Monday, 21 June 2010

Henry's house

It's been one disaster after another in my kitchen over the last few days.

First of all, I tried to cook chips thinking, how hard can it possibly be?

My mother, who was brought up in a vacuum of electricity and the English language in a woodier bit of Wales, always talks, misty-eyed, about how her mother used to cook chips in freshly-rendered dripping in a black pot suspended over a fire in their earthen-floor kitchen. (Before casting some light spells over the nearby wildlife.) And the hostess of a great restaurant we found on Santorini, where they made the most fantastic chips (like the best fish n chip chips you've ever had), claimed that they were so easy peasy - you just chop up the potato and fry it: fool!

But they are both doing that thing where you tell everyone that you've done no work for the exam and then completely fucking ace it, leaving everyone else to spazz it up because they believed you when you said you'd just been sitting about picking your nose for 3 straight weeks. My grandmother, I can only assume, cooked these miraculous chips from frozen and the Santorinian hostess is a similar FRAUD.

So the chips didn't work. So I tried a burger. I've got a thing about home-made burgers, in that they're always too fussy and too thick. A burger is just a sandwich and the meat element of it doesn't need to be two inches thick. So I did a thing where I patted the burger meat out really really thin and then grilled it and stuck it in a floury white bun with nothing but finely chopped shallot, gherkin, mayo, mustard and ketchup. And it was a total fail. It just massively sucked.

Then, finally, I had success making some loaded potato skins. I cooked two baking potatos for 1 hour at 200C, then scooped out the insides and smeared the skins with a mixture of:

creme fraiche
chopped spring onions
salt & pepper

and shoved them back in the oven at 180C for 20 minutes, while I watched a leftover episode of The Mentalist on the V+.

But come ON! Loaded potato skins?!? What kind of cooking is that? Cooking for five year olds? I despaired.

The only thing for it was to invade Henry's house.  Henry is my friend who is a chef. The most successful things I've ever cooked have always been stolen off him. He is a friend of my husband's and of my brother-in-law's AND (this is so weird) is married to my first boss, Jemima.

So we invaded yesterday for a barbeque, where Henry did squid in this amazing sauce:

Here's why I was never much of a reporter: I was too shy to quiz Henry really hard about the sauce the squid was in. I only fathomed that it was made from:

grilled red peppers
grilled chillis
coriander seeds
coriander leaves

all pulverised in a food processor.

I've never successfully grilled and skinned a red pepper. Henry said something about grilling them until they're black and then leaving them in a plastic bag for a bit and then skinning them. This may very well make loads of sense to someone out there. The full recipe will be available in the new Leon Cookbook, which is out in September, which I am very excited about.

Then we had cakes from Violet Cakes because Claire, who runs Violet Cakes, lives near Henry and every weekend offloads all the stuff she hasn't sold on him, including this amazing rice flour banana bread, which we had with caramel sauce.

This picture is out of focus because my  husband doesn't understand my camera.

More cakes from Violet Cakes

Caramel sauce is really easy to make:

For 10

1 Put 250g sugar in a saucepan with 4tbsp water and put over a medium heat until dissolved
2 Turn up the heat and let the sugar bubble for 4-5 mins until it has turned thick and sticky
3 Remove from the heat and stir in 50g butter and about 140ml double cream

Anyway we ate all that and messed around in the garden for a bit:

My nephew and I discussing Chris Huhne's affair and organic shop-bought baby food vs homemade

My  husband's feet and my brother-in-law's feet. But which is which?

Henry and Jemima have a really nice garden

And then when the various children around started to go absolutely mental and screamy, we went home.

And for dinner I made fish fingers and peas.
Fuck's sake.


  1. The peeling the pepper thing works. You can char them over the gas ring with some tongs (if they are all metal tongs, hold them with hot mitts or a towel or something), then shove them in a plastic bag. Something about the heat from the pepper makes the skin go a bit slimy and then when it's cooled off enough to handle it just slips off. I never blacken them enough because it feels like burning food, but you're taking the skin off so it shouldn't matter... but you know, I can't quite manage it.

  2. What pretty cakes!

    I've been there with the chips, I've read a recipe where you have to par boil them, then fry them for a minute, cool them down, fry them again for 2 minutes, cool, fry again to crisp them up. Sod that. I think you have to go with the beef dripping and just have them very occasionally, at least they taste yummy. Isn't it always the way that the simplest things are the hardest? Your loaded skins look so appetising, I'm going to give them a try tomorrow.

    I had no idea a caramel sauce was that easy to make, I will definitely try it, thanks.

    (my guess is Giles is wearing the darker jeans)

  3. These pics are DELICIOUS. I want to own that blue and white plate. And that green jug.

  4. Their whole house is like a branch of Anthropologie

  5. Forget the chips, I go for oven roasted chips every time now... like long fat roast potatoes and they works well using sweet potatoes too. Cut as per normal, par boil..oil...roast...chips!

  6. I love Leon. I wish I had their slow-cooked shredded pork wrap for lunch right now. Please ask Henry to open loads more branches. Erin's right about the pepper-peeling plastic bag thing: I've done it too and think I got it from Delia. And I agree with Samantha about the photo: at first I thought the insouciant, defiant pose of the chap in the lighter jeans smacked of Giles, but then I thought the grungy flares weren't really him, and I don't think those are genuine Converse All Stars. The skinnier, darker jeans and real All Stars say GC to me. And now I'm scared.

  7. This made me shriek, esp the bit about the nephew discussing Chris Huhne.

    I can't cook chips either. Tried and tried and tried.

    Nice to see two excellent pairs of Converse.

    I have been developing a reasonable hamburger if you are interested; it's on my blog here -

    So sorry, can't seem to make that link into an actual link. It's the post from 12th June.

    Thanks for making me laugh on this rather gloomy Monday. (Scottish weather, what can I tell you?)

  8. Agree re. the burgers. Gourmet burgers are always too big tog et in your mouth leaving you to eat them with a knife and fork....

  9. For chips Heston's triple cooked method is a pretty good guide, although you've got to be dedicated to freeze the buggers. I go for the double cooked method personally which is:

    - Peel the potatoes
    - Slice into decent finger sized chunks
    - Fry in batches until they start to get a crust but don't really colour
    - Remove onto kitchen roll
    - Let the oil get hot again and repeat frying with the next batch
    - Once you've fried all the potatoes once, let the oil get hot again and refry in batches
    - Fry until they're nice and brown and crispy on the outside
    - Job done

  10. Your blog post had me hooting with laughter - love your extreme honesty! It's very refreshing to see a food blogger fessing up to eating ordinary meals alongside the spectacular.

    I have a husband with a burger addiction... I've redisovered my Granny's old burger press from the 1970s... it makes a cracking burger and not too thick either. I blogged about it last week...

    Katie x

  11. Ooh - Henry gave me this very recipe you speak/write of for a piece on squid I was doing just last week. The piece hasn't run yet so I'm not sure of any copyright infringements..zzz...but then unbelievably incredibly thoughtlessly Henry didn't invite me round to taste the thing, so here you are -

    This is an adaptation of a dish I first ate in a small but world-class restaurant in Dartmouth, Devon, called the Seahorse run by chef Mitch Tonks. The squid had been freshly plucked that day from the bay that was visible out of the window.

    Mitch’s Barbeque squid with chilli and peppers
    Smokey marinated squid, very sweet and very summery.
    Feeds: 4
    Preparation time: 5 minutes
    Cooking Time: 10 minutes

    2 whole squid, skins off, cleaned inside, tentacle left on – about 230g each
    1 red pepper
    1 red chilli
    1 tsp dried chilli flakes
    2 bay leafs
    2 cloves garlic
    50ml extra virgin olive oil
    1 tsp coriander seeds
    Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

    Light your barbeque with plenty of good lumpwood charcoal

    Put all of the ingredients, apart from the squid, into a blender and blend until smooth.
    Pour into a bowl and add the squid, mixing to ensure that the marinade covers all the squid meat. Leave the squid marinating for as long as you like.
    When the barbeque is white and well burned down put the squid on the grill of the BBQ and cook for around 5 to 8 minutes, turning once. Baste it with extra liquid as you cook it.

    You can cut off chunks of the squid and eat it with a large salad and bread, or you can cut it into rings.
    Mitch blackens the peppers and removes their skins prior to cooking which gives extra smokey flavour
    Mitch also coats the marinated squid in breadcrumbs for extra crunch
    If you have additional marinade for any barbeque, it is great boiled on the barbie in a metal bowl or small pan and used as a sauce.

  12. Love BBQs! FrolickingFoodie has a great post on it and an amazing food blog! Check it out..

  13. Brilliant. As a trained journalist who avoids interviewing people at all costs, I understand you not attempting to learn the finer points of that sauce. I also hate cooking, but am enjoying living vicariously through this blog. Keep them coming :)