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Virgin To Veteran - How to Get Cooking with Confidence by Sam Stern (Quadrille, £20)
Sam Stern is about to publish his sixth cookbook aged just 21. MAXINE GORDON calls round to his York home for cake and a chat.
SAM STERN’S manners are impeccable. As my car pulls up outside his family home in York, he is at the door, ready to welcome me. I’ve barely got my coat off before he’s offering me “tea, coffee, cake, an apple scone?”
I’m easily tempted, especially when I see the cake he has just made: two thick tiers of golden sponge bursting at the middle with whipped cream and a home-made lemon curd with passionfruit.
The recipe comes from Sam’s new cook book, Virgin To Veteran: How to Get Cooking With Confidence, about to be realised.
The title is apt; Sam published his first cook book at 14, then a further four while still a teenager.
The latest, though, is a seriously grown-up affair.
It’s thick in the way coffee-table books are, and besides scores of tempting recipes there are pages of advice on how to master everything from jointing a chicken and cleaning mussels to getting perfect pork crackling and making pastry.
The aim is to give people the confidence to get in the kitchen and rustle up tasty meals. Recipes also have a series of variations.
“This allows people to mess around with the original recipe,” says Sam.
Sam has had some fun trying out new flavour combinations. The sponge he made that morning is a good example. He had a hunch the passionfruit would work well with the lemon curd – tried it and found it did.
“I’ve made some mistakes but you learn from mistakes by learning how to fix it,” says Sam, who cooked his first roast dinner when he was nine years old.
As the youngest of five siblings, he grew up in a large family, where food was at the centre.
He learned the ropes at the apron strings of mum Susan, whom Sam describes as a “good home cook who makes rough and ready, rustic, tasty dinners – just what you want when you come home”.
Homecomings loom large in Sam’s life of late. Besides his culinary career, Sam is taking a politics degree at Edinburgh University. He has one more academic year to complete before he graduates, then he wants to concentrate on cooking full-time.
This summer, he will be back in York, working on the next book. The following year, once he has graduated, he will write that cookbook and then focus on promoting the Sam Stern brand.
He admits he’d like to make it big. At 21, you have to admit it looks like he’s got the world on his plate.
Virgin To Veteran, How to Get Cooking with Confidence by Sam Stern will be published by Quadrille, priced £20, on May 10.
Victoria sponge cake with lemon and passionfruit curd and cream
225g soft butter, plus extra for greasing
4 medium eggs
225g self-raising flour
225g caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
1–2 tbsp milk (if required)
a little sifted icing sugar or caster sugar for finishing.
Juice and grated zest of 2 large lemons
110g caster sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
2–3 passionfruit, halved.
200ml double cream
1 tbsp icing sugar
a few drops of vanilla extract.
Sam says: This old girl still has it: keep her classic or be bold with a more unusual filling. Start with all the ingredients at room temperature, and it’s always light and gorgeous.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Grease two 18cm sandwich tins. Line their bases. Beat the eggs together in a small bowl. Sift the flour on to a plate.
Cream the mix: Slap the butter into a large bowl and break it up with a wooden spoon. Add the sugar.
Beat them together furiously for four to five minutes until creamy, white and airy. Now add the egg, a little at a time, beating continuously (too fast and it may curdle).
If it starts to look grainy, beat even harder, adding two teaspoons of flour. Add the vanilla extract. Hold a sieve high over the mix. Sift the flour and salt into the bowl a bit at a time.
Fold it in lightly: use a large metal spoon to cut into the ingredients and fold them together with a few gentle scooping figure-of-eight movements.
Once amalgamated, the mixture should drop softly off the end of the spoon (fold in a little milk if it looks too thick).
Divide between the tins, smoothing to the edges very lightly but not pressing down. Keep the air in there.
Bake for 20–25 minutes. The cakes are done when they’re high, golden and spring back when touched in the middle (don’t test too soon).
Open and close the oven door carefully. Remove and run a knife round the edges to loosen and take them out of the tins. Peel the lining paper away in strips and very carefully. Leave to cool on a rack before filling.
Meanwhile, make the curd filling. Sit a large bowl over the top of a pan of barely simmering water. Add the lemon juice, zest, sugar and butter. Melt slowly. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the beaten eggs.
Stir constantly with a wooden spoon on a low heat for a few minutes until it thickens and coats the back of the spoon. (If it starts to split, sit the bowl in cold water and beat wildly).
Remove from the heat. Scoop out the pulpy insides of the passionfruit and stir into the mixture. Leave to cool.
Just before filling, make the chantilly cream: Whisk the cream in a cold bowl until it starts to thicken. Sift the icing sugar and add with the vanilla. Whisk till light and airy, not stiff or grainy. Taste and adjust till you like it.
Using a metal spatula, spread the flat side of one of the sponges with curd. Cover with chantilly cream and sit the second sponge on top. Sprinkle with caster or icing sugar.
250g good-quality minced pork
250g good-quality minced beef
50g fresh white breadcrumbs
50g parmesan, grated
2 spring onions, finely sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
½ tsp turmeric
grated zest of ½ lemon
½–1 tsp smoked paprika
2–3 tbsp finely chopped parsley, plus extra for serving
salt and pepper
a glug of olive oil, for frying
olive oil, for frying
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
a pinch of chilli flakes
2 x 400g cans good-quality chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato purée
a pinch of sugar.
Stir crushed garlic and a squeeze of lemon into shop-bought mayo for a quick aioli.
If you’re having trouble getting the meatball mixture to hold together, add a little beaten egg.
Make the meatballs: Tip all the ingredients except the oil into a bowl and mix together lightly with a fork.
Dampen your hands. Divide the mix and roll it very lightly into large, walnut-sized balls. Place on a plate and leave to chill in the fridge until needed.
Make the sauce: Heat a little oil in a pan over a low heat. Add the garlic and chilli and cook for one minute without colouring before adding the tomatoes, tomato purée and sugar.
Season lightly. Whack up the heat to high and bring to the boil, then reduce and leave to simmer for at least ten minutes. Taste and season again. Set aside.
Heat the oil in your biggest frying pan. Add the meatballs (in batches if necessary) and fry gently for a couple of minutes or until browned all over, rolling to turn with tongs or a spatula.
Shift each one to a plate once done. Return the balls to the pan. Pour the sauce around them (you may not need it all).
Simmer very gently. Turn them with care after two minutes for even cooking. Cook for ten minutes or till done, but don’t overdo it or they dry out.
Add a splash of water to the sauce if needed. Taste and season.
Spoon the meatballs and sauce into earthenware tapas dishes (or equivalent) and sprinkle with parsley.
Drizzle with aioli and serve with paprika potatoes. These are also great with mussels baked in garlic butter, paprika chicken wings a good red wine and some nice bread.
Italian baked meatballs
Preheat the oven to 190°C/Gas 5. Cook the meatballs as above until browned all over.
Spread three-quarters of the tomato sauce over the base of a large heatproof dish and arrange the meatballs on top.
Add the remaining sauce, a handful of torn basil and a handful of grated parmesan or mozzarella cheese.
Drizzle over a little oil and bake at 190°C/Gas 5 for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and golden.
Meatballs and pasta
Cook up a big pot of ribbon noodles or spaghetti following the packet instructions. Drain and toss in a little oil.
Sit the meatballs and sauce on top. Sprinkle with a little parmesan. Eat with garlic bread.
Recipes taken from Virgin To Veteran, How To Get Cooking With Confidence by Sam Stern (Quadrille, £20)