Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Frangipane-topped mince pies

I love mince pies and so, it transpired this week , does my one-year old nephew George. I am not surprised; this child was born to be a gourmand. He sports round, rosy cheeks and enjoys a polo-neck most days, pootling around somewhat unsteadily on his feet; channelling the Eighties food-critic vibe perfectly.

Although we share the mince-pie love, Master G and I approach them in different ways; I like mine warm (if the mincemeat even makes it out of the jar uneaten) whereas he enjoys rubbing the pie between his hands to extract the currants before plucking them out daintily (an amuse-bouche, if you will) and poking the lot in the general direction of his mouth. Either way, we all agree that a baby that smells of mincemeat at Christmas will be happily passed around from person to person. Better than smelling of something else.

George’s first mince pie was of the very highest calibre – made by the BSG’s mum just that morning and an hour off the cooling rack. As he crammed it in I asked his parents, casually, if he had a nut allergy. Thankfully not. The addition of a surprise almond either on top or inside each pie is magic, and the frangipane such a good foil to the rest of the pie that I am not sure there’s any going back for me; they are quite simply my favourite version yet. Ma BSG’s is a closely guarded secret recipe but I managed to cobble one together for you. Try them on Christmas Eve perhaps, with the radio up loud, just before you all settle down for The Snowman

Happy Christmas all!  

Frangipane pimped-up pies

The quantities below really depend on how you like your pies. I like mine with a crisp thin base, to contrast with their soft top. You can do them thicker, add more brandy/frangipane..whatever.

1 pack (750g) ready-rolled puff pastry
Large jar of good mincemeat
100g unsalted butter
100g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
20g plain flour
1 large egg
2 tbsp brandy
Handful of chopped dried cranberries
Zest of half an orange
Whole blanched almonds

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Grease two 12-hole tart tins (or if you happen to have a tin with smaller holes you can make – and eat - many more).
Roll out the pastry sheet very thinly and cut 24 rounds of pastry to line the tins with. Leave the pastry bases to rest in the tins in the fridge while you make the frangipane.
Beat the butter until soft. Beat in the sugar until pale and fluffy and then beat in the egg. Mix in the flour and ground almonds.
Mix the brandy, chopped cranberries and orange zest with the mincemeat in a bowl. Half fill the pastry cases with mincemeat and then spoon a heaped teaspoon of frangipane over the top over each one. Smooth it over and press in an almond.
Bake for about 20 – 25 mins until golden brown.

Try not to eat the lot before they cool down. And leave a couple for Father Christmas….

Friday, 7 December 2012

Leckerli/läckerli. Luckily.

I sat damp November out, ignoring the premature strains of The Pogues and tried not to get too overexcited by the red cups at Starbucks as I waited for December and its promise of legitimate Advent thrills. I am now daydreaming of sprouts, bread sauce and mince pies, happy in the tangerine promise of Christmas to come.

A timely foodstuff has floated into my day-dreamy place: a Swiss biscuit called Leckerli. These little Christmas helpers are sure to see me through Advent. A friend recently proffered these in the office, in a crisp white paper bag all the way from Basel, Switzerland, where they are a speciality.

Immediately hooked, I scoured the Internet and have located a recipe from Stephen Jackson, correspondent at the Huddersfield Examiner. Writing about these spicy treats, he strikes just the right note, having been familiar with them from childhood. I wish I had been too – I will be making up for those lost Christmases.

Here is the link to his recipe. The mixture came out a bit dry so I used the clods that looked mixed and pressed them into a tin… though I did use the wrong sugar so perhaps that was the problem. Not entirely sure what to do with the almonds, I added them in with the flour, but again, perhaps there’s a bit too much dry stuff here to make it work. I didn’t have Kirsch so I used brandy in the mix, which was pretty good too and I left off the glaze for fear of losing all my teeth.

There was doubt as the sawdust-like dough went into the oven but when the biscuit emerged it was (and still is)  dense and chewy, and tastes of Christmas, if rather ugly (as if Father Christmas sat on a packet of mince pies). If you want neat squares, cut the slab while it’s still warm or face a losing battle; you could build houses with this stuff. Or just break it up.

I will try this recipe again, and perhaps another one translated from the many US versions around,  just to make sure I’m on the right snowy track… See this as phase 1.


Friday, 16 November 2012

Zanzibar Fish Curry & Coriander Yoghurt

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Last week we decided to counteract the impending darkness of November by heading for the spice isle.

Not that spice aisle, though it’s rather popular in our house, but the Gauguin-green, beguiling beauty that is Zanzibar, the one one-time hub of the spice trade – and a great deal less palatably, the slave-trade between Africa and the world.
And Freddie Mercury was born there.

She, let’s call her she, has had more outside influences than I have had hot dinners (and that’s a lot); Oman, Portugal, the list goes on. The old part of the capital, Stone Town, witnessed the shortest war in the world at the end of the 19th century: the Anglo-Zanzibar war, which lasted all of between 38 and 45 minutes depending on who you ask. This amazing piece of trivia has not only been banked by the BSG amongst his treasury of random facts, but is greatly bumped up his favourites chart due to the fact that it was begun at about 9am… once the British had finished their breakfast.

Our breakfasts each day were altogether more peaceful affairs, consisting of some of the greatest tasting fruit I have ever encountered. Every bright orange mango was a good one, the bananas were short and sweet and the custard apples were a revelation. Considering that pineapples were brought over by the Portuguese - so aren’t strictly native to Zanzibar - it’s hard to imagine them tasting better grown anywhere else.
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Of course, some food tourism was inevitable, and between bouts of competitive reading and swimming sessions we took a spice tour, to see the origins of the spices we know so well in their orange-topped jars; I have a new-found respect for each and every one. Fresh  nutmeg looked like a formidable armoured beetle, black in its in its danger-red mace casing. The turmeric and ginger roots were fiery when scratched out of their earthy bed and the cardamom and cloves unrecognisable in their pungent greenness*. Huge almond trees provided cool shade underneath dark, waxy leaves. Like all good tourists, we spent a small fortune in Tanzania Shillings on a few bags of the stuff, still drunk on raw nutmeg, ginger and turmeric. One of the bags contains a rust-hued curry powder, the same colour as Zanzibar’s fertile ground. We used it this week to make a fish curry; the closest to kissing the spice isle a fond farewell, until the next time. Asante sana!

* pics from left to right: cardamom, nutmeg, cloves

The mix looks like a lot, but chances are you have nearly everything in your cupboard already. Make up a big batch and keep it to use again and again - I guarantee you’ll want to. Equally it will make a great meat or veg curry too. It takes no time at all to put together.

For the curry:
1 onion, chopped
Zanzibar spice mix (ground turmeric, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, chilli powder, coriander and garlic)
500g skin and boneless firm white fish (or a mix including squid and shellfish) in bitesized pieces
1 carrot and 1 courgette, chopped into short batons
Tin of chopped tomatoes
Tin of coconut milk
Salt and pepper

For the yoghurt:
3 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
Handful of chopped fresh coriander
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Salt and pepper

Soften and lightly colour the onion over a gentle heat. Add the mix of powdered spices and cook for 2 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes and carrot pieces, turn up the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add coconut milk and turn down the heat. Cook for 5 minutes, before adding the courgette and fish. Place a lid on the pan and cook for 5 minutes, until the fish is cooked through.

Serve with the coriander yoghurt, some warm chapati (or rice) and cauliflower cooked in ginger, turmeric, cumin and cinnamon.


Thursday, 25 October 2012

Home on the range

The BSG and I have been off the radar lately, as we shuffle our way around decorators and fill endless Hoover bags with paint dust. But we have moved back home, with our new kitchen and our shiny new oven (with rotisserie attachment; never has a barbed prong been the source of such excitement).

Having picked up - about 2 metres away - from where we left off, the BSG is relieved to be settling back into default mode and once more into the bosom of his culinary tomes. Expect great things very soon...

Until then: if ever a breakfast reflected how we feel to be in our house with our legs stretched under the table, I’d say it is this one (the unruly pile of weekend papers is just out of shot).

Egg and soldiers

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Too much of a good thing

When I stumble upon something delicious, I will happily go on eating it.

And eating it. Until I light on something else.

Take mashed avocado on toast, for example – I munched through it for breakfast throughout August, sprinkled with dried chilli and salt, and good slugs of olive oil. I extolled its virtues and hangover-busting benefits to anyone within earshot. I squeezed my way around every single one in the supermarket, only to be frustrated upon returning home to find that my ‘perfectly ripe’ ones were actually grenades disguised as avocados, at which point I would hopefully shove them in a bowl with some reluctant bananas and wait.

It is good though, you should try it - if I haven’t forked it into your mouth already.

Last week we went to Spain for a holiday with friends, culminating in a beautiful, intimate wedding in a white Castillo on top of a hill. Every element of the celebration was laid back and like an old romantic film: the perfect reflection of our friends.

From the minute we got off the plane into the startling heat all I could think about eating were big red Spanish tomatoes, the kind that make a salad all on their own. During the week we had them every which way, accompanied by onslaughts of garlic and olive oil, and punctuated by the occasional slice of jamon or a grilled sardine (a lovely place on the beach called Neptuno did the ones in the picture over a firepit in an old boat – worth a pic I thought). One of the best ways was pan con tomate, the bread lightly toasted and then rubbed with garlic and tomatoes until they shredded away, leaving a faint tomato smear and a few pips.

The BSG’s mum has gamely put up with us now for the best part of a month, whilst the dust in our house flies around. The other night she made a sort of romesco salad, with tomatoes, red peppers, toasted peeled almonds, basil and garlic and it has been sitting out stewing in its oil, accumulating flavour ever since. Well, until just now that is, when I put it onto my toast for lunch, closed my eyes and was briefly transported to that Spanish hilltop. Bliss.

I think I’ll just pop down to the shops and get some more for tomorrow. And the next day…

pan con tomate

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Clem and Rich’s Lemon Butter Wedding Cake

The BSG and I are in charge of the cake for my sister’s wedding. Just to clarify: we are making it, filling it, icing it, decorating it and then driving it the two and a half hours to Norfolk where we will assemble it.

Nervous? Not a bit.

Perhaps it has something to do with us having absolutely nil experience in that department. Some might call this a disadvantage, but it has meant that at every turn we have researched, checked and double-checked. Now, for example, I know not to put a freshly baked and cooled cake in the fridge. No sir, the fridge environment is the nemesis of a light and airy sponge, making it dense and claggy. I will now be storing my cake, sealed in a tin or box, in a cool, dry place. Eureka!

This zilch experience also means that we’ve never reached the end of the process before, only to have the finished article collapse/melt/get dropped/consumed by the family pet, which means that we’ve had a pretty impressive unblemished 100% track record thus far… Perhaps that’s why Clem and Rich have trusted us with such a task.

It’s not a traditional fruit cake, but a lemon cake (so we’re hoping people will actually eat it: it has to taste good). Dan Lepard’s Lemon Butter Cake to be precise. We tried a few out – like one on the Nigella forum from a US reader which, while delicious, should have carried a health warning for butter content (the batter looked like buttercream icing). Though we tried a drizzle cake whereby the lemony syrup permeates the cake, with the large volume of sponge we are working with you’d need more of a deluge to inject any flavour whatsoever. This recipe beat the rest of the field hands down for taste. I don’t know much about Dan Lepard, (except that he is Australian-born). Short and Sweet, his book on baking, is clear and written with authority; it dares you (well, me) to try things you mightn’t otherwise, including breads. It was so packed with good new things to bake that I gave it to my sister-in-law Jemima, who probably knows all there is to know on the subject.

Though the cake looked a little dense when we cut into it, it was light and m…. (I won’t say that word on here) and the condensed milk holds in the moisture whilst giving a delicious flavour – a humectant, apparently. We ramped up the zest by 1 lemon, and seeing as we will be scaling up the recipe even further, there might be a bit more tweaking to be done still. We’ve baked a small trial version which we’ve filled with lemon buttercream, covered with ready-rolled (hallelujah!) fondant icing and are keeping as a control for 4 days. Fingers crossed it stays fresh.

If it does, we’ll be scattering it with crystallised rose petals that we’ve thieved from a few pretty gardens. Tonight we try rolling out enormous blobs of fondant as the ready rolled doesn’t come in extra large.

How hard can it be?! We’ll let you know…


PS: For the recipe, please visit the Guardian page on the link above which says Lemon Butter Cake. It appears that I got into trouble with the cyber-police for reproducing it here to my enormous readership.
PPS: The cake was cut, eaten and served to the very happy wedding crowd, all of whom are still with us. So that's a relief.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Speedy Apricot Jam: Gluts and Glory

When it comes to summer fruit, I smile when I remember my great childhood friend Patricia. Trish’s dad was a fruit farmer: to a greedy 9-year old, possibly the most exciting kind of farmer there was. Throughout the summer and autumn, the fields and orchards around their house were filled with berries, soft stone fruit and apples of all varieties, testimony to endless hours of back-breaking work on his part and an absolute dream for us. The pick-your-own fruit farm he ran was heaven from June until September – the absolute best place to get lost on purpose. We ran amok between fruit cages, canes and straw-sprinkled rows in the afternoons after school, made camps in the apple crates and ate whenever we stopped, getting it all down our school summer uniforms as we crammed spares into the pockets. I can’t begin to imagine how much of the profits we chomped our way through (no doubt we ruined many suppers too), but picking fruit has given me a frisson of childish excitement ever since.

We are staying with the BSG’s mum at the moment, whilst someone who knows what they’re doing makes a large hole in our house - and most importantly, in our kitchen. Ma BSG’s garden is a veritable cornucopia of edible wonders. I decided to relieve the groaning apricot tree of its heavy burden this week and managed not to eat everything I picked. There must be at least 3 kilos of fruit still to ripen on there. I had chanced upon a very good recipe recently from a friend and thought I’d test it out with my ‘glut’ (well, not really my ‘glut’ but I have been trying to grow something successfully at home for years so I could use that word on here – and now its been interred under a pile of builder’s rubble so I don’t know when I’ll have a genuine ‘glut’ moment).

This jam is a speedy one (rather than the apricots being Bolt-paced gold medallers as the title might infer) and due to its only boiling for 5-7 minutes, it has to be kept in the fridge once opened and consumed within a fortnight. There is no need for saucers in the freezer or jam thermometers and you get the very best of the fresh fruit taste.Try it with yogurt and oat bran for brekker, as a glaze on fairy cakes, with ice cream…or straight off the spoon. I promise you it won’t last a fortnight…

I used:
950g apricots, washed, stoned and roughly chopped
425g jam sugar
a squeeze of lemon juice

Put the fruit and sugar into a large heavy-bottomed preserving pan and roughly mash with a fork or potato masher. Stir it over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves, then turn it up and boil for 5 minutes (7 if you’d like a firmer set), stirring regularly with a wooden spoon to prevent catching.

Take the pan off the heat, squeeze over some lemon juice and stir again. Let it cool slightly and pour the jam through a funnel into sterilised jars. Leave to cool and then seal.

This filled about 4 medium-sized jars.

Friday, 20 July 2012

A Salmoriglio summer


I am rather fond of Champagne, all of the time. But I particularly like it when it’s not supposed to be there; like when it’s a Tuesday, with a takeaway, or alongside beans on toast just because you feel like it - that kind of thing. Last night was one of those such moments – the BSG and I had it (rather too much of it…) with our Italian fennel sausages, ratatouille and polenta. Oh, and a zingy Italian sauce: my new favourite thing.

I think I have mentioned in the past that absolutely nothing grows in our garden that I would like to be there, in fact random uninvited plants have taken root much more successfully than invited ones, so I have nobly let them stay. One exception and a product of all this rain is our marjoram/oregano (still not quite sure which it is – but for today’s ends, let’s call it the latter). It is a sprawling, fragrant monster and I love to brush my hand over it and scrunch it to release the aromas into the air. As well as scrunching it, I thought I might have to think of something clever to make with it.

And there it was, the answer, salmoriglio. An Italian recipe required expertise of the highest order in that cuisine so I went to those legendary River Café ladies. Their blue book offered me what I sought and oh, what an amazing, pungent offering. Move over, salsa verde. So long, mayo, mustard and ketchup. This heady paste is my sauce for the coming months, it sounds like sunshine, is great with fish, meat, veg, eggs, rice, everything. And apparently summer’s here….at last.

Here’s the recipe. The BSG and I threw armfuls of the stuff into the mix. YUM.

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Salmoriglio – from the River Cafe Cookbook (BLUE)

(I reckon you will want to quadruple this, but shouldn’t think it keeps that well – gets grassier by the minute, so make as fresh as possible, as and when you need it)

4 level tablespoons fresh oregano/marjoram
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

In a pestle and mortar pound the herb leaves with the salt until completely crushed. Add the lemon juice. Pour the oil slowly into the mixture. Add a little pepper.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Stuffed Tomatoes

I can be a creature of habit when it comes to urges of the gastronomic variety. Most of the time, the BSG doesn't even have to ask me what I'd like on my toast of a morning, instead he reaches knowingly for the black stuff, all dressed up as it is at the moment in its special Jubilee jar. So I am in good company there, then.

For instance, I happen to have had smoked mackerel pate and oatcakes pretty much exclusively for the last three lunches - and I don't mind, because just thinking about it now makes me want to make it a fourth. I like to think of these not as imaginative ruts I’m stuck in, but little enclaves of comfort; the marmite and lettuce sandwich with the glass (had to be glass, not plastic, you understand) of milk I always had doing my homework at my gran’s house; the fish fingers Mum would give us, their crunchy orange crumb skin in curling and crisp disarray, for breakfast on cold wintry mornings when she wanted us off to school without any fuss. Once I’d found a hit I saw no reason to divert from it, and I suppose I am still like that to an extent. Goodness knows what I'd be like as a pregnant person, legitimately allowed to indulge such cravings. Or perhaps I would eat normally….

On holidays as children, we all clung doggedly to anything familiar in the eating department. Menus were Greek to us, in every sense, and we gave the Souvlaki and Moussaka a wide berth in favour of stale basket bread, cucumber salad drenched in olive oil and vinegar and wine diluted with water (which was foul but delicious to us as it was so grown up). There was, however, one exception: the stuffed tomato. I can still remember the first one I had, and none since has ever been as good in my mind. They have stuck firmly on the holiday repertoire ever since, though I am a little more adventurous now.

I know they might be a little bit 70’s, but who said that oldies aren’t goodies? Just look at HRH – she just gets better, in my view.

I am yet to find a brilliant recipe for this but summer(!) seems the perfect time to make the most of these amazing fruits, with their greenhouse smell and plump redness. The BSG and I tried this week, and we'll keep on trying. The following recipe is from the book Twelve: A Tuscan Cookbook, by Tessa Kiros. We added cinnamon and used orzo pasta instead of rice, bundling it up with a whole load of spare soft green herbs and a dollop of creme fraiche to finish. But the search for that perfect stuffed tomato continues…


Pomodori con Riso

6 medium sized ripe, round tomatoes

5 tablespoons olive oil

3 garlic cloves, chopped

250g long-grain rice (e.g. basmati)

250 ml (1 cup) water

1 stalk celery, trimmed and finely chopped

Good pinch ground cinnamon

4 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

10 basil leaves , roughly chopped and any other soft green herbs you can lay your hands on

breadcrumbs (optional)


Preheat the oven to 180C. Slice the tops off of the tomatoes and set aside. Carefully, scoop out the flesh of the tomatoes with a spoon, taking care not to break the tomato shells. Put the tomato shells into a baking dish, without overlapping and leaving a little space between. Using a little salt, season inside and outside the shells. Puree the tomato flesh with a stick blender or in a blender.

Heat 2 tbsps of the oil in a small saucepan with the garlic. Add the rice and the celery, and stir in the oil for a minute. Add half a cup of water and the tomato puree and cinnamon and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes on medium heat. Remove from the heat, add the parmesan and the basil and stir through gently.

Fill the tomato shells with the mixture. The rice will swell a little during cooking so do not overfill the tomatoes. Replace the tomato tops and splash with a little more oil. If desired, sprinkle the tops of the tomatoes with breadcrumbs. Add the remaining half cup of water to the oven dish. Cook in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, until the rice is cooked, most of the liquid has been absorbed, and the outside of the tomatoes are lightly and lightly golden.

tomatoe stuffing

Friday, 20 April 2012




Looking out through the rain right now – unbroken vertical rods punctuated with waves of lacy mizzle, since you ask - it seems hard to imagine that about a month ago summer was on the doorstep. Easier to imagine, regrettably, that since then I haven’t managed to scribble even so much as a bleat about how much I loved meeting (and eating of course – but mostly MEETING) the beautiful food that we were presented with one sunny Saturday lunchtime at Medlar. The BSG and I strolled down there through the park on a golden morning beneath clouds of pale blossom, thinking that life possibly couldn ‘t get any better on such a day.

I am definitely a substance over style girl when it comes to grub, but in this instance, I admit I was bowled over. Luckily, it tasted as good as it looked.

Perhaps its because I have been doing some exciting things recently (they call it work, apparently) with lots of wonderful people who make, scribble, style and shoot food for a living - with mouthwatering results - that the art of food has taken on extra resonance… Or perhaps its because I don’t have proper time to sit and pen a proper few paragraphs… Whatever the reason, I will leave you with a few pictures from a lovely, early summer lunch, with wonderful friends, washed down with a pale Provence rose.

Just this once here are the pics with not much else, because food this pretty spoke for itself (even with my terrible phone mugshot plate-shots). S’pose we’ll just have to go back…for research.


Crab raviolo with brown shrimp and samphire. Gosh – that bisque...

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Halibut with trompettes, scallops, cauliflower bits and Bayonne ham

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Rhubarb pannacotta cheesecake with crumble (yes all at the same time – genius!)

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Neil’s braised octopus – it looked amazing (the German word is Futterneid, I believe…)

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

No time…St Nigella to the rescue


One pot wonder #1: Nigella’s Spanish Chicken with Chorizo and Potatoes

Spanish chicken and chorizo

Life’s a bit of a whirlwind at the moment, if ever there was a positive whirlwind. Think a helpful spiralling gust, stacking a pile of leaves neatly - just there… yup, there, in the corner - exactly where you want them, even better than you’d imagined. That is my whirlwind at the moment and I am hugely enjoying the weather conditions. The downside is that I barely have time to cook let along scribble about it (which feels distinctly like a busman’s holiday right now, I must admit).

At a time like this, when I need easy-to-assemble food, the first person I turn to is my satin-robed culinary heroine, Nigella. She is very frank about such a situation, when you can barely bring yourself to get a knife and board out. This recipe is absolutely fuss free and tastes deliciously of sunny holidays, whatever time of year you choose to make it. It went down a storm for a crowd over the weekend but was so mindless that when the thanks came – profusely – I passed them on to St Nigella in silent prayer. Some inspiration, then, for a one-pot wonder for when time is scarce or you can’t be bothered but when happy company is paramount.

I feel a few more of these coming on….

Serves: 6

  • 2 x 15ml tablespoons regular olive oil
  • 12 chicken thighs (bone in, with skin)
  • 750g chorizo sausages, whole if baby ones, or cut into 4cm chunks if regular-sized
  • 1kg new potatoes, halved
  • 2 red onions, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • grated zest 1 orange

Preheat the oven to 220°C/gas mark 7. Put the oil in the bottom of 2 shallow roasting tins, 1 tablespoon in each. Rub the skin of the chicken in the oil, then turn skin-side up, 6 pieces in each tin.

Divide the chorizo sausages and the new potatoes between the 2 tins. Sprinkle the onion and the oregano over, then grate the orange zest over the contents of the 2 tins.*

Cook for 1 hour, but after 30 minutes, swap the top tray with the bottom tray in the oven and baste the contents with the orange-coloured juices.

*the BSG suggested another drizzling of olive oil at this stage, which made for extra chorizo-ey juices to mop up with stray potatoes and pieces of bread from the tray plonked between us, proving his expert ‘improving-on-perfection’ skills. If you have just one enormous tray, this seems to do for it all just as well as two.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Pitt Cue Co: Smokin’



I thought I’d help you out if you are, like me, a bit disgruntled (to say the least) with the ‘democratic’ no-bookings policy the newest places in central London have adopted, by letting you know that in order to avoid the Saturday lunch queue at Pitt Cue Co*, it is advisable to turn up at 12.03pm precisely, PDQ.

A bit early, you might say? Well, you get there at 12.04 and– just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

After the BSG’s nose had led us nowhere in particular, I took over on our BBQ quest, well in the know having trodden the same path in vain a week previously. My friend Lucy and I had come a cropper in our mission as instead of bouncing up to an easy table at 5.59pm we’d had the temerity to opt for a post-work drink and now faced a two hour queue at 7.15. Several unsuccessful stops (can’t book v. must book) later we’d plumped for some very good tapas and sherry at our old friend Brindisa. Honestly, I am not sure I can keep up. To book or not to book: that seems to be the question, to which there is no clear answer.

Despite this gripe, lunch was really, really good. The clanky tractor seat stools and the high wood counter roared rough and ready from the get-go, as did the heavy metal soundtrack and the bottles of amber everything backing the bar. However, the sun was barely over the yard arm so we stayed off the hard liquor and the BSG was delighted to find root beer on offer (I think it tastes like Germolene). Perusing the menu and seeing enamel trays of smoky glistening ribs and charred flesh coming sizzling from the kitchen we reckoned you’d have to be a brave vegetarian to sit comfortably here for long. Though a couple of pickleback shots (pickle brine and whisky) might have taken the edge off.


Anywhere that the pickled:etc ratio is 50:50 is high on my list, and my caramelised pulled pork came with generous heaps of two different kinds, plus a hunk of bread and a fresh chipotle slaw. I rolled up my sleeves, tucked one of my napkins (I got through 4) in and ate like I supposed a hungry trucker would (no offence to truckers though, I very much enjoyed it). The BSG wondered for a moment how to tackle his enormous ribs before throwing caution to the wind and attacking them with gusto. It was at this stage that we realised why the counter was so high – a tactical few inches from tin plate to gob made pigging out easy. No, we agreed, Pitt Cue was not a first-few-dates kind of place.


We were briefly joined by a plastic cow (pictured) as the place got steadily fuller – it was waiting for a table, I suppose. We gave St Patrick’s Day a little nod with a hearty side order of burnt-end champ: totally unnecessary after a starter of chilli chicken wings and pickled celery (2 napkins) but oh-so deep and delicious. There wasn’t any room for pudding but there’s not an inkling of doubt that we won’t be back with our bibs on – with Lucy - for that and a pickleback one evening soon. At 5.59 on the dot.

*As Pitt Cue tell you on their website, their no-bookings policy has more to do with their size than with being ‘'cool’. It’s true that this is a tiny place - just a wee step up in size from their original van guise - but it serves big, hunky food. Plus, it closed my week with a modicum of cool, in stark contrast to its traumatic start when I caught Slash (hero of my teenage years) playing out the series of Top Gear astride a crushed Ford Focus in front of a crowd of balding, denim-clad motor enthusiasts.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Flower Sprouts and Labradoodles

I met a labradoodle last week; his name was Fergus* and he is pretty marvellous. The BSG is a cat-person on the whole, but if push came to shove and he had to live with a canine companion he would be happy with a Labradoodle…or an Argentinian Doggo (but I think they’re illegal in this country as they’re so savage).

As the name suggests, the Labradoodle is a cross-breed of two beloved dog types - the reliable Labrador and the pom-pom-related poodle – which are rather at odds in terms of the dog spectrum. However, I suppose a St Bernard/Chihuahua would be a more extreme example, but you know what I mean. In the labradoodle, you have the best of each of each breed; you get a gentle, easily trainable pet with a coat that doesn’t cause allergies and is much sought-after. And the name is sweet but not too silly which is more than can be said of the Cockapoo…

But where are you going with this, I hear you ask. This blog was about food the last time I read a new post…which was about 100 years ago..?

Well, I was in the supermarket last Friday shopping for supper for one; the BSG was away. I was in M&S - since you ask - in my opinion the best supermarket to shop solo in as it makes you feel spoily rather than lonely… anyway, there I found my very own cross breed. I think this little hybrid was invented especially for brassica-loving moi (not kidding: my gran has long been shopping there so faithfully I reckon she owns it and must’ve had a word with the boss). I am sure I heard a choir singing a long ahhhhhh and as I slowly raised it from the shelf: the Flower Sprout had arrived in my life.

A lovechild of sprout and kale, the little dark green buds did indeed look flowery and as I slung them into my basket there was an extra spring in my step. I had them quickly sauteed with slightly browned anchovy butter and they were glorious.

Flower sprouts

* I’ll also admit to being a keen afficionado of the assigning of a proper name to a dog. Andrew is my current favourite.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Parkin practice: add patience.

Over time, the BSG and I have been doing our bit, greedily covering most bases in terms of foodstuffs. Obviously there are exotic ingredients from far-flung places missing from the repertoire…all in good time. I tend to take on the shellfish, whereas he is bolder with all things offal. We adore most things we encounter.

Somehow..somehow… parkin has hitherto eluded us both.

However, in this special report I am pleased to annouce that the dark days are over. We are now blissfully living in the age of A.P (After Parkin). A freshly-baked, auburn slab of it sits happily cooling its boots in the kitchen. As aromatic as gingerbread and more complex and grown-up (nutmeg, treacle, dark brown sugar and oatmeal in it) parkin apparently improves with age. In fact the true parkin pros up North frown on its being eaten before its 3 days old. I can’t believe it gets better than it is now, warm from the oven.

Fact is, I am really, really pleased with it. Perhaps this has something to do with having exactly the right ingredients (SO much butter) or me following the recipe to the letter, but it is perfect. I even managed to keep our temperamental oven from burning it to a crisp. The only thing I'd change next time is to not use a loose-bottomed cake tin - the mixture is nervously runny before it starts to cook and will willingly burn in charred drops on the oven floor. You don't want people to smell burning over the other amazing aromas – it makes you look bad and besides, the gingery cooking cloud is too wonderful to forgo. If there was a smell for a hug, then this is it.

It will keep for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container, I’m told. Not sure this baby’s going to make 3 days A.P. I’ll have to make some more…

  • 8 oz/220g soft butter
  • 4 oz/110g soft, dark brown sugar
  • 2oz / 55g black treacle/molasses
  • 7oz / 200g golden syrup/ corn syrup
  • 5oz/ 120g medium oatmeal
  • 7 oz/ 200g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 4 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 tbsp milk
Heat the oven to 275°/140°C/gas 1
  • Grease an 8" x 8"/ 20cm x 20cm square cake tin.
  • In a large heavy-based saucepan melt together the butter, sugar, treacle, golden syrup over a gentle heat. Do not allow the mixture to boil, you simply need to melt these together.
  • In a large, spacious, baking bowl stir together all the dry ingredients. Gradually add the melted butter mixture stirring to coat all the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  • Gradually, beat in the eggs a few tablespoons at a time. Finally add the milk and again stir well.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and cook for 1 ½ hours until firm and set and a dark golden brown.
  • Remove the parkin from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. Once cool store the parkin in an airtight tin for a minimum of 3 days if you can resist eaten it, you can even leave it up to a week before eating and the flavours really develop and the mixture softens even further and become moist and sticky. The parkin will keep up to two weeks in an airtight container.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

An amazing Scotch Egg

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Heston’s new telly series already has the BSG and me hooked. Each episode, devoted to a different dietary mainstay, is revelation-packed, turning age-old techniques on their heads. However, this week’s egg-centric (sorry) half hour brought out the usually-silent curmudgeon in me.

Mr Blumenthal offered up a new way to cook a boiled egg, without actually boiling it. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am sure that the result was P.E.R.F.E.C.T.I.O.N, but its not actually a boiled egg and soldiers; rather a brought-up-to-a-simmer-then-taken-off-the-heat-and-left-for-6-minutes egg. Or just egg and soldiers. I am very content with my four and a half minute boil – it never fails me – so I’ll stick to that. I’m a bit impatient I suppose and those extra 90 seconds make the difference. And don’t get me started on what he tried with the scrambled egg…!

Luckily, the BSG and I are willing to overlook these minor deviations from brilliance, especially as we sampled his superior food first-hand at the Hind’s Head and fully believed that the Scotch eggs we had at the bar there would be the best we’d eat – and they were. Until yesterday, that is.

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A friend and I found ourselves in the rolling Berkshire countryside and, feeling a little peckish, we thought we’d stop into the Pot Kiln and grab something to eat. It was a perfect brisk January day, the skies high and clear above dark pencil-scratch copses of trees, golden sunlight lining the mossy garden wall and dispersing the morning’s frost. It was too chilly to eat outside. No matter, we found a table in the cosy dining room which, on this first sunny Friday of 2012, was packed.

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The Pot Kiln is a little white inn nestled in a pretty valley, run by the same team who run the Harwood Arms in Fulham, and I had heard great things about the food there. There is a real emphasis on locally sourced and seasonal produce and this was evident on the menu – luckily I knew in advance what I wanted as I’d probably still be sitting there deliberating.

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We shared a tasty ploughman’s of wild boar ham, mixed leaves, cheese and pickles, and had a warm Scotch egg each, made with minced local venison, oozy-yolked in the middle and satisfyingly crisp on their outside. They were heaven, accompanied by a tiny pile of coarse salt and just a few of my favourite things; gherkins, pickled onions and celeriac remoulade. Their homemade soda bread was deep and cakey, and delicious too. The meal was the perfect formula for a peckish pair, and washed down with a couple of Gunners - angostura bitters, lime cordial, ginger ale and lemonade (though I prefer ginger beer instead of the lemonade) – welcome and refreshing, despite the chill.

This pub is perhaps a bit out of the way for a normal weekday lunch, but I will certainly be finding excuses to return – there’s so much more to try! Or perhaps I’ll just have another one of those perfect scotch eggs… Sorry Heston.

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