Saturday, 18 December 2010
I’ve been to grander parties, it’s true. This is a long way from silver trays of canapés in elegant hotels, premier cru in posh houses fragrant with pine Diptyque candles and money, or carefully constructed cocktails in private members’ clubs.
But this is the party I look forward to as soon as I flip the calendar over to December. Every Christmas, those of us who walk our dogs in Clissold Park assemble in the breath-misting morning chill to swap stories, drink, eat.
Rachel put together her camping stove for the mulled wine and the graffiti’d picnic table quickly disappeared beneath foil-wrapped and plastic-boxed Christmas treats, thermoses of coffee, paper napkins and plastic cups.
It’s a very Stoke Newington affair. Mince pies and Christmas cake sit alongside Phil’s home-smoked cheese, Riccardo and Alastaire Spanish cinnamon cookies and Cat’s spanakopita.
It was -2ºC, so I perked up a cup of Lee’s hot chocolate with a nip of rum from Alastaire’s hip flask. Dogs barked, sniffed, made covert and not-so-covert attempts to raid the table. Toddlers nibbled chocolate brownies as a few feet above their heads, adults discussed favoured routes to Devon and Denmark, snow warnings and the misery of Oxford Street. People swapped cards and invitations, exchanged hugs, kissed.
By 11am I was at my desk, trying to nudge my rum-warmed brain to focus on my last feature of the year. But what I was really thinking was that it would be a good thing for the happiness of the nation if there were more parties where it was entirely acceptable to wear your gardening shoes.
Chorizo sausage rolls
There are so many sweet offerings at the dog walkers’ Christmas party, I always try to make something savoury to balance the early morning sugar rush. Sausage rolls filled with River Cottage’s Tupperware chorizo have a fiery kick, appropriate for a morning when ducks skid across thick ice on the pond and walkers swaddled in Gore-tex and wool tread gingerly on frosty pavements.
The chorizo is easy to make – you just squish it all together – but you need to refrigerate it for at least a day for the flavours to develop.
Makes about 30 small sausage rolls
For the chorizo:
750g pork shoulder, coarsely minced
1 tbsp sweet smoked paprika
2 tsp hot smoked paprika
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp fine sea salt
1½ tsp fennel seeds
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
50ml red wine
Freshly ground black pepper
A little oil for frying
3 sheets of ready-roll all-butter puff pastry, about 35cm x 22cm
An egg beaten with a little water
Put all the chorizo ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly with your hands, squishing the mix through your fingers to distribute the seasonings evenly. Heat a little oil in a frying pan, break off a walnut-sized piece of the mixture, shape into a tiny patty and fry for a few minutes on each side, until cooked through. Taste to check the seasoning, remembering that the flavours will develop further as the mixture matures.
Cover the mixture and store in the fridge for at least 24 hours before using; this will allow the flavours time to develop. It will keep for about 2 weeks.
When you’re ready to make the sausage rolls, unroll the pastry and give it a gentle going over with a rolling pin to increase its size slightly. Cut it in half lengthways, make the chorizo into a long snakes about 2cm thick and lay them down the middle of the pastry rectangles. Brush one long edge of the pastry lightly with the egg wash, roll the other edge over the top to join and press the edges together firmly. Trim with a sharp knife so you have an even edge (if you like - wonky sausage rolls are also incredibly delicious). Cut them into 4cm pieces and place them on baking sheets lined with baking parchment, keeping them about 2cm apart as they will expand a bit. Chill for about 30 minutes.
Brush the sausage rolls with the egg wash. I also ground some black pepper and sprinkled a bit more sweet paprika over the top but that’s not essential. Place them in a hot oven, 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6, for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden and the pork cooked through. If you can, eat them warm.
Sunday, 12 December 2010
Every December, I buy a plain evergreen wreath from Mrs Grover’s stall at Columbia Road. She sells her own beautifully decorated wreaths but I love the slow, scented ritual of creating my own. This year, I raided the kitchen cupboards to make a cook’s wreath finished with some of my favourite flavours of the season: oranges and lemons, cloves, cinnamon and star anise.
Making a wreath is incredibly easy and – a bonus - it gives me the chance to get my glue gun out (£2 at a church jumble sale, thank you very much). In my enthusiasm, I always forget how bloody hot the glue gets. Still, and I’m sure Martha would agree, nothing says ‘Happy Christmas’ like a new set of fingerprints.
- A plain wreath
- Glue - a glue gun works brilliantly, particularly if you are on the run, but any strong, clear-setting glue is fine
- Green florist’s wire from garden centres or DIY shops
- Raffia or ribbon
- A selection from the decorative bits and pieces below
Dried orange slices
Preheat the oven to 130°C/250°F/Gas Mark 1. Slice the oranges about 4mm thick. Lay them out on a tea towel and press out some of their moisture with another tea towel or kitchen paper. Lay them on an ovenproof rack and place it on top of a baking tray. Place in the oven and after the first 15 minutes, turn the oven down to its lowest setting and leave the oranges to dry out for about 5-6 hours, turning them halfway through and opening the door from time to time to let out the steam. Turn off the oven and leave them to continue to dry out in the cooling oven. You can dry apple slices in the same way.
Once the orange slices are completely dry, glue them together in piles of three or four. Poke two holes in the stack of slices with a dowel and thread enough green florists’ wire through the holes to hold them together and to tie them around the wreath. Hide the wire by sticking a star anise over the top.
You can buy packs of cinnamon for crafting quite cheaply on Ebay – I bought mine, £2.50 for 40x8cm sticks, from www.floristrywarehouse.com. Stick them together in bundles, tie some floristry wire around them with enough excess to tie them around the wreath. Hide the wire with a raffia or ribbon bow.
Oranges and lemons
Whole fruits look great and smell wonderful tied to your wreath. Poke a hole through the fruit with a skewer, thread some wire through the hole, leaving enough excess to tie around the wreath. If you like, you can stud the fruit with cloves.
Other things you can tie or stick onto your wreath if you like…
- Pine cones
- Bundles of woody herbs such as rosemary or thyme
- Bits of holly or ivy
- Sprigs of eucalyptus or laurel
To assemble your wreath…
Simply tie all of your orange slices, lemons and bundles of cinnamon to your wreath, twisting the wire several times at the back of the wreath to secure them firmly. Trim off the ends of the wire with secateurs. Lighter things, such as apple slices and nuts can be glued directly onto the wreath.
Tuesday, 7 December 2010
I love working from home. I take phone calls with the Gilmore Girls temporarily on mute, check emails while singing along enthusiastically if tunelessly to 42nd Street and type with a dog to warm my feet and a pair of kittens snoozing in my in tray. My one shiver of envy for office workers comes when we have so much snow, trains don’t run, offices close and they get the day off. Frustratingly - as my office is a gentle 60 second stroll from my bed - it would take quite the snow storm to make it impossible for me to clock in.
I was thinking about this as I walked Barney in the park, my boots crunching through the dazzling layer of crisp snow. Our usual dog walking number was swelled by a few office refuseniks, excited at the prospect of a day off. So - in the spirit of solidarity - I declared a snow day myself. No work, just pottering. If I’m honest, to the naked eye this wouldn’t have looked very different to a normal day. Show tunes, yes, messing about in the kitchen, certainly, but deadline stress, tricky emails and scaling of the accounts mountain so large its about to be granted its own postcode, were banned.
I’d been sent a bag of Trish Deseine’s new milk chocolate buttons to try. I needed to cook them - what they’re intended for - before I ate the whole bag. I flipped through the pages of Trish’s Best of Chocolat (in French, just so you know) which I bought when we were in Agde in the summer and decided the milk chocolate, date and almond cake was a suitable fate for my precious and rapidly diminishing bounty.
I love Trish Deseine’s food. It’s cosy, sexy, sophisticated and her books are shot through with her natural warmth and humour. She is from Northern Ireland and has lived in France for the past twenty years or so, where she has enjoyed un succès fou showing the French how to create simple and delicious meals which require neither a sous chef nor a trust fund. Luckily for us, she has published several books in English. Try them. You will like.
Chocolate by Trish
Trish’s chocolate is available from Selfridges or by mail order in the UK from Chocolatebytrish.com
Rich chocolate cake with dates and almonds
This flourless chocolate cake has an intense, almost wine-y depth of flavour. It’s grown up, rich, fudgy and, yes, intensely chocolate-y. It keeps very well for a few days too, if you’re the sort of person who can sleep while there’s chocolate cake in a tin on your kitchen shelf.
Serves 8 to 10 people
250g milk chocolate, Trish’s magic buttons are 38%
3 egg yolks
125g light muscovado sugar
175g ground almonds
100g whole almonds, toasted* and finely chopped
175g unsalted butter, plus a little more for greasing
150g Medjool dates, stoned and chopped, if you can’t get hold of Medjool dates, poach ordinary dates for three minutes in a little water and sugar
Lightly grease a 25cm loose-bottomed cake tin, line it with a circle of baking parchment and butter the parchment. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.
Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and melt in a microwave or over a bowl of barely-simmering water (the bottom of the bowl shouldn’t touch the water). Cool slightly.
In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, egg yolks and sugar until light and creamy – the beaters should leave a ribbon trail across the surface when you lift them out of the batter. Add the ground and chopped almonds and the dates and stir until well combined. Lightly but thoroughly fold in the melted chocolate and butter with a spatula. Pour into the cake tin and bake for about 50 minutes – the centre should still wobble a bit as it will firm up as it cools. Let it cool in the tin before turning it out.
* Place them in an even layer on a baking sheet and bake them at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for about 6 minutes. Cook them for a minute or two longer if they still look a bit pale but keep checking them as they can burn very easily.
Sunday, 5 December 2010
However hard I’ve been trying to convince myself - and believe me I have - there’s nothing festive about balls of dog hair blowing silently across the floor. I considered spraying them with glitter or weaving them into a festive wreath, but concluded that there is a limit to all of this wild, free-range, organic and home-grown business. Barney really needed grooming before I looked like a mad lady walking a tweed cushion on a lead along Church Street.
Groom Dog City recently opened a salon (Is it a salon or a parlour? Parlours make me think of poodles with more pom-poms than the Dallas Cowboy cheerleading squad, so I think we’ll stick to salon) in Ravenscroft Street, just off Columbia Road, so I booked him in for their Drop and Shop service – he gets groomed while I get to raid the market unencumbered by a frisky hound on a search and rescue mission for bits of dropped bacon sandwich. We even managed to fit in lunch at the lovely new restaurant, Brawn - Colchester oysters, pork belly and a delicious pudding of warm pear compôte, crème fraîche and toasted pain d’épice crumbs, thank you very much.
We picked up the dog, transformed* from miniature woolly mammoth to sleek dog about town by friendly, skilled groomers. No pom-poms, but he did get a little green bow on his collar. It looks pretty festive, actually.
* Hand stripping a border terrier takes about two and a half hours and costs £40.
Monday, 29 November 2010
This is a taste of my northern childhood. At birthday parties, church fêtes and cricket teas, cheese and onion tart held its own on tables crowded with sausages on sticks, mushroom vol-au-vents, egg sandwiches and butterfly cakes. It was almost as essential to weddings, christenings and funerals as the minister.
It probably also appeared as part of the feast (spread, they would have said spread) at my great-aunt Dolly and great-uncle Jos’s diamond wedding anniversary, the one where uncle Jos sang Danny Boy to a misty-eyed crowd in the sitting room while Auntie Dolly shuffled me into the kitchen, placed her hands on her Spirella-corseted, Windsmoor-clad hips and told me ‘Never get married, Debora, never get married,’ while sipping neat gin, no ice, out of a heavy crystal tumbler.
Well I did get married, though with no cheese and onion tart to mark our nuptials I hope it’s legal. But I have continued to make it for lunches, afternoon teas and picnics ever since, so hopefully that counts for something.
The tart you see here is a little different from the one of my childhood. I’ve acquired some fancy London ways since then. I add crème fraîche to the pastry which makes it deliciously short and flaky. I sauté the onions with thyme – I’m quite sure I was into my second decade before I met a fresh herb. And I cook the onions down until they’re really, really soft, not almost raw as was often the case in the original. I’ve added some bacon to the recipe here, though you can leave it out if you wish – just add a bit more butter to the sautéing onions.
Cheese and onion tart
For the pastry:
240g plain flour
120g unsalted butter
Good pinch of salt
2 tbsp crème fraîche
About 2-3tbsp iced water
For the filling:
3 rashers back bacon, cut into thin strips
3 onions, finely diced
¼ – ½ tsp fresh thyme leaves
150g Cheddar cheese, grated
3 eggs and 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
100ml whole milk or single cream
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5.
Put the flour, butter and salt into a food processor and pulse briefly a few times – you still want little, pea-sized pieces of butter in the mix. Add the crème fraîche and pulse a few more times. Turn it out into a bowl and add the water a little at a time, stirring gently with your hands or a knife to bring it together into a ball – you may not need all of the water. Press it gently into a disc, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Butter a loose-bottomed flan tin and dust it with flour. Turn out the pastry onto a lightly floured surface and roll out. Line the flan tin with the pastry, letting the excess hang over the sides, and place on a baking tray. Prick the base and sides with a fork. Line with baking parchment filled with baking beans, dried pulses or uncooked rice and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the paper and baking beans. Brush some of the beaten egg over the base and put it back into the oven for eight minutes (see COOK’S TIP). Reduce the oven temperature to 170°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.
Trim off the excess pastry with a sharp knife.
While the tart shell is cooking, make the filling. Warm the butter in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat and fry the bacon until just turning crisp. Remove to a bowl. Reduce the heat to medium-low and sweat the onions with the thyme and a pinch of salt, stirring from time to time, until very soft, pulpy and translucent – you want them to reduce in volume by about half. Add them to the bowl with the bacon and cool slightly. Mix in two thirds of the cheese. Mix the milk or cream with the lightly beaten eggs and then combine with the bacon, onions and cheese. Season with salt and pepper and pour into the tart shell. Scatter the remaining cheese over the top and bake for 30 minutes until the tart is golden.
Recipes often give quite short cooking times for blind baking tart shells. You want the base to be completely cooked to prevent the horror of a soggy bottom, so cook it for as long as it needs, whatever the instructions say. Also, a tip I picked up from Gill Meller, the entirely wonderful Head Chef at River Cottage , is to prick the sides of the tart as well as the base before you cook it.
Saturday, 27 November 2010
If you’ve spent more than a few minutes on my blog you might notice there’s an abundance of sweet things - enough pies, cakes and tarts to stock a rather ambitious bake sale. But I have a confession to make. I don’t really have a sweet tooth. My sister in law marvels that I can keep chocolate in my cupboards for weeks. I can eat a slice of cake or a biscuit I’ve baked and send the rest off to work with Sean so he can share it with his colleagues, or take them with me to the park to hand out to my dog walking posse without a glimmer of regret.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m enormously greedy. Warm bread, hunks of cheese, slices of garlicky salami, salty olives or anchovies, creamy curries, spicy chorizo, how do I love thee? Let me count the plates.
But I love to bake. I love the craft of it and the sweetly intoxicating aroma that fills the kitchen. Opening a recipe book and reading ‘Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy…’ has the same effect on me as ‘Once upon a time…’ has on a fractious toddler.
When we have friends over for supper, making the pudding is my favourite part of the prep. Last Friday I found some beautiful golden quince in our local Turkish supermarket and couldn’t wait to get them home to turn them into the final course of our dinner on Saturday night.
Today I’m giving you three recipes, each component of our pudding of quince tarte tatin, Greek yoghurt and honey ice cream with candied walnuts. You can make everything ahead, bar putting the tart in the oven, so there’s no last-minute faff to induce a profound craving for Valium. Or you could simply make one or two of the recipes – serve the tart with crème fraîche, serve the ice cream by itself with an extra trickle of honey over the top and/or some of the walnuts or simply serve the walnuts as part of a platter of dried figs, prunes and apricots. Do whatever you like, so long as you do it with pleasure.
Quince tarte tatin
Don’t be put off if you don’t have a tarte tatin tin. Most shallow, solid-bottomed cake tins will do. You can even make it in an oven-proof frying pan – this means you can cook and bake the tart in the same pan too, so less washing up. This is a real ‘ta-dah!’ tart. It looks very impressive but it’s really very easy to make.
4-5 biggish quince
200g caster sugar or vanilla sugar
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
Juice of half a lemon, plus a bit more for the lemony water
100g unsalted butter
150g caster sugar or vanilla sugar
375g ready-made puff pastry - I like the one from The Dorset Pastry Company but any all-butter puff pastry will do
Put the sugar, water, split vanilla pod and lemon juice into a large pan and stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat and boil hard for 5 minutes.
While the syrup is bubbling away, fill a bowl with cold water and add a good squeeze of lemon juice. Peel and core the quince and cut each half into thirds, dropping them into the lemony water as you go to stop them from discolouring. When they’re all ready, drain and drop them into the syrup to poach for 5 minutes. Tip into a colander and leave the fruit to steam for a few minutes so it dries out a bit.
Melt the butter and sugar in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over a medium-high heat (if you’re going to cook the tart in the frying pan, you want to use one that’s about 30cm in diameter) and let it bubble away for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Tip the poached quince into the pan and turn them over so they’re well coated. Cook, carefully turning the fruit over, until the buttery syrup turns into a clear, light caramel. Remove from the heat.
When cool enough to handle, either arrange the fruit, core-side up or side by side, in the pan or in a 30cm tarte tatin dish or cake tin. Make sure the fruit is crammed in tightly with as few gaps as possible. Spoon any of the caramel that remains in the frying pan over the top of the fruit if you’re baking the tart in a tatin dish or baking tin. Cool completely.
Roll out the pastry and cut it out into a circle about 1cm larger than the diameter of your tin. Cover the fruit with the pastry and tuck it in tightly around the edges. Make two or three cuts about 4cm long in the top of the pastry and chill until you’re ready to bake it.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. Place the tart in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the sides of the pan, place a large plate over the top, say a little prayer, and invert the tart onto the plate. Serve warm with the ice cream and walnuts scattered over the top.
Greek yoghurt and honey ice cream
The ice cream recipe is from Morfudd Richards’ lovely book, Lola’s Ice Creams & Sundaes, with a ripple of honey added by me. This is about the easiest ice cream you’ll ever make – just whisk everything together and tip it into an ice cream maker. No custard-splitting anxiety, just cool deliciousness which goes beautifully with the sweet, perfumed stickiness of the quince.
500ml thick Greek yoghurt
125ml double cream
125g caster sugar
Juice of half a lemon
4-6 tbsps runny honey, lavender, orange blossom or acacia honey are good
To make the ice cream, mix everything together in a bowl until smooth and well blended. Churn in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Put into a plastic container, cover the top of the ice cream with waxed or greaseproof paper and seal with a lid.
Freeze for an hour or two until firm but not completely set. Remove from the freezer and make holes in the ice cream with a spoon. Pour over the honey and swirl gently with a spatula. Return to the freezer for a few hours until completely frozen.
I followed the instructions from the Simply Recipes site for the candied walnuts. Their recipe is super easy but you need to hold your nerve a bit and work quickly. Have everything to hand before you start messing with the caramel – the lined baking sheet, the forks for separating the nuts -and keep the walnuts close to the hob so you can stir them in as soon as the caramel is the right colour. I think adding some flaky sea salt at the end makes them even more special, though you can leave it out if you like.
100g caster sugar
About 150g walnut halves
Good pinch or two of flaky sea salt
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Scatter the walnuts on a baking sheet and bake for about 5 minutes until fragrant and slightly toasted – if they’re not quite done, put them in for longer and check after each minute as they can burn very quickly. Cool.
Warm the sugar in a heavy-bottomed, medium-sized saucepan (ideally one without a dark interior so you can keep an eye on the colour of the caramel). Once the sugar starts to liquefy, stir gently with a wooden spoon. As soon as it’s completely melted and a beautiful, rich amber colour, tip in the walnuts and stir quickly to coat. Spread them out on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment or a Siplat mat and, working very quickly, use two forks to separate the walnuts from each other. Sprinkle with the salt if you like then cool completely. When cold, store in an airtight container until ready to use.
Tuesday, 23 November 2010
You’re looking for the recipe aren’t you? Forgive me, but for one day only there isn’t one. Today is more ‘Love’ than ‘Licked Spoon’.
You see, my mother’s latest book comes out tomorrow. She’s written shelves and shelves of them over the years. I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t writing and this is probably why I can cook. As children, my brother and I were welcome to do anything which kept us quiet and absorbed our energies and attention while mum filled notebooks and battled with carbon papers. For my brother, this included rugby and embroidery. For me, it meant hours in the kitchen producing dishes of varying degrees of accomplishment and deliciousness.
This new book, The Romancer: On being a writer is a departure. All of her previous books have been novels. This one is a memoire combined with an exploration of the process of writing, showing the links between her daily life and her writing life and how one feeds the other. As she says ‘truth and fiction, like two hands clasping’.
I’m blessed with amazing parents who, despite being very different from one another, have forged a marriage which has lasted almost fifty years. My dad is the kind of man who polishes his shoes every day and has never owned a pair of jeans. My mum likes beads and scarves and flowing things in velvet.
For many years, neither of my parents wore wedding rings (mum does now, but it’s quite a recent development). Last year they both forgot their wedding anniversary. Not very romantic, you might think. You’d be wrong. Here is what she has to say about marriage…
‘This is a marriage that went to work and loved it, that had flowers in its hair, that wore sober suits and hippy skirts. It walked children in second-hand prams, and sat in cafes writing while they rolled around on the floor. It went to PTA meetings. It took holidays by the seaside that needed two ponchos to keep warm. It went to the races, to rugby matches and to school plays. It waved off children to their new lives and welcomed them back again. It watched cricket and football and cop shows on TV. It read newspapers at length. It read books and wrote them. And it delivered heavy manuscripts to the Post Office. It visited clinics and hospitals and held its breath. It’s a marriage that travels and continues to relish the youngest, the boy who loves chocolate. It’s a marriage that still holds hands.’
Sunday, 21 November 2010
When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me?
Michel de Montaigne, Essays, 1580
It’s about that time. Lights go up on Stoke Newington High Street for Eid and Christmas, the shops fill with glitzy cards and brightly coloured baubles and otherwise sane souls believe the affection of the ages can be conveyed by hastily wrapped scented candles or cashmere scarves.
I love Christmas. I love the sight of people dragging trees down Church Street, queuing for my turkey at Godfrey’s, midnight mass at St Mary’s and most of all, I love the peace that descends on London for those few short days. In order for me not to careen into the holiday like Wile E. Coyote screeching off a cliff, I try to do a little gentle preparation in the weeks before to make the run up as pleasurable as possible.
And today’s recipe is as gentle a recipe as ever met heat. Making your own mincemeat fulfils that desire for a homemade Christmas without heaping on the stress. It also makes the house smell wonderful, better than any scented candle. Take THAT, Jo Malone.
I’m keen on simple recipes at the moment as they leave me with maximum kitten time. Yes, kittens, life’s greatest deadline-dodging displacement activity. After Oscar died last year and free-spirit Liberty went missing, never to return, in January our house has been sadly lacking in feline presence. Chairs remained unscratched. Roast chickens sat unmolested on the kitchen counter. It was miserable, though Barney might disagree.
Enter Dixie and Prune, slaloming across the marble counter, scaling ten feet of curtain as though it’s nothing, chasing each other’s tails, loving Barney into grumpy submission as they edge their way onto his favourite chair and crowd into his basket. They sit on my shoulders as I type like purring epaulettes, chase the cursor across the screen and generally show disdain for anything as undignified as, oh, earning a living. It’s wonderful.
APPLE, PEAR AND GINGER MINCEMEAT
This mincemeat is intensely fruity and the crystallized ginger adds a dash of sweet heat. It contains no suet, which I think gives it a brighter, fresher flavour. Make some now and it’ll have time to mature for Christmas, though I like to keep a jar back to enjoy next year, too. Use it in mince pies, of course, but it’s also very good as a stuffing for baked apples and delicious in my Mincemeat Crumble Tart.
The recipe comes from River Cottage Handbook No 2, by Pam ‘the jam’ Corbin, queen of all things jarred, bottled and preserved.
Makes approximately 4x450g jars
1kg Bramley apples
Finely grated zest and juice of 2-3 oranges (you need 200ml juice)
500g firm pears, peeled, cored and cut into 1cm cubes
100g orange marmalade
250g demerara sugar
½ tsp ground cloves
2 tsp ground ginger
1-2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ nutmeg, grated
50ml ginger wine or cordial (optional, I had neither so I used the syrup from a jar of stem ginger)
100g chopped walnuts or almonds
50ml brandy or sloe gin
Peel and core the apples and chop them into large chunks. Put them into a saucepan with the orange juice. Cook gently until they are soft and fluffy then blend into a smooth purée.
Put the purée into a large bowl and add all of the other ingredients, except the brandy or gin. Mix thoroughly, then cover and leave to stand for 12 hours.
Preheat the oven to 130°C/Gas Mark 1/2. Put the mincemeat into a large baking dish or roasting tin and bake, uncovered, for 2-2 ½ hours. Stir in the brandy or gin, then spoon into warm, sterilized jars, making sure there aren’t any air pockets. Seal and store in a dry, dark, cool place until Christmas. Use within 12 months.
Tuesday, 16 November 2010
A dog gives you a great excuse to play truant while appearing to be busy. At 3pm, the sky cleared, looked blue for the first time in days. I grabbed the lead and took Barney for a walk in the cemetery. For his benefit, right? Not to get away from teetering piles of paper on my desk, books that defy shelving, the list of phone calls, the conked out dryer, the leaking washing machine and the problem of what to do about the vanished accountant.
Through the Egyptian gates, the air is heavy, damp. Barney weaves his own eightsome reel through the dripping nettles and worn tombstones. There is a sweet smell of rotting leaves, faintly spicy like gingerbread.
I have never seen a hound look quite as pathetic as mine does when wet. Fur sticks out in uneven clumps. His legs look spindly, his eyes huge, pleading. He could head up a Dogs’ Trust campaign. The hardest of hearts would read in his soft brown eyes a life tied to a lamppost, abandoned, not one of tweed-lined baskets, woollen blankets and organic dog food.
We get home and he runs along the hallway rubbing his head and body against the skirting as if possessed, a foxy little dervish drying himself on the carefully chosen Farrow & Ball (can it be long before Dirty Dog nestles on the paint chart between Mouse’s Back, Cat’s Paw, Dead Salmon and Pigeon?).
I make a cake. Barney sits on his favourite chair, the one that’s so tatty my friend’s eight-year-old daughter asked, worried, ‘What’s wrong with it?’. It’s been a busy afternoon.
CARROT AND WALNUT CAKE
I created this recipe a couple of years ago for my friend Mark Diacono’s book, River Cottage Handbook No4 Veg . It’s not very refined, in the manner of grandly iced carrot cakes, but nor is it tiresomely worthy like those annoying confections whose highest ambition is to form one of you five a day. It’s spicy and rich and keeps very well for up to a week in a tin. Serve it warm as a pudding with a generous spoonful of crème fraiche, or cold anytime.
Either make your own apple sauce by simmering peeled, cored Bramley apples with a little water until light and fluffy or use good-quality ready made.
Makes 12 squares
A slug of apple brandy or cognac (optional)
Knob of butter, softened, for greasing the tin
220g wholemeal self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp salt
Good pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of ground cardamom (optional)
220g light muscovado sugar, plus an extra 3 tbsps for the syrup
120ml sunflower oil
Finely grated zest and juice of a large orange
2 eggs, lightly beaten
225g apple sauce
270g carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
80g walnuts, roughly chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas mark 3. Put the sultanas in a small bowl, pour on hot water to cover and leave to soak for 20 minutes or so. You can add a slug of apple brandy or cognac at this point if you like.
Lightly grease a loose-bottomed 20-22cm square cake tin, about 8cm deep. Line the base with greaseproof paper and butter the paper. Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, cloves and cardamom if using.
In a large bowl, whisk together the 220g of light muscovado sugar, oil and orange zest until well combined, then whisk in the eggs until the mixture is creamy. Fold in the apple sauce, followed by the flour mixture until just combined. Next fold in the grated carrots and walnuts. Finally, drain the sultanas and fold these in.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake for about 1 ¼ hours, until a fine skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean, without any crumbs clinging to it. If the cake appears to be overbrowning before it is done, cover the top loosely with foil.
While the cake is in the oven, make the syrup. Put the orange juice into a small pan with the 3tbsps of light muscovado sugar and 1 tbsp lemon juice. Warm over a low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves, then increase the heat and simmer until slightly syrupy, about 4-5 minutes.
As you remove the cake from the oven, run a knife around the edge and pierce the top a few times with a fine skewer. Now pour over the syrup, trying to make sure that you cover the surface fairly evenly. Stand the cake tin on a wire rack and leave to cool for a while before cutting into squares.
Sunday, 7 November 2010
So I’ve had flu. That’s boring.
Being sick is like staying in a hotel, a really bad hotel where the room is airless, the bed contrives to be both too hot and too cold, the sheets are abominably scratchy despite what the lying bastard label might say about thread count. And nothing on the room service menu tempts, not even the gin and that never happens.
The thing about staying in hotels, even the very, very good ones, is that after about three days I miss cooking. I miss sniffing melons, squeezing avocados, chopping herbs, sautéing onions, simmering stock. Wandering around markets becomes almost unbearable - all that lovely produce and not a pot to put it in.
So on about Day Five of channelling of a consumptive Brontë on the sofa, I just couldn’t stand it. I needed to wash vegetables, fry stuff, stir things, season to taste. This soupy recipe sounded about right. Really very easy. Cook for two hours. Sprinkle with fried onions. Except my kofteh collapsed. You don’t brown them, just roll and poach in the soup. Perhaps I didn’t get the texture of the minced mixture fine enough, but they ended up like lamby crumbs surrounded by creamy, tomatoey, rice. Not so bad. In fact, pretty good for a sick girl.
Eat on a tray in front of an old movie, preferably Mildred Pierce. Blanket and gently snoring dog optional but beneficial. Repeat as necessary.
Soft rice meat dumplings
This recipe is from Margaret Shaida’s superlative The Legendary Cuisine of Persia and it was given to her by Mrs Pouran Ataie from Azarbaijan. In her recipe, Mrs Shaida uses 6 fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped, but I hate peeling tomatoes at the best of times and I didn’t have any and I’m sick so I used a tin of chopped tomatoes. They’re Italian. And good. She also uses 30g dried oregano. I had one whole pot. That’s 5g. I can’t really imagine what adding another five pots would have tasted like and I admit I’m still a bit tastebud-challenged, so I stuck with my paltry, westernised, wimpy sick girl 5g and it tasted great.
Serves six to eight
300g short grain pudding rice
3 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 tbsps groundnut or sunflower oil
2 litres chicken stock
1x400g chopped tomatoes, or 6 tomatoes, peeled and diced
3 tbsps tomato purée
5g dried oregano, or 30g if you’re being authentic
1 tsp paprika or ½ tsp red chilli powder
500g lean lamb or veal, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp groundnut or sunflower oil
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
Finely chopped parsley
Soak the rice in cold water for a few minutes.
Warm the oil over a medium-low heat, add the onions and a pinch of salt and sauté, stirring from time to time, until soft and beginning to turn golden, about 15 minutes. Drain the rice and stir in with the onions. Add enough water to cover, raise the temperature and boil gently, covered, until the water has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove about 3tbsps of rice and set aside.
Add the stock to the rice along with the tomatoes, tomato purée, half the oregano and paprika, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer gently.
Chop the meat together with the reserved rice, remaining oregano and paprika, salt and pepper. Using wet hands, mould into about 10 evenly-sized meatballs. Carefully lower them into the slowly simmering soup. Cook very gently, partially covered, for two hours, stirring occasionally, especially during the last half hour when the dumplings and rice can stick to the bottom if you’re not careful (and even if you are).
While the soup’s cooking, prepare the onions. Warm the oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat and sauté the onions until crisp and deep golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper while you finish the soup.
Serve the meat dumplings in warmed bowls with the soup ladled over the top and garnished with the parsley and the onions.
Monday, 21 June 2010
Well the sun came out and, in the fickle way of holiday makers everywhere, I’m grateful for the house’s fortress-like basalt walls which keep the rooms shady and cool. Even on the brightest days, inside you need to turn on a light to read.
June is one of the happiest and most delicious of months in Adge. The market is full of peas and peaches, melons, tomatoes and cherries, everything du region. At one of my favourite stalls, a young man was selling courgette flowers. I bought all he had, about twenty or so, and from another stall enough soft goat’s cheese to stuff them.
Stuffed courgette flowers
Forgive me, TS Eliot, for saying that I measure out my life in measuring spoons. Quarter of a teaspoon, half a teaspoon, a teaspoon; half a tablespoon, a tablespoon. When I’m developing recipes, accuracy is everything. Measure and measure again. So when I’m on holiday, one of the purest of pleasures for me is to scatter, toss, fling ingredients around with a recklessness that would get me fired in my real life. Here, it just gets me fired up. So you need to forgive me, too, for having no proper measurements in this recipe. But hey, you’re a clever sort, you can figure it out.
Soft goat’s cheese
A cup of plain flour
Sparkling mineral water, chilled
An ice cube
Sunflower or groundnut oil for frying
Carefully peel back the petals of the courgette flowers and remove the stamens. Take a bit of soft goat’s cheese (I was going to say about a teaspoonful, but we’re doing this freestyle, no measuring aren’t we?) and tuck it inside each flower, twisting the petals to close around the cheese.
Pour about 10cm of oil into a heavy-bottomed, deep pan. It shouldn’t come more than a third of the way up the sides. Heat up the oil until it measures 180˚C on a thermometer, or, as we’re on holiday, a cube of bread turns golden in just less than a minute.
While it’s heating up, make the batter. In a bowl, mix the flour with a good pinch of salt and enough mineral water to give it the consistency of double cream. I like to throw in an ice cube too, to ensure it’s extra cold. When the fat is hot enough, dip the flowers by their stems into the batter and then carefully drop them into the oil. Don’t crowd the pan – in mine, I can cook about four at a time – and cook until golden, about 3-4 minutes. Scoop the cooked flowers out of the oil with tongs or a spider and leave to drain on kitchen paper while you cook the rest. Serve immediately, sprinkled with a little salt.
Friday, 18 June 2010
In June, you don’t expect the sky over Agde to be as dark as the sombre basalt slabs that form its pathways and quayside. The grey stones undulate like ripples on the Hérault river, worn smooth by centuries of footsteps and pockmarked with ancient volcanic bubbles.
No matter. We’re holed up behind the heavy wooden door of our rented house with books and food and cheap rosé and coffee. Beyond the courtyard door, I can hear the clip clip clip of the gypsy women’s heels and the chatter of their clouds of children as they walk from the rue Haute to the rue du Quatre Septembre. Inside, I’m lost in Bury Me Standing, Isabel Fonseca’s dazzling history of European gypsies.
One of the good things about stormy weather (If you have spent more than five minutes on this blog, you may have noticed I am the Queen of the Silver Lining) is that it gives me a chance to make the kinds of warming, cosy dishes I rarely cook during our summers here, when we live on salads and grilled fish and fruit.
The other day it was cold. Windows and doors rattled and strained against the wind. Shutters creaked. The air filled with the shrieks of seagulls, their wings the only bright flashes in the basalt sky as they circled overhead. It was also my lovely dad’s birthday, so I asked him what he would like for dinner, even though I knew he would say pork. When asked he always says pork, even though he greets everything I put in front of him as though it’s exactly what he wants to eat at that very moment. Sometimes even the least demanding souls should have exactly what they want, especially on their birthdays.
Pork with apricots
I found a great recipe for rôti de porc aux groseilles in the May-June edition of Elle à Table, but I didn’t have redcurrants, or several other ingredients listed in the recipe. So I made my own version, using apricots, and then, a second time, cherries, both of which worked well. At least the birthday boy didn’t complain. But then, he wouldn’t.
1 boneless, rolled pork loin or shoulder
2 tablespoons olive oil
A couple of bay leaves
A sprig or two of thyme
250g apricots (halved and stoned), cherries (stoned) or redcurrants
10 sage leaves, roughly chopped
2 onions, diced
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon runny honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 biggish glass of rosé, white wine or cider
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Season the pork well with salt and pepper. Warm the olive oil over a medium high heat in a large casserole and brown the meat all over, then remove it from the pan and set it aside. Reduce the heat, add the onions with the bay leaves and thyme and sauté until soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for another couple of minutes, then add the sage, honey, soy sauce, balsamic and wine or cider. Give it all a good stir, then tip in the fruit and return the pork to the pan. Bring to a simmer, cover with a tightly fitting lid and cook gently over a low heat for about an hour and a quarter. Keep an eye on it. You might need to splash in a little more booze or water halfway through, though I didn’t. Serve the pork cut in thin slices with the sauce spooned over. The pork is also excellent the next day, cold, and sliced into salads or sandwiches.
Tuesday, 18 May 2010
My dad is the sweetest man, kind to his bones, but like lots of northern men of his generation, he can be a little short on the compliments (‘Don’t be daft.’) So it’s rather marvellous when your appearance garners his greatest accolade ‘smart as a carrot’. I’ve no idea where this phrase comes from, though I’ve never heard it outside of my native north east. What I do know, with absolute certainty, is that you don’t want to be its antithesis: ‘a bag of tripe’. When I was a kid, my dad’s Saturday afternoon treat while he listened to the football results was a bowl of tripe with vinegar. I used to think it looked like a crumpled heap of greying laundry. This isn’t usually what I’m aiming for when I leave the house.
Today’s smart as a carrot dish comes from Karuna, who works with Séan. When I’m testing recipes, a church fête’s worth of cakes, biscuits and tarts can come out of the Lickedspoon kitchen. It would be impossible for us to eat them all, so I take some of them to the park and the rest Séan takes with him to the office. They are a very good tasting panel. I get notes: too sweet, not sweet enough, too many nuts, or too few, love the coconut, hate it. I’m grateful for the feedback, but I’m thrilled to get my hands on this recipe. Several of you commented on the White Chocolate Cake saying you love cardamom, so I hope this appeals to you too.
Next week, tripe… Maybe.
I didn’t have jaggery (and, shamefully, couldn’t peel myself out of the kitchen, walk around the corner and buy some) so I used molasses sugar. It meant my halwa ended up quite dark. I also got a bit distracted and let it simmer a little too long, so it was very thick and intensely fudgy. No matter, I just sprinkled on a little gold leaf and it was delicious with the ice cream. But, note to self, next time jaggery and pay attention.
450g carrots, peeled and sliced
280ml semi skimmed or whole milk
280ml double cream
4tbsp shelled, unsalted pistachios
225g jaggery, raw sugar or molasses sugar
55g granulated sugar
10-15 cardamom seeds
½ tsp fennel seeds
200g ground almonds
4 tbsp ghee or clarified butter
4 tbsp almond pins
Put the carrots, milk and cream in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and stir well. Reduce the heat to a simmer and simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has reduced to half the volume and has become thick and heavy.
While the carrots are cooking, roast the pistachios in the oven at 180˚C/350˚F/Gas mark 4 until just fragrant, about 8 minutes.
Put both sugars into the carrot mixture, stir to dissolve and simmer for 10 minutes.
With a small, sharp knife, halve the cardamom pods and remove the seeds. Discard the shells. Grind the cardamom and fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar, or in a bowl with the end of a rolling pin, until fine.
Reduce the heat under the carrot mixture and add the ground almonds and ghee or clarified butter. Stir for about 10 minutes until the halva starts to pull together into a solid mixture. Stir in the ground cardamom and fennel.
Serve in dishes at room temperature, or straight from the hob, with cream, ice cream or kulfi. Garnish with the toasted pistachios and almond pins.