Sunday, 25 October 2009

Doodles on a Saturday Morning

Mark cuts the cake Mark cuts the cake, the regalia of office around his neck. Love him. If I didn’t have a dog, I might have to pay him to walk me.

I fell down a rabbit hole. A rabbit hole with desks and computers and phones which, for the past two weeks, held me captive from morning ‘til night (some of you may recognise this strange phenomenon as the thing they call ‘a job’). I came home, ate dinner - something on toast, something swirled into pasta - and began my second shift, tackling my usual workload late into the evening. So blogging came a poor second or third or fourth after, oh, sleep and stumbling, bleary eyed, into the shower. But now I’m back in the room, or at least the kitchen. Normal service will be resumed.

Yesterday morning, our presence was required at a most unusual wedding breakfast. Our dear friend and dog walker, Mark, was celebrating his civil partnership ceremony with his dapper darling, Ian, at lunchtime. But dogs still need to be exercised, even on special days, so Lindsay and Chris had the inspired idea of hijacking Gomez and Nico’s walk with a little party in the park.

At 8.30am on a damp and misty morning, smoked salmon bagels, cake, champagne and juice were laid out on Mark’s favourite bench. A happy crowd of people and dogs gathered beneath the dripping oaks and chestnuts to surprise the normally stoical, unflappable Mark. It was touching to note his usual bellow - a bellow that can halt a speeding hound hell bent on raiding a shopping trolley or stealing a sandwich at 300 metres - was temporarily silenced.

Doggie Group

Doggie Group 2

Dogs at play Dogs aren’t quite as good at standing still as their owners.

Mark’s Wedding Breakfast Chocodoodles

Beth and a doodle Beth tucks into a doodle.

Lee is our hand model

You don’t think such an auspicious morning could pass without a baked offering from me do you? Given the rabbit hole situation, it had to be something I could throw together quickly, so I went for Nigella’s Snickerdoodles from How to be a Domestic Goddess. Substituting some of the flour for cocoa turns them into Chocodoodles, which seemed appropriate. Not just because chocolate is always a good thing, but because the park is full of labradoodles, chocolate and otherwise – they’re the Staffordshire Bull Terriers of the middle classes. Yes, Polly, I’m talking to you.

225g plain flour
25g cocoa
½ tsp ground nutmeg
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
100g, plus 2 tbsps caster sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 baking sheets, lined or greased

Makes about 30.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4.

Sift the flour, cocoa, nutmeg, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter and 100g sugar together until light, pale and fluffy, then beat in the egg and vanilla. Now stir in the dry ingredients until you have a smooth, coherent mixture. Spoon the remaining sugar and cinnamon onto a plate. Roll the dough into walnut sized pieces and then roll them in the cinnamon-sugar mixture and arrange on your baking sheets.

Bake for 13-15 minutes. Leave to rest on the baking sheets for a minute and then transfer to a rack to cool.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Happy endings

Lemon Possets When I brought these to the table, Beth instantly took a picture and sent it to her husband Tom. As he was on stage trying to make people laugh at the time, I’m sure he was thrilled.

It was my turn to host my book club. Normally, we have a wild and wonderful smörgåsbord, with everyone bringing a dish, but what with it being at my house and me being a control freak and everything, I couldn’t resist making the whole meal.

Some of us had been to see Julie and Julia together, so I decided on a simple French feast which would give me a chance to make Julia’s Boeuf Bourguignon again. (Do you do this too? If I love a dish, I often make it a few times in quite rapid succession so that my hands and eyes can ‘learn’ it.)

Dining Table Reading is thirsty work.


As a nibble to go with drinks, I made warm Rosemary Cashews from Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris. They’re so simple, they’ve become a staple in this house - as essential to the cocktail hour as ice and good vodka. I scattered 500g of unsalted cashews on a baking sheet and toasted them at 180C/350F/Gas mark 4 for eight minutes or so until they were golden and then tossed them in a tablespoon of melted butter, a tablespoon of flaky sea salt, two teaspoons of light Muscovado sugar, two tablespoons of finely minced rosemary and half a teaspoon of sweet, smoked paprika (Ina uses cayenne, but I didn’t have any in the drawer, so paprika it was). Serve warm and watch them vanish.

To start, I made a quick salad of leaves dressed in mustardy vinaigrette and put a couple of little toasts topped with grilled goat’s cheese and some finely sliced pickled sweet chilli peppers scattered over the top. For our main event, of course it was the glorious boeuf bourguignon with boiled fir apple potatoes and buttered peas (thank you, Louisette Bertholle).

As a sweet finale, I made lemon posset, that most traditional of English puddings. To create a little entente cordiale on the plate, I served them in those little glass yoghurt pots I hauled back from France in the summer and David Lebovitz’s flawless Lemon-Glazed Madeleines on the side. Just like the boeuf bourguignon, they were so meltingly delicious, they sent me into obsessive-compulsive overdrive and I couldn’t resist making them again the next day. I took a batch to the park as a Friday treat for my 9am dog walking posse (pack?) and they vanished quicker than you can say ‘fetch’.

Madeleines 2 My second batch of madeleines in two days.

PS We read Raymond Chandler’s Farewell my Lovely. By some miracle, when Séan came home from the football (Arsenal 2 Olympiakos 0 – come on you Gooners!) at 10pm, we were actually talking about the book.

Lemon Posset

Lemon Posset ‘It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.’

I made 75 of these for Paula and Jack’s wedding a few weeks ago. They’re the perfect dessert in my opinion, tart and sweet, rich but refreshing, so simple to make and yet they taste as though you’ve spent hours in the kitchen. Also, you can make them the day before, which is always a good thing.

600ml double cream
150g caster sugar or vanilla sugar
The juice of 2 large lemons

Serves 6

Pour the cream into a large saucepan (it will bubble up very enthusiastically - you have been warned) and add the sugar. Warm gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then bring to the boil and boil for exactly 3 minutes, without stirring. Remove from the heat and whisk in the lemon juice. Strain the mixture into a jug then pour into 6 small glasses. Cool, cover then refrigerate for 4 hours before serving.

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