Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Apricot and Salted Caramel Pots de Creme


Anyone that knows me, knows that anything with the words 'salted caramel' in them has me reaching for the recipe immediately.  There is something alchemical about the marriage of sweet and salty that is hard to beat.  This recipe is sweet, salty, fruity and creamy all at the same time.  You can eat it warm or cold and it tastes equally delicious.  I know that it looks as if one apricot isn't going to be enough, but in fact it prevents the pud being watery and seems to concentrate the flavour. 



1 apricot, pitted and finely chopped
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup butter
1 and 1/2 cups double cream, room temperature
3/4 cup whole milk, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 ounce dark chocolate, finely chopped
6 large egg yolks, whisked together in a large bowl
                                                                makes about 6 ramekins

1.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small saucepan, bring the apricot, water, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla extract to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for about 10-15 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced by half and is mostly jammy in texture.

2. While it is simmering, heat the butter in a small frying pan over medium heat until it starts to turn amber colored and smells nutty. Remove it from heat as soon as this happens, if you leave it too long past that point it will burn.


3.  Immediately mix together the brown butter, cream, milk, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium low heat until begins to bubble slightly around the edge. Slowly add some of the milk mixture to the eggs in the bowl, whisking constantly, until half of the milk mixture has been incorporated into the bowl. Pour the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan and place the saucepan over low heat. Add the apricot mixture and the dark chocolate and stir until the chocolate is completely melted. Evenly distribute the mixture between 6 small ramekins that have been placed on a lipped baking sheet. Pour water into the baking sheet, taking care not to splash any into the ramekins, until it is about 3/4-inch deep all around the pan. Cover the pan with a large sheet of tin foil and place it in the oven.


4.  Allow it to bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the caramel custard is set around the edges but still a bit wiggly in the center. Remove and allow to cool for 1 hour before serving. It can also be refrigerated for 4 hours and served chilled.
I like to sprinkle a few flakes of Maldon Sea Salt over the top and then I'm done.  Time to enjoy and share...
All Images:  Adventures in Cooking

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Reasons to be Cheerful

1.  I finally mastered the perfect French dressing!  Sharp with vinegar, tangy with mustard, garlicky and silky smooth, it transformed a humble green salad into something quite magical.

2.  To sit with friends and colleagues in a sunny pub garden and realise that wherever our lives went, we would still have a connection and a reason to pick up the phone and say 'hi'.

3.  The feel of the cool water as I lowered myself into the pool was nothing short of ecstasy.  It felt like the whisper of silk and soothed my frayed and frazzled hot body.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Reasons to be Cheerful

Dragonfly, Old Friends and Ice-cream

1.  To sit in the quiet garden in the sunshine and be still.  Just at that moment a beautiful dragonfly flits across my gaze, the sunshine bouncing off it's irridescent back, its gossamer wings fragility personified, as it takes itself off round the garden.

2. Sitting with friends in a comfortableness that only comes after years of friendship; we had our babies together, been through marriage ups and downs, teenage tantrums, watched our babies grow into young adults, leave home and return and here we still are, laughing and drinking wine together.  What a blessing.

3. Dipping a spoon into the thick, dark chocolate fudge sauce and watching it melt the ice-cream, forming a river of pale vanilla, flecked here and there with traces of the sauce as it runs away from the molten stream.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday Fiction - Leith and Whitehouse

I'm back in the reading groove again and have been racing through novels over the last few weeks.  When I find an author I like I read everything by them, one after the other.  My latest find was an author that I usually associate with cooking, 'The Great British Menu' and The River Cafe.  Pru Leith.  I didn't know she wrote anything other than cookery books.  This is one very multi-talented lady!  A few weeks ago when I was staying in Sussex I stumbled upon a second-hand book sale in the village market hall.  It being my very favourite thing to do, I spent a glorious hour perusing their titles.  I came away with a handful of children's novels that I LOVED as a child and they were free!  I also bought (for 30p) The Gardener by Pru Leith.  I sat, in the garden, and read it cover to cover in practically one sitting.  She writes about people and their relationships with each other and the world they find themselves in.  The characters are wholly likeable and realistic and I came away from the book feeling better about life; a bit the way you do with a 'feel-good' movie.  They aren't intellectually challenging, but nor are they meant to be.  They are 'a good read' when you want something softer and gentle, to use a cooking analogy, they are the lemon posset dessert, not the treacle sponge.

Continuing in the same vein, I downloaded two novels from this author in one go, after reading the gripping The Bed I Made by Lucie Whitehouse.  She writes psychological thrillers that I just can't abandon until the end.

So, these two made their way onto my kindle and I recommend them if you like to delve into people's motivations and the lies and mess that they try to hide.  I particularly enjoyed 'The House at Midnight' about a group of friends, who's loyalties are stretched to breaking point when one of the group inherits a large house in the Cotswolds...

What are you reading at the moment? Do let me know as I'm in need of more recommendations for my upcoming hols!

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Morocco and Brydie Mack

I stand in a portico hung with gentian-blue ipomeas … and look out on a land of mists and mysteries; a land of trailing silver veils through which domes and minarets, mighty towers and ramparts of flushed stone, hot palm groves and Atlas snows, peer and disappear at the will of the Atlantic cloud drifts.”

– Edith Wharton, In Morocco

On my 'Bucket List' is a trip to Marrakech - all my life I've been drawn to busy, colourful living and many of the places I want to travel to are full of bustle, colour and noise!  These places are a direct contrast to how I live, with my penchant for white, clean spaces, minimal clutter and order throughout.  Somehow though, the colours, textures and busyness of Africa and India are a good counterpoint and source of inspiration for me. As I haven't made it, yet, to Morocco, I've had to make do with dreaming about it; a previous post here combined my love of white with a Morrocan interior but my latest find is full of colour and texture. Brydie Mack is an Australian stylist and photographer and has shot the latest campaign for Billabong in Morocco.  From hidden alleys, deserted Riads and the beautiful seaside town of Essouria, she has captured the energy and essence of this beautiful country.  I love these photographs and hope you will too.

“To visit Morocco is still like turning the pages of some illuminated Persian manuscript all embroidered with bright shapes and subtle lines.”

– Edith Wharton, 1927

“Crisply geometric patterns of blue-and-white zellij, sun-bleached panels of carved cedar, rhythmic arcades of white plaster, sinuous lines of wrought-iron balconies: each reveals the hand of a master craftsperson and the beauty of refined materials.”

– Susan Sully, New Moroccan Style: The Art of Sensual Living

“Inside, the ceiling is low, cobwebbed, and the shelves beneath it cluttered with treasure. There are ancient Berber chests, silver teapots, ebony footstools, and swords once used by warring tribes, and cartons of postcards left by the French, Box Brownie cameras, candlesticks, silk wedding belts, and camel headdresses crafted from indigo wool.”

from Tahir Shah’s introduction to Marrakesh: Through Writers’ Eyes

“In 1931, without any preconceived notion of what I should find there, I paid a visit to Morocco. Two months, I thought, would suffice for seeing the place. And so they would have if what I saw had not awakened a wish to see more, a wish which seemed to grow even as it was being satisfied. At first it expressed itself as a desire to wander over the surface of the land … After the War I returned to Morocco and bought a home there. This time I became aware of the fact that it was not the landscape I wanted to know, but the people.”
– Paul Bowles

“With the afternoon heat too suffocating in the square, the light too bright for any but a Marrachi’s eyes, I slipped into the labyrinth of the medina. Cool vaulted stone, courtyards latticed with bamboo staves, casting zebra stripes across the merchants and their stalls. What an emporium – mountains of tumeric, paprika, salted almonds and dates, yellow leather slippers laid out in rows, ostrich eggs and incense, chameleons in wire cages, and beef tenderloins nestled on fragrant beds of mint.”

from Tahir Shah’s introduction to Marrakesh: Through Writers’ Eyes

“… I wish I could tell you the wonder of the souks and marketplaces; the brilliant overflowing of spices, olives, fabrics; the witchcraft stalls; the fishmongers; the piles of mint and thyme scenting the air . . . and even more than this is the wonder of its becoming familiar, the sufficiency and contentment in knowing the names of things, the words to tell the taxi drivers, the sense and reason behind the lives of Moroccans …”

– Melissa Manlove, ‘Letter from Morocco’, Travelers’ Tales

“From far off, through circuitous corridors, came the scent of citrus-blossom and jasmine, with sometimes a bird’s song before dawn, sometimes a flute’s wail at sunset, and always the call of the muezzin in the night …”

– Edith Wharton, In Morocco

All images Brydie Mack

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Summer To Do List

As my long summer break from school is now peeping its head over the horizon, I'm allowing myself some headspace to dream about what I'd like to do during the time off... It doesn't matter too much if I don't do all of the things I aspire to, but I do like a goal, and a list!!!!

1.  Get back on track with some healthy eating and  more exercise.  I've been so busy and the last year has taken it's toll.  With a big birthday looming up in the not too distant future I want to hit it in good shape.

2.  Read. Read. Read some more.  I'm currently trawling through recommendations which I'm going to store away for my holiday in the South of France.  I won't download them onto my kindle until just before I go, or I'll read them, it's that simple.

3.  Go to an outdoor film screening.  Bishop's Park has a whole selection this summer so now I've just got to get organised.

4.  On last year's list I had put that I wanted to learn to cook proper Indian food/curries.  It didn't happen for a variety of reasons, so this year it's back on the to-do-list.

5.  Learn all over again how to relax.  I've realised that I'm terrible at sitting still.  I always seem to be doing something, so I need to get back into my meditation habit.  I have a meditation app on my phone that is pretty good, but I've been hearing good things about Calm so will download that too.

6.  Wild swimming.  I love swimming and go to my local pool several times a week, but there's something magical about swimming in the sea, a river, a hidden pond somewhere.  I'm going to find some new places to try.

I'm sure I'll add to this list over the next few weeks, but this is something to be going on with.  What are your plans for the summer?