Monday 27 December 2010

The simplest green tea cupcakes

Oh why is baking so messy? I feel like my whole life is covered in a layer of icing sugar and green tea powder. I'm not averse to getting a little down and dirty when cooking, but I really don't like cleaning up. But these little sweet, healthy little balls of goodness are worth the effort. I scoured the internet for the simplest recipe for green tea cake I could find, then simplified it some more, and this is what I came up with...

I know, I know, they're not those perfect cupcakes you see on market stalls - I still don't have the proper baking tray or those hard cups that make them bake without bending. But they taste good and that is the main thing, right?

Green tea cupcakes

4 Eggs
7 tblsp caster sugar
60 g self raising flour
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2 tblsp green tea powder

Whisk the sugar and eggs together, then add dry ingredients and keep whisking until you get a smooth paste. Bake for 20-25min at 180 degrees C


400g cream cheese
8 tblsp icing sugar
2 tblsp green tea powder

Blend the above ingredients in a blender and spread over the cakes once cool. By the way, I got the green tea powder from the Japan Centre, in Piccadilly Circus. I believe that you can order it online too

God, I love Japanese packaging. So, it's nearly January. In Poland (as in many other Catholic countries) that means Carnival time. In the UK, it usually means a pretty dreary month. But this year I'm actually quite looking forward to it, because I plan to switch off from everything and everyone, and just completely focus on yours truly! That may sound hugely selfish, but if there's one thing I have learnt from therapy, it's that being a little bit selfish can be a positive thing. Obviously, if you happen to be a narcissist, then that's really bad advice, but on the whole, I believe the world would be a happier place if people focussed inwards on themselves a little bit more, rather than trying to fix others or have all their needs met by them. That can only lead to disappointment. So here's to a lovely, selfish New Year!

Saturday 25 December 2010

A very Polish Xmas and "Ryba po grecku"

So, as you might know already, in Poland, Christmas Eve is the big deal, when you are supposed to have 12-13 dishes (for the apostles), all consisting of fish and vegetables. You are, in theory at least, fasting

"Ryba po grecku" is always my favourite dish out of the lot. It's literally translated as "Greek-style fish", although this doesn't actually make any sense, because it has nothing to do with Greek food, and everything to do with a Polish Christmas. I think there's always been a tradition of naming food in this non-sensical way in Poland.  There's "Jewish-style herrings", "Outlaw-style herrings" (why outlaws would have their own specific herring style god only knows), "Gypsy-style herrings" to name but a well as "Ukranian borsht" and "Italian salad", which, confusingly, is known as "Russian salad" everywhere else in the world

"Ryba po grecku" recipe 

White fish, filleted
Carrots, grated
Celeriac, grated
Parsnips, grated
Onion, finely chopped
Tomato puree
Lemon juice
Mustard (sarepska or dijon)
Salt and pepper
Little bit of flour

Sorry I can't give you the quantities, but they always vary slightly, and you need to use you sense of taste and instincts with this dish. The important thing is that you make enough sauce to cover the fish. It's not a problem if you have loads of sauce, that's kind of what you want. Start of by frying the vegetables for about half an hour, covered, on a small heat. Meanwhile, cut the fish into smaller parts, cover in flour, and fry until it is browned. Then, you need to add flavour to the sauce until you are happy with it. So add the puree, some mustard, a bit of lemon juice, paprika, sugar and salt and pepper, and keep tasting until you are satisfied. We used both black and white peppers... Finally, transfer the fish to a serving dish and cover in the sauce. It's served cold, so allow it to cool and stick in the fridge until serving time. I think that it would make a great starter. Merry Xmas!

Wednesday 22 December 2010

My birthday cake

My mum made me the loveliest birthday cake for my birthday, which I'd like to share with you

She then proceeded to loose me in a shopping centre, which took me back to being 5 again, some things never change...

Sunday 19 December 2010

Sweet & Spicy, Brick Lane

Just a quickie today, before I head off to the airport and hope to take off for Poland. There's always a massive drama about getting there, with everyone literally praying for my safe arrival, and hoping that my luck hasn't run out on me just yet - somehow, every year, despite loads of flights being cancelled and airports closed, magically, on my day of travel, they reopen and my flight is the one which hasn't been affected

My mate from Hong Kong, Matt, has been here for the past few days. It's been amazing having him, as he's such a grounding influence, I wish he was around more. This is where we went for my birthday curry the other day. It's my favourite curry house on Brick Lane, because it's not like all the others - it's more of a canteen than a restaurant, filled with old men, and there's no people standing outside trying to drag you in

There's one thing that you absolutely have to order if you come here - it's the thing with the egg in it up there, and it's called Aloo Keema. It's the best curry type thing I have ever eaten! The veggie samosas are pretty tasty too...

I kind of feel like there's something really special about the food here because when I came here for my friend Tishy's birthday a while back, when I was coming down with a horrible cold, and when I woke up the next morning my cold had disappeared! To be fair, this has only happened once and when I trekked here and got a take away last time I was ill, apart from being very tasty, it did nothing. But still, it was very impressive the first time, so I wouldn't rule out it having some kind of special healing powers... just make sure you bring your own booze. We washed everything down with a bottle of posh prosecco, drunk from their plastic cups - love it! After my birthday curry we decided to go "for just one free drink" to the Vibe bar down the road. Unbelievably, DJ Vadim, whose Xmas mix I have been listening to for the past month, was playing! This is why I believe that my legendary good luck is still in good speed and I will fly today. Perhaps it's a weird thing to base my hope on, but that's just how I roll, Poland here I come!

Sunday 12 December 2010

The Penbury Tavern, Hackney

The Penbury Tavern has been the one constant in my life since I moved to Hackney. Ok, so if any of my friends are reading, I am being a little dramatic, and of course, they are always my constant. But it terms of pubs, it is The Penbury every time. Apart from being ridiculously close to my flat, they have great food and "well kept" (so I'm told) ales. They also have regular beer festivals - I went to one a couple of weeks ago, and they really make you feel like getting pissed is a learning and almost noble experience. The atmosphere here is reminiscent of a student union. In a nice way

I have never had a bad meal in here - they have fantastic Sunday roasts, pizzas like you rarely find outside of Italy, and this amazing Italian sausage with polenta. The latter is my usual choice, but after being jealous of my dad's succulent roast beef last time, for the first time ever, the whole Zak family ordered the same meal today. If you don't know the mealtime habits of the Zaks - this is highly unusual. In fact, I can't remember when it last happened. My parents have this "thing" where they feel everyone needs to order a different meal, so we can all try as many different dishes on the menu as possible. It's great in theory, but very annoying when, inevitably, you end up with the crap one

The Penbury chef is a friendly Italian bloke, who always recognises us and makes us feel at home. It's a lovely thing, although can make you feel slightly embarassed when you have the sort of family moments we have... hopefully, being Italian, he'll understand that people can get emotional at times. Strangely enough, in the course of this blog, my old uni mate, Rob, texted to see if I fancy a drink at The Penbury. I don't think I've ever been twice in one day before - now it really feels like it's back to the student union!

Saturday 4 December 2010

Spanish almond cakes aka the tastiest cakes in the world (and no butter!)

There's these little cakes, individually wrapped, that I can only ever find in Spain. And only randomly, in some parts of Spain, but not in others. They are my favourite cakes in the world, and it pains me that I only ever get to enjoy them once every couple of years or so... so you can imagine my astonishment, when the lovely Alice bought some homemade ones into work on her birthday!  I ate five of the little blighters immediately. I finally got round to making them for myself this weekend, and it's the easiest thing in the world - you simply mix all the ingredients with your hands, form little balls and bake in a medium oven for approximately 20-25min

They're not everyone's cup of tea, of course, and some people may find them "a bit dry" - I would describe them as "powdery" myself - but I have to concede that they are best when washed down with a warm drink (mulled wine worked perfectly well). A word of warning - if you do like them, you may not be able to stop. My friend, Simone, came round for lunch today, had one, and asked if she could take some home - result. The same happened with Mariana, which is a massive compliment because she is Spanish, and took some home for another Spanish girl!

Ingredients (makes about 20)

200g plain flour
200g ground almonds
200g icing sugar
100g sunflower/almond/walnut oil
100g light olive oil
1tsp baking powder
1tsp cream of tartar
2tsp cinamon
2tsp vanilla essence