend Loaf, with grapefruit confit

from the book Paris Pastry Club

In the spirit of the weekend, I adapted the recipe to what I had lying around the house. It is supposed to be with crème fraîche and clementines, among other things. Which I imagine only makes it more delightful. The book has more precise instructions too, including tips for the neatest cracks on top of the loaf, the lightest madeleines. Zanotti’s original ingredients in brackets.

2-3 Earl Grey tea bags (or 1 tbs leaf tea)

250g caster sugar

4 eggs

200g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

zest from one orange (or bergamot orange)

150g plain yoghurt (or crème fraîche)

50g butter, melted

For grapefruit confit:

1 large grapefruit, 450g (or thin-skinned clementines)

160g caster sugar

100g water

15g cornflour mixed with 30g cold water

Heat oven to 180C. Grease or line a large loaf tin.

Put butter in a large heatproof bowl and place in oven to melt. Blend tea leaves and 50g caster sugar. (Skip this step if using teabags, as the tea is normally fine enough.) Whisk eggs, sugar and tea until thick and fluffy – a few minutes with an electric beater. Mix flour, baking powder and zest into egg. By now the butter should have melted – add the yoghurt to it. Add a little cake mix to the butter and yoghurt and whisk well to combine. Fold this into the cake batter. Pour into tin.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, turning the oven down to 170C after five minutes then 160C after 15. (My oven is so small and basic that it only does increments of 25 degrees, so my cake baked at 175C for the duration.) When the cake is nice and brown, has come away from the sides of the tin and a skewer comes out clean then it is done! Allow to cool for 10 minutes then remove from tin, place on cooling rack.

For the grapefruit confit:

Bring water to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan, enough to cover the grapefruit. Add whole grapefruit and let it simmer for 5-7 minutes. Drain, put grapefruit in a bowl of cold water. Repeat with fresh water. (Using a kettle to boil the water makes this step faster.) Slice grapefruit in half, then into very thin half-moons. Heat slices with the sugar and water and let simmer for 30 minutes the liquid is gone and the fruit is almost candied. Add the cornflour mixed with remaining cold water and give the confit a good stir. Boil for a couple of minutes. Tip into a jar.

Serve cake with confit and a dollop of yoghurt or crème fraîche.

Wrap cake in clingfilm and keep in the fridge. Or cut into individual slices, film each one and freeze for future packed lunches.

cherry and mint compote

25 Jun

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Buy two kilos of cherries at the local market, so cheap! Remember that you are only one person and cannot eat all the cherries.

Stone a kilo of cherries. Wish you had asked for a discount because of all the stones. Put cherries in large saucepan. Admire scarlet-stained hands, briefly pretend to be Lady Macbeth, or a character from Scandal. Re-evaluate recent culture consumption.

Add a handful of sugar (do not measure, it’s Sunday) and a handful of torn mint leaves. Squeeze in the half a lime left in the fridge. Since it already resembles several of your favourite cocktails, add a generous tablespoonful of vanilla-infused rum. And slice a nub of ginger, about the size of your first thumb joint. (Don’t slice your thumb though.)

Teach flatmate the word “macerate.” Go running with her in the sunshine. Discover free sparkling water fountain near your house. Rejoice.

Come back from run, find a jar of ginger juice in the freezer. Drink it, grateful to your past self, while heating cherries. Let the mixture bubble gently for five or ten minutes until cherries are the desired degree of done: soft but not totally collapsed.

Serve warm with mascarpone and meringues for an afternoon snack. Serve cold over yoghurt for breakfast. Especially good with soft, mild goat’s cheese.

Use the syrupy cherry juice leftover to make jelly: for every 100g juice, soak 3g leaf gelatine in cold water. When the the gelatine is soft, stir into the warm (but not hot) cherry juice to dissolve. Pour into little cups or pots. Leave to set in the fridge.

Or just use the juice for cherry-mint cocktails, add vodka or gin, more mint leaves and free sparkling water.

Let the summer begin!

egg and spinach cocottes

1 Apr

egg and spinach cocottes

My mother got cross when I admitted to using frozen spinach. (But she is a purist that thinks nothing of growing her own vegetables and herbs.) What can I say? I know the fresh stuff is delicious and cheap and in season. I just always feel cheated, bringing home an enormous bag from the market, washing it, sauteing it only to find a miserly heap of green, a tenth of the original volume. My expectations are lower for the frozen stuff.

And sometimes you are standing in line at the Paris Store, the Chinese supermarket, at the end of a long day at work and you decide you need a first course because the chicken legs look too skinny. And you aren’t queuing up again, or buying anything else, because the plastic bags are carving grooves into your fingers. But you do want to impress your guests. And you did buy 30 eggs for baking. And there is spinach in the freezer.

These cocottes – or oeufs en cocotte - to give them their proper French name only take a few minutes to make but in their individual dishes they look fancy and taste better. The sesame oil and miso paste add an extra kick without overpowering the spinach. It tastes more complex than it is, with all the umami of salmon. The egg yolk should be runny for dipping your bread, the spinach neatly coated in cream, tangy and salty. It somehow surpasses the sum of its parts. Works equally as a starter for a dinner party or jealously guarded for a solo dinner (I can eat at least two).

~~~

Egg and Spinach Cocottes

serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a light supper

4 eggs

300g frozen spinach (preferably leaves, no finely chopped)

1 tsp sesame oil

2 small shallots, or 2 spring onions

1 tsp miso paste

50g creme fraiche (or 50g cream + squeeze of lemon)

salt and pepper

For individual portions, you will need 4 small ramekins (8-10cm wide). Or else one oven-proof baking dish (approx 16cm) to bake them all at once.

Heat oven to 180C. Gently heat frozen spinach in a saucepan until it defrosts. Add the sesame oil. Chop the shallots/spring onions finely and add to the pan, saute until soft. Then stir in the miso and cream and cook for a minute, just to heat through.

Divide the spinach between the four dishes and hollow out a hole in the mixture. Crack an egg into the hole. Sprinkle over some salt and pepper. Bake for 15-18 minutes until the white is no longer translucent but the yolk is still runny.

Serve immediately with a baguette tradition or thin slices of toasted sourdough.

 

homemade ginger juice

29 Mar

ginger juice

Two of my favourite bars in Paris serve homemade ginger juice, both from unlabelled plastic bottles. Both are peppery enough to give you a kickstart, no alcohol needed. One is the Bar Ourcq, a bright blue cafe by the Canal de l’Ourcq that lends out deckchairs and pétanque sets in the summer months. They have board-games inside too (including Trivial Pour-Sweet as a French friend of mine insists on calling it). On the countertop around 7pm, they lay out a saucisson, bread, olives and crisps for the apéritif. The other day when it was too cold to sit on a bench at sunset as I planned, I was grateful to find exactly enough change in my pockets (three centimes to spare!) to pay for a ginger juice and a spot in the corner amid the hubbub of regulars. And despite the ice-cube, it warmed me right up.

The other bar serves an even stronger version, at the quirky Comptoir Général. It styles itself as a “ghetto-museum of Françafrique” (the history and culture of French Africa) and is filled with artwork, taxidermied animals, political posters, trees, and a vintage shop upstairs. The food is fantastic, served up as if from a street stall, and the cocktails potent. For non-drinkers, they have maracuja and bissap juice (passion-fruit and hibiscus, respectively) and the house ginger juice. I asked how it was made, and the girl behind the bar said just grated ginger and sugar. I love the fire of ginger and often eat the crystallised version by the handful. But it isn’t that common in France, even their pain d’épices, a sweet spiced loaf we would call gingerbread doesn’t traditionally have ginger in it.

Google informs me that it is actually a specialty of west Africa – Mali, Senegal and the Cote d’Ivoire – called Gnamakoudji, and often mixed with pineapple juice. With a blender it was the work of two minutes, then several hours to steep. The leftover ginger pulp can be recycled, for it will still have some flavour. Freeze it and break off in chunks to liven up curries, soups, noodles. (I have an excellent recipe coming with an excess of garlic and ginger, this makes it even easier.)

Neat, the juice works almost as well as coffee in the morning. Fiery and lightly sweet. Over lots of ice, it makes for an excellent pre-dinner drink when you don’t feel like alcohol. With pineapple juice and slices of orange it would make for a beautiful punch, rum optional.

ginger juice, recipe

Homemade ginger juice.

200g fresh ginger

1 small lemon

1 litre water

80g icing sugar

Peel and chop the ginger into rough chunks. Cut both ends off the lemon and slice off the peel so that none of the white pith is left. Blend ginger and lemon in a food processor to a pulp. Add a little of the water if necessary. (Or grate the ginger by hand and juice the lemon – more time-consuming.) Mix the ginger, lemon and water in a large bowl. Cover and leave for a few hours or overnight. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, pushing with the back of a spoon to extract all the juice then stir in the icing sugar until it dissolves. Freeze the leftover pulp, which will still have some flavour, for use in soups and curries.

Pour into a bottle and keep in the fridge for a week or so. Serve over ice with a splash of water if the ginger taste is too strong. Mix with half pineapple juice for a refreshing summer drink. Add a splash to herbal tea or honey and lemon when it’s cold; or, of course, use in cocktails and fruit punch.

 

espresso banana smoothie

23 Mar

espresso banana smoothie - illustrated recipe

Once I asked a Japanese colleague, in a mixture of French and English and mime, why she had begun her career as a pastry chef. She thought about it and said,

“Butter…sugar…flour…” (points at each) “….MAGIC! (stretches arms out wide)

I felt the same – and still do, luckily – about patisserie. And this smoothie inspires the same emotions. Such simple ingredients, disproportionately delicious together. Espresso, banana, almond and coconut milks. Cinnamon optional. How have I never thought to put coffee in a smoothie before?

A friend served it at an elegant brunch the other day – with pancakes and four kinds of maple syrup. But it also works on its own, before you rush out the door to work.

It helps me pretend I am succeeding at adulthood. A nutritious, caffeinated breakfast I can make in two minutes. (I get the same smug feeling when I remember my past self has hidden lunch for me in the freezer: chicken mole or the Wednesday Chef’s Chinese celery and beef were recent, happy discoveries.)

Plus it saves on expensive-chain-store-coffee-drinks. And it’s vegan! Everyone is happy. Except the chain-store-coffee people. Win-win-win.

~~~

Espresso-banana smoothie

adapted from CocoJenalle – I’ve doubled the amount of coffee, because. Use any combination of milks you prefer – soy, normal, rice etc – but the coconut does add a nice richness.

makes 1 large breakfast-size, or 2 small brunch-accompaniment-size

1 banana, frozen*

60ml espresso (2 shots)

125ml almond milk

125ml coconut milk

Optional additions: 

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp maple syrup

1/2 tsp chia seeds

If you are super organised, the night before: peel and chop banana into small chunks. (Your blender will thank you for it.) Freeze. Make your espresso according to your preferred method.

In the morning: blend banana, coffee, milks until smooth. Taste. I like it plain. But add maple syrup if you have a sweet tooth. Cinnamon if you wish. More coffee if you are a caffeine addict. Chia seeds if you are a health nut. Blend again, serve.

*If you forget to freeze the banana, just add a few icecubes when serving.

nigel slater’s spiced bread pudding with fried bananas

20 Mar

spiced bread pudding

After a sleepy Saturday wandering from the Buttes-Chaumont  to the Marais, all I wanted was to curl up in my favourite wine-cardigan with something restorative. Luckily Nigel Slater understands me. When I opened his Kitchen Diaries, not only did the Spiced Bread Pudding jump out at me, but the accompanied story almost exactly mirrored one of my own. His recipe is inspired by a visit to Kerala, where he was stuck in “a teetotal oasis” for which he was unprepared: “twenty years ago the lack of alcohol came as a jaw-dropping disappointment after our long, dusty and dangerous drive from hell.” But the pudding made up for it.

We were also in Kerala when we took a six hour bus journey up into the mountains to the tea plantations of Munnar. I had packed a book, but for the first half of the journey I just wanted to watch out of the window, chin pillowed in the crook of my arm. The windows didn’t have any glass, just metal shutters. The dusty air swept in, a salve from the heat. We crossed lagoons that stretched to the horizon, passed banana plantations and busy villages. School-children, whole busfuls, waved at us and shouted HELLO HOW ARE YOU? Each town had at least one temple, mosque and church or shrine with a glass alcove housing a life-size St George and the dragon. Sometimes a few in a row. Trucks thundered by with their colourful head-dresses, painted slogans and flowers. On the back, “Horn Please OK.”  The two-lane road had an invisible third passage in the middle, constantly available for overtaking. The driver would beep and go and somehow the rest of the traffic would flow around us. Once the bus stopped and the passengers all filed out – us worried about our luggage – because apparently the bridge was too fragile. First the bus went across, empty, then we did.

Around halfway we stopped for a chai-break. Around four or five hours in, it got dark all of a sudden as the sun disappeared. Bella distracted me as you might a bored toddler, with iphone games of Clumsy Ninja and Trivial Pursuit. After six hours and a half hours, we scrambled off with our backpacks some way out of the town centre – where there was no-one to direct us to our hotel in the old British club, the only place with a last-minute vacancy. The Lonely Planet had promised us a quaint place perfect for gin and tonics. Sadly, due to licensing issues the three bars in the club could only serve lemonade. We came in just in time for dinner, just in time to read the Club Rules that forbade sandals and panic.

“You haven’t taken any chicken, please take! Come!” The manager barked. Two of us scurried back to the buffet obediently. He was an affable but abrupt character who might have been Basil Fawlty’s brother in another life. Hands in pockets, he gave us a tour of the club: lounge with leather armchairs and obligatory animal heads, library with table-tennis table. “You play? Yes? You will play now, for forty-five minutes.” It wasn’t a question. We could only acquiesce and laugh. It was an uncomfortably British time-warp. Even without our gin-and-tonics, we slept so well that night, totally exhausted.

The next day we visited the factories of the DARE initiative that teaches the differently-abled children of tea-planters: it included a textile workshop for dyes and prints, one for hand-made paper products, a jam factory, a bakery and a kitchen garden. The quality was absolutely incredible, especially the Aranya silks – all-natural, local dyes made of tea-waste, banana leaves, pomegranate skins, Indian madder. The workshops were surrounded by the hills planted with tea bushes, whose crazy mosaic pattern and bright green colour made it feel like we had wandered onto a Tim Burton set. Kerala is full of plantations, tea, coffee, cardamom, coconut palms. Pepper, vanilla. Bananas. Most of the delicious things in life in fact.

A long story to say: this pudding will remind you of exotic climes AND a really comfortable armchair. It works scaled down as solo supper or scaled up for an easy brunch. (Much simpler than pancakes or French toast if you have to feed a crowd – one dish you can prepare ahead.) I like using brioche for extra luxe, but bread and butter will work too. It isn’t too sweet nor too stodgy, more like a creme caramel than a slab of sponge pudding. It offers the intoxicating scent of cardamom and coconut, barely any resistance to the fork as the brioche soaks up the custard, just a few crisp, sugared points poking out. And the fried bananas, sticky and slightly caramelised around the edges, are delightful. It will cure a hangover, the ennui of a recently-returned traveller or the aches and pains of a long commute. Enjoy.

~~~

Nigel Slater’s Spiced Bread Pudding with fried bananas

Slightly adapted from Kitchen Diaries Vol II. If using brioche slices, omit the butter. Great for using up egg yolks if the whites are needed for meringues or macarons.

serves 4 for brunch or 6 for dessert

300g sliced bread or brioche (about 10 slices for me)

a little butter for spreading (not necessary for brioche)

6 green cardamom pods

1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)

1/8 tsp cinnamon

400ml coconut milk

400ml milk

2 whole eggs + 2 egg yolks

OR 7 egg yolks, about 140g

80g light brown sugar

pinch salt

a sprinkle of sugar for the topping

for the bananas:

50g butter

4 bananas

2tbs sugar

zest of one orange

Preheat oven to 180C. Butter a baking dish (approx 22cm diameter, but more or less is fine). Lightly toast the bread or brioche until golden-brown. If using bread, spread with butter. Cut slices diagonally and arrange the triangles in the dish, points up, overlapping slightly.

Remove cardamom seeds from the pods and crush in a pestle and mortar or with the end of a rolling pin. Slice the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds. Mix cardamom, vanilla seeds, cinnamon, both milks, eggs and sugar in a large bowl to combine.

(If you are preparing ahead – stop now. Clingfilm the bread, put the custard mixture in the fridge. Then all you have to do in the morning, or at the end of the main course is heat the oven, pour over the custard and bake.)

Pour custard over bread/brioche. Sprinkle a little more sugar over the points that stick out. Bake for 25 minutes or until the bread is nicely browned and the custard is set. Let it cool for 15 minutes or so before serving. (Equally nice reheated later or the next day.)

For the bananas: cut in half length-ways. Heat the butter in a large frying pan and cook the bananas on both sides until golden and soft. Sprinkle over the sugar and cook for a few more minutes until they start to caramelise around the edges. Stir in orange zest and serve immediately with the bread pudding.

(For a slightly lighter dessert, serve simply with oranges peeled and sliced into rounds.)

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