Monday, 28 September 2009


Cranberry & White chocolate muffins

When I was walking the hound in the park this morning, my friend Howard called with a delicious enquiry. He’s got a stand at a conference tomorrow and wanted to make his display stand out. He is a very wise man. He knows that baked goods refresh the parts Powerpoint cannot reach.

As Barney played ‘now you see me now you don’t’ in the fallen leaves, Howard and I decided on mini muffins. White chocolate and cranberry mini muffins, to be precise. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of white chocolate – toooo sweet – but I thought tart little cranberries would provide the perfect counterpoint. Once home, a quick Google brought up this easy treat of a recipe from the Waitrose site. I hope Howard’s clients enjoy them. I hope you do too.

White chocolate and cranberry mini muffins

100g plain flour
1 tsp mixed spice
50g Demerara sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
75g white chocolate chips

75g dried cranberries
1 medium egg, beaten
150ml milk
50g butter, melted and cooled

To finish
100g white chocolate
25g dried cranberries, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas mark 6. Line two 12-hole mini muffin tins with mini muffin or petit four cases.

Mix the dry ingredients, chocolate and cranberries in a bowl. Make a well in the centre. Mix the wet ingredients, pour into the dry and stir for about 20 seconds until you have a lumpy batter. Don't overmix. Spoon into the cases and bake for 15 minutes. Cool on a rack.

To finish, melt the chocolate in the microwave or in a bain marie, scrape into a polythene bag and cool so it thickens a little. Cut a tiny hole in the corner of the bag. Drizzle the chocolate over the muffins and top with dried cranberries. I had chocolate left over, so I criss-crossed the tops with skinny little lines to add a final flourish. The secret to doing this is to start piping your lines about an inch or so to the side of the cooling rack so by the time they hit the muffins, your lines are skinny rather than gloopy. It’s gloriously messy.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

When life gives you lemons (and butter)…

Bramley Lemon Curd

After the wedding, I had lots of lemons and some lovely French butter left over so I decided to make a few jars of lemon curd. Is there anything more delicious, spread onto hot toast or spooned under a pillow of meringue in a pie? Is there anything more cheerful than a line of golden jars stacked up on a shelf? And I’ll be honest, I was in need of a bit of cheering up.

Oscar (Admilbu Meridian Dancer) in the Garden.Oscar
3rd January 2000 – 14th September 2009

Our little cat Oscar died. He’d been ill for quite a while, his sturdy frame diminished so he was light and bony as a bird, his once-plush fur rough and dull. A few weeks ago, he jumped down from his chair and his back legs gave out. He sprawled across the floor. I stayed up all night with him cradled in my arms, his head damp with my tears. In the morning, Séan nestled him into a carrying basket, lined with his Arsenal towel, for his final trip to the vet. I busied myself with mindless tasks, loading the dishwasher, folding the laundry, sweeping the floor, my skin prickly with grief.

An hour later, Séan called to say ‘We’re coming home’. So, despite having said goodbye to him, there he was back in the kitchen, walking like a slightly drunken sailor but happily tucking into his breakfast. He’d had some kind of stroke but the vet said he was in no pain and would adjust, could improve. We treasured the bonus of his final few weeks. He nudged up beside us on the sofa, licking our hands with his sandpaper tongue. On bright days he would find a patch of sunshine on the terrace and stretch out his skinny frame on the warm slate.

Colette wrote ‘There are no ordinary cats’. Oscar wasn’t the least bit ordinary. He was beguilingly handsome, with cashmere-soft fur in the richest shade of chocolate brown and bewitching jade green eyes. He had a profound sense of his own importance and would call nosily if he felt that his court (Séan and I) weren’t sufficiently attentive.

Oscar & Liberty With Liberty.

Delphi, Liberty & Oscar With Delphi and Liberty. Another day, another sofa…

When we first brought him home, a tiny kitten you could fit into one hand, we already had two cats, Delphi and Liberty. They weren’t too thrilled with this interloper. He was desperate to play with them, edging towards them unabashed by their hissing hostility. So I was delighted one morning when, as he tumbled about on our bed, Liberty jumped up and gave him a tentative lick. Did he stretch out with pleasure? Give her an affectionate nudge? No, he jabbed her clean across the nose with his paw. In later life, his favourite game was to lurk on the stairs when we had visitors, seducing them with his glorious good looks so that they would ruffle his fur through the banisters. He would purr, his whole body vibrating with pleasure, until the moment when he had drawn them in sufficiently so that they would press their faces against the wooden rails. At this point, invariably, he would give them a quick swipe with his paw and, on one notable occasion, bite them on the nose.

In his final weeks, Oscar was too frail to climb the stairs and spent his time on the ground floor. One evening, as I was making dinner, I couldn’t find him. I searched the dining room and sitting room. Séan looked upstairs. He discovered him three flights up at the top of the house. He had scaled his personal Everest and died on our bed. And that was Oscar. Get where you need to be or die trying.

I still look for him in the house, wait for him to swirl his way around my ankles when I come in the door, jump onto my desk and head butt me as I type. But his chair is empty. Kiddo, I miss you, you furry little fury. Living with you was a ten-year seminar in the fierce pursuit of pleasure, in hunting down the sunniest spot, the cosiest blanket, the tastiest morsel and the highest branch. It was an honour to be your devoted friend and servant.

I'm ready for my close up...

Our lovely vet Caroline sent us a card following Oscar’s death: ‘It was a real pleasure and privilege to treat Oscar over the years. He was a real character and was always so stoical ...’

Bramley lemon curd


This recipe is from River Cottage Handbook No.2: Preserves. It’s been my great pleasure to meet the book’s author, Pam Corbin, a couple of times. She teaches wonderful preserving classes down at River Cottage, where she’s known affectionately as ‘Pam the Jam’. She says of this wonderful curd ‘It’s like eating apples and custard: softly sweet, tangy and quite, quite delicious’. She is quite, quite right. I hope you’ll enjoy it too.

Makes 5 x 225g jars.

450g Bramley apples, peeled, cored and chopped
Finely grated zest and juice of 2 unwaxed lemons (you need 100ml strained juice)
125g unsalted butter
450g granulated sugar
4-5 large eggs, well beaten (you need 200ml beaten egg)

Put the chopped apples into a pan with 100ml water and the lemon zest. Cook gently until soft and fluffy, then either beat to a purée with a wooden spoon or rub through a nylon sieve.

Put the butter, sugar, lemon juice and apple purée into a double boiler or heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. As soon as the butter has melted and the mixture is hot and glossy, pour in the eggs through a sieve, and whisk with a balloon whisk. If the fruit puree is too hot when the beaten egg is added, the egg will ‘split’. One way to guard against this is to check the temperature of the puree with a sugar thermometer – it should be no higher than 55-60 ̊C when the egg is added.If your curd does split, take the pan off the heat and whisk vigorously until smooth.

Stir the mixture over a gentle heat, scraping down the sides of the bowl every few minutes, until thick and creamy. This will take 9-10 minutes; the temperature should reach 82-84 ̊C on a sugar thermometer. Immediately pour into warm, sterilised jars and seal. Use within four weeks. Once opened, keep in the fridge.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Here’s the Boeuf…

Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon

On my first trip to Paris, I stood in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles staring into the foxed glass. I imagined not my 12-year-old self gazing back, but some be-wigged and be-jewelled courtesan, the weary face of a servant or, who knows, perhaps the Sun King himself? It was as though all the faces that had ever stared into the glass were still captured there and I could see them as long as I looked hard enough. That morning, I felt the flimsy barriers of time and place dissolve.

On Sunday, as I stood in my kitchen, patting fat cubes of beef with kitchen paper, I felt a kinship with my brothers and sisters in spoons. I knew I was not alone. Up and down the country, at that very moment, I knew many of us were slicing onions and carrots, browning mushrooms, enjoying the sizzle as we tipped whole bottles of red into scorching hot pans.

I got an email from my darling friend Richard on Tuesday. ‘I went to see Julie &Julia on this inclement afternoon in the lowest of spirits and came out skipping. I can’t imagine a film that will resonate more with you both, even if at times it is a little sad. But c’est la vie, and that’s what it celebrates – that, and a beautiful, enviable, treasured coupling which, if I know you both as I think I do, it will be like looking in a mirror.’

I’d already planned to see Julie & Julia with Christine and Daphne that evening, but I quickly booked two more tickets for Séan and me on Friday night. I knew he would adore it too. (Food, France, Meryl and Stanley - what’s not to love?) And besides, he’s scarcely left the house for two weeks so he could do with a bit of a cheer up. (A long and itchy story involving an allergic reaction to antibiotics, since subsided, which is a relief to us both as it presented him with the longest ‘get out of washing up’ card in living memory.)

One of my favourite sequences in the film comes when Julia Child’s editor, Judith Jones, pours a bottle of red into the boeuf bourguignon, speckling Julia’s precious manuscript with booze and fat. It’s rather exciting to think of the moment when the recipe that launched a thousand (a million?) dinner parties had its first outing.

What I love about Julia Child’s recipes is that they are so long. The current vogue for short, fast, easy is a deceit, a conceit. Instructions are cut down to the barest bones to give an impression of ease, of simplicity, and the results disappoint because - without a considerable amount of knowledge and experience - the home cook has no chance of reproducing the glossy image they see before them.

There is an elegant, scholarly precision about Julia Child’s recipes and a comforting assurance that if you do as she says, the results will be perfect. Pat the meat dry, don’t crowd the pan, sauté for 2 to 3 minutes…these are the instructions you’d give a friend if you were cooking side by side. She is holding your hand. Peering from a considerable height over your shoulder.

As I did as she said and the ingredients behaved as she promised they would, I felt a connection that ran from her little third-floor kitchen on the ‘rue de Loo’ to mine in North London, on a cool September evening, half a century after the recipe was first written.

Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon close-up

This is from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume One. I really, really can’t wait to make it again.

Serves 6-8

A 6oz chunk of bacon
1 tbsp olive oil or cooking oil
3lbs lean stewing beef, cut into 2 inch cubes
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
2 tbsps flour
3 cups of full-bodied, young red wine such as Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhone, Bordeaux-St Emilion or Burgundy
2-3 cups brown beef stock
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 cloves mashed garlic
½ tsp thyme leaves
A crumbled bay leaf
18-24 small white onions, peeled
1 ½ tbsp butter
1 ½ tbsp oil
½ cup brown beef stock, dry white wine, red wine or water
A bouquet of 4 parsley sprigs, 1 small bay leaf, 1 small sprig of thyme tied together with kitchen string
1lb mushrooms, quartered
4tbsps butter
2tbsps oil
Parsley, finely chopped

Remove the rind from the bacon and cut it into lardons, ¼ inch thick and 1 ½ inches long. Simmer the rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1 ½ quarts of water. Drain and dry. (Actually, and I hope it isn’t woefully impertinent, I simmered the rind but I couldn’t bring myself to simmer the bacon. I understand the reasoning behind simmering the rind – you make it tender enough to melt into the stew, but my bacon, bought from the Learmonth brothers at our farmer’s market is so delicious and not over-salted, and I couldn’t bear to lose any of its delicious flavour.)

Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/Gas mark 8.

In a 9-10inch fireproof casserole, 3 inches deep, warm the oil over a moderate heat then sauté the bacon for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set the casserole aside. Reheat until the fat is almost smoking (you may need to add a little more oil at this point; I did.) before you sauté the beef.

Dry the beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Sauté it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon.

In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out any sautéing fat. Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set the casserole uncovered in the middle position of the preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to the oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove the casserole, and turn the oven down to 170C/325F/Gas mark 3.

Stir in the wine, and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato puree, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate the heat so liquid simmers very slowly for 2 ½ to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set them aside until needed. To prepare the onions, warm 1 ½ tbsps butter and 1 ½ tbsps oil in a 9-10 inch frying pan (you need to use one with a lid), add the onions and sauté over a moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions about so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect to brown them uniformly. Pour in the ½ cup of stock or wine, season to taste, add the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet.

(Here is Julia’s note on preparing the mushrooms: Successfully sautéed mushrooms are lightly browned and exude none of their juice while they are being cooked; to achieve this the mushrooms must be dry, the butter very hot, and the mushrooms must not be crowded in the pan. If you sauté too many at once they steam rather than fry; their juices escape and they do not brown. So if you are preparing a large amount, or if your heat source is feeble, sauté the mushrooms in several batches.)

To prepare the mushrooms, warm 2 tbsps butter and 1 tbsps oil (keep the rest back and use it as the pan gets a little dry) over a high heat in a 10 inch frying pan. As soon as you see that the butter foam has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add the mushrooms. Toss and shale the pan for 4 to 5 minutes. During their sauté the mushrooms will at first absorb the fat. In 2 to 3 minutes the fat will reappear on their surface, and the mushrooms will begin to brown. As soon as they have browned lightly, remove them from the heat.

When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.

Skim fat off the sauce. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 ½ cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of stock. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables. The recipe may be completed in advance to this point.

FOR IMMEDIATE SERVING: Cover the casserole and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in its casserole, or arrange the stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles, or rice, and decorated with parsley.

FOR LATER SERVING: When cold, cover and refrigerate. About 15 to 20 minutes before serving, bring to the simmer, cover, and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce.

All gone...


Saturday, 19 September 2009

Lost Postcards from the edge: Part III

All SetAll set…

Hallloooo out there. Did you think I’d fallen into a vat of butter, flambéed myself to ashes, run off with the groom? A combination of work crises and computer meltdowns and, oh, life has kept me away from you all these past two weeks and I’ve been a very bad blogger. Smack me then read on.

The wedding was heaven - ankle-swelling-bone-achingly-exhausting heaven. The sun shone, the bride looked ravishing, the guests glamorous and the band’s tunes drifted over the trees into the woodland late into the night.

If you’ve ever asked yourself ‘Can you get a wedding for 140 into a mini?’, I’m here to tell you, you can. Lady de B picked me up at 5am the day before the Big Day in her shiny blue car. (When Sean was ill , she used to drive me back and forth to the hospital so often, we christened it ‘The Glambulance’, now I think it needs an altogether more festive name – ‘The Marriage Mobile’ perhaps?)

The passenger seat was pushed so far forward to accommodate pans and plates, wooden spoons, newly-sharpened knives and plastic spatulas, heart-shaped cheeses and wooden trugs of French butter, I had to take out my hair slide to give me a little more room. But this wasn’t all. We had to stop off at New Covent Garden Market to pick up the fresh produce. As we pulled up, the man at the gate did a double take and laughed. Laughed so hard he had to wipe his eyes. You can hardly blame him – the Marriage Mobile is about the size of one of the tyres on the huge refrigerated wagons he normally ushers into the market. Somehow, we managed to load trays of raspberries, boxes of herbs and two litre bottles of cream into every spare crevice. But we still had two trays of lemons. In the end, we crammed them into pans and bowls, tucked them into baskets of tea towels and jammed them into the glove compartment. But it still wasn’t enough. We were reduced to throwing them into the back and hoping the dear little things would find their own cosy nests. I’m convinced, months from now, Lady de B will be driving along and the last little citrus will roll forward into the foot well.

We arrived at Paula and Jack’s at 9am and the following 48 hours were some of the most exhausting, exhilarating and blissfully exciting of my life. I didn’t sit down for two days. It was wonderful. I loved it. Everyone else seemed to love it too. When can we do it again?

Here are some snapshots of the day. I just hope I didn’t get too much butter on the lens and they’re not too out of focus – there wasn’t much time for pictures in the middle of assembling all of the deliciousness, so I hope you’ll forgive me. In the coming weeks, I’ll share with you some more of the recipes, but for now I give you…

Paula and Jack’s Wedding Menu


Three crostini:
Potted mackerel, crème fraîche and dill;
Goat’s cheese, figs and Parma ham;
Roast butternut squash with feta and thyme

Muhamarra, roast red pepper and walnut dip, with crudités

Persian lamb meatballs with a mint and yogurt dipping sauce

Spinach, ricotta and pine nut filo parcels



Spit roasted hog and lamb

Marinated aubergines with tahini sauce and oregano

Roasted beetroot salad with feta and chervil

Green bean, mange tout, orange and hazelnut salad

Roast butternut squash with apricots and couscous

Green salad with vinaigrette

Sweet potato gratin with sage and crème fraîche

Minted new potatoes



Lemon posset with blackberries and lemon shortbread biscuits

Chocolate, raspberry and almond brownies



Cropwell Bishop Stilton

Heart-shaped Neufchatel cheese

Hawes Wensleydale

Pears, grapes and figs

Paula and Jack’s apricot and ginger wedding chutney


The marqueeBunting ahoy…

Mismatched vintage china Mismatched vintage china.

The top tableGorgeous scabious, roses and stocks mixed with herbs in little posies. Note the olives in vintage teacups and you can just see the jars of wedding chutney on everyone’s seat.

The kitchen Getting ready for the wedding. Our little army of helpers and ‘waiters in waiting’ in Paula and Jack’s kitchen.

The meat roasts The hog and lamb roast.

The buffet The buffet.

 Green bean, mange tout, orange and hazelnut salad Green bean, mange tout, orange and hazelnut salad.

 Marinated aubergines with tahini sauce and oregano Marinated aubergines with tahini sauce and oregano

 Roast butternut squash with apricots and couscous Roast butternut squash with apricots and couscous

 Roasted beetroot salad with feta and chervil Roasted beetroot salad with feta and chervil

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Postcards from the edge: Part II

Herbs Herbs from the garden, ready to go into the
pork and chestnut stuffing.

In the countdown to Paula’s wedding on Saturday, I’m going to be cooking at all hours, fuelled by caffeine and panic, stirring as I scribble down essentials needed on our voyage to the country. So there’ll be little time for pretty pictures taken in natural light. But I do hope you’ll keep me company as I chop and sauté late into the night, trying to remember to breathe and wondering when I’ll have time to have my roots done so I don’t look like the oldest caterer in town.

The centrepiece of Paula and Jack’s wedding feast is a lamb and pork roast. Even 130 greedy guests can’t devour a whole sheep and a whole pig in one sitting, so our brilliant bride had the inspired idea to serve hefty sandwiches made up of the leftovers at 10.30pm to fuel enthusiastic dancers, steady the drunk and keep the band on top doh. Of course, Lady de B and I want to make these the best late-night treat any of the guests have ever tasted. We’ve already made a mountain of apple sauce to go with the pork and jars of sparkling mint jelly to accompany the lamb. For the very hungry, we’re making stuffing too, to create sandwiches so generously proportioned, they would make Homer Simpson proud.

This recipe for pork, apple and chestnut stuffing is a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall one. In the interests of full disclosure, I have to confess I work down at River Cottage sometimes, but it is a bloody good multi-purpose stuffing – herby, with a lovely zing from the lemon zest - so I feel no obligation to apologise for my bias. It’s great with Sunday roasts, for Thanksgiving celebrations or Christmas feasts. And weddings, don’t forget weddings.

Pork, apple and chestnut stuffing

All Packed up

50g butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 stems celery, plus leaves if possible, finely chopped
500g pork shoulder, coarsely minced
The liver of the bird you are stuffing (optional), finely chopped
200g peeled, cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped
1 large dessert apple, peeled and finely chopped
The finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
150g soft white breadcrumbs
2 tsp each thyme, sage and rosemary, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pork, apple and chestnut stuffing Ready for the oven

Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the onion and celery, season and sweat gently for about 15 minutes, stirring from time to time, until soft and translucent. Leave to cool, then combine with the other ingredients for the stuffing. Season well with salt and pepper. Break off a bit and fry it off to taste for seasoning, add a bit more if necessary.

Bake the stuffing in a shallow, lightly buttered dish, or roll it into balls. Cook at 190C/375F/gas mark 5 for 35-45 minutes, depending on thickness, until cooked through.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...