19 December 2011

2011: My Ten Dishes of the Year

The year is rapidly drawing to a close and, as usual, I'm left scratching my head wondering where all the time has gone. One of my favourite things about writing a food blog is that you have a handy diary of memorable food experiences to look back on – something tangible like photos and words, something other than the ever rising numbers on the bathroom scales. Looking back at 2011 I've been lucky to have experienced some truly wonderful food, and it's good fun to look back and relive some of those memories.

Of course, what good would a year-end post be without that hackneyed favourite of work-shy journalists the world over? Yes folks, it's time for a top ten list! I did a similar post last year and really enjoyed the exercise of reminiscing over some fantastic meals, so I thought I'd repeat the process.

7 December 2011

Young Turks at The Ten Bells, London – Restaurant Review

Let me begin this post with a little disclaimer. Way back when I was young and carefree and 5kg 10kg lighter, me and John and a couple of other friends bought a ramshackle East End boozer that was on its last legs. It was a complete and utter dive; the place was filthy with the windows coated in a seemingly impregnable patina of grime, and the rooms on the floors above the main bar were so dishevelled the place looked more like a crack house than a public house. The typical customer was some old dodgy looking bloke and evening entertainment consisted of "exotic dancers."

10 November 2011

Le Benjamin, Oslo – Restaurant Review

Le Benjamin is one of the newer additions to the burgeoning restaurant scene in Oslo's trendy Grünerløkka neighbourhood. Opened in February 2011 by the people behind the popular Brasserie Blanche in the city's Homansbyen area, Le Benjamin comes with high expectations and strong local competition. Fortunately, it manages to deliver, and if you're looking for a casual meal of decent-enough French classics then look no further.

3 November 2011

Maaemo, Oslo – Restaurant Review (Oct '11)

(You can read a more recent review of Maaemo from me herehere and here)

I know, I know, this is another review of Maaemo. In fact this is my fourth visit to Oslo's ground-breaking restaurant in the last eight months. I've already written over 12,000 words on Maaemo (which, worryingly, is almost as much as I did for my master's dissertation), so for more in-depth information on the restaurant see my previous reviews herehere, and here (and an interview here).

30 September 2011

Hanami, Oslo – Restaurant Review

When you think of food in Norway today, what's the first thing that comes to mind? Pristine fillets of smoked salmon? Reindeer stew? Brown cheese? Not me. You see for me, it's sushi. Yup, Norway has enthusiastically embraced this global trend and is eating the Japanese delicacy with vigorous zeal. I'm even beginning to think that sushi has become this country's new unofficial national dish (surpassing frozen pizza and hot dogs in the process). It's particularly evident in Oslo, where it seems everywhere you look another sushi restaurant is popping up.

26 September 2011

Norwegian Baked Cheesecake with Brunost-Pecan Caramel – Recipe

I'm a cheesecake fiend. I absolutely adore the stuff. Not those insipid excuses made with gelatine, mind; I can't abide those. No, what I usually crave is a proper Nuuu Yoik baked cheesecake, with its creamy sour tang. Nothing else will do.

20 September 2011

Girl & the Goat, Chicago – Restaurant Review

Without doubt, one of the most enjoyable meals I had on my last trip to Chicago was at Girl & the Goat. In fact it was so good that I went there twice. Opened in Chicago's fashionable West Loop in July 2010 by former Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard, this is a restaurant that defies categorisation. The only thing I can categorically state is that it was all utterly fantastic.

13 September 2011

Lunch at Strand Restaurant, Bærum – Restaurant Review

It's official! This year, Norway enjoyed its wettest summer since records began in 1900. Roads and railways have been washed away, houses have been flooded. The rain has been biblical, I tell you! So far, the deluge has continued into autumn and there appears to be no sign of it abating. So it seemed like no small miracle that for one sweet, glorious day last weekend the clouds retreated and out came the sun, shining warm and bright.

2 September 2011

Another Visit to Maaemo, Oslo – Restaurant Review

(You can read more recent reviews of Maaemo herehere and here)

Well, this is becoming quite the habit. But I just can't help it. Regular readers will know that I've become totally smitten with Maaemo, the ground-breaking Oslo restaurant that has completely redefined the concept of Norwegian cuisine. My previous meals at the restaurant (see here and here) left me in no doubt that I had truly tasted some of the best cooking of my life – a bold statement, but Maaemo really is up there with the very best. Indeed, such is my fascination with the restaurant that I even interviewed some of the people behind it to learn more about what they are trying to achieve. Have a look at these links if you'd like to learn more on the background of the restaurant and the people behind it.

31 August 2011

Jarlsberg, Onion & Mushroom Tart – Recipe

Jarlsberg cheese is one of Norway's most famous export products, and it's enjoyed across the country. Although this cheese dates back to the 1850's it wasn't until the 1950's that today's familiar yellow wax-covered cheese was created. Jarlsberg is quite similar to Emmenthal or Comté, with mild sweet nutty notes to it and it's great to use in cooking.

26 August 2011

Mountain Life in Gudbrandsdalen, Norway

The air seems a little cooler now; the skies are a little greyer. Summer in Norway ends abruptly, and with it comes the promise of those crisp autumnal days, where vast swathes of the landscape start to turn beautiful shades of crimson, russet, and gold. So before it gets too cold, the Nibbler family decided to take a little road trip to the glorious Oppland mountains deep in the heart of Norway.

18 August 2011

Big & Little's, Chicago – Restaurant Review

It seems my blog posts these days have mostly been all about Chicago. But I can't really help it – Chicago is an amazing city to eat in, and there's just so much stuff from my recent visit that I'd like to share. One such place is this little hidden gem of restaurant called Big & Little's.

The fact that I visited Big & Little's no less than three times during my stay in Chicago should say it all. It was, without doubt one of the best dining experiences I had in the city, and is testament to the fact that sometimes (OK, most of the time) it is the simplest food done well that gives the greatest pleasure.

16 August 2011

Kuma's Corner, Chicago – Restaurant Review

Monstrous burgers, Jack Daniel's on tap, and the feeling you're on the set of Wayne's World; Chicago's Kuma's Corner has them all. The lure of this holy trinity was just too much for me to resist, so when Mrs. Nibbler and I were in Chicago recently we found ourselves making the trek to this small grungy restaurant and bar located about 6 miles northwest of the city centre.

11 August 2011

My Seven Links

I’ve been nominated by fellow food blogger Laissez Fare to participate in Tripbase’s “7 Links project”. One of the great benefits of blogging that I didn’t fully appreciate when starting out is the opportunity to meet other food lovers, whether in real life or in cyberspace.

Laissez Fare has been at this blogging game for about a year longer than I have and, although we’ve never met in person, his restaurant reviews are ones I value and refer back to. So I was delighted to have been nominated by him for this project.

10 August 2011

Chicago Food Trucks

Food truck fever has been sweeping the US by storm. Whether it's down to a general revival of street food, a hankering after simpler and cheaper fare in these economically challenging times, or just the plain novelty-factor, it seems no city in the US is without a cavalcade of trucks serving food to its hungry residents. If you can think of a type of food, you'll probably find a truck that serves it.

I love the idea of food trucks; they democratise food by allowing easy access to a huge range of cuisines, which can be sampled in several locations across a city. So when I was in Chicago recently, I made sure to check out some of the city's food truck offerings.

5 August 2011

Breakfast at XOCO, Chicago – Restaurant Review

Rick Bayless is a culinary legend in Chicago. He is one of the great champions of Mexican food in the US and has written six books on the subject. His Chicago restaurants have become perennial favourites and are always packed. Today his empire spans restaurants, as well as books, TV, food products, and a charitable foundation to support small sustainable farms. Bayless's food is also apparently a favourite of President Obama's, and his name was even rumoured to be on the short-list for the position of White House Executive Chef.

2 August 2011

Hibiscus, London – Restaurant Review

Hibiscus has been on my radar screen for ages, yet every time I considered making a booking I ended up opting for another restaurant. I don't know why this was the case as on paper Hibiscus looks like a solid member of the two-Michelin star restaurant club and seems like as good a place as any when you're looking for a luxurious and special dining experience in London. So to celebrate a good friend's birthday recently I knew exactly where we'd go for dinner.

28 July 2011

Alinea, Chicago (Revisited) - Restaurant Review

They say that time flies as you get older. Walking down Alinea's famous doorway, bathed in an eerie fuchsia glow, I had an overwhelming sense of being here only yesterday. In actual fact, it has been almost a year since I last ate at Alinea. That the experience should still be so fresh in my mind is unsurprising given that on that sweltering summer night in Chicago last year I enjoyed one of the most incredible meals of my life.

23 July 2011

Norway 22/7

A boom of thunder woke me with a jolt from a broken slumber this morning. It was exactly the same sort of noise I heard yesterday afternoon, the kind that shook the house. Except what I had initially assumed to be thunder yesterday would turn out to be the result of something truly horrific.

18 July 2011

Next (Tour of Thailand), Chicago – Restaurant Review

In case anyone was still wondering, Next is the latest venture from chef Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas, the team behind Alinea, one of the great restaurants of this world (stay tuned for a review of my latest visit). In the last few months there have probably been more column inches written about Next than perhaps any other restaurant on the planet. On my final night in Chicago I was lucky enough to bag one of Next's "golden tickets" and see for myself what all the fervent hype was about.

16 July 2011

A New Dawn for Norwegian Food: Interview with Maaemo's Esben Holmboe Bang and Pontus Dahlström

Maaemo's Esben Holmboe Bang (l) and Pontus Dahlström (r) 
When fellow food blogger Greg Henry, who writes the SippitySup blog, announced he'd be visiting Norway at the request of the Norwegian Tourist Board, and asked if I'd be interested in writing a guest post for his blog I jumped at the chance. I had mentioned a new Oslo gourmet restaurant to him that I had been to a couple of times. The restaurant had opened a few months previously and serves only organic produce that originates almost exclusively from Norway, something that has never been attempted before. I had been utterly wowed by the food I tasted there, so we struck upon the idea of me interviewing some of the people behind it to hear their story of how this restaurant came to be and a bit about their philosophy on food. This article also appears on Greg's SippitySup blog here.

24 June 2011

Gone fishin' in Chi-Town

Well it's that time of year again and our summer holiday is beckoning. Like last year, the Nibbler family will be in magnificent Chicago. We had a blast last summer and can't wait to return. The Windy City is rapidly establishing itself as one of America's great culinary hotspots so I'm sure there'll be lots of good eating ahead.

23 June 2011

Trattoria Popolare, Oslo – Restaurant Review

Trattoria Popolare opened in Oslo's hip Grünerlokka neighbourhood in March 2011 and, as its name suggests, Italian food is the order of the day here. This is the latest project from Oslo restaurateur Nevzat Arikan, whose other ventures include Olympen, Arakataka, and Ylajali. I've eaten at all three of Arikan's other restaurants and, although very different from each other, all impressed me immensely, so I was more than excited to try out his latest offering.

20 June 2011

Bubbleology, London – Review

I'm a relative newcomer to the delights of bubble tea, having only first tasted it last year. However, I love the stuff and I've certainly been making up for lost time. Bubble tea originated in Taiwan in the 1980's and is essentially tea that contains large tapioca pearls. The sweet tea is served with a wide straw that allows you to suck up the moreish gelatinous pearls – a sort of drink/snack hybrid. Typically bubble tea is served cold, but you can also have it hot too.

15 June 2011

Breakfast at The Riding House Café, London – Restaurant Review

Since moving to Norway, one of the quintessentially British things I've missed most is a proper fry-up. The full English breakfast done well is truly a thing a beauty on the plate; fried eggs quivering, sausages steaming, bacon glistening ... arteries hardening. It's certainly (and literally) not for the faint-hearted but, oh my, what a way to start the day! And it is a singular treat that I save only for those occasions when I am back in dear old Blighty.

6 June 2011

NOPI, London – Restaurant Review

I’ve always loved going to Ottolenghi. When I lived in London it seemed no Sunday would be complete without a stroll up to Upper Street for a spot of lunch at their Islington branch. There by the window would be the most beautiful array of dishes from their unique menu of Mediterranean/Middle Eastern/Asian fusion dishes. I loved the food, the simplicity of the design, and the communal tables. And I always, but always made sure I left room for cake (see here for my favourite).

Spuntino, London – Restaurant Review

Spuntino is the third act in restaurateurs Russell Norman and Richard Beatty's burgeoning London restaurant empire. Their first two restaurants, Polpo and Polpetto, met with almost universal acclaim. Indeed, I had a wonderful lunch at Polpetto a few months back and loved the intimate and quirkily styled setting, as well as the wonderful small plates of homely Italian food. Norman and Beatty clearly understood they were onto a good thing, and Spuntino is created from a similar mould.

1 June 2011

Maaemo, Oslo (Revisited) – Restaurant Review

(For more recent reviews of Maaemo see my blog posts herehere and here).

Spring is definitely in the air here in Oslo; the flowers are blossoming, the days are longer, and everyone seems to have a smile on their faces. But it wasn’t just the weather that was giving me cause to be happy. We recently had some dear friends visiting from London, and when I was tasked with picking a restaurant for us to eat at I instantly knew exactly where we would go. That place would be Maaemo, a new Oslo restaurant that is reinventing the concept of Norwegian cuisine.

31 May 2011

Røros Butter Caramel Ice Cream – Recipe

You wouldn't know it by looking out of the window these days, but summer is just around the corner in Oslo. So in anticipation of those long balmy days I thought I'd dust the cobwebs off my ice cream machine and fire it up for a metaphorical spin around the block. Plus there was also the non-trivial fact that it was a Sunday and we were clean out of ice cream, and in the Nibbler household we always, but always, have ice cream on a Sunday. It's practically the law.

27 May 2011

Rhubarb Cordial and a Rhubarb Gin & Tonic – Recipe

We're just starting to enter the rhubarb season here in Norway, and after spotting some decent specimens in the supermarket the other day I threw a few stalks in my shopping trolley without any particular plan as to how I'd use them. I love rhubarb, but it's not something I use that often. I had vague ideas of making a rhubarb crumble, but apathy got the better of me. Until, that is, I thought of making a rhubarb drink. Here was a ludicrously simple way of getting a lovely hit of tart rhubarb. I couldn't not give it a go.

23 May 2011

Brunsviger – Recipe

This weekend I found myself with a craving for something sweet and starchy. With limited ingredients in the house, I decided to make the popular Danish dish of Brunsviger. Some say its name derives from the German city of Braunschweig, while others say it originates from Brunsegård in the Danish town of Tommerup. Either way it is intrinsically associated with Fyn (Funen in English), the Danish island where Hans Christian Andersen was born, some 150km west of Copenhagen.

20 May 2011

Byron, London - Restaurant Review

“When a man is tired of burgers, he is tired of life”. I think that’s an actual quote. Or maybe not. I might be paraphrasing Samuel Johnson slightly. But anyway, you get my gist – burgers are one of those universal foods that everyone loves to eat.

Maybe you like yours smothered with melting cheese, a dollop of controversial ketchup perhaps, or even some exotic kimchi. Maybe you’re of the besandaled bean burger brigade (but let’s be honest, those don’t really count as burgers) or maybe you’re an oligarch enjoying $5,000 worth of the World’sMostExpensiveBurger™ in Las Vegas, US of A. There’s no getting around it – your way, my way, or every which way but loose, everyone, but everyone loves a good burger.

17 May 2011

Syttende mai - Norway's Constitution Day

Hipp hurra for Norge! Today is syttende mai, Norway's independence day. On the 17th May 1814 Norway's constitution was signed, ostensibly marking the country's birth as an independent nation (it actually wasn't until 1905 that Norway became completely free of Swedish rule). To this day Norway lays claim to the world's second oldest constitution in continual force, and every year the 17th May is proudly celebrated across the country.

5 May 2011

Where's the (fresh) Beef? The Current State of Food in Norway

For those that think everyday food in Norway is a never-ending parade of glistening fresh seafood, wild game, root vegetables and berries, or smoked this and hay-baked that made by sweet-smelling blonde maidens, I have disappointing news for you.

A recent government commission found that Norway has the poorest selection and highest prices of food in Europe. The reasons for this are varied, but this article (and this more recent one) describes them quite well. To sum it up: protectionist import tariffs, huge farm subsidies, supermarket monopolies, and consumer indifference have all conspired to create a lacklustre daily food experience in this country. I want, therefore, to show you the other, more typical side to the execrable state of mainstream food in this country.

3 May 2011

Bob Bob Ricard, London – Restaurant Review

The bar at BBR
Bob Bob Ricard has been a darling of the blogosphere since it opened at the end of 2008. I had moved to Norway a few months earlier so missed out on its quirky blend of British and Russian food. Nevertheless I vowed to pay it a visit one day. So when I was tasked with organising a boys' night out with four of my closest friends from university, BBR was at the top of my list.

30 April 2011

Pho, London - Restaurant Review

Pho first opened in London’s Clerkenwell in 2005. It is the brainchild of British couple Stephen and Juliette Wall, who first set upon the idea while backpacking in Vietnam. Although it’s been around for a few years now, Pho feels like a newcomer and there's still an exciting buzz about its relatively novel (in the UK at least) menu of Vietnamese street food. Indeed, it sort of reminds me of Wagamama circa 1994, and I suspect the ambition here is to do for Vietnamese food what Alan Yau did for Japanese ramen at the wildly successful, if imperfect, Wagamama – which is no bad thing at all in my opinion.

27 April 2011

Pollen Street Social, London – Restaurant Review

The irony of going to a restaurant called Pollen Street Social alone is not lost on me. But needs must and the chance to eat at Jason Atherton's first solo project – one of the most anticipated openings of the year – was not to be missed. So it was that on an atypically glorious April afternoon in London I found myself at Pollen Street Social, nestled in a narrow side street just off bustling Regent Street.

13 April 2011

Lunch at Grefsenkollen, Oslo – Restaurant Review

Perched high up in the hills overlooking Oslo is Grefsenkollen restaurant. At around 370m above sea level the views from here over the city and out to the Oslo Fjord are simply majestic. If you're visiting the city for the first time then a trip here is a must.

7 April 2011

Ylajali, Oslo – Restaurant Review

"And she herself will be sitting in a sparkling hall where all is of amethyst, on a throne of yellow roses, and she will hold out her hand to me when I enter, greet me and bid me welcome as I approach and kneel down."

Knut Hamsun is one of Norway's most prolific, influential and controversial authors. The above quote is taken from Hamsun's seminal debut novel of 1890 titled Sult (Hunger). In it the protagonist, a struggling young writer, charts his painful descent into near madness as he struggles for food and shelter.

One day, the delirious writer has a dream-like encounter with a beautiful young woman he calls Ylajali, who would go on to haunt his thoughts as wanders the streets of Christiania (old Oslo). Ylajali – a ghost-like object of abstract beauty that cannot be found...

6 April 2011

The Kavey Eats Food & Soft Drinks Challenge

A few weeks ago fellow food blogger Kavey, who writes the rather excellent blog Kavey Eats, set an interesting challenge. Much has been written about the matching of food and wine, but it seems there's a dearth of information on how to best match food with non-alcoholic drinks. Kavey's challenge, therefore, was to come up with some interesting food and soft drink pairings.

Beyond the typical non-alcoholic trinity of coke/water/juice, it’s unusual to find much more on offer in a restaurant. There are of course a few notable exceptions, and some restaurants (mostly high-end) have concocted soft drinks to win over the hearts of the most committed oenophiles.

31 March 2011

Shakshuka – Recipe

Shakshuka has its origins in the Maghreb – the Arab West. Today it is a popular and delicious breakfast or supper staple across North Africa and the Middle East. The name roughly translates as “mixed up,” and at its core is a dish consisting of tomatoes, onions and eggs. Interestingly, and I'm not sure of the reasons, shakshuka was a dish traditionally prepared by the men of the household.

There are a myriad of shakshuka variations. Some add peppers, others feta cheese. Sometimes the eggs are cooked in the tomato sauce; sometimes they are scrambled, poached or fried separately. There are even some recipes that add meat to the dish (I've heard that in Libya it is not uncommon to have shakshuka with gideed, a type of dried salted lamb). There aren’t really any ‘proper’ versions, so feel free to experiment. This recipe is the one I remember from my childhood and therefore, by definition, it is the best. Of course, I may be a touch biased!

These days I love making shakshuka as part of a lazy weekend brunch. There’s something so comforting about the sweet smell of onions and garlic cooking gently on the stove. If you like, though, you can make the sauce in advance and then reheat and drop in the eggs when you are ready to eat. I like to cook the eggs so they are still soft, allowing the oozing yolk to mingle satisfyingly with the tomato and onion sauce. In my opinion shakshuka should always be served with a stack of warm pita breads and lots of hot, sweet tea.
Ingredients (serves 4)
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 medium onions, roughly chopped
  • 5 fresh plum tomatoes (about 600g worth), chopped (you can of course used tinned tomatoes, but I think fresh ones work better for this dish. I don't bother to peel the tomatoes – life's too short for that).
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 75ml water
  • A handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to season
  1. Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a frying pan. Add the onions and cook over a gentle heat for 7-10 mins until they are soft and golden (you don't want them to brown).
  2. Add the garlic to the onions and continue cook for a further 5 mins until the onions are just starting to caramelise.
  3. Sprinkle over the turmeric and cumin and cook for another minute or so to temper the spices. 
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes, turn up the heat a bit, and simmer for 5-10 mins.
  5. Add the water to loosen mixture a touch (you may need more or less depending on the moisture of the tomatoes, but you're aiming for a consistency like pasta sauce). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Make four little wells in the mixture and break an egg into each one.
  7. Cover the pan and cook for 5 mins, or until the eggs are done to your liking.
  8. Sprinkle with flat leaf parsley and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Serve with lots of warm pita bread and sweet Assam tea.

28 March 2011

Beef Rydberg – Recipe

For dinner recently I decided to take a little excursion to Sweden. Not literally of course, but culinarily. As much as I love cooking, sometimes you need to make something that provides maximum impact with minimal effort, and this is one such dish. Biff Rydberg is a Swedish classic and its name is said to originate from the now defunct, but once opulent, Hotel Rydberg in Stockholm, where it was probably first served.

In this dish, beef, potatoes and onions are cooked simply to remarkable effect. The original dish was also thought to include kidney from lamb, veal or pig, but this seems to have been dropped over the years. I like to add a dash of Worcestershire sauce to the beef to add a pleasing umami kick, while some people prefer to add a dollop of mustard- or horseradish-cream.

The only question left though is where to place that raw egg yolk you see in the picture above. Personally, I love squishing the yolk all over the potatoes, coating them in an unctuously smooth 'sauce.' Alternatively you can also mix everything together into a great big unholy mess. If raw egg yolk is not your thing then you can of course do as my wife, Mrs. Nibbler, does and place a fried egg on top instead. I promise I won't call you a wimp if you do. Honestly (ahem).
If you ever find yourself in Stockholm and have a craving for the real deal, then you'd be hard pressed to find a better example of Beef Rydberg than at Prinsen restaurant, which has been a Stockholm institution for over 100 years.

Ingredients (serves 4)
  • 600g beef fillet, cut into ¾ inch cubes
  • 800g potatoes, peeled and cut into ¾ inch cubes
  • 2 onions, roughly chopped
  • 4 egg yolks served in the shell (you can trim the edges of the shell with scissors to make it neater)
  • 50g butter (and some oil) for frying
  • A handful of chopped parsley
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper to season
  1. Parboil the potatoes for 5 mins
  2. Melt 25g of butter in a frying pan and fry the potatoes over a low/medium heat for 15-20 mins. Season with salt. Don't move the potatoes around too much, you want a nice crisp crust to form. You may want to add a touch of oil too to stop the butter burning.
  3. While the potatoes are cooking, gently fry the onions with the remaining butter in another pan over a low/medium heat for 15 mins and season with a touch of salt. The onions should be soft and golden and just starting to caramelise.
  4. After the onions have been cooking for 7 mins, drizzle the beef with a touch of oil, season with salt and pepper and sear in (yet another) hot pan for 3-4 mins until cooked medium-rare. Let the beef rest for 5 mins on a warm plate.
  5. To serve, place separate mounds of beef, onions and potatoes on a warmed plate. Sprinkle with chopped parsley (don't leave this out, it adds a crisp freshness to the dish), and place an egg yolk in the middle. I also like to add a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce over the beef. Serve with an ice cold beer or a glass of Pinot Noir.

25 March 2011

Ottolenghi Apple & Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing – Recipe

One of the many things I miss about living in London is wandering up to Islington's Upper Street for a lazy weekend lunch at Ottolenghi. I went there for the friendly communal atmosphere and the beautifully vibrant and fresh food that would be laid out in abundant piles. To this day I've yet to have a broccoli dish as exciting as their chargrilled version with garlic and chilli. Oh, and the cakes. Definitely the cakes.
Naturally, as a fan of Ottolenghi's food, I went out and bought the cookbook when it came out a few years ago. Unfortunately it became one of those that sat untouched on my bookshelf, for I was never quite able (unsurprisingly) to replicate the magic in my own kitchen. It remained untouched until, that is, the other day when I was struck by an insatiable urge for cake. I dug out the book, and found this interesting recipe for apple cake that uses olive oil. I'll admit to being a tad sceptical, but the olive oil really works. I used regular olive oil, but I subsequently found out that you're meant to use extra virgin olive oil, which I imagine gives it even more depth of flavour. Next time, I suppose. I'd also be tempted to substitute the water the sultanas are soaked in for some sort of booze such as dark rum or sherry.

Anyway, it's a fairly straightforward recipe and the end result is decadently moreish. The cake benefits from a day or two in the fridge to allow the flavours to mature (just make sure you wrap it well in clingfilm and take it out of the fridge a couple of hours before icing and serving).

Ottolenghi Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing
(taken from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook)

Ingredients (serves 6-8)
80g sultanas
4 tbsp water
280g plain flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
½ a teaspoon baking powder
1¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
120ml extra virgin olive oil
160g caster sugar
½ vanilla pod
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 Bramley/Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1cm dice (should be approx 360g)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 egg whites

For the Maple icing:
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
100g light muscovado sugar
85ml maple syrup
220g cream cheese, at room temperature

  1. Grease a 20-24cm springform non-stick cake tin. Place the sultanas and water (or booze) in a saucepan and simmer over a low heat until all of the water has been absorbed. Leave to cool.
  2. Preheat the oven to 170ºC. Sift together the flour, cinnamon, salt, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and set aside.
  3. Put the oil and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or use an electric whisk). Slit the vanilla pod lengthwise and scrape the seeds out into the bowl. Beat the oil, sugar and vanilla together, then gradually add the eggs. Mix until smooth and thick. Add the diced apples, sultanas and lemon zest, then lightly fold in the dry ingredients.
  4. Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl until they form soft peaks. Carefully fold them into the batter in 2 batches, trying to lose as little air as possible.
  5. Pour the batter into the cake tin, level it with a palette knife. Bake for 1½ hours, or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let it cool in the tin.
  6. Once cold, remove the cake from the tin and cut the cake horizontally in half using a serrated knife.
  7. To make the icing, beat together the butter, muscovado sugar and maple syrup in an electric mixer until light and airy. Add the cream cheese and continue to beat until the icing is totally smooth.
  8. Using a palette knife spread a 1cm-thick layer of icing over the bottom half of the cake. Carefully place the top half on it. Spread the rest of the icing on top.