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Chocolate Semifreddo with Raspberry Coulis

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‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ goes the old English proverb. Well, of course, I didn’t invent semifreddo but my venture into making one came because I still haven’t got round to buying a new ice-cream maker. I lent my old one to my daughter at Christmas when she wanted to make a clementine sorbet for the Christmas meal and then said I didn’t want it back. I’d been wanting for some time to buy a slightly bigger one so this seemed an excellent excuse to do so. It’s just I haven’t got round to the actual buying yet! With a family meal planned for today, a dessert made in advance seemed like a good plan.

I did a bit of research on semifreddo (I guess the Italian plural would be semifreddi) and there seemed to be a possible link to the Veneto, but I’m not certain of that. However, I did find some semifreddo recipes in the Veneto section of Claudia Roden’s The Food of Italy and pretty much followed her chocolate one.

One of the great things about semifreddos is that you can freeze them in a mould and then cut slices easily for serving. Semi is of course, half; freddo is Italian for cold – thus ‘half cold’, though actually meaning ‘half frozen’. The whipped cream and egg whites add to the lightness and stop the mixture setting into a hard, solid block. It doesn’t need churning like ice cream and so is very easy to make – and you don’t need an ice-cream maker!

I decided to freeze my semifreddo in a 2-litre loaf tin. I lined the tin with cling film so that the frozen dessert would come out of the tin easily. Once the tin was prepared, I started making the semifreddo. I melted 250g dark chocolate with 3 tablespoons milk in a bowl over boiling water.

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When the chocolate has melted remove from the heat and add 6 egg yolks (keeping the whites for later), one at a time, beating each yolk in well.

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Claudia Roden adds 4 tablespoons of cognac at this stage but I didn’t want my semifreddo to be that alcoholic. I added just one and, on the spur of the moment, decided to add an orange flavour note. I finely grated the zest of 1 tangerine into the chocolate and then squeezed in the juice. Chocolate and orange go together so well.

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Next, whisk 300ml whipping cream till thickening then fold into the chocolate.

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Now whisk the 6 egg whites until stiff and fold gently into the mixture.

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Now pour into the prepared tin and put in the freezer.

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I made the semifreddo a day ahead – but you could make it more in advance if you wanted to. That’s the great thing about frozen desserts: you can prepare them well ahead. Not long before I wanted to serve it, I made the raspberry coulis. I used a hand blender to purée 150g raspberries with a squeeze of lemon juice and a heaped teaspoon of icing sugar.

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Then I sieved the mixture to get rid of the little pips and make a smooth coulis. I tasted it to check whether it needed more sugar and it did, so I added a little more.

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When we sat down for our meal I got the semifreddo out of the freezer so it would soften a bit. When we were ready to eat it, I tipped  it out onto a long wooden board – the only thing that I could immediately think of that would take the length of the dessert.

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Then I cut slices and lay them on plates with a spoonful of the raspberry coulis. I dusted just a little icing sugar over the top and added a raspberry to make it look nice!

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It was a great success. It tasted delicious; wonderfully chocolatey. It was smooth and lighter than ice cream. The smoothness was particularly good as just freezing a normal ice cream recipe, with no churning or stirring, leaves an icy effect that isn’t smooth. But I guess this is where all of the air of the whipped cream and whisked egg whites give a great effect. I’d still like to buy that new ice-cream maker but can see I could become quite addicted to making semifreddo. It was so easy but also so easily served to a few guests – easy slices and easily cut.

Dakos – Cretan Bread Salad with Tomatoes, Olives & Feta

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Many countries have a form of bread salad. The Italians have panzanella; in Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries you will find fattoush; while many salads, like Caesar Salad, contain croutons – fried bread cubes. I was introduced to Dakos by Liquid Gold Cave when I did an olive oil tasting course last year; it was one of the dishes in the lunch prepared for participants. Then, in Crete last September it was a dish I enjoyed for lunch one day in a taverna by the edge of the sea in the beautiful fishing village of Mohlos.

Dakos in Ta Kochilia taverna, Mohlos, Crete

Dakos in Ta Kochilia taverna, Mohlos, Crete

Dakos isn’t strictly a ‘bread’ salad; it’s a ‘rusk’ salad. While in Liquid Gold Cave a couple of weeks ago, I saw a packet of paximadi – the rusks used in Dakos – and couldn’t resist buying some. They’re quite hard to come by here in UK.

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The rusks are traditionally made from whole meal barley flour, water and salt, but the ones I bought from Stavia in the Cave had lovely additions of olive oil, sugar, honey, sesame and cinnamon, so offered a sweeter – and tastier – version. I wanted to make the salad as authentic as I could, like the ones I’d enjoyed in Crete. Stavia told me to dampen the rusks quickly under running water and add grated tomato, oregano, feta, olives and olive oil (and this is pretty much what I did in the end). I also looked in books and on the internet though to see what else I could find. An Ottolenghi recipe sounded good but was far more complicated than the ones I’d eaten in Crete; a few recipes called the dish Cretan bruschetta, which really isn’t correct. Some recipes used grated tomato and others chopped tomato, and in the end I went for a mix so that I had some chunks but got plenty of tomato juice to soak into the rusks.

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Of course a tomato salad needs some good tomatoes, so I bought some organic vine ones that I hoped would be tasty. They weren’t very large but definitely not cherry tomatoes; perhaps ‘medium-sized’. I had 8 and grated 4, just as I would for a Spanish tostada, then chopped the remaining 4 into small cubes.

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I put them together in a bowl and added about half a teaspoon of sugar to bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes and seasoned well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Then I mixed it all together.

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Next I prepared the rusks. I turned the cold water tap on quite gently and then held the rusks under very briefly so they didn’t soak but got just a little water. I put them in the bottom of a dish and broke them up a bit.

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I poured the tomato mixture on top and then crumbled over about half a pack (100g) feta.

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Next I drizzled over a generous quantity of extra virgin olive oil.

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I sprinkled over some dried oregano (some that I actually bought in Crete last September!). If you have fresh use that if you like, but the Greeks use dried herbs a lot. And finally, added some black Kalamata olives. I made the salad fairly last minute. I don’t think you’d want to make it hours in advance or the rusks would get too soggy.

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I served it as part of a Greek meal. I’d been expecting my brother and his family for lunch, which with Nicola, Jonathan and Lyndsey would have made 8 of us. Unfortunately my brother was ill so in the end we were 4. So perhaps today’s meal could be seen as a practice run!

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The Dakos tasted wonderful: the rusks had softened – but retained some bite – and taken up all the gorgeous tomato juice. The salty feta contrasted with the sweetness and it was a fabulous mix of flavours. I’d also made Moussaka and Labneh; there were roasted red peppers drizzled with olive oil and some fresh chopped herbs scattered over the top. We had fougasse bread from Paul bakery and a big green salad too. It was lovely to be together as a family and Baby Gale moved around the table, having cuddles with us all in turn, so he joined in too!

Restaurant Review: Terrace Restaurant, National Theatre

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I love going to the theatre; live theatre is one of the most exciting forms of art and for me, little can beat the experience of being at a really excellent play. It was a love instilled in me from birth for I spent the first two years of my life living in London’s Theatreland, literally breathing in all that theatrical atmosphere and perhaps even meeting some of the famous actors who would come into my parents’ pub. Later, in my teens and still at school, West End theatre visits were frequent. My favourite uncle Joe ran the Green Man & French Horn pub in St Martin’s Lane for many years and he’d often ring offering tickets to plays and shows he’d been given. He knew many of the theatre managers and luckily quite a few tickets were passed to his niece and I’d invite school friends to come with me. Now, I no longer have such fine connections but I do pay to be a Priority Member at the National Theatre so that I have the chance to book new productions early and I go regularly. Last night, however, it was a last-minute invitation from Annie to go with her to see Dara, which I hadn’t booked for, that took me into central London. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t book it myself but in the event it was really nice to go with Annie and we enjoyed the play a lot. It was Annie who suggested eating at the Terrace Restaurant beforehand. I’d eaten there recently – before seeing the brilliant Ralph Fiennes in Man and Superman – and agreed it was a good idea.

The National Theatre has been undergoing major refurbishment and rebuilding over the last two to three years and it’s all change in many parts. The Cottlesloe Theatre has become the Dorfman Theatre; the shop has moved and the restaurants have undergone a makeover. The Terrace Cafe has become the Terrace Restaurant, suggesting some refinement, but in all honesty, it’s not very different and the small plates menu has been on offer for a while. I used to go to the Terrace in its café form a lot many years ago. It is of course wonderfully convenient. You can even hear the announcements for when the plays are about to begin so there’s no worry about negotiating a way along busy pavements from another restaurant further away; it’s literally a short walk down some stairs – especially if you’re going to the Lyttleton Theatre, as we did last night. I stopped going to the café a few years back because it went through a bad spell and the convenience wasn’t enough to compensate for indifferent food. But with the recent refurbishments, I thought I should give it another try and was pleasantly surprised by the improvements when I saw Man and Superman, hence going back last night.

The service is excellent from the beginning. I was immediately asked which play I was seeing – Man and Superman begins at 7.00 while Dara didn’t start until 7.30. It can be very annoying to be in another restaurant not geared up to a fast turnaround. At the Terrace, that’s almost their raison d’être! And they rise to the demands. Water was brought straight away, menus laid before us. Our order was taken quickly. We chose some wine. Most came in half carafes, which is great. The menu suggests three plates per person but I remembered from my last visit that we hadn’t had that much. We decided to choose two each, which we would share, and we could always add more. I wanted to have the Gnocchi, Parmesan, Squash, Chestnut, Rocket & Garlic Pesto that I’d had on my previous visit, remembering how good it was.

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It was last night too: gorgeous flavours and really delicious. We also chose a red pepper and potato frittata with a goats’ cheese dressing.

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This was OK but not particularly exciting and I didn’t like the dressing much. There was some delicious pork tacos though, which we enjoyed a lot and were wonderfully spicy.

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We both left eating the Courgette Salad, Lemon Dressing, Bocconcini & Red Chilli until last.

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The fresh and clean-tasting salad was an excellent way to end the meal. Two plates each hadn’t perhaps been quite enough … except that it left room for an indulgence of some dessert. With still plenty of time until the play started, we ordered the Chef’s Pudding Selection for Two with some coffee.

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Wow! We were seriously impressed by this – and a chef did actually put it before us! There were some wonderful mouthfuls here: a rich sticky toffee pudding, a gorgeous orange and almond cake, a plum tart on a cake base, ice cream, little meringues, whipped cream and a fabulous gingery crumble scattering. It was slightly weird that although it was a plate ‘for two’ there were some threes or singles of choices. But that didn’t stop us cutting some in half and sharing. It was a really great way to end the meal. Suddenly time had flown, the start of our play was being announced. Payment was swift – the service didn’t falter – and we made our way down the stairs and straight to our seats.

I’m glad I’ve rediscovered the Terrace Restaurant. It’s just right for a pre-theatre meal at the National. The small plates work well. I don’t really want a large and heavy meal before two or more hours of theatre and the Terrace Restaurants offers a wide range of dishes to choose from and it’s always nice to share.

Sumac Spiced Lamb Cutlets with Fennel Dauphinoise

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The blog has been a bit neglected since the arrival of Jonathan and Lyndsey’s baby nearly 4 weeks ago. A lot of cooking has been going on, providing food being one good way to help the new family, but I’ve tended to rely on old favourites and dishes that will wait a while rather than any that need instant eating, as new babies tend not to run to time but have their own plan for the day. With things settling down, I’m back to cooking mainly just for myself and for tonight, I decided to take two rack of lamb cutlets from my freezer that had been there for a few weeks and I thought I should use. I don’t like to leave fresh meat in the freezer for too long, even though my freezer is a pretty good one that can probably keep anything in a good state for months. In M&S Simply Food, just down the road in Twickenham high street, I spied a gorgeous, large and healthy looking fennel and couldn’t resist buying that to cook too.

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I love fennel. I love its strong aniseed taste. Of course, it’s a bit like Marmite – you love it or hate it. But then, I like Marmite too! There’s something wonderfully fresh tasting about fennel and I often slice it into salads. But I’ve also often parboiled it in segments, drained it and then laid the segments in a gratin dish, covered in a mix of fresh breadcrumbs and lots of grated Parmesan, dotted it with plenty of butter, and baked in the oven till browned. So simple but very delicious. Today I decided to go the Dauphinoise route, normally a method for potatoes but of course lots of other vegetables love being enfolded in a garlicky cream mixture, topped with cheese and baked. In Raymond Blanc’s Kitchen Secrets I found a Dauphinoise recipe for turnips. First of all, I sliced the fennel fairly thinly and then laid the slices in a small ovenproof dish.

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I brought a small pot of single cream (170ml) to a simmer, with a clove of garlic in it and some seasoning of salt and pepper.

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Once it reached a simmer, I turned off the heat and let it infuse for a few minutes. Then I poured it over the sliced fennel, through a strainer so the garlic didn’t go in. I grated some Gruyere cheese (or use Parmesan) and scattered some over the top.

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I put it in a 200C/180 Fan oven for about 20-30 minutes – until the top was nicely brown and the fennel tender when tested with a sharp knife.

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Meanwhile, I’d marinated the lamb cutlets for a while. I coated them in a generous amount of olive oil then shaken over some sumac, salt and freshly ground black pepper. I love that citrusy, sweet and sour flavour of sumac and it goes beautifully with lamb.

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When my fennel was nearly ready, I heated a griddle. When it was hot, I put the lamb cutlets on and browned well both sides. I wanted them nice and brown and slightly crisp on the outside, beautifully pink and juicy inside – and that’s exactly how they turned out!

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I let them rest for a couple of minutes and then served up: the cutlets, fennel and a salad of rocket leaves and tomato, dressed in olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper.

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It was a gorgeous supper, and quite simple. The lamb was so juicy and tender and the sumac added a lovely exotic taste. The rich and creamy fennel was a wonderful accompaniment; the aniseed still strong but softened with the cream and cheese. The rocket and tomato salad added a fresh, complementary taste. A very good start to the weekend!

DFDS 2015 Travel Blogger of the Year Award – Shortlist Nomination

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I’m very excited to have been shortlisted for a DFDS Seaways 2015 Travel Blogger of the Year Award.

DFDS Seaways is a leading ferry company operating ferries across the Channel to France and Holland – see: www.dfdsseaways.co.uk for more information. There are five categories in the awards – Travel, Culture & History, Food & Drink, Newcomer, and Travel Photos. I’ve been nominated in the Food & Drink category and if you follow this link: http://www.dfdsseaways.co.uk/Documents/dfds-blogger/categories/index.html – you’ll find me listed there under ‘Kay Gale’. I really hope that you enjoy my blog enough to vote for me and many thanks to all of you for following me and hopefully casting that important vote! :) Voting is open until 24 April. And, of course, the link will put you in touch with a number of great food and travel blogs that you may enjoy taking a look at.

 

TV Review: Kew on a Plate

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Regular readers of the blog will know how much I love Kew Gardens, which are local to me, just a couple of miles down the road. I’m currently recording a ‘year at Kew Gardens’ in mainly photos on the blog, month by month, and feel so privileged to have these world famous gardens on my doorstep. So any programme about Kew is going to excite me, but add one of my favourite TV chefs, Raymond Blanc, to the menu and then a slice of TV heaven was delivered – ‘on a plate’! – to my home last night.

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, were founded in 1840. The 300-acre site houses one of the world’s largest collection of plants. It is renowned worldwide for its botanical research, its preservation of plants at risk of extinction and its educational facility. Many of our well-known TV gardeners, like Alan Titchmarsh and James Wong, trained at Kew.

Kew on a Plate follows a year in the life of Kew Gardens during which Michelin-starred chef Raymond Blanc and TV presenter Kate Humble re-establish the long-lost kitchen gardens that existed during the time of George II, George III and Queen Victoria. As we follow Raymond and Kate through the seasons, they plan to tell the unknown stories behind our everyday fruits and vegetables and Raymond, of course, will show us the best way to cook what is grown. Of course, Raymond Blanc is well known for his wonderful kitchen garden at Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in which he grows produce for his restaurant, so this makes him the ideal chef for the series. His extensive knowledge is evident as he discusses with the gardener in charge of the project the 250 varieties of the 50 vegetables they will grow.

The show is a pleasant mix of things: from the decision of what to grow, the planting, the momentary panic of dealing with potato blight and how the crop is saved, to the actual harvesting of the spring – in the first programme – crop. Both Raymond and Kate head off to trace the stories behind their chosen fruits and vegetables. Raymond visits the famous rhubarb triangle in Yorkshire to see how forced rhubarb is grown, the method ensuring its tender sweetness, then later comparing this to the kind you pull up in your garden. Kate follows the watercress story back to 5-year-old Eliza James selling watercress in Covent Garden in Victorian times. Kate also looked at the orchids grown at Kew. For those of you who have been to their annual Orchid Festival, you’ll see that what’s on display then is very much the tip of a huge orchid iceberg. There are over 26,000 species of orchids in the world and a lot of space is given to their cultivation at Kew. What surprised me was finding out that vanilla comes from an orchid. We learnt how a 12-year slave found a way of pollinating them in the 19th century, which meant they could be grown outside their native Mexico and travel to Europe and thus become one of our favourite and most used spices.

Back in the kitchen – a temporary kitchen set up in one of the conservatories – Raymond does his magic. Rhubarb and custard – even if the rhubarb and vanilla were Kew grown – didn’t sound very exciting but one should never underestimate Monsieur Blanc. Oh my word, what an amazing dessert he prepared. See this and you will never be satisfied with simple rhubarb and custard again. As he prepared asparagus and peas he talked of the ‘delicate and gentle’ flavours of spring, comparing them to the robust and bright colours of summer. This was an interesting thought too: how seasonal flavours match their season. And then we learnt about potatoes. So how do you boil potatoes? I bet you think there can’t be a wrong way. But there can! Raymond tells us that having so carefully grown, tended and harvested our crop of gorgeous little new potatoes – why would we not cook them in the best way possible? And that isn’t just throwing them in a pan with some salt and leaving them to boil till soft. Oh no! They must be treated with care; gently brought to a simmer, never boiled. The cooking must be timed. Then you will have the perfect potato.

Kew on a Plate was packed with lots of wonderful information, presented in a great way by two of TV’s most enthusiastic and likeable presenters. How could you not be excited by food when Raymond Blanc is talking to you about tender asparagus stems, fresh peas from a pod, or the delightful varieties and tastes of different potatoes. The programme aimed to do a lot and it achieved a very watchable but also delightfully informative show. I can’t wait to see what next week’s programme has to offer!

Kew on a Plate is a 4-part series on BBC2, Tuesday at 9.00pm.

To find out more about Kew Gardens visit: www.kew.org

A Sunday Morning Walk in Kew Gardens: March

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I woke to a beautiful sunny morning and since it’s four weeks since I wrote my February post about ‘life at Kew Gardens through 2015′, it seemed an ideal time to write the March edition. As always, I got there just as the gardens opened at 9.30am. I noticed immediately that it was busier, even that early, than the previous two months, with people obviously keen to enjoy what Kew has to offer in the spring. I was expecting quite a change since my visit a month ago. In my garden I’ve seen my camellia blossom and even a rose has produced some flowers. With the mild winter everything is coming to life early. I was a bit surprised to find Kew still quite wintry. Yes there were more signs of life blossoming into colour than last month but overall colour was still in little evidence. But what makes a visit at this time of year so wonderful are the carpets of crocuses that greet you as you go in through the Victoria Gate entrance and at other places as you walk around.

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The snowdrops from last month were disappearing and instead clumps of gorgeous crocuses from the palest lilac through to deep purple were everywhere.

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And of course there were daffodils too, planted in the gardens …

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or to buy in pots in the shop …

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Viburnums, not the most exciting of shrubs, I think, still looked pretty …

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especially set against the clear blue sky.

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The prunus – cherry trees – were starting to blossom too. In a few weeks’ time they’ll be magnificent.

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As in February, there were still bold and beautiful camellias to see:

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By the lake I found Mr and Mrs Duck possibly starting to prepare a nest for ducklings? Or maybe she was just digging deep for breakfast!

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On my way out I stopped to talk to a lady sitting at the Friends of Kew desk and told her about my project. She was really friendly and when I said I’d been surprised there wasn’t more in blossom yet she recommended doing one of their guided tours that take you to see things slightly off the main track and I said I’d do that another time. She also told me about a wonderfully scented shrub not far from where we were, so I made my way back to see it.

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Edgeworthia chrysantha is also known as the Oriental Paperbush. It’s native to the Himalayas and China. In Japan the bark is used to make high-quality paper.

As I made my way out, the crowds were arriving. I expect many people had come to see the crocuses; it was also the final day of the orchid exhibition. To find out more about what’s happening at Kew take a look at their website: www.kew.org

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