Sunday, March 26, 2006

Passion Fruit and Chocolate Slices

After a bad bout with the flu- the kind where you ache all over and a cup of broth constitutes a hearty meal- I'm back with an appetite. It is amazing how being sick can re-invigorate you; I'm ready to cook with a vengeance. Luckily I got thrown in at the deep end when my friend Toral rang looking for an extra pair of hands in the kitchen.

Toral runs The Urban Kitchen a cookery school with courses in London and in Surrey. Sure this is a shameless plug for a friend but the classes are a great value (food and drink are included and free flowing) and she covers everything from Indian to Dim Sum to Pasta workshops.

Back to the story. Toral needed a hand with her Flavours of the Pacific class last week so I happily obliged. On the menu that night were such delectable dishes as Spaghettini with crab, lime and chili, Sweet and sour fish with spicy green salad and Passion fruit and chocolate slices.

She based the dessert on the Australian treat, Lamingtons, which traditionally are made with coconut. I've never Lamingtons to compare Toral's slices against, although I noticed some at The Grocer on Warwick. The next time I'm there I will have to get one.

Anyways, the Passion fruit and chocolate slices were straightforward to make nad had a proper balance of chocolate richness and passion fruit tang. Fresh from the oven they were moist with a cake like base and a firm custard like filling. I kept my extra pieces in the fridge and prefered them cold from the fridge. The passion fruit filling was former and the base was similar to a chewy cookie. Yum.

Passion Fruit and Chocolate Slices

Makes 20 squares

For pastry
125g unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla essence
125g self raising flour, sifted
pinch of salt

For filling
4 eggs
200g caster sugar
100g dark chocolate
50g plain flour
450ml double cream
8 passion fruits, pulp and juice

Preheat oven to 180C.

To make the pastry, beat together the butter and sugar until light and creamy.

Add the egg and vanilla essence and beat well.

Add the sifted flour and salt. Stir until the mixture forms a sticky dough.

Grease and line a 18x28cm baking tin.

Flour hands and press pastry evenly into base of the lined tin and bake pastry case for 15 minutes.

While the pastry case bakes, prepare the filling by whisking the eggs and the sugar together until pale.

Melt the chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave.

Add the melted chocolate, flour, cream and passion fruit pulp and stir to combine.

Pour filling over the pastry case in the tin and bake for 35-40 minutes or until firm to the touch.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the tin. When cool, slice into squares.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Research on a seasonal food led me to learn a few interesting facts about rhubarb. You never know, this may come in handy at a pub quiz.

Native to China and Tibet and originated over 2000 years ago, rhubarb only began to be eaten for pleasure in the West in the 18th century. In the UK, the outdoor grown variety is available from April to September. What is in shops now is forced rhubarb; which becomes available late in winter and is grown in West Yorkshire in an area dubbed the Rhubarb Triangle.

Forced rhubarb refers to the method used to grow rhubarb out of season. Long low level sheds house the plants in a warm and dark environment. This forces the rhubarb to concentrate on growing sweeter stalks rather than leaves that absorb sunlight. Stalks are picked at night by hand and by candlelight- too much light will halt further growth of a plant. Supposedly- if you’re silent whilst in a shed, you can hear the rhubarb growing.

Rhubarb is a divisive flavour that has enjoyed resurgence again after a post- WWII period of decline when new and exotic offerings arrived. Commonly referred to as a fruit, rhubarb is actually a vegetable rich in vitamin C and fibre. Because of it crisp and tangy taste, rhubarb pairs as well with savoury dishes as it does the sweet dishes we are accustomed to eating. When stewed it makes a tasty compote that pairs well with yogurt for a quick breakfast treat.

Rhubarb and Yogurt Breakfast Cup

For the rhubarb:
225g / 8oz rhubarb, cut into chunks
45g / 3tbsp sugar
1 piece of stem ginger

To assemble the Breakfast Cup:
Plain yogurt

Put the rhubarb, sugar, stem ginger and a spoonful of water in a small saucepan over low heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Give the saucepan a shake every now and then so that all the rhubarb cooks.

To assemble the breakfast cups, alternate layers of rhubarb, yogurt and muesli.

Once the rhubarb is cooked, you can either store it to eat over a few days or you can eat it straight away.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Yauatcha macaroons. Crunchy little morsels of delight. Usually macaroons come in standard (but still delicious) flavours like vanilla, chocolate, coffee and pistachio but Yauatcha takes this classic French treat and gives it an Asian twist. Flavours like vanilla sesame, matcha kalamanzi, kumquat, lychee raspberry, lemon cashew and coffee chocolate (pictured left to right) not pictured are chocolate jasmine and coconut pistachio. Yes, Yauatcha has been open a few years now however, I still can't get enough of the place.
I love going for a meal but when I can't be bothered to reserve a table or don't want a time limit set on my meal, I pick up some macaroons to dish up for dessert. The packaging adds an extra touch making it feel like you're opening a present. These will always go down a treat- they don't come cheap (0.80p each) but they are worth it.

Friday, March 10, 2006


I was 17 years old when I first went to France. My French pen friend, Nolwenn, had visited the year before and at the end of the summer we realised that we actually liked each other and wanted to meet up again. The following June, armed with my stupidly large suitcase (I've always had the tendency to overpack) and my three years of high school French (which meant that I could just about say "Bonjour"), I boarded my flight filled with both excitement and nervousness.

One flight, one metro ride and one train ride later I found my way to Lorient in Brittany. It was there that I met Malou, Nolwenn's mother. Her parents spoke little English and my French at the time was non existant but somehow we managed to understand each other. Nolwenn was an only child so for that summer I was her younger sister and Malou became my summertime mother.

Malou was possibly the best home cook I have ever met. She introduced my palate to French cuisine and taught me about French cooking. Breakfast for her always consisted on a bowl of strong black coffee, half a sugar, toasted baguette with lashings of salted Breton butter and a cigarette. Afterwards, she would start work on our next meal. Roast chicken, merguez, ratatouille, soupe a l'oignon, mousse au chocolat- everything she touched tasted amazing. Each day there was a new taste sensation. At the end of that summer, I returned to the States a Francophile with a few Frenchy habits as souvenirs.

Their house became my summer haven and when Nolwenn had a summer job, I would spend more time in the kitchen and at the market with Malou. As my French improved, our conversations got more in depth and covered everything from life to far breton. When I lived in Paris, I relished my weekends away in the countryside and often brought friends who were also in need of mothering and a hot meal. Over time she became one of my food heros and from her I learned to take pleasure not just in eating my food but preparing it. Her cooking tips have stayed with me and cover everything from never using the same knife for the cheese and the butter to the secret ingredient to her French Onion Soup- adding a packet of onion soup mix to the soup.

Last week, Malou passed away after a long battle with cancer. I wasn't able to say goodbye or to thank her for her kindness over the last 14 years but I know that each time I sit at the table and trim green beans or dip a toasted baguette coated in Breton butter into my coffee, there is a bit of her food legacy that lives on.