Friday, 25 January 2013

A bread and butter pudding for the snow

Bread and butter: so simple, yet the stuff of childish dreams. As delicious-sounding in literature as any cake - especially when drawn from a wicker luncheon basket and laid out on a cloth with jam, or cold chicken and roast beef. Milly Molly Mandy and Billy Blunt gobbled all theirs up on their fishing excursion and it’s little wonder – all someone has to do is say those three words together and I am thinking of teatime (and forever of Grandpa, lord of the tea table with his packet of plain chocolate digestives – neatly secured each day with an elastic band).

Clearly, bread and butter pudding has less to do with butter than it does with bread (not to mention the eggs, sugar and milk) but the very fact that those two happily-wed words are in the recipe makes it a winner in my eyes. Last September on the eve of a friend’s wedding I was lucky enough to be party to his pre-wedding family dinner and thereby to the most fantasmical (that’s fantastic with an extra O) pudding. Although the portion control didn’t exist and my bowlful could have felled an adolescent elephant I nobly ate my way through, amongst the dairy every which way, a warm wedge of white chocolate and whisky bread & butter pudding. INCREDIBLE.

After a long walk on Saturday, or feet crumping through the fresh snow making dreams of mountain adventures, we felt we deserved a treat. This pudding, crisp on top and snowy light within was perfect foil to the conditions. It’s adapted from a recipe that uses croissants (which may be amazing – but I felt somewhat superfluous. After all, we’re supposed to be on some sort of regime until February)… I went in heavier on the whisky – on a medicinal bent you understand  -  yet lighter on the sugar, as we were all chilled to our cores and because white chocolate is sweet enough, thank you.

This is dedicated to my dear, pudding-partial Grandpa. He would have loved it, crowned with plenty of cream. He might have even had a second helping too.

Whisky and White Chocolate Bread & Butter Pudding

500ml milk
500ml double cream
A few drops of vanilla essence
3 eggs
5 egg yolks
150g caster sugar
8-10 slices of white bread, crusts removed and cut in half into triangles
25g sultanas
25g butter, melted
175g white chocolate, smashed into little pieces in its wrapper
4 tablespoons whisky
55g  marmalade (didn’t have apricot jam, but the extra orange taste is a winner)
icing sugar, to dust


Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

Pour the milk and cream into a pan, add the vanilla essence and bring slowly to the boil.
Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl with the egg yolks and sugar and beat together until pale and fluffy. This bit is actually quite important as your pudding will be light rather than stodgy.
Lay the bread over the base of an oblong ovenproof dish, slightly overlapping each piece. Sprinkle with the sultanas and pour over the melted butter.
When the cream mixture has reached boiling point, take it off the heat and allow it to cool slightly. Add the egg mixture and white chocolate to the cream and stir well. Leave for a few minutes to let the chocolate melt, stirring occasionally.
Add the whisky to the cream mixture and strain it all through a sieve over the bread. Let the bread soak it all up nicely, before covering the dish with foil.
Bake in the oven for 25-35 minutes, or until almost set.
Remove from the oven, coat the top with the marmalade and dust with icing sugar. Either brown the top with a cheffy blowtorch or place under a grill or into a hot oven for a few minutes before serving. Wait if you have to - it must be warm, not hot.

bread and butter pudding

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Simon Hopkinson: The Good Cook

There’s a third person in our marriage – no, not in that way - but I get that distinct, jealous ‘playground feeling’ about the BSG and his new best friend, Simon.

I am to blame, I introduced them – he and his Roast Chicken and Other Stories and whatnot, he with his simple flavoursome ways and his ‘no-fuss approach’. The BSG is waxing lyrical. The Good Cook by Simon Hopkinson; the best book he’s ever used? Probably.

Although we’re not on a January detox as such, we are attempting to conduct some kind of regime on weeknights. But let’s be realistic; this time of year calls for warmth and January gets such a bad rap, so we can’t be all alfalfa sprouts, quinoa and miso, can we? After a memorable Hopkinson dish of poached chicken, hot cucumbers and saffron sauce last year we looked once again to The Good Cook for inspiration in pared-down culinary chic – the food equivalent of a scrubbed bare wooden table: frugality and comfort all in one.

On Sunday we had pan-fried duck breast with sweet and sour onions and a week’s worth of spinach (something about having to forgo hard carbs makes the BSG incapable of portion control in other areas). It ought to have been calves’ liver according to the recipe but we couldn’t find any and duck has that same, sweet irony note. It was - I reluctantly conceded - absolutely delicious and we didn’t miss the obvious carbs. The star of the show was the warm oniony relish (like the rest of my family, I certainly relish a condiment). The key, according to my culinary love-rival? Make sure you cook them super slowly. Whatevs.

Simon H: 1, moi: 0.

On Monday was his extremely straightforward Tandoori chicken legs and wings with a BSG-special daal and raita.

Simon H: 2 (but who’s counting…?)

Supper on Tuesday was astonishingly quick – griddled chicken breasts over a crunchy salad dressed with a sweet mustard emulsion, the consistency of Salad Cream (though the BSG was quick to point out, MUCH nicer than that). SH advises sunflower oil, a lot of Dijon, a squeeze of lemon, a teaspoon of caster sugar and salt and pepper. Delicious.

A hat-trick for Hopkinson.

You can find the full sweet and sour onion recipe here on the BBC website. Pretty scrummy, I must admit. If these shenanigans carry on much longer, I may just pack up my beloved Salad Cream and push off.

grilled chicken salad

Monday, 7 January 2013

Come Back Chicken and a Big Apple

As food goes, there’s nothing more homely than roast chicken. It was the first thing we cooked in the box-fresh oven in the new kitchen and the last thing we laid on for my sister and brother-in-law last Friday night, hours before they jetted off to a new chapter in New York. I had been desperately flicking though my mental rolodex of ways to make them stay and failing that, I settled on a dish that might remind them to return home one day…

We managed to cram in a decent enough amount of wine as well – not so much that it got too emotional – plus some passion fruit creams in little espresso cups from my Christmas copy of Kitchen Diaries II, speckled with the seeds and soaked in a pool of golden juice, which accompanied my teaspoon with every mouthful, right to the bottom.  Once blasted Banuary is over, I am going to give it a bash with other fruit as it was particularly delicious and super easy.

Passion fruit creams

What’s below is NOT rocket science obviously but how I do my roast chicken which, the BSG tells me, is pretty good. The basic formula will take on almost anything throughout the year; fresh herbs such as sage or tarragon, or wild garlic in the cavity, spices like Ras-el Hanout or Harissa and yoghurt rubbed into the skin and sit proudly alongside any salad as well as lasting you through the week. Good for the diet and the budget: what better friend could you ask for right now?

Basic Roast Chicken

You need:
1 chicken (free-range. One of those happy Woodland-roaming ones will do – not sure of the weight but should cost you between 6 and 8 pounds)
1/4 lemon
½ onion
Fresh thyme sprigs (optional)
Olive oil/butter
Salt & pepper

Remove the chicken from the fridge 10 minutes before you need it to bring it to room temperature and then place it in a roasting pan. Heat your oven to 190C. Slice the top quarter off a lemon and squeeze it over the top of the chicken before putting it into the cavity with the thyme sprigs and the half-onion. Drizzle the top and legs with oil or smear with a few knobs of butter. Season generously with salt and lightly with pepper before putting into the hot oven.

Cook for 20 minutes, before taking the tray out and turning the chicken over breast-side down (be careful here!). This should do some basting for you and ensure that everything is as juicy as possible. Return to the oven and cook for another 20 minutes before turning the chicken back over, spooning some of the basting juices over the legs. The onion, lemon or thyme may fall out at this stage, but they will go towards making lip-smacking gravy as they cook away in the tin. The skin should crisp up and brown in this last 20-30 minutes.

After between an hour and 5 minutes and an hour and a quarter’s cooking time, the chicken should be done, but to double check, insert a skewer between the leg and the breast to see if the juices run clear. It is almost always an hour and 10 minutes for me, but ovens vary. Lift the bird out and set onto a board, covering with foil if you like. It does well to rest for 10 minutes while you make the gravy; it will be juicy and easier to carve after resting.

For the gravy: drain off as much of the clear fat from the tin as you can, squeeze the remnants of the lemon quarter with the back of a spoon and keep any bits from the onion in there which have caramelised but not burnt, discarding the rest. Put the tin over a medium heat and scrape the sticky brown bits loose – they will be packing valuable chickeny flavour. Add a knob of butter and melt it. You can add a tablespoon of plain flour at this stage and cook it lightly, for thicker gravy. Add some hot or boiling water – about an espresso-cup’s worth – and a slug of white wine, smear it all together and simmer for a few minutes. Taste, adding more water and seasoning if necessary.