Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Claudia Roden's chocolate breakfast

Muesli Lover enjoyed a history, interiors and cookery lesson this week as a guest of the venerable food writer Claudia Roden in her extraordinary arts and crafts home in London. The interior was straight out of the pages of her new book, The Food of Spain, a Spanish-Moorish feast of tiles, heavy cushions and dark, long-loved wooden furniture.

Claudia invited a group of journalists and bloggers to try some of the dishes from her book and the one that grabbed me was the hot chocolate. Our saccharine, watery versions just don't compare to the stand-your-spoon-in-it Spanish chocolate, thickened with cornflour, delicately sweetened and served with churros.

Chocolate was drunk long before it was eaten and its origins are in Mexico. Once solid chocolate began being used for cake baking, Basques and Catalans found their source from Jewish chocolatiers in southern France, so Claudia explained, as she held court in her sunny back garden.

The drinking of chocolate, although limited to the wealthy, was encouraged by the Pope as nutritional sustenance during Lent, ironic then that many now celebrate abstinence during Lent with a chocolate fest at Easter.

The four-ingredient thick hot chocolate drink recipe features in 512-page tome, The Food of Spain, as much a coffee table book as a cookbook, and featuring some alternative breakfast dishes if chocolate sounds a little too bourgeois. The tortilla, creamy salt cod omelette and scrambled egg with asparagus and prawn stand out but there are more, depending on how adventurous your morning tastebuds are.

Food of Spain (Michael Joseph/Penguin hardback, £25)

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Recipe: buckwheat blinis with smoked salmon and scrambled egg

This BBC Food recipe from Sophie Dahl worked a treat, despite switching buckwheat for wholemeal and parmesan for cheddar. A delicious and filling brunch dish that involves minimal preparation, despite the somewhat formidable ingredients list, but must be served fresh from the pan while the egg is still glossy and hot.

I cooked the salmon a little with the egg, but in the BBC version the salmon is raw - apparently the preference of the Muesli Lover readership, according to my recent poll on the topic.

For the blinis
85g/3oz buckwheat flour
1 tsp baking powder salt and freshly ground black pepper
150ml/5fl oz full-fat milk
1 tsp mustard powder
70g/2½oz cheddar cheese
grated small handful chopped fresh chives
2 free-range egg whites, preferably organic
pinch salt
knob of unsalted butter

For the scrambled eggs
4 free range or organic eggs (plus 2 free-range egg yolks)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
knob of unsalted butter

To serve
2 tbsp chopped fresh chives
250g/9oz smoked salmon
1 lemon, cut into wedges

For the blinis, mix together the buckwheat flour, baking powder, a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper and the milk to make a smooth batter. Add the mustard powder, cheddar and chives and mix until well combined. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed.

Gradually fold the whisked egg whites into the batter mixture using a metal spoon. Melt the butter in a frying pan over a medium high heat, and spoon large tablespoons of the batter into the pan to make medium sized pancakes, about 10cm/4in in diameter.

Fry the blinis, in batches, for 2-3 minutes until small bubbles appear on the surface and the underside looks cooked. Turn the blinis over and cook on the other side for a further 1-2 minutes, or until golden-brown. Keep warm. Repeat until all of the mixture is used up.

For the scrambled eggs, whisk the eggs in a bowl, and season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat, then pour in the eggs, stirring a little to break the eggs up slightly as they set. Cook for 1-2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat and set the eggs aside to finish cooking for a further 1-2 minutes.

To serve, place two blinis onto each of four serving plates, spoon on the scrambled eggs, and sprinkle over the chopped chives. Arrange the smoked salmon on the side, and finish with the lemon wedges.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Crappy breakfast en Paris



London, I'm sorry. It was a crisp sunny day, I had dreams of flaky croissants resting on copies of Le Figaro, a snatched cafe au lait in the shadow of Notre Dame... I was lulled by the romance of breakfast in Paris.

I was wrong, I was blinded by notions of the Gallic "small lunch". It was, how you say, boff.

The pictures above look fanciful but Le Cafe Marly was nothing better than a peachy location (in the courtyard of the Louvre). Best bit? Looking down into one of the gallery's sculpture halls en route to the loo. Worst bit? Paying £15 for an odd-tasting green tea, a diminutive plate of passable pastries and a lovely orange presse.

Next day, a more promising find. An airy cafe near the Bourse with huge communal tables bearing jam pots and papers. I forget the name, for it was not memorable. Cool hot chocolate, so-so bread, overdone scrambled egg not cooked to order, underdone boiled egg and a surly waitress.

Paris, j'adore, but not for breakfast.

If you have a recommendation for breakfast in Paris, please share it will the Muesli Lover using the comment form. Merci.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Recipe: savoury and sweet organic spelt pancakes

I picked up a fab spelt pancake recipe from - not a dry and pappy end product that I often seem to concoct from well meaning free-from/organic/wholesome recipes, but a chunky, moist and moreish hunk of yumness.

It was pancake day, I wanted something hearty, and these delivered. I started by filling it with pre-roasted peppers (lazeeeebones), wild rocket, humous and a spray of olive oil and balsamic. Dessert was pears slow-poached in red wine and spices (cinammon, five spice and nutmeg) with cinammon dusted yoghurt and a tiny squeeze of lemon (a sort of nod to le crepe traditionnel.

So good, I might not wait til the next Shrove Tuesday to have them again.

The recipe was produced by Sharpham Park, fine granola and muesli makers in addition to flour, of course.

220g Sharpham Park White Spelt Flour
Pinch of salt
2 free range eggs
550ml full cream milk
50g unsalted butter

1. Break the eggs into the flour and salt and gently whisk. Gradually blend in the milk, splash at a time, until the batter is smooth like single cream. 2. Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan, whisk 2tbsp into the mixture and reserve the rest for greasing the pan between pancakes. Leave the mixture to rest for 30mins. 3. Grease the pan and heat until ‘smoking hot’.

Add 2 tbsp of the batter to the pan, tipping the mixture from side to side, and using a pallet knife, carefully lift the edges of the pancake. When golden brown, flip the pancake over and cook the other side. 4. Keep warm in the oven with interleaves of greaseproof paper between pancakes.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Best cafes: The Breakfast Club Soho

The Breakfast Club is a bit of an institution in London, so it's an aberration of duty that Muesli Lover has taken so long to visit and review. I spoke to the owner when I wrote an article about brunch for the Times, and have had a couple of breakfast meetings there but the legendary queues have always put me off a weekend visit (though I'm assured they move swiftly and it is well worth the wait).

So I snatched a midweek opportunity to pop by and boy, has Mr Muesli Lover been hassling me to go back ever since.

The menu is one of the most extensive breakfast and brunch offerings in London - part of the yearning to go back is to make inroads into this smorgasbord. We plumped for the US-inspired options of "ham so eggsited" or rather, pancakes with ham, egg, cheddar and maple syrup and a plate of toast with avocado, poached egg and bacon, which had another amusing sobriquet I have forgotten.

Both were superb and served speedily (we were surrounded by the time-is-money crowd with Macs and trendy suits). They were both served as inviting stacks of breakfast goodness, a welcome change from the flat sprawling plates dished up by most greasy spoons. There was no salad garnish as is fashionable in so many breakfast joints, and both were steaming hot. 

Pancakes were fluffy, egg just cooked and bacon crispy. Nothing to complain about really, right down to the lemony/gingery drink, which followed a couple of Slow Boy juices: Apple, carrot, orange and ginger, that were slurped too quickly to photograph. No wonder this place and its three siblings are so legendary.