Dear Dimitri, how dare you criticise British barbecuing prowess (or lack thereof)!

I love barbecue.  It’s a shame that I live in England, then.  The weather permits very little (successful) outdoor cooking and despite the best efforts of many a barbecue enthusiast, I’ve never enjoyed anything prepared outdoors in this country.  The fact is, we’re clueless when it comes to cooking meat anywhere other than the safety of the kitchen.

Tip-toe over the pond and it’s a whole different story.  Barbecue is an art and America has no shortage of towns and cities with a claim to being the home of the best barbecue in the land.  This doesn’t deter Brits from donning comedy aprons and dragging out the rusty grill at the first sign of sunshine.  No, sir!  Phonecalls are made, beer is bought and determined individuals set about preparing the area they’ll use to either cremate or under-cook a selection of poor quality meats.  Hours later and the reason why “we don’t do this very often” is clear to all.

Food companies are not deterred by inept British barbecuing either.  They thrive on it!  Sauces, marinades, sprays, sprinkles, seasoned crumbs, flavoured salt, posh pepper and a host of other flavour enhancers are widely available to mask the food-poisoning-between-bread that’s being served up.

You won’t find anything like that in my cupboard, though.  I make my rub from scratch.  Yes, sir!  Today I made a fantastic rub that is perfect for pork.  Of course, it was my good ol’ griddle that made the party go with a sizzle and not a rusty wire rack over some coals.  Still, the taste was superb and from now on, I don’t think I’ll be putting anything else on pork loin steaks!

Dimitri’s dry rub (for pork)

1 tblspoon light brown sugar

1 tblspoon coriander seeds

1 tblspoon smoked paprika

2 tspoons garlic salt

1 tspoon ground black pepper

1 tspoon ground cumin powder

half tspoon cayenne pepper

 This is a job for the pestle and mortar.  A coffee or spice grinder will probably do a good job too.  I began by toasting the coriander seeds in a dry pan until they just started to brown and release their wonderful flavour (which is nothing like the fragrant herb that they grow into).  I then ground all the ingredients to a fine powder and tipped the rub into a medium-sized bowl.

 I cut some pork loin steaks into cubes and tossed them in the powder before grilling on skewers.  I got equally good results with whole pork loin steaks cooked the same way:  A smoking hot griddle with a few minutes on each side to ensure succulence and a good char on the outside.

This rub is intended for meat that will be cooked immediately.  It’s not too sweet and not too spicy.  Perfect for summer!  Oh, and if you were wondering, no, my barbecuing prowess is sadly lacking.  I’ll keep to my griddle, thank you very much.

Cherry crackle crispies.

What’s your memory of childhood birthday parties?  Whether I attended a party at a friend’s house or was lucky enough to have one myself, one delightful memory springs to mind: Scanning the party food and spotting a big plate of Rice Krispy cakes.

Melted chocolate mixed with lots of puffed riced and spooned into cupcake cases brought (almost) endless joy to this greedy little lad.  My tendency to scoff as much as possible coupled with my preference for savoury food, made me a fiend at buffets (and still does).  Even at the age of ten, however, Rice Krispy cakes had a power over me that sausage rolls and crisps did not.

For the last few days, I’ve had an image of those little bites of fun in my head and today I was able to sate my hunger for them.  Of course, I’ve added some surprises of my own, but you probably guessed that already.

Cherry crackle crispies

300g milk chocolate

100g Rice Krispies

100g glace cherries

50g mini marshmallows

7 tblspoons cherry flavoured popping candy

Half tspoon almond extract

I just love anything flavoured with cherries, so I adapted this ultra-basic favourite to include glace cherries, mini marshmallows and an extra surprise.  I used to buy the odd packet of popping candy and pour it onto my tongue to let it fizz and crackle loudly.  I’d never put it into a recipe before, but I certainly will again!  Adding seven packets of cherry flavoured popping candy gives these crispy cakes an unexpected and not entirely unpleasant sensation.  These “cakes” really do crackle!

Simply melt the chocolate in a glass bowl over some hot water and stir in the almond extract.  Believe it or not, the almond extract is a great partner for anything with cherries in it.

Pour the chocolate into a plastic bowl filled with the rest of the ingredients and mix together thoroughly until everything is completely coated.  I reserved a few mini marshmallows for decoration, but this is optional.  Isn’t everything?

Spoon the mixture into paper cases and refrigerate for a few minutes until the chocolate has set.  Eat at the earliest opportunity and let the party on your tongue begin!

Breakfast- Last Piece of Cake style!

I suppose you could call it breakfast.  After all, I ate it before midday, certainly before brunch, and a good deal earlier than elevenses.  Is it the best start to the day?  Well that depends on what you’re doing.  For me, it was perfect.

Some call it French toast, but in these parts, it is rather less romantically known as eggy bread.  I wonder how people would react to seeing that on a hotel menu.

I remember eating eggy bread with a good sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon and feeling incredibly satisfied.  It seemed to generate feelings similar to those brought on by eating lots of pancakes.  Lovely!

Perhaps you’ve noticed that I’ve become determined to include vanilla paste in recipes recently.  My fantastic mum got me some last month and I can’t get enough of that dark, dotted, vanilla syrup.  It’s so intense and so wonderfully perfect for all kinds of sweet fun!  I knew that I would have to include it in my indulgent breakfast.  The following recipe is not recommended to those on a calorie controlled diet.

Vanilla French toast with raspberries

1 slice thick white bread

1 egg

3 tblspoons soft brown sugar

3 tblspoons caster sugar

1 tblspoon milk

handful of frozen raspberries

half tspoon vanilla paste

butter (for frying)

I prepared the raspberries by heating them in a milk pan with a little water (two or three tablespoons) and stirring in the caster sugar until it had dissolved.  I continued to heat the raspberries until they began to soften and resemble a chunky jam.

Next I  started to whisk the egg, milk and brown sugar together.  Then I stirred in the vanilla.  I poured this mixture into a bowl and then lay the bread in it to soak up the vanilla loveliness.  After that, I turned it over to soak up the remaining liquid.

In a frying pan, I heated some butter until it was beginning to froth and then placed the slice of bread in it.  I cooked this gently for a few minutes on each side until the egg was cooked through and the bread not soggy.

Taking it off the heat, I used a fish slice to transfer it to a plate and drizzled over the raspberries.  There are prettier breakfasts, but by now I’m sure you’ve come to realise that here at The Last Piece of Cake, it’s all about the taste.  Enjoy!

 

But I followed the recipe to the letter!

How many times have you followed a recipe as closely as you could and finished up with nothing but an inedible mess?  I’ll admit, that even following my own recipes jotted down after countless successful outcomes, I’ve still been left wondering what went wrong on occasion.  It’s frustrating and disheartening.  It’s also one of the reasons that I don’t buy recipe books.

I love cooking and I love reading, so it should follow that recipe books line my shelves and gather in ever-growing gangs around my house.  Instead, I’ve a handful of books on my kitchen shelf and I rarely open them.  The internet has all but killed any need for recipe books.  Blogs, recipe sites and food forums share an abundance of recipes for every imaginable type of food.  Why clutter the kitchen with glossy hard backs from television chefs when a quick look on my computer or phone gives me access to countless food sites?

I’ve only ever bought one recipe book, a classic by Jane Norman to help me get to grips with basic cooking methods when I first began to take an interest in cooking.  I still refer to it from time to time and I suspect that I’ll own it forever.  The other books that line my kitchen shelf have been gifts from well-meaning friends and relatives.  Truth be told, I tend to have a glance through cookery books once and rarely pick them up again unless I’m looking for something specific.

Last week, I happened to look through a Gino D’Acampo book (another gift) and spotted a fun-looking recipe for a creamy rice pudding.  It was simple enough for a dolt like me, so I carefully arranged the ingredients on my worktop and followed the recipe sentence by perfidious sentence with confidence.  Sadly, our passionate, Italian chef seems to have little or no knowledge of the properties of arborio rice and the methods required to cook it successfully and two hours later, I was still adding milk to stubborn grains of crunchy rice.  I was fuming.  So rarely do I put my trust in the pages of slickly designed cook books, and the moment I do, betrayal occurs in the most irritating way: a recipe that doesn’t work.

Sensing the potential for adaption, I threw away the offending pot of disappointment and started afresh.  I cooked the rice as it should be, cranked up the sugar content and added two of my favourite flavours to produce a rice pudding with all the gloopy comfort that you’d need when the mood took you.

I’ve realised over the last couple of years that following a recipe closely is not a guarantee of success.  Instead, a grasp of some basic cooking techniques for whatever ingredients you’re using combined with your own instinct is a far better guide in the kitchen.  I guess that sounds like sage advice from a wisened cook.  In fact, it’s my disclaimer.

Vanilla & cinnamon rice pudding

40g Arborio rice

30g caster sugar

milk

water

half tspoon ground cinnamon

quarter tspoon vanilla paste

I cooked the rice in a milk pan by just covering it with water and simmering until the rice absorbed the water and became tender.  This took about ten minutes.  During this time, I added more water to the rice as it was absorbed and tested the rice when I thought it was cooked.

The next step was to stir in the sugar and add enough milk to cover the rice.  I stirred the milk through until the sugar had dissolved and then added a little more milk every couple of minutes over a gentle heat.  What you’re looking for is a gloopy, soft consistency where the soft rice is lost in a thick and sweet liquid.  If the mixture becomes too dry, add more milk.  If it is too watery, continue to stir it until the milk has reduced.  When I was happy with the rice, I stirred in the vanilla paste and took it off the heat to cool.  The rice becomes a little firmer upon cooling which is fine.

My recipe makes one portion, but you could easily increase the quantities.  As long as the rice is cooked through before you add the milk and sugar, the results will be satisfying.