Sunday, 31 January 2016

In praise of The Pauper’s Cookbook


I often tell people that I can cook because my mother couldn’t, or wouldn’t. She was far more interested in studying, writing, teaching and taking us to museums and bookshops, on walks along the riverbank in Durham and, importantly, instilling in my brother and me a love of whiling away afternoons in cafés. All of these are very important life skills.

But she did sometimes cook more than the usual, hasty beans on toast or egg and chips, and when she did, it was from Jocasta Innes’s The Pauper’s Cookbook.

I was just writing something about 70s food, which made me pick up my old, yellowing copy for the first time in years. Flipping through it, I can see it through my mother’s young eyes and understand why it must have been so appealing.

This book is about as far away from the 70s housewife world of perfect garnishes and dainty hors d’oeuvres as it’s possible to get. It’s crammed with recipes for the hurried, harried and skint. It has a let’s-get-on-with-it tone and a spirit of adventure, with recipes such as brandade of tuna fish, tortilla, and Suleiman’s Pilaff (bits of leftover cooked lamb, mixed with garlic, patna rice, tinned tomatoes and ‘a pinch of thyme or rosemary’ – the ‘pinch’ makes me think that the assumption is they’re inevitably dried, not fresh).

Welcome to the 70s, so many beans, so much brown earthenware.

I love the cover photograph, with its earthenware dish which would look quite at home in many of today’s faux-rustic East London restaurants. I love the trickle of burnt-on sauce from the pork and beans, and I love, love, love the blurb on the back cover:

‘So leave it to the affluent to court indigestion at the Waldorf-Ritz: here’s how to live it up in your own squalid tenement without recourse to poaching, rustling, guddling, scrumping or shop-lifting.’ How could you possibly resist? And now I need to go and find out what the hell ‘guddling’ is.


French onion soup


I wanted to make something from the book without having to run out to the shops (too cold, too lazy), so my eyes fell on Jocasta’s recipe for French onion soup. Her recipe was much simpler than the one I create here. Its ingredients are 1 quart basic stock, 4 large or 6 small onions, knob of butter, 1/4lb grated Cheddar, 4 slices toast, salt and pepper. But with my Twenty-First-Century fancy London ways, I have at my disposal wine and brandy, Gruyère cheese and an end of slightly stale baguette. But it is absolutely in the spirit of Jocasta, if not to the letter.

SERVES 4-6

80g butter
4 large yellow or white onions, about 1kg prepared weight, halved and thinly sliced
100ml white wine
1 litre beef stock
1 tbsp brandy
About ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
4-6 slices of baguette, about 1cm thick
100g Gruyère cheese, grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Warm the butter over a medium heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan
 or casserole. When it stops foaming, add the onions and a good pinch of salt.  Fry gently, stirring often, until they are just beginning to turn golden - they shouldn’t caramelise at all. This could take at least 30 minutes, up to 45 minutes.

The raw sliced onions…
...transform into these soft, golden ones.
 
Pour in the wine and stir again for a couple of minutes until almost completely evaporated. Next add the stock and some salt and pepper and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Grate in the nutmeg, pour in the brandy and season with more salt and pepper if necessary. 

Heat up the grill.

Ladle the soup into heatproof bowls. Place a slice of bread on top and scatter the cheese over the top. Grill until golden and bubbling. Serve immediately. 

I love the way Gruyère melts into delicious stringiness.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Something for the weekend


Weekend breakfasts, specifically Saturday morning breakfasts, are among my favourite of all meals. I love the easy, freewheeling slide into the pleasure of the weekend, slummocking about in pyjamas, spreading out the newspapers, flipping through a stack of new magazines with a wad of Post-Its, catching up on favourite telly. 

Séan usually makes the breakfast at weekends (A Very Good Thing), so it was in a rare burst of Saturday morning activity that I whisked together these pancakes. I had some roasted squash left over from dinner the night before and the slightly charred edges added a caramelised note to the end result which I liked, but you could certainly use simply steamed or lightly roasted and mashed veg. You could also mash and freeze small amounts of leftover roast squash so you have the essential ingredient ready to go should the mood strike. I used buckwheat flour but just use plain flour if that’s what you have to hand.

I served the pancakes with Toulouse sausages, fried eggs, a bit of fried sage and a splodge of apple sauce, but they would be great with anything of the things you like to fuel you through the weekend. Apart from baked beans. Please don’t do that.


Squash and sage pancakes

Makes 8-10 pancakes

300g cooked pumpkin or squash, mashed
150g buckwheat flour
5-6 sage leaves, finely shredded
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp nutmeg
260ml buttermilk
4 tbsp melted butter, cooled 
1 egg and 1 egg yolk

Some oil for frying

Mix together the first seven ingredients in a bowl until well blended. Make a well in the middle. Whisk together the remaining three ingredients in a jug. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the pumpkin mixture, stirring as you go until just combined.

Warm a splash of oil into a non-stick frying pan and warm over a medium-high heat. Spoon small ladelfuls of the batter into the frying pan – you will probably need to do this in batches. Cook each pancake for about 3-4 minutes per side, until golden and cooked through. Keep the first batch warm while you cook the rest of the mixture.

Serve immediately, with eggs, sausages, bacon, whatever you like for breakfast.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

A plain walnut cake

When we came back from our trip to France two weeks ago, along with the copper kugelhopf tins, bottles of olive oil and plaits of pink garlic, I stuffed into my luggage a plastic bag filled with walnuts – a gift from the man at the brocante from whom I’d bought the cake tins. 

They’ve been sitting in a bowl in the kitchen ever since, a nutcracker poised hopefully on top. I’ve made the odd crack-and-grab raid, snatching one or two as I walk past, or nibbled a few after dinner with some cheese. But I have been longing to make a cake. Not a classic coffee and walnut cake - though I love that - but a very simple thing. I wanted a low, plain cake, one that would allow the creamy lusciousness of the fresh walnuts to shine – at least enough to make the shelling of them worth it.

So on Saturday, I sat in my kitchen, rhythmically shelling 500g or so of walnuts, sending shards of shell onto high shelves and skittering across the floor, much to the excitement of the cat. As I cracked, and picked and extracted the meat from the nuts, I watched the news from Paris on the television. 

I have loved France, the fantasy of it and the complicated reality of it, ever since I first visited Paris with my school when I was 10. I sit here typing and deleting, typing and deleting, finding it impossible to convey my deep affection for a country which has helped form me almost as much as the one that birthed me. What Ian McEwen had to say here expresses it. And this much-shared segment from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight on HBO... well, I was just cheering my head off at this.
‘If you are in a war of culture and lifestyle with France, good fucking luck. Go ahead. Bring your bankrupt ideology. They’ll bring Jean Paul Sartre, Edith Piaf, fine wine, Gauloise cigarettes, Camus, Camembert, madeleines, macarons, Marcel Proust and the fucking croquembouche.’ 

For the cake:
I took my inspiration from this recipe from the very useful site of the French food magazine Marmiton. I love it. I hope you do too. I tried serving it in several ways. With poached quince and quince ice cream after Sunday lunch, with cream and then with thick Turkish yoghurt, but really it's best with nothing at all, just by itself, with perhaps a glass of sweet wine or rum to sip along with it.

100g unsalted butter, softened, plus a little more for greasing the tin
160g shelled walnuts, from about 500g whole nuts if you’re shelling them yourself
140g caster sugar or vanilla sugar
40g plain flour
½ tsp flaky sea salt
3 eggs
2 tbsps rum

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan/Gas 4.Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a loose-bottomed 21cm cake tin. Line the base with parchment and butter the parchment.

Reserve 8-10 perfect walnut halves to finish the cake – if you like, leave them off if you think this is just far too much adornment. Put the rest of the walnuts into a food processor and pulse until most of the mixture is quite fine (you still want a few small chunks in it). Tip a third of the sugar into the processor and pulse once to blend. It should have the texture of slightly gritty sand. Of course, you can chop the nuts finely on a chopping board with a large knife if you like.

Beat together the butter and remaining sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the walnut mixture, then add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the rum then gently fold in the flour and salt until just combined.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and arrange the walnut halves on top. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. It should be lightly golden on the surface but don’t overbake it – you want it to remain soft in the middle. 

Place the tin on a rack and leave the cake to cool completely before removing it. It keeps quite well for a few days in an airtight container.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Welcome to the Elevenses Revival Society


I love the idea of elevenses. I feel a tremble of sadness that it’s now virtually extinct, but then I still write with a fountain pen and keep a dodo as a pet.

The first thing on my To Do list this week was to revive elevenses. The second thing was to have, tantalisingly on Monday at 11am, the first meeting about the food events for next year’s Stoke Newington Literary Festival

What better reason to bring on the cake than a morning spent talking about books and food, two of my favourite things, with two of my favourite women? Julia, Chattanooga’s finest daughter, is one of my dearest friends and absolutely the sort of person you’d want by your side at the barricades. If your speaker were to arrive late, drunk and naked, she wouldn’t bat an eye. And Liz founded the festival five years ago on a hunch and a credit card. She’s a force of nature whose modesty is matched only by boundless sense of what’s possible. If anyone deserves cake it’s these two. I’m making them founder members and trustees of my Elevenses Revival Society, an arduous responsibility but I think they’re up to it.

Cherry, chocolate and orange bundt
Inaugural meeting of the Elevenses Revival Society.

I used dried morello cherries in this cake because I love them and I throw them into as many things I possibly can, from breakfast porridge to salads and cakes. If you don’t have them or don’t like them, cranberries, raisins or sultanas would also be good. You could substitute brandy or sherry for the kirsch, too.

When I posted a picture of this on instagram, a lot of people asked me about the plate. It’s Chinoiserie Green, a design that Jasper Conran did for Wedgwood a few years ago. It was a birthday present from my best friend Victoria and remains a great favourite of mine.

For the cake:
100g dried cherries 
About 150ml kirsch, just enough to cover the cherries in a small pan
130g cocoa powder
250g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
220g unsalted butter, softened
350g caster sugar
3 large eggs
160ml whole milk, you may need a little more
125ml sour cream
Finely grated zest of an unwaxed orange

For the icing:
80g dark chocolate, about 70% cocoa solids, broken into pieces
125ml double cream
30g butter
2 tbsps kirsch, reserved from soaking the cherries

Put the cherries into a small saucepan and pour on just enough kirsch to cover. Bring to a very gentle simmer, then simmer for a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat and let the cherries fatten and cool completely.  You can leave them for several hours if you like. Drain the cherries, reserving the liquid. Gently pat them dry with kitchen paper.

Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C Fan/Gas 3. Grease a 2 litre Bundt tin with butter, sprinkle with flour, place in a plastic bag and shake shake shake until every part of the tin is lightly coated with the flour. Tap off any excess. Alternatively brush with Wilton Cake Release – this stuff is great for intricately shaped Bundt pans.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt until very well combined and light, with no lumps. Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of the mixture on a plate and toss the cherries in it lightly to coat.

In a separate bowl or a jug, whisk together the milk, sour cream and 1 tbsp of the reserved kirsch.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (of course you can do this in a large mixing bowl with a wooden spoon), beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the orange zest.

With the mixer on very low, beat in a third of the flour then half the milk mixture, then repeat, ending with flour – be careful not to overprocess the mixture or the cake will be tough. If the mixture seems a little stiff, add a splash or two of milk until it has a consistency which drops easily from a wooden spoon. Fold in the cherries with a spatula.

Spoon the mixture into the pan and smooth the top with a palette knife or the back of a spoon – it shouldn’t come more than two thirds of the way up the tin. Bake for 65-70 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the thickest part of the cake comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the tin. Remove the cake from the tin then place on a cooling rack lined with a sheet of baking parchment. Cool completely.

When the cake is completely cold, make the icing. Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring the cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Pour the cream over the chocolate and leave to stand for a couple of minutes. Tip the butter and 2 tbsps of the remaining reserved kirsch (just swig any that’s leftover – it’s delicious) into the bowl and mix until smooth. Leave for a couple of minutes so that it thickens slightly. Pour over the cake and let the icing set before serving in thick slices, ideally at 11am.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Home again

Liptauer, an easy and delicious snack.

London is dark and damp. Walking Barney in Abney Park on Friday morning, the bitter smell of sulphur from the previous night’s fireworks hung in the air.


A damp dog walk in Abney Park.

But all is not dreary. Our local church hall is hosting an evening of Sing Along A Sound of Music to raise money for UNICEF’s Sing for Syria appeal and my friend Liz has signed me up to help decorate the entrance to the hall in a suitably Austria en fête fashion. So last night, in Episode 1127 of my Jill Archer life, Liz came round to discuss the suitability of floral fabrics pulled messily from my craft cupboard and how many fairy lights was too many fairy lights. And by discuss I mean drink, and by fabric I mean wine.

The Sound of Music is the first film I remember seeing, with my dad and my grandmother, aged about five or six, back in the day when small market towns still had cinemas, so it’s always had a special place in my heart.

I also spent part of the summer I was 15 staying with friends of my parents in Vienna. My strongest memory of that trip is seeing women wearing dirndls in an entirely unironic fashion, to go to the office or walk to the post box. But I also remember eating liptauer, the hummus of the Austro-Hungarian empire, as a mid-afternoon snack. This spicy, paprika-spiked spread is terribly easy to make and I thought it would see Liz and I through our important decoration discussions. And it goes well with wine.

Liptauer
The things that make liptauer taste so good.

You can leave the butter out of this if you like (that’s not something I often say), and just make up the weight with more cream cheese or quark. Or you can substitute some cottage cheese for either. Just make sure it’s mixed until very well blended.

Serves 4 as a snack, or more as part of a selection of starters

100g butter, softened
200g quark (or cottage cheese, if that’s your thing)
180g tub of cream cheese
3-4 cornichons, diced
3 spring onions, white and pale green part only, finely diced
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp capers, rinsed if salted, roughly chopped
2 tsps white wine vinegar, cider vinegar or juice from the cornichon jar
1 tsp caraway seeds
A good pinch of hot paprika
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve
Rye bread, more cornichons and other pickles, chopped boiled egg

In a mixer or with a wooden spoon, beat the butter until smooth then beat in the quark and cream cheese a little at a time until very smooth. Beat the rest of the ingredients until well combined. Taste and season with more salt, pepper and/or vinegar or cornichon juice if required.


Beating everything together.

You can make the liptauer up to a couple of days ahead. I suggest you make it at least a couple of hours ahead for the flavours to develop. Seal in a tub or in a bowl with clingfilm and remove from the fridge about an hour before you want to serve it. Give it a good stir, spoon it into a serving bowl and sprinkle over some hot paprika.

Serve with rye bread (you can lightly toast this if you like) and more pickles, and/or some chopped boiled egg.
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