A Potter-esque Tea

(nooo, it’s not the wizard I’m talking about!)

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‘Your father had an accident there. He was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.’

Sounds really sinister, doesn’t it? Well that’s Beatrix Potter for you – the creator of perhaps the most celebrated rabbit on earth, Peter Rabbit.  I recently read an article by a columnist for the Guardian who criticised Potter’s writing, calling her “a creator of a dark, sadistic, bloodthirsty world”. Yes, there’s nothing subtle about her writing and you obviously cannot tell the fragile, sensitive child of the 21st century that a cute furry rabbit was put in a pie by a gardener’s wife. I myself skipped this part when I read the story to my five year old but these stories were written over a century ago when PETA did not exist and even children were made aware that rabbits were a good source of protein (having said that, I’m pretty much against animal cruelty and do not eat rabbit either but I felt the need to defend Potter’s story-telling skills!).

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My first encounter with Beatrix Potter was when I was around eight. I had to recite a paragraph from Peter Rabbit for third grade diction. My teacher loved the s-s-c-c--rrrritch…s-s-c-c-rrratch sounds I made of the hoe which scored me extra marks (for those of you who may not know the story, it’s about a naughty rabbit who runs away from home to explore the world and gets into a whole lot of trouble in Mr. McGregor’s garden – he’s not rabbit-friendly as you can see from the above excerpt). Fast forward twenty seven years and I bump into this bunny once more in the movie Miss Potter with Renée Zellwegger doing a brilliant portrayal of the author.

As with most authors, Beatrix Potter’s road to success was a rather bumpy one. In her twenties she sold illustrated greeting cards in order to make pocket money and around a decade later she put together her first ever story book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which was a compilation of letters she sent to her governesses’ ailing son. Unfortunately she fails to find anyone willing to publish her work. Not to be deterred, she self-publishes the book, which proves to be an instant hit among family and friends. A year later, with a little help from a family friend she secures a contract with Frederick Warne & Co (who has been publishing her books ever since) and the rest, as they say, is history.

IMG_3983Attempting a Potter illustration: Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle – another one of her woodland creatures.

Potter went on to write over 30 children’s books and even developed a range of branded merchandise which started off with a Peter Rabbit doll she made herself – and mind you, she did all this in the early 1900’s (businesswomen would have been a rarity back then when men were, well, being men!)

More than her stories, it was Potter’s illustrations that had me running to book-stores looking for her books – how gorgeous are those whimsical and atmospheric watercolour drawings of the English countryside and blossom-filled gardens dotted with rabbits in blue coats and ducks in bonnets!

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You know that clichéd question people ask in certain interviews: ‘Which celebrity or famous person would you invite to tea?’… at the risk of sounding terribly old-fashioned (heck, I’m Gen-X!) I might just say ‘Beatirx Potter, of course!’ To do so I’ll have to wait till the time machine is invented, so I did the next best thing – had a Potter inspired tea made up of a rather cracked but delicious jelly roll, freshly brewed tea and a histoire of BP’s publishing adventures.

‘Come along, Peter, it’s time for tea!’

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Swiss Roll
recipe from Delia Online

110g self-raising flour
1 level teaspoon baking powder
50g spreadable butter
2 large eggs
110g golden caster sugar, plus a little extra
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the filling and topping:
3-4 tablespoons jam (I used strawberry)
Caster sugar to finish

(Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, gas mark 6)

First sift the flour and baking powder into a roomy mixing bowl, lifting the sieve quite high to give the flour a good airing as it goes down. Then add the butter, eggs, caster sugar and vanilla extract, and using an electric whisk mix to a smooth creamy consistency for about one minute.

Next, spread the mixture evenly in the prepared tin with the back of a tablespoon. Bake it near the centre of the oven for 14–15 minutes or until it feels springy in the centre.

While it’s cooking prepare everything for the rolling operation. Spread out a damp tea towel on a flat surface (have a second one ready for later), then on top of the tea towel place a sheet of baking parchment that’s about 2.5cm larger than the tin.

Then sprinkle caster sugar all over the paper.

As soon as the Swiss roll is cooked, lift it out holding the sides of the liner and turn it onto the paper immediately.

Now carefully and gently strip off the liner, take a sharp knife and trim 3mm from all round the cake. This will make it much neater and help to prevent it from cracking.

Cover with a clean damp tea towel and leave for a couple of minutes, then remove the damp cloth and spread the cake with jam. Then with one of the shorter edges of the cake nearest to you, make a small incision about 2.5cm from the edge, cutting right across the cake, not too deeply; this will help you when you start to roll.

Now start to roll this 2.5cm piece over and away from you and continue to roll, holding the sugared paper behind the cake as you roll the whole thing up. When it’s completely rolled up, hold the paper around the cake for a few moments to help it ‘set’ in position, then transfer the cake to a wire cooling tray.

Dust with a little more caster sugar before serving.

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‘Tis the season to be jolly – and make something Christmassy!

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I love Christmas. I love everything about Christmas – the colours, the smells, the excitement, the presents, good old Mr. Clause and the radio blaring out cheerful holiday tunes… ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year..’! I’m Buddhist and Christmas is not celebrated as much over here (you won’t find neon reindeer prancing around people’s front porches!) but you cannot escape that festive feeling in the air, come December.

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To bring in some Christmas cheer and fill the house with the delicious smells of baking I decided to roll up my sleeves and attempt at making (trumpet call and drum-roll) the King of patisserie Eric Lanlard’s raspberry and chocolate tart. A very ambitious dessert for someone who’s made a tart only once in her life (pastry crumbled and the savoury filling was heavy) but who cares, it’s Christmas! Besides I’m not very fond of heady fruity puds and cakes which are traditional Christmas fare. Everyone loves chocolate and the raspberries add that perfect touch of Christmas red.

I also made an Asian inspired (Sri Lankan to be precise) starter – fish cutlets. Not the fanciest of starters to serve at a festive dinner party but they are delicious, and I gave these plain Janes an elegant makeover by making a little tower out of them, like a mini croquembouche  –  you see, it’s all in the presentation!

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I spent an entire morning (during my weekend of course) shopping for the ingredients. Then I locked myself in the kitchen and did not emerge till Sunday morning when I went for work (in the Middle East the weekend falls on Friday and Saturday). I swore to myself I will not set foot in the kitchen for a long time to come. It was exhausting work and there was a lot of nail biting, hair pulling and stamping as well as moments of sheer elation. Oh the pains and joys of cooking!

First things first – the starter.

Fish cutlets are pretty simple to make and do not require fancy ingredients – tinned tuna, potato, some red onion and green chillies and a few pinches of spices. They are shaped like little spheres, you can shape them any way you want but the original Sri Lankan cutlet is shaped into a perfect little ball. These are then crumbed and deep fried till golden. Soft and moist on the inside and golden and crunchy on the outside, these cutlets are delicious served straight out of the frying pan.

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And here’s my little tower of fish cutlets served on a very special plate. This is a replica of the china used for private dining services in the first-class suites of the RMS Titanic which I bought from a Titanic artefact exhibition in Calgary. The matching tea cup below is one of the artefacts from the shipwreck.

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Moving on to the tart…

Making a tart is laborious work, especially when it’s Eric Lanlard’s tart! But I was up early morning ready to tackle the dreaded shortcrust pastry. A buttery and chocolaty aroma wafted from the pastry dough and just as I had anticipated the baking tart shell filled the house with delicious smells.

I took pictures of these gorgeous raspberries while the pastry case cooled down.

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While rolling out the pastry I knew something wasn’t right. It started crumbling and sticking on to the rolling pin, but I was too impatient to get it in the oven, especially when I have been dreaming big beautiful tart dreams the night before. There are some things you just cannot rush…I realised this (maybe a little too late) when I plopped the tart crust out of the baking tin on to a plate and it broke into smithereens! My heart sank right to the bottom of my stomach. My tart dreams were shattered.

I was tempted to start all over but instead I crumbled the shards and mixed it with butter and made a sort of crumble which I used to line the bottom of the tart tin. Then I filled it with raspberries and poured the chocolate ganache over the top. Instead of being cosily enveloped in a flaky chocolaty tart case the silky ganache had to lie uncomfortably on  a gravelly mixture of burnt crumbs!

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I spent the next half hour looking for some guinea pigs to try my tart. My berry-hating son ran away in horror when he saw the raspberries hidden beneath the chocolate but my husband was not so lucky. He pronounced it ‘you-get-used-to-the-taste-after-a-few-forkfuls’. It did not taste too bad. The ganache is decadently rich and smooth and if you can get the pastry right this one’s a keeper. I have given the recipe below for all those baking goddesses who can turn out picture perfect tarts with two flicks of their magical rolling pins.

As for me, well, I think I’ll stick to cupcakes for a while.  Happy holidays! xx


Fish Cutlets

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2 tins of good quality tuna in oil
2 medium sized potatoes, peeled
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
2-3 fresh green chillies, finely chopped
2-3 curry leaves, finely shredded
1-2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp oil and extra for deep frying
1 egg, beaten
Breadcrumbs
Salt to taste

Boil the potatoes in salted water till soft and well cooked. Roughly dice the boiled potato and put in a large bowl. Add the spices and salt to the potato and gently mash together to incorporate the spices and keep aside. Drain most of the oil from the tuna (keep about a tablespoon, this will make the mixture moist) and empty into another bowl. Add the chopped green chillies to the tuna.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Once the oil is hot add the onion. When the onion turns soft and slightly brown add the  shredded curry leaf. Sauté for a minute or so. Add the tuna and green chillies and fry for a further minute. Finally add the spiced potato and give it a good mix. Add more salt if required. Fry the mixture for 2-3 minutes and turn off the heat.

Once the mixture has cooled down, shape into bite sized balls using your palms. Cool the shaped balls for a while in the fridge before frying (they’ll keep their shape better). Dip each ball in beaten egg and roll in the breadcrumbs till well coated.

Heat the oil in a deep frying pan and once it is nice and hot drop in 2-3 cutlets at a time and fry till golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately with some chilli sauce for dipping.

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Eric Lanlard’s Raspberry & Chocolate Tart
😐 = my rating for the tart

50g (2oz) cocoa powder
50g (2oz) golden icing sugar
150g (5oz) unsalted butter, cubed, plus extra for greasing
3 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
500g (1lb) raspberries

For the ganache
200g (7oz) dark chocolate, roughly chopped
200ml (7fl oz) single cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
75g (3oz) unsalted butter

Sift the flour, cocoa powder and icing sugar together into a large bowl. Add the butter and rub in using your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks and gently mix together, then add the vanilla and combine to form a smooth dough. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 190°C (fan 170°C)/375°F/gas mark 5.

Lightly grease a 24 cm (9½in) diameter tart tin. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface and carefully use to line the tin. Cover with ovenproof clingfilm and prick a few holes to avoid pockets of air while it bakes. Fill the pastry case with baking beans and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the clingfilm and beans and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes. Leave to cool.

To make the ganache, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, making sure the surface of the water does not touch the bowl. Meanwhile, put the cream into a saucepan and heat until steaming hot, but do not let it boil.

Remove the melted chocolate from the heat and slowly pour in the cream, gently stirring the mixture. Add the vanilla, then the butter and stir together.

Pack the cooled pastry case with raspberries, saving a few for decoration. Pour the hot chocolate ganache over the raspberries to fill to the top of the pastry.

Leave to set in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Serve decorated with the reserved raspberries dusted with a little icing sugar.

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Fa la la la laaaa la la la laaaaa!



Let’s make DOUGHNUTS!

My son Aarav has been saying this over and over and over again for the past three weeks. He loves doughnuts, the big greasy sugared blobs sold in the famous doughnut chains. For him, it’s a rare indulgence as I have limited this artery clogging treat to just one or two a month (unless my husband decides to break the rules – which he does once in a while).

This weekend I decided to take ‘Make doughnuts with mummy’ off Aarav’s wish list. It was a cold rainy day – a rare occurrence in this part of the world – and piping hot doughnuts with a steaming cup of coffee seemed just the right thing to complement the weather. Armed with Jamie Oliver’s Cook with Jamie and a mountain of cooking utensils (I am a one-bowl-dish kind of gal) I braved the kitchen with my five year old in tow to make Doughnuts with Old English spiced sugar.

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The recipe called for simple ingredients – flour, yeast, butter, orange and lemon zest and warm milk, store-cupboard staples so to speak but the process itself seemed time consuming as the dough needs to be left to rise an hour plus 45 minutes. I thought it would be worth going the extra mile as the book describes these as ‘crisp, bun-like and delicious!’

Ingredients for spiced doughnuts

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It was smooth sailing from start to finish. The recipe had easy to follow steps and Aarav helped me with all the stirring, kneading and rolling. He got quite impatient each time we had to take a break – 15 minutes for the yeast to work through and 1 hour for the dough to rise… (you can use this time to prepare the spiced sugar).

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After much mixing, waiting, kneading, rolling and poking little holes in the doughnuts with a chopstick (a brilliant idea – I love Jamie’s no-nonsense approach to food – avoid if you want fried doughnut holes) it was time to fry these babies. They came out of the frying pan golden and puffy ready to be rolled in the Old English spiced sugar. You need to do this while they are still piping hot. Et voilà!


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What sets these apart from the ordinary doughnut is the lemon and orange zest you add to the dough which gives it a sophisticated zing and the spiced sugar with subtle hints of vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. However I found these a bit bland. I believe it is because there is no salt added to the dough (even the butter is unsalted). If I were to make these again I would add half a teaspoon of salt or replace the unsalted butter with salted.

Did Aarav like these? Sadly, no. I guess they were too sophisticated for his baby taste buds.

Note: I rate all the recipes I try by drawing smileys on them, so whenever I feel like cooking something I know which ones to pick.

My recipe rating system
🙂 🙂 = Great! Will make often   🙂 = Good, worth making again   😐 = Confused   😦 = Bin it!

So what did Jamie Oliver’s spiced doughnuts get?

Maybe, maybe not..

Below is the recipe which I have altered slightly by adding half a teaspoon of salt. Do let me know if they turn out yum! xx

Doughnuts with Old English Spiced Sugar
from Cook with Jamie
(makes about 25)

1 x 7g sachet dried yeast
70g/2½oz caster sugar
500g/1lb 2oz plain flour
315ml/11fl oz whole milk, warmed until tepid
zest of 2 lemons
zest of 1 orange
80g/2¾oz unsalted butter, softened and cubed
1 litre/1¾ pints vegetable oil
½ tsp salt (not in the original recipe)

for the flavoured sugar
100g/3½oz caster sugar
1tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp ground allspice
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
1 vanilla pod, scored lengthways and seeds removed

Put the yeast in a bowl with a tablespoon of the caster sugar and a tablespoon of the flour and mix in the warm milk. Put in a warm place for about 15 minutes until the mixture becomes frothy.

Next, put the rest of the sugar and flour, lemon/orange zest, salt and butter in a bowl. Add the yeast mixture and use a spoon to start bringing it all together, then use your hands to mix it into a ball. If it’s too sticky add a bit more flour. Knead the dough for 5 minutes until it’s smooth and silky, then put in a bowl, cover with a clean damp cloth and leave to rise for about an hour or until doubled in size. Meanwhile make your flavoured sugar by mixing the sugar, spices, zest and vanilla seeds together in a bowl or smashing them up in a Flavour Shaker. Put aside for later.

When the dough has doubled in size, knock it back (you punch out some of the air so it can rise again later – this way your doughnuts will be light and fluffy). On a floured surface roll the dough out until it’s an even 1cm/½ inch thickness. Using a little cutter or a small glass (approx.5cm/2 inches in diameter) cut out about 25 circles and place them on a greased baking tray to rise again (make sure there is sufficient gap between each one to allow them to spread). Cover with the damp cloth and allow to rise for 45 minutes.

When the blobs of dough have doubled in size again, use a chopstick to make a little hole in the centre of each doughnut. Now they are ready to be fried. Carefully heat the vegetable oil in a large deep frying pan (test the temperature by putting a small piece of dough into the oil – if it sizzles and turns golden brown after one minute the oil is at the right temperature). Fry the doughnuts in batches. After about 2 minutes, when they are golden brown carefully lift them out with a slotted spoon and place them on some kitchen paper to drain. While your doughnuts are still piping hot, sprinkle over the flavoured sugar.

Lovely eaten warm and eat them all in one go because they don’t keep very long.