Saturday, 30 January 2010

Dimbleby's dinners

My eyes snapped open at 0530am this morning but I managed, with heroic effort, to stay in bed until 0650am. It's now 9am and I've read all the papers, including all that stuff about John Terry - the least surprising sex scandal I've ever read about (and I've read a LOT, you know?? Titter) - including all the fun bits of The Guide, including all the recipe sections and Giles' excellent piece in The Times Mag about Americans who don't eat anything ( and dismissed the idea that the photo of him on the front of the Magazine made him look "old and baggy". I've also eaten a massive fry-up and had three cups of tea and one cup of coffee. God only knows how I'm going to fill the rest of the day, until it's time to have a fretful little nap at about 4pm, waking up at 7pm with no idea where I am, feeling queasy.

Just imagine how much earlier I would have woken up, how much worse the jet laggery would have been, how many more things I would have achieved in the cold, snowy dawn, had Henry Dimbleby, the chef and co-owner of healthy fast-food chain Leon and, most important, husband of my first boss, the journalist Jemima Lewis, not invited us to dinner last night.

We had lamb and posh macaroni cheese, red cabbage, roasted vegetables and then an apple tatin using, we were utterly scandalised but also thrilled to learn, Jus-Roll pastry. "Why do they leave off the 'T'?" wondered Henry. "To make it sound more friendly," I said.

Anyway, Henry had rested the joint of lamb for an hour - a WHOLE HOUR - which has got me resolved to do the same in the future. Just use hot plates, hot vegetables and hot gravy and then the less-than-boiling meat doesn't matter a whit. He also made the stunning posh macaroni cheese made especially for my sister, Hannah, who was also there and who had requested for dinner (because she is pregnant AGAIN) "a huge pile of carbs covered in cheese". It was, as carbohydrates always are, the star of the party.

I love macaroni cheese, but mine is very 70s - a floury, cheesy sauce. Nice and everything but Imake it with chedder and, goddamnit, it doesn't half leak grease and bleurgh like no-one's business and it can leave you feeling a bit... heavy.

Henry uses cream and morels as a sauce to bind the pasta and then bakes it in the oven covered in a lot of Gruyere. I didn't grab him by the ears and force him to tell me the exact recipe, because that's a bit like asking a doctor at a party about the funny stabbing pain you get behind your right knee from time to time. But at a guess, he does something like this:

Boil the pasta, saute the morels gently in some butter, with salt and pepper, for a few minutes, then pour in a lot of double cream and mix round for a bit until warmed through but not, I'd guess, bubbling. Then pour in the pasta and stir to combine. Turn out into a gratin dish and cover with about three times as much Gruyere cheese as you think you need and bake in the oven for, I'd guess, about 25 mins, probably 180 degrees.

It's just brilliant. I'm never going to make mac and cheese any other way again.

I thought Henry had a recipe blog but it turns out not! I shall just have to steal his recipes and post them here. But there is a new Leon cookbook coming out in September and it's going to change the way we all cook dinner - all the recipes have 8 ingredients or fewer and can be accomplished in 6 steps.

Friday, 29 January 2010


Ah me, jet lag hours seem long. It is 0525 in the am, I can hardly believe it, and I am wide awake with mean jet lag after flying in from India yesterday. Or was it today? All I know is that I woke up in Fort Cochin, pre-dawn, at some point in the last 36 hours and now I'm sitting here, pre-dawn, not entirely sure what day it is, with nothing to do. Giles has put a wash on, I made an emergency breakfast out of delicious defrosted Cranks wholemeal bread (sliced up at room temperature and then tucked away in the freezer in freezer bags), Nutella and black tea. (No milk, you see - Sainsbury's doesn't open until 7am).

Anyway, I'd like to say that Kerala all looks like this:

... and some of it does. But a lot of it looks like this:

But what am I saying? God, I'm so bourgeoise. A couple of open sewers, a leprotic (is this a word?), stoned tuk-tuk driver and I go all Valley Girl and start squealing Gross Me Out!!!!
But this isn't about me and my hygiene issues, this is about food.

The thing I noticed most about Kerala is that absolutely nowhere was anyone eating my Keralan curry, which I wrote about back in November:

Yes, there was a lot of stuff cooked in coconut milk, as coconuts literally grow on trees in that part of the world, but it was all pretty tomatoey. I won't say it was nothing special, because it was lovely, but to my narrow, London eyes, spoiled by the Cinnamon Club and Moti Mahal and other Pukka Indian joints, curry has to work pretty hard to be surprising.

It was more the side dishes, extras, drinks and puddings that were unusual. Tea-time on the shores of Lake Kumarakom brought banana fritters; at Munnar hill station it was all about pancakes stuffed with coconut, raisins and cashews tucked up at both ends in a pretty parcel; for pudding at Malabar House in Cochin I had three dainty chocolate samosas on a mango coulis. Yes! Chocolate samosas!

I'm also newly in love with bindi, Okra, ladies' fingers, or whatever you want to call them. Some people think they are gross, which I can understand, but they are my new craving. All over Kerala they are diced up with coconut (obviously) Nigella seeds (I think) onion, turmeric and a bit of chilli and called 'Vegetable Thoran'. This is probably a very obvious dish to a lot of people and me putting it in inverted commas would be like someone discussing such interesting European breakfast foods such as 'croissant' or 'toast'.

Last for now is the marvellous and delicious drink called a Cochin Cooler, consisting of mint, ginger, honey, lime juice and soda. Dipsomaniacs could add a splash of vodka or rum. It sounds familiar and it tastes familiar but I'm pretty sure I've never had a cocktail with ginger in it. Anyway, I'll be covering the Cochin Cooler and the banana fritters, as well as a rice pancake called 'appam' in more detail soon. Right now, I've got some jet lagging to do.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Back from the dead

I'd like to take a moment, if I may, to deviate, briefly, from food. It's because I haven't really been able to eat much for a while and so haven't posted anything. The other day, the spectre of my semi-abandoned blog made me so depressed that I deleted it.

I thought no more about it until the lovely Claire B Twittered me to ask me where it was. Well hell, I thought, if one person is reading it, that makes it worthwhile.

But the not eating thing is a bit of a problem. I've been a bit stressed lately and most things turn to ashes in my mouth, or make me sick. I've written here before, boringly and at length, about how I am cursed with being anxious, fearful and weedy and, alas, all it takes is small application of pressure on my scared little head and nothing can pass my lips for weeks. I guess you could call that lucky: some people gorge themselves at the slightest provocation - sadness, stress, anxiety - I on the other hand, sit on the stairs and fade away. It doesn't make me much of a foodie, I suppose.

I'll get back to the food, in time. I bought for myself before Christmas a Jamie Oliver cookbook and the Ottolenghi cookbook - I'm also going to India on holiday for a bit, where I hope to bring back more easy peasy Keralan curries.

For now, though, the only thing that seems to go down okay is a cup of tea with sugar in it. I'm on my third of the day.