Market Day in Milan

24 April 2014

Call it bad timing, but on the morning of the day we flew home from Milan this market popped up on the street opposite our apartment. It snaked through several streets selling fruit and vegetables of all kinds. You want courgette? Take your pick from a bounty of varieties; dark green, light green, yellow or striped. There were tomatoes of every size and shade of red through to orange, yellow and purple. There were mountains of oranges and citrus fruit sold as cheap as chips, just crying out to be made into marmalade. If only we could have stayed a little longer. I would have filled my boots. I did however fill my hand luggage with blood oranges, lemons and podded peas, which were the kids Milan snack of choice.


22 April 2014

April is Milan month for us. We David goes out there for work: the spectacular Milan Furniture Fair - a must for anyone in our industry. It's like 'Fashion Week' for furniture and it sprawls the city with design districts here, there and everywhere to explore. 

However when we do Milan, we do it en famille, so I see very little of the design as I have the kids to amuse. I bribe them with Gelato in order to take in a couple of design shows, but really I have to except that kids and work don't really mix. So David does his things for a few days and nights and we do ours. Then we have 24 or 48hrs together before we head home.

It works though. I miss out on the champagne parties that David goes to in the evenings, but then he has very tired feet and is pretty much furnitured-out by the end of it all.

We are so extremely lucky to have friends living in the city at the moment so get to stay in their beautiful Milanese apartment which is as central as you can get. The sun came out in Milan. It felt like early summer. 

We did Sempione Park and Giardini Pubblici; the Design Museum and the Natural History Museum; we rode the metro and the tram; we shopped at the local supermarket, became familiar faces at the local patisserie and purused the food market on our doorstep on the Saturday morning; we ate deli salads in the park, olives, italian cheese, stuffed courgette flowers, orecchiette con broccoli and had the best ever Tiramisu at Refettorio Simplicitas

Despite being in the middle of a busy city, it was an incredibly relaxing time: a chance to step away from the day-to-day stuff and just be with the kids with the whole day stretched before us and all that different flavoured gelato to work our way through. Heaven.

Aunties, Lemon Drizzle Cake & The Kinfolk Table

15 April 2014

If anything brings out a traditional English cake in me, it's a visit from the Aunties. I've written about their visits on the blog before, here and here. Today they made their Easter visit to us: the kid's were spoilt; we took a walk along the beach; we had sandwiches & cake and drank copious cups of tea. 

I returned home from our Milan trip at the weekend with two lemons. They were each double the size of the ones available here. I had placed them in the fruit bowl, enjoying their rustic imperfections with  a sketchy plan to use them in a recipe in which they could take centre stage. Their moment of glory came today in the form of a Lemon Drizzle Cake.

I've baked countless Lemon Drizzle cakes, but for this occasion I decided to follow a new recipe. It did my Milanese lemons proud - a zesty lemony cake that's best enjoyed in the company of aunties. You can find the said recipe in The Kinfolk Table. This book is my bible. It is so beautifully written with stunning photography - it's a book that I get totally absorbed and lost in and a book I re-read over and over again.

Written by author Nathan Williams, who also edits the equally beautiful Kinfolk Magazine, The Kinfolk Table is a collection of recipes that Williams has gathered from a wide-ranging circle of home cooks around the world who are both reinventing and rediscovering the joys of casual entertaining. Williams takes the reader into the home of each of the contributors - chefs, bakers, writers, bloggers, artisans and artists - capturing what makes them each remarkable, and drawing out the rituals and traditions that bring loved ones to share their table. 

To me, it beautifully sums up what cooking, eating and sharing food is all about: those everyday rituals and sometimes-occasions that are the backbone of life.

Custard Creams

4 April 2014

The biscuit tin has always been my downfall. Probably the biggest one. I don't feel the need to go all avant-garde with biscuits either. Don't get me wrong I'd enjoy a Cherry Bakewell Muesli biscuits or a Pistachio & Salted Caramel biscuit as much as the next person, but can all these really beat those all time classics. No, I don't think so. Digestives, Chocolate Digestives, Bourbons, Jammie Dodgers and Custard Creams, are to my mind unbeatable.

So it was with interest and much excitement that I tried my hand and reproducing the iconic Custard Cream. The result was good in as far as they didn't last long in the biscuit tin, but they weren't quite the same as the original rectangular ones with their intricately patterned biscuit and thin layer of filling. They weren't avant-garde either. Somewhere in the middle: homemade.

Custard Creams
makes enough to fill your biscuit tin

100g unsalted butter, softened
50g caster sugar
100g plain flour, plus extra for rolling out
25g custard powder
25g cornflour
For the custard-cream filling:
150g icing sugar
45g unsalted butter, softened
20g custard powder
3tsp full-fat milk

To make the biscuits, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy: this can be done either with an electric hand whisk or in a bowl with a wooden spoon. Sift the flour, custard powder and cornflour into the bowl and mix until thoroughly combined and smooth.
Wrap the dough in cling film and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.
Dust the work surface with flour and roll the dough out to a thickness of 3–4mm. Using a 6cm round or square cutter, stamp out biscuits and place them on the lined baking tray. Gather any dough off cuts into a ball, then re-roll and stamp out more biscuits.
Pop the baking tray into the fridge to chill for 10 minutes.
Bake on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes until the biscuits are pale golden and firm. Leave to cool on the baking tray for a couple of minutes then transfer the biscuits to a wire rack until cold.
To make the filling, mix all the ingredients together until smooth using a hand-held whisk or in the bowl of a free-standing mixer. Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm round nozzle and pipe the filling onto one half of the biscuits, then sandwich together with the remaining biscuits.

Chocolate Caramel Shortbread

2 April 2014

When I was a child my uncle and aunt ran a guest house in Margate. The family would convene there a couple of times a year: with thirteen bedrooms there was room for everyone. I have lots of memories; the (always) blustery wind, the great expanse of beach that we'd cross the road to be on, the polka-dot melamine beakers in by the washbasin in each room, the Spanish flamenco dolls on the dressing tables (it was the 1970's), the chaise lounge in the hallway and the smell of salty air. My cousin and I spend our time putting on plays for our families, using our younger siblings as stooges (the ugly sisters in Cinderella springs to mind) and there would be games of rounders on the beach (never my forte).

Through my child eyes it was a super colossal abode, but looking back I've no idea how my aunt prepared all those meals for her guests in what was a tiny kitchen in comparison to the rest of the house. But she of course managed. My one outstanding memory of what came out of that kitchen was a batch of Chocolate Caramel Shortbread. I'm not sure but it could have been the first time I had eaten them. These days it seems to be called Millionaires Shortbread: a name given to it for the rich ingredients I suspect rather than the decadence lifestyle of those who eat it. Though to my younger self I would have no doubt believed that this chocolatey, caramelly, buttery treat was the food of people who lived in 13 bedroomed houses.

It was to this recipe, which hails from an old cookbook of my mums, that I turned to recently when looking for indulgent treats to bake for Lily's birthday. It's an original recipe of its time - no updating with salted caramel - just a nostalgic sugary treat that has an air of opulence.

Chocolate Caramel Shortbread

Makes 16 squares

125g butter
50g sugar
175g plain flour, sifted
Caramel Filling:
125g butter
50g caster sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
150ml condensed milk
Chocolate Topping:
125g plain chocolate
15g butter

Preheat the oven to 180℃ / 350℉, Gas Mark 4 and grease a shallow 20cm square tin, lining the base with baking paper.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the flour and stir until the mixture binds together. Knead until smooth. Roll out to a square and press evenly into the tin and prick well. Bake for 25 - 30 mins and cool in the tin.

Place the filling ingredients in a saucepan and stir until dissolved. Bring slowly to the boil, then cook stirring, for 5 to 7 minutes. Cool slightly, then spread over the biscuit mixture and leave to set.

For the topping, melt the chocolate with the butter in a bowl placed over a pan of simmering water. Spread over the caramel and leave to set before cutting into 16 squares with a sharp knife.