December 2011 Archives

The Ruby

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We named this cocktail after the fantastic bar in Copenhagen where we discovered it.  Having made our way through their menu of forgotten cocktails - flips, punches and a real Martinez - we asked the barman to make us something with dill aquavit.  Dill aquavit was on our shopping list as we knew it was traditional to serve at Christmas, and we were planning a Danish Christmas feast for one of our Secret Kitchen dinners in London. 

smrubycocktail0003t.jpgThe barman’s creation was a revelation - distinctly dilly, pink with grapefruit but most certainly a proper grown-up cocktail.  (He called it an ‘866’, but we never found out why…)  This is our own version, and the addition of grapefruit bitters is ours; you could leave it out.  We recommend serving this with pickled herring on thin slices of rye bread.


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Glögg is Swedish mulled wine with a vodka kick!  (Or call it gløgg if you’re Danish and go for brandy or rum instead.)  This recipe is adapted from one by Elsa Petersen-Schepelern.  It looks fantastic served in little Turkish or Moroccan tea glasses, and works a treat in our household every Christmas.  Just remember that it’s a lot stronger than regular mulled wine…


Indian spices

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Some nerdy facts about some of the spices used in Indian cooking, such as in this delicious tarka dal...

Nigella seeds, otherwise known as ‘black cumin’ despite being nothing to do with cumin, are from a flower closely related to love-in-the-mist.  The Egyptians were some of the first to cultivate it, and must have valued it highly as some seeds were found in Tutankhamen’s grave.  Two teaspoons of crushed seeds taken twice a day is said to boost the immune system.  (Didn’t seem to work for young Tutankhamen though.)

Fenugreek seeds come from a bean plant.  In some countries they are cooked up as a staple like dal or used to make a milk substitute for babies.  Tutankhamen liked them as well, apparently.  Used as a spice fenugreek has a distinctive aroma - a sweet savouriness reminiscent of maple syrup.  In fact, it’s used to flavour artificial maple syrup.

Cumin seeds crop up in all sorts of recipes all over the world, from North African tagines, to Indian curries, East European soups, Mexican burritos and a few European cheeses and breads.  The ancient Greeks loved it so much they kept it on the dining table in its own special box.   

Fennel seeds are anise-flavoured, like the stems and leaves of the plant.  Star anise is chewed in China, and fennel seeds in India, to ‘sweeten the breath’ - literally - the distinctive chemical compound common to both spices is 13 times as sweet as regular sugar, by weight.

Asafoetida powder, charmingly nick-named ‘devil’s dung’, is made from the sap of the root of a member of the carrot family.  The sap is aged until resinous, sometimes in goat or sheepskin to enhance its naturally sweaty, sulphurous, stinky cheese scent.  Don’t let this put you off, some claim the smell reminds them of white truffles.  The vegetarian Jains in India use asafoetida in place of onions and garlic, which they avoid as uprooting them kills the future plant and disturbs the little bugs in the soil.  

Cayenne powder is derived from the Cayenne variety of chilli pepper, which is approximately 3 times ‘hotter’ than the Serrano, at least 15 times hotter than Paprika, and over 100 times hotter than the Bell pepper (in Scoville pungency units).  So beware how much you use.

Turmeric powder comes from the dried rhizome of a plant in the ginger family.  It has been used since prehistoric times to colour skin, clothing and foods yellow, for ceremonial purposes and as a medicine and preservative.  It’s still popular today - India produces some 350,000 tonnes each year. 

Mustard seeds are usually added at the end of cooking as prolonged exposure to heat reduces their pungency and leaves behind a generic cabbage-family aroma.  Black mustard seeds are the strongest, then brown, then yellow.  On the global scale of trade, black pepper is the only spice to outdo mustard in monetary terms.  The word ‘mustard’ comes from its use in the popular condiment - ‘must’-‘ardens’, ie ‘piquant must’, as prepared mustard used to be made with grape must. 

Curry leaves come from a small citrus tree and are used widely in Indian and Malaysian cuisine.  ‘Curry’ probably hails from the word ‘kari’, which means ‘spicy sauce’ in many languages in those regions.  Most local names for the plant include the word ‘kari’, however there are no kari leaves in the usual curry spice mixes, and ‘kari’ can also mean ‘black’ it seems, referring to the colour of the leaves of a similar looking bush.  Which would mean that the stupid Brits just called them ‘curry leaves’ because they heard a word that sounded similar - ‘kari’.  To complicate matters further there is some evidence that the word ‘curry’ was used for stews in Britain before the first traders arrived in the subcontinent.  A great etymological mystery that I will assign to my linguist husband for further research…  Anyway, the leaves are usually added whole to dishes, like bay leaves, and often fried briefly in butter before being added, as in this recipe.  They’re much better fresh than dried, and can be stored in the fridge or freezer for a week or two before they lose their flavour.  Buy them on the branch if possible.  It’s antidiabetic qualities are supported by scientific research.

On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee, 2004
Food Plants of the World, Ben-Erik van Wyk, 2005

Two pulse tarka dal

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A good dal has to be one of my all-time favourite foods.  I’ve experimented with various pulses, spices and aromatics and so far this is my favourite recipe.  It is very loosely based on one by Madhur Jaffrey.  It’s quite spicy, so for a milder version cut down a little on all the spices, especially the cayenne, and use less fresh chilli, garlic, ginger and shallot.

You can also make this with other lentils.  A combination of small red lentils and big green-brown ones, or yellow split peas, works well, as the larger ones keep their shape and the little ones disintegrate into sauce. 

Smtarkadal0010ab.jpg‘Tarka’ refers to the method of cooking by which piping hot ghee is scented with spices and then thrown into the dish at the end of cooking.  If you don’t have ghee and can’t be bothered to clarify butter, use a mix of unsalted butter and sunflower oil.  If you don’t have asafoetida or curry leaves, just leave them out. 

This dal is delicious served with rice or flatbreads. If it’s made quite hot and spicy, I like to serve it with a dollop of full-fat plain yoghurt.  You can make the dal in advance then gently reheat it while you make the tarka.  Or go ahead and complete the entire dish including the tarka and keep it chilled until needed.  Reheat gently and simmer for a few minutes, then serve with fresh coriander leaves.

Waldorf salad with Stilton

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Waldorf salad was invented at the very end of the 19th century in New York’s Waldorf Hotel.  Originally it was just celery and apple, dressed well.  Over time other ingredients have been added - walnuts (or pecans), grapes, blue cheese, leaves such as watercress and sometimes chicken breast.  To be quick, you could use shop-bought mayonnaise, or plain yoghurt flavoured with mustard and lemon juice. 


Secret Kitchen menu, 17th Dec 2011

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Photo 17-12-2011 02 38 58 PM.jpegDanish Christmas

Pickled herring
Dill aquavit & pink grapefruit cocktails

Smørrebrød with smoked salmon, Christmas salami, cured beef,
smoked reindeer and Vesterhavsost

Pork braised in dark beer with three-root mash,
curly kale and red cabbage

Risalamande with cherry sauce

Gløgg with Danish candy

Cooking Club, Tues 13th & Weds 14th Dec 2011

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smcabbagesriverford0008.JPGThe Cooking Club is a monthly series of classes that you can dip in and out of as you please.  Classes are usually held on the second Tuesday and Wednesday of the month, 6-10pm.  At each class we cook a seasonal supper, the stars of which are Riverford's beautiful organic vegetables and fruits. 

Each class focuses on different produce and culinary techniques, so if you attend several they form a course.  You will develop knife skills and learn easy but delicious dishes you can repeat at home.

Classes end with an informal meal together around the table with some good wine, and recipes to take home. 

SmMoroccanClass0805100010.JPG“I really enjoyed the Cooking Club - and was very impressed with the results!  You are inspirational!”

“I had a great time last night - it was fun, informative and relaxing.”

Example menu for winter 2011:
(exact menus depend on ingredient availability and guests’ preferences)

Date:  Tuesday 13th, repeated Wednesday 14th December 2011

Time:  6 - 10pm

Location:  London N5 (Arsenal tube 2 mins walk)

Price:  £40 per person per class.  Or £35 if you book 3 Cooking Club class places, which could be 3 for you, or you plus 2 friends, or as gifts, or any combination of those options.

To book:  Email Anna
  Please read the booking terms & conditions before booking your place.  Thank you.

Spanish Tapas party class, Thurs 1st Dec 2011

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smtortillacanapes0002.JPGCome along for an informal class to learn how to make classic Spanish tapas dishes. Cooking together will be interspersed with eating tapas and drinking rioja and sherry in a relaxed atmosphere. 

You will learn how to make a beautiful array of small bites and finger food, perfect for Christmas parties, and get to take home all the recipes and leftover tapas!

smoliveanchovychillipinxos0005.JPGSpanish tortilla with piquillo peppers
Jamon or Manchego cheese croquetas
Manzanilla olive, anchovy & pickled chilli pintxos
Chilled beetroot gazpacho shots
Chorizo-style meatballs
Mini crema catalana puddings

smcroquetas0001.jpg"I really learnt a lot about techniques, flavours and much much more."

“We had a ball!  It was a fantastic class.”

“Anna makes us feel so welcome. I really enjoy the classes and the incredible meals."

Date:  Thursday 1st December 2011

Smallcremecaramel0007.JPGTime:  6.30pm - 10pm

Location:  London N5 (Arsenal tube 2 mins walk)

Price:  £50.  Or £90 for two places.

To book:  Email Anna
  Please read the booking terms & conditions before booking your place.  Thank you.


Culinary Anthropologist