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Chocolate Brownie Cake

April 12, 2008

Chocolate brownie cake

My lovely friend Estelle is having a baby in a couple of weeks, and last weekend was her Baby Shower. It was a lovely, chilled out afternoon with a cool bunch of girls, eating lovely food and talking about baby stuff, amongst other things. Estelle was suitably pampered and I treated her to this special Baby Shower Chocolate Brownie Cake.

Recipe for chocolate brownie cake
1 pack of dark chocolate drops
1 pack of white chocolate drops
100g dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa)
220g butter
4 medium-large eggs
100g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
400g brown sugar
50g demerera sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tub of full fat cream cheese
200g icing sugar 

Melt the chocolate and butter in a large glass bowl over a pan of hot water, or microwave it on high for 40 seconds at a time, stirring until it is all melted. Any longer than 40 seconds and the chocolate will burn and be unusable. Stir it together until it is all blended, then simply add all the other ingredients and stir again until completely mixed. Finally, add the chocolate drops, give a quick stir and then transfer to two 9 inch cake tins – silicon or greased and lined metal – and cook at 180 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Be careful to leave an inch at the top of each tin, as the mixture will rise whilst cooking, and the first time I tried this recipe it overflowed onto the bottom of the oven. Mr Rice was not impressed when he had to clean it up.

When the cakes are cooked they will be springy to the touch, but remember that the skewer test does not apply here, as you want the end result to be sticky and moist, not clean and dry like a normal cake. They will be crispy on top and gooey inside. Let the cakes cool fully in the tin. With normal chocolate brownies there is no problem removing and cutting them into pieces when warm – even if a little breaks off. However, it is crucial that this version remains fully intact, and the cooler it is, the less fragile it will be.

While the cooling is taking place, make the filling. Simply place the tub of cream cheese and the icing sugar into a mini blender and blend until the mixture is smooth. Then leave in the fridge to firm up.

Carefully remove the cakes from their tins and lining paper, if used, and choose the cake with the best-looking top, and place the other on a serving plate.

Then smear the filling all over the bottom cake, and sandwich the other on top. Carefully melt the white chocolate in a bain marie or in 30-second bursts in the microwave, and use a teaspoon to drizzle the chocolate over the cake in whatever style you like. Finally scatter the silver balls all over the cake – they will always land on the chocolate.

Leave to set for 30 minutes and serve. The filling makes the lower cake even more squidgy and gooey than normal…Enjoy!

© Katheryn Rice 2008

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Cocktails at Brooklyn Social

April 7, 2008

Brooklyn Social Cocktails

This has to be one of the most effortlessly cool places to drink in Brooklyn. 

Low lighting, slow ceiling fans and a dark, mysterious exterior, Brooklyn Social perfectly recreates the Italian Social Club it used to be in days gone by. Screaming subtlety and effortless coolness, it is a superbly relaxed place to sit and chill out, drinking some superb cocktails at the bar, whilst listening to Ella Fitzgerald.

© Katheryn Rice 2008

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Bagel by the brownstones

March 29, 2008

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The strongest memory I have of New York brownstones is from seeing one on the Cosby Show as a child. At the time it didn’t occur to me where it was, but then when I saw them on grown up shows like Sex and the City, I started to identify them with New York. During our stay with Chloe in Brooklyn we strolled up and down the brownstone streets and it felt as if we were somewhere memorable and iconic.And what else could be more iconic in New York than a bagel? Scallion cream cheese is something I have always wanted to order. Of course it would be easy to make at home, just chop some spring onions (scallions) and stir them into some luscious cream cheese. But how New York it would be to order it in a bagel? I managed to spoil it though by causing confusion with my final choice of bagel filling. When I am making sandwiches or ordering a free combination of fillings from a menu I tend to overdo it with the flavours I choose to compete with each other, and this occasion was no exception. If I was to follow convention I would have ordered a cream cheese and lox (smoked salmon) bagel, or a scallion cream cheese bagel, but I wanted both of those flavours, so I went for scallion cream cheese and lox – on an onion bagel – and got some puzzled looks.

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 But when I sat down on a park bench opposite the bagel shop and bit into the tasty bagel as the bright spring sun shone down on me, I knew I had made the right decision. The sweet onion bagel and smoked salmon combined with sharp scallions and creamy cream cheese to make the perfect taste! So next time you’re in a bagel or sandwich shop, don’t be afraid to go off list!

© Katheryn Rice 2008 

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Blue Ribbon Bar and Sushi, Brooklyn, NY

March 25, 2008

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So we met up with Chloe and her friends at the Blue Ribbon Bar and Sushi and we ended up with this  superb platter of california rolls, sashimi and sushi, and a couple of lucky dip items. I’m not sure why, but ‘going for sushi’ seemed like a new experience in New York, even though there is a sushi bar at the top of my road in North London.

The platter looked superb, and tasted great, but it was pretty standard for sushi. Having said that there was a new one for me – eel. It just happened to be part of the selection but I’m glad it was. For some reason I thought eel would be tough and chewy but it was quite the opposite – soft, succulent and with a delicate flavour with just a hint of salt.

But the best thing about this meal was the company. We got our own little booth, which was almost like being in our very own sushi box, but very cosy and perfect for a night of chit chat with the girls, during which we explained the actual meaning of ‘snogging’ (it doesn’t mean the same as ‘shagging’) and introduced our American friends to that very British phrase, ‘love-rat’. And the anecdote in which this term came up involved a Northerner describing someone in that way, so by the end of the evening, the yanks were saying it as ‘loove rat’, which was even more endearing and funny.

© Katheryn Rice 2008  

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Bar Tabac, Smith Street , Brooklyn, New York

March 20, 2008

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My first trip to New York was full on Manhattan tourism – all the obligatory sights; Battery Park, Empire State, Central Park, shopping, the East Village etc, but this time our trip was less wide-eyed green tourists, and more hanging out in the right places with the locals (kind of).

We couldn’t come to the US of A without doing brunch, and our lovely host Chloe made sure we did it in style. Venues don’t come much hipper than Bar Tabac in Brooklyn, which was rammed on Sunday brunchtime. We squeezed our way through the crowds in the front bar section, past the New Orleans swing band, complete with tuba, and to the front of the throng waiting to be seated.

We’d had lively night on Grey Goose Martinis, so hair of the dog was in order in the form of a spicy Bloody Mary. I definitely needed a pick-me-up but the Bar Tabac Bloody Mary had a hell of a kick, thanks to the special dose of fresh horseradish – ouch! 

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The eclectic crowd ranged from young families to middle aged men to the trendy Brooklyn crowd, but the most popular dish by far was the Bar Tabac special – Ratatouille topped with eggs, so that was my brunch of choice – when in Rome and all that…

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The perfectly fried eggs had warm, melty yolks and the ratatouille was tangy and tomatoey with diced, sauted potatoes for a bit of extra body – a filling, satisfying brunch.

© Katheryn Rice 2008 

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Big Apple breakfast

March 15, 2008

A long weekend in New York with two special girl friends was a very well-timed getaway, made all the more interesting thanks to one of the friends being a native New Yorker, Brooklyn to be specific. 

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It’s a cliched image, but one I wanted to share. Shame about the traffic cones though – put there to protect skaters from the melting ice.

As soon as we boarded the plane to New York we had been fantasising about an American breakfast; pancakes, bacon, maple syrup and so on, so that was our first stop in Manhattan. The Waverley Restaurant is the quintessential diner; customers seated at the bar and in booths, and others waiting to be seated as the super-efficient waiters take orders for the breakfast staples – coffees, hash browns, pancakes, bacon and all manner of eggs. 

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 After a quick translation by our host for the weekend, we ordered two rounds of ‘Silver Dollars’ (the small, manageable-looking pancakes), hash browns, sausages, bacon and scrambled eggs. As we salivated with anticipation, we gave little consideration to the huge portion-size America is famous for. So when the food arrived, we had unwittingly ordered enough for five or six people. Each plate of Silver Dollars was piled high with 10 of the little blighters. I had been expecting two or three… Cue lots of seasoned customers smiling kindly at the green British tourists with too much food!

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Having said that, this breakfast was exactly what we had been dreaming about. We spent a delicious half an hour tucking into our maple syrup-drenched brunch. Although after we’d eaten as much as we could, with no regard for our modesty, our sight-seeing took on a slower pace as we were all markedly heavier, but well satisfied. 

© Katheryn Rice 2008 

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Swede, kale and potato cakes

March 10, 2008

In Mr Rice’s absence I found myself with a vegetable surplus. I made soup with the leeks and potatoes, and pasta sauce with the peppers and tomatoes, but I was still left with kale, an onion, some small potatoes and a swede. I toyed with the idea of more soup, but we now have something of a soup mountain in the freezer so I decided to think more creatively.I used to love potato cakes when I was a child – made from leftover mashed potato with a little flour added and fried, then slathered in butter – the ultimate comfort food. So, on a gloomy sunday afternoon I decided to recreate this with the vegetables I had left. It worked really well, although it took a while, the final result was exactly what I had hoped for. 

swede-potato-cakes.jpg Recipe for Swede, kale and potato cakes

500g potatoes
1 swede
1 medium onion
2 tbsps golden caster sugar
4 kale sprigs
1 egg yolk
100g hard cheese, grated
25g butter
splash of olive oil
2 pinches of sea salt
25g wholemeal flour

Wash or peel the potatoes (I don’t peel potatoes much these days, I like to keep the fibre of the skins), then peel the swede and slice into chip-size pieces and steam for 20-25 minutes, or until they are soft and come apart easily in your fingers.

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Meanwhile, heat up half the butter and a splash of olive oil in a frying pan and dice the onions, then slowly fry them until soft and translucent. Then add the sugar and stir well, then turn the heat down and cover, to let them caramelise. About five minutes before the potatoes and swede are cooked put the kale on to steam and remove the cover from the onions. It’s important that the onions are caramelised but don’t have any excess moisture as this will cause the cakes to be less firm, and therefore more difficult to fry.

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When the potatoes and swede are cooked, drain them well and heat them up in a pan to get rid of any excess moisture. Start to mash them and then add the onions and the steamed, drained and chopped kale. Mash and combine the mixture well, then add salt and pepper to your taste, remove from the heat and add the grated cheese, and finally the egg yolk.

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Dust your hands with a bit of the flour then shape the mixture into 8-10 cakes, put them on a plate and then chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

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Then heat the remaining butter and another splash of olive oil and gently fry the cakes until browned on both sides. Be very careful when turning them over as they can be fragile!

Serve immediately with salad and houmous.

Make sure you when you fry the cakes that you leave plenty of space in the pan so you can turn them easily.

© Katheryn Rice 2008

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Table service on the Trang-Bangkok sleeper

March 5, 2008

This is a special one from the Thailand archive for Mr Rice, who is currently relaxing with his chum Mr Bawcombe on Palolim beach in Goa.  On our most recent trip, we had three weeks in Thailand, which allowed to spend a little longer on the road, rather than flying to each destination. So Mr Rice finally got to show me the Bangkok sleeper train he’s so fond of.

A week or so before we boarded the Trang to Bangkok sleeper, we had jumped aboard the midnight train from Hua Hin to Surat Thani only a couple of days before New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t just Mrs and Mr Rice who were trying to get south for the festivities, so the train was jam packed – consequently we had settled for ‘second class air con’ seats, which basically meant old-fashioned plastic bus-style seats with minimal recline. ‘Air con’ was simply a wide open window that allowed the cold night air to rush through the carriage – all night. And worst of all, Mrs and Mr Rice were sitting next to each other, but with the pesky aisle separating us, so we couldn’t even cuddle up to keep warm. Ho hum, eight hours later we arrived, having had very little sleep and groggily resolved to travel sleeper all the way in future.

Sitting down happily in our ‘second class sleeper’ carriage after we boarded the train at Trang, I remembered the less than comfortable journey in second class air con, and I was as happy as if we’d sat in Business Class. Sometimes the most romantic moments are in the most unexpected places, and as we settled back in our seats, watching the sun set over the Thai countryside, our evening was perfected by the lovely waitress who brought us dinner and two cold bottles of Chang!

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It was a simple but tasty meal of sweet and sour chicken with rice and salad, served on a stow-away table by a persistent lady who kept bringing us two Changs instead of one.As night fell, the carriage grew quiet as the bed man walked through the car, converting each double seat into an upper and lower bunk. Mr Rice chivalrously took the lower bunk, meaning I could climb the little ladder up to my cosy little cabin. I closed the curtains, snuggled up in the blanket and had a great night’s sleep.

Our friendly waitress returned the next morning with breakfast: ‘toast’, butter and marmalade with fresh pineapple, orange juice and a nice cup of tea for Mr Rice. The toast was in fact bread, but there’s no need to split hairs. It was a charming way to start our day and limber up for a day travelling through and from Bangkok.

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So, remember – sleeper trains should only be done in sleeper carriages, and I hope you have as memorable a journey as Mrs and Mr Rice did.

© Katheryn Rice 2008 

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Warm salad Nicoise with tuna steak

March 2, 2008

It’s sometimes quick and easy to make yourself a tuna Nicoise with tinned tuna, and often a half decent meal out will even offer the same, but the best kind of tuna Nicoise involves fresh, meaty tuna, preferably from a renewable source.*

Mr Rice loves his Nicoise salads, so I thought it only fair to treat him to a special version to remind him how much I appreciate his husband skills. This recipe is based on Simon Rimmer’s version – the dressing and vegetables are warm, as well as the freshly griddled tuna, so it’s perfect for a chilly day.

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Recipe for warm salad Nicoise with tuna steak
100g green beans
100g new potatoes
12 cherry tomatoes
2 eggs
2 fresh tuna steaks
1 tbsp olive oil
Dressing
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
30ml white wine vinegar
150ml olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper

Scrub the new potatoes and halve if necessary, to make them all bite-size, then put them on to boil for about ten minutes. Put the two eggs onto boil for ten minutes.Then trim the green beans and steam for 7-8 minutes. Meanwhile, for the dressing, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

When the dressing is mixed, transfer it to a frying pan and warm over a low heat. Drain the potatoes and them, the steamed beans, potatoes and tomatoes and toss them in the warm dressing. Remove from the heat.

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Brush the tuna steaks with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook the tuna steaks on a hot griddle pan for about 30 seconds on each side. To serve, pile up the dressed vegetables and place the tuna steak on top, with the halved hard boiled egg on the side.

*The salad can also work with tinned tuna. Just drain it and add to the vegetables and dressing at the last minute. 

© Katheryn Rice 2008

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Parsnip and leek soup

February 26, 2008

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One of the things I love most about Abel & Cole is the way their weekly selection of vegetables encourages me to be more creative with my cooking. One of my winter back-up recipes is potato and leek soup, because it is hearty, tasty and filling.

So, it was a cold, miserable sunday afternoon. Amongst my vegetable selection were some chunky leeks, but no potatoes. Plenty of parsnips though, so the idea for parsnip and leek soup was born.

Parsnips can be a little sweet, but the leeks and vegetable stock help to keep this at bay, and adding creme fraiche at the end smoothes it all over perfectly!

Recipe for Parsnip and leek soup
3 parsnips
2 large leeks
Knob of butter
Olive oil
500ml vegetable stock
Bay leaf
2 cloves of garlic
250ml milk
4 tbsps crème fraiche

Heat a dash of olive oil and the knob of butter in a large, lidded, heavy-bottomed pan. Wash the leeks and slice thinly then add to the pan when the fat starts to bubble. Stir thoroughly until the leeks are covered and then cook on a medium heat until the leeks are soft and translucent, then crush and add the garlic and cook for five more minutes.

 Meanwhile, peel and slice the parsnips, then add to the leeks and garlic, stir to combine well, then cover and sweat for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice to prevent it sticking to the bottom of the pan.

After 10 minutes the parsnips should be soft. Turn the heat up a little and add the stock and bay leaf, plus salt and pepper, then cover and leave to simmer for 30-40 minutes, until it has a soft and mushy consistency. Remove the bay leaf, then add the milk, stir to combine then remove from the heat. Then blend the soup with a hand blender until smooth, return to the heat, and finally, add the creme fraiche for a special creamy finish.

Serve immediately with crusty bread and a bit of grated cheddar. The soup can also be frozen in separate portions. It can be reheated in the microwave, but it’s  best heated up in a pan with a little milk.

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