Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Orange polenta cake for Immy




So, an orange polenta cake is a thing I've been meaning to have a go at for a really long time. I was dithering over it yesterday and then I received a Tweet from a reader, Immy, who needed some inspiration for a tea party this weekend. And there's nothing like a reader in distress to get me going.

This works really well and it's very easy. But unfortunately, it's not as wheat-free as it sounds as it still contains 200g of flour. There are flourless and wheat-free cakes you can do but I find that they're often very dense and more puddingy than tea time-y.

(Having said that, Immy, you could do a flourless chocolate cake topped with cream and fruit, a la Sophie Dahl)

But if you're not really that bothered about the flour, this really is an excellent cake. It's jammy and delicious with a surprisingly subtle flavour and doesn't dry out. And doesn't have the bilious after-taste of a lemon cake. There looks like a staggering amount of sugar in this but the end product is not too sweet at all.



One word of warning though: this makes a HUGE cake. Enough for 15 people, easily.

It's made using a 23cm diameter cake tin, that's about 7cm deep. Cake tins are normally about 23cm, but they are sometimes shallower than 7cm. I can never, ever be bothered to measure tins but in this instance it's worth making sure you've got a big enough tin - alternatively you could halve the quantities.

Orange polenta cake

250g butter
250g sugar
4 eggs
140g polenta OR substitute semolina, doesn't really make a difference
200g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
zest and juice 2 oranges

Glaze
100g sugar
100ml orange juice

1 Zest and squeeze your oranges. Roughly chop the zest. Measure off 100ml of the juice and set aside for the glaze.

2 Set the oven to 140C for fan ovens and 160C normal ovens. Grease your cake tin and - if you feel like it, line with baking parchment. I rarely bother, but then I almost ALWAYS get cake stuck to the sides. So if you can be arsed then do it - if not it won't be a disaster, but don't say I didn't warn you.

3 Cream together the butter and sugar. Yawn... why is this task so tedious?

4 Add each of the four eggs, one at a time. They may start to curdle towards the end of adding the last egg. Just ignore it.

5 Add your dry ingredients and mix. Then add the zest and your half-quantity orange juice and mix. Pour it all into cake tin and shove in the oven for 1hr 10mins. Yes, I know, seems a long time. But that's how long it takes.

6 Take cake out of oven and leave to cool. When it's sort of tepid, sling together the remaining juice and sugar and bring to the boil - then simmer for 5 minutes. Once this has cooled down to lukewarm, prick all over your cake with a fork or a skewer and pour over. It'll probably go everywhere so don't worry - just get as much down the holes as you can and spread it around and it'll sink in eventually. But I would wipe up any sugar-juice combo quickly because it will basically set and glue itself to your work surface otherwise.

Nice on its own, or with creme fraiche.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Stuffing


I can't be bothered to have opinions anymore. I used to have loads, about all sorts of things. Politics, economics, charitable giving, the Euro - all sorts of stuff. People used to look scared when I came into a room because I had all these opinions, with percentages and factoids to back them up, and I would shout like Brian Blessed, given half an excuse. 

But over the years I've realised that I can't be bothered. Having opinions is totally pointless. First of all, it's boring. Second of all, if you offer an opinion, about 3 people will agree with you and everyone else will turn on you like a mongoose who's spotted a snake.

I once repeated the idea - not even an opinion! just an observation! - at some party or other that in practical terms there's not much point in taxing the very rich because there aren't enough of them. Even if you taxed everyone who earns over £300,000 in this country at 80%, you'd still fall way, way short of the revenue raised if you taxed everyone who earns under £30,000, like, 2 extra pence. *

I mean, I might as well have stood up and declared that mentally disabled people ought to be sterilised. 

"I didn't say I thought it was a good idea!" I spent the rest of the night shrieking. "I didn't say that's what ought to happen..! I'm just saying it's one way of looking at it, that's all..! I just mean taxing rich people isn't all about revenue, that's all...!"

Then a few months later I was invited to a book club. I'd never been invited to one before (exactly why not will become apparent in a second) and I was rather excited. The book was Lolita, which was unfortunate for everyone because it's one of the three books without illustrations that I've actually read.

We all sat about eating a really excellent fish pie at the house of some genial Sloane and then started talking about the book. I sat there, becoming more and more amazed at the stupidity of everyone. For half an hour they talked about the book in the most slow and dim-witted way imaginable. It wasn't even like being in an A-Level class, it was like pre-GCSE stuff.

"Do you think maybe," I said finally, "we're not getting the whole truth from Humbert?"

There was a horrible silence.

"Do you think maybe, since he's the narrator, he's giving only his version of events? The phone call at the motel, towards the end, where we only hear one side of the phonecall - wasn't that kind of a giveaway?"

Then a boy sitting in a corner - okay not a boy, he was probably about 28 - said:

"Oh I hate all that reading-between-the-lines practical criticism stuff. Derrida and all that. Such bullshit."

It was then I, fatally, lost my temper. "I'm sorry," I said, blinking a lot for outraged effect. "Do you actually have a degree? What do you do for a living?"

And, I'm not joking, he was a literary agent.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw my friend Iain, who had invited me, almost but not quite, put his head into his hands.

Things broke up quite shortly after that. I wasn't invited back.

So, I think it's safest not to have opinions anymore. I find that life is so much more clement if you just smile broadly and say nothing. No-one ever notices that you haven't said anything, they're too busy telling you what they think about global warming and they just think you're charming. But it's got to the point now, where I don't want to hear anyone else's opinions about things, either. I pretty much have to leave the room if anyone mentions Iraq, climate change, or interest rates.

My first boss, Jemima, knows everything. She really does - everything. And she never talks about it at parties, because she thinks it's rude. She just wants to gossip and tell jokes.

Luckily, I married the one person in the world who holds fewer opinions than I do. Every week he sits down to write his opinion column and has to dream up some wild thing to say - if it might get him into trouble even better - but privately he has almost no views whatsoever. It's bliss.

My opinion on roast chicken at the moment, as it happens, is completely off-kilter. It's basically all I ever want to eat, except pizza, and so whenever I go to the shops, I don't buy a chicken to roast because I think "Can't have that again! Boring!" and then I realise that we haven't had it for 6 months.

So I bought one last week and I thought I'd do it with stuffing and two veg and everything for Sunday lunch.

Jolly nice it was, too.

My opinion on how to roast a chicken goes like this:

1 Lightly oil the bottom of the pan so that the chicken doesn't stick. Put it in the oven at 200C for 20 minutes.

2 Turn down the oven to 180C and then turn every 20 minutes for 1 hr 20 minutes. Or 20 minutes more if it's a very large chicken. Rest under foil and a teatowel for 20 minutes.

My opinion on stuffing goes like this:

1 Put three ripped-up slices of bread - whatever you like - in a food processor. Follow that with 1 onion, roughly chopped, thyme, sage, rosemary, few strips lemon peel, 1 skinned raw sausage (if you've got it, don't worry if not) salt, pepper, 2 glugs olive oil and a garlic clove.

2 Whizz until combined. Fill the cavity of the chicken with it. Proceed with the cooking instructions.

Breadcrumbs are the base of a stuffing, but you can add whatever you like. A lot of sausage, less. Prunes, orange (festive) - leave out the onion if you like - chestnuts! Liver! Pine nuts! Basil! Go wild.

Here ends my catechism.



*DISCLAIMER: These figures are not accurate. Like, obviously obviously for fuck's sake, they're not accurate. I can't imagine who'd think they were, but it's been brought to my attention that some people might be confused. And I can't have that. Especially when they have boyfriends who are so monstrously long-winded and tedious in their complaints. You see? This is why I don't talk about shit like that anymore.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Kitchen kit: update

video


So, please try not to think mean things about how fat I am here... I really do look like Princess Beatrice pre-diet. That double chin! Although I've possibly always had one. I swear to God, when this kid is out, I am going to STARVE myself. I will of course lie, though, and say that the weight just "fell off".

Anyway this is 10 minutes long and quite boring. But's it's semi-amusing when I start to get really bad reflux half-way in. And yes, I know that there's a knife-sharpener swinging away like a pendulum in the background - but what can I say? I can't imagine that what you're most looking for from me is razor-sharp professionalism. At least, I hope not.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Doughnuts



Yes really! Your very own doughnuts. These are a tiny bit of an effort what with the yeast and letting them rise and everything, but well worth it.

When I do them again, I'm going to make them really small, as if I were a giant holding a normal-sized doughnut and give them to people with coffee after dinner with dipping sauces of warm jam or melted chocolate. I'll also be experimenting with different glazes, but for now, I just rolled mine in sugar and tried not to eat all 8 of them at once.

Nigel Slater's cinnamon doughnuts
makes 8

250g plain flour
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
big pinch of salt
20g butter, cut into cubes
1 x 7g sachet of dried yeast
150ml milk
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg yolk

1 Put the flour, salt and cinnamon in a bowl and then rub in the cubed butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles crumbs, then sprinkle over the yeast. Give the whole thing a stir with a whisk

2 Heat the milk and sugar together until it's just warm. If you get overexcited and get this actually hot let it cool before you ...

3 ... stir in the egg yolk otherwise it's scrambled eggs time.

4 Stir this into the flour, a sploosh at a time. There is too much liquid here so don't do what I did which was to blithely trust in Nigel and throw the whole lot in because you'll get soup. Keep adding splooshes and stirring it in until you get a dough.

[I actually emailed Nigel Slater, the man himself, to ask about the too-wetness of it and to my total suprise he emailed back, asking why I hadn't stopped adding the milk when I saw it was getting too wet. Well, I simply didn't have an answer. "Because I'm thick," was too depressing to actually write down and send.]

5 Turn this out onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 mins. Put back in a bowl and leave somewhere warm for an hour. After this time, cut into 8 or 16 pieces and shape into rounds. Stick your finger through the middle to make a hole and then sort of whizz the doughnut round your finger, as if you were whizzing a bunch of keys round your finger or something, in order to widen the hole. Then leave these for 20 minutes.

6 Heat about 1/2 to 1 in of vegetable oil in a pan. Best to do this in a very small pan so you don't need to use much oil. Heating veg oil will make your house stink like the back end of a chippy if you're not careful, so close the kitchen door and line the crack under it with tea towels and aprons to stop the smell getting out. Then turn your extractor fan on full beam. And while the oil is heating up and between frying session, keep a lid on the pan - a see-through one with a hole in for steam to escape if possible. But don't open your kitchen windows because this will turn your flat/house into a chimney and the stench will be permeate your whole dwelling. Your whole soul.

7 The trick here is not to get the oil too hot. What you want is for these doughnuts to cook for a while - about 3 minutes altogether - and not burn. When you lower a doughnut in (best to do these one at a time) you want there to be a modest amount of bubbling going on round the sides not mental mental CCRRRRSSHFFFSSHHHWWWWWWW like you're cooking chips.

8 When the doughnut is golden brown - depending on how much oil you've got in the pan and how big you want your doughnuts, you may have to flip them once during cooking - remove with a slotted spoon to a cooling rack. You can dip these in sugar straightaway if you want, but they'll still take a sugar bath well if you want to leave coating them until they've all been fried

These keep well. They're best eaten the same day but you don't have to eat them instantly. You could easily make some in advance and keep them in tupperware (once they've cooled) and then if you wanted them warm, reheat gently in a very low oven.

Bliss. Enjoy.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Ad break

There now follows a short advertisement for something I was sent in the post by a friendly PR.

She wrote to me and said "Can I send you some chocolate orange macaroons?"

And I said, as I always say to anyone who wants to send me things (this doesn't happen very often) "I can't guarantee you any coverage in a newspaper and so I'd feel bad, so maybe don't bother."

And she said "Oh GO ON for God's sake stop being such a square and have some goddamn macaroons."

(She didn't really say that but she heavily implied it.)

And so I said "Oh, okay then." I wasn't very hopeful. My husband got sent a curry in the post the other day and it was disastrous. Genuinely evening-ruiningly horrible.

But then the next day I received in the post some of Mrs Crimble's wheat and gluten free chocolate and orange macaroons. And I've pretty much eaten them all, quite pleased that I'm sent a better quality of freebie than my husband. So if you're looking for something wheat or gluten free this Christmas, I recommend them to you. I don't know where you buy them, though. Probably Waitrose.

Dumplings


These are actually Hugh's disastrous dumplings, but we ate all of my mum's dumplings so fast there was no time to take a photo, so this is just to give you the idea


Gay men don't like me. I've always suspected this but lately I've come to realise that it's just a fact.

Actually, it's not that they don't like me, it's that they are totally indifferent to me, which I think is in some way worse. I am to a gay man what a 65 year old woman is to a 23 year-old builder from Essex: invisible.

I used to try to be fabulous and bitchy and engaging and flamboyant, in a sort of desperate caricature of what I thought a gay man might want in a woman - and it briefly aroused a faint flicker of interest from one or two gay men. But it was unsustainable and I soon slid back into my natural persona: anti-social, chilly, beady, unsympathetic. And the loose grip I had on their interest melted away like the only two snowflakes of a mild winter on a warm car bonnet.

Everyone else I know has a gay friend - at least one. Everyone. Even my 85 year-old Swiss-German grandmother. "I vent to Lausanne last veekend," she will say. "Wiz my PANSY FRIEND Alain G-!" and she will shriek with delight at the thought of neat little Alain with his kerchief and lovely manners and expertise in early Renaissance ceramics.

Even my husband has a huge gay following and gay men have always thought he was great. At parties I usually find him talking to some very high-powered gay man, who will be standing there in a £5,000 suit laughing, showing off a lot of very perfect teeth and sighing and saying "Oh Giles." And then I come up and stand there and smile, feeling like a frump, and the high-powered gay man's eyes will slightly glaze over when I say something. And then eventually I'll excuse myself to the loo and let them get on with it.

"Yeah that's a surprise they don't like you," said my friend Wendy, who has, I think, almost exclusively gay friends. "Because, you know, you can be quite a bitch and they quite like that."

I ought to take lessons off my mother: she is a gay magnet extraordinaire. But she's not a bitch. She just LOVES gay men, or anyone camp or anyone fabulous. I'd say it's because she's an artist, but she's not like that - she's not all dope-smoking and far-out, man - she's just a very talented figurative draughtswoman. And by that I mean she draws things and they look like what they are. And sculpture, ooh you should her sculptures. But there must be a flamboyant, "modern", arty side to her that makes all these super dooper gay men flock to her door.

I ought to listen to my mother more, in general. Like the other day, I wanted to make dumplings for a stew but instead of ringing my mother, who makes great dumplings, I looked up a recipe in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Meat Book for a recipe and they were TERRIBLE! Hard and nasty.

So I meekly emailed my mother for her recipe and she sent it back and they came out perfectly - like little clouds. Perhaps now I can make dumplings like clouds a gay man will want to be my friend. But I doubt it.

My mother's dumplings
Makes about 8

"6oz SELF RAISING flour,
3oz suet.
Water.
Salt & pepper,
lots of parsley (optional, but good with stewed lamb).
Mix to a soft, not too dry consistency"

[N.B. how my mother uses CAPITAL LETTERS about the self-raising flour, as I would. DNA: not a made-up thing.]

You can either cook these in a steamer, if you've got one, for 25 minutes - or rest them on top of your stew for the last 25 minutes of its cooking time.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Pate de Canard en Croute Part II: Hubris


Oh dear, so - after all that fuss about how easy it all was, I cocked it up anyway.

Although I'd like to point out that this was an execution error and not a planning error - i.e. the pastry was fine, I just put it together slightly wrong. The pastry has split along the seam between the "basin" and the "lid" of the pastry - simple physics, really; an eggwash wasn't enough to stick the two bits together and the basin sagged under its own weight.

What I ought to have done was brought the basin pastry up and over the brow of the duck, so that it had something to rest on and then applied the lid as a sort of large piece of sellotape to hold it all together.

This means you can't execute Julia Child's final command on this, which is to cut round the lid of the pastry case, lift the duck out, untie the strings and then put it back. But I didn't do that anyway.

But still, it tasted jolly nice. I'm not sure phrases like "worth the effort" really apply here because nothing is worth that much effort. But, strangely enough, my husband went nuts for this - he thought it was really great and really special. Who'd have thought it? He wants me to make it for a festive Christmas Eve dinner. And, although I swore I'd never do it again, the look on his little face was so very winning that I might just have to.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Pate de Canard en Croute Part I



WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS YUCKY IMAGES OF BUTCHERY


The wrongness of this is quite overwhelming.

It's just so  typical of the French to do something like this. And I like the French, I really really do. I think they're great. I love loads of things about them, even the bad stuff. But to do this to a duck - to take all its bones out, stuff it and then wrap it in pastry - is just... wrong.

I suppose I'm just too modern, too new-generation about food to really understand why you'd want to do this. It strikes me as a thing you'd do if you were suffering from a glut and had eaten duck 50 different ways that week anyway and you were staring at your latest bird thinking "Hell, how am I going to liven this thing up?"

So instead of just spreading it with orange sauce (again), you decide to remove its skeleton, stuff it and then wrap it in pastry. Mental.

I'm really sorry that I proposed I would do this, I really am. I feel like a bad person for subjecting my innocent free range duck, which I purchased at vast expense (£20) to such frankly perverted kitchen practices. But I did, because I felt like I had to, if only so I could bang on about how wrong it all it.

This is not Julia Child's exact recipe because I wanted to do it my way (I'm getting a bit like that these days - a bit grand). I've basically wrapped it in rough puff pastry and changed the stuffing to a more Christmassy thing, whereas Child's recipe called for pastry made to American measurements - sticks and cups and all that unfathomable stuff - and a veal and pork stuffing that looked boring.

But the main event is the deboning of the bird, which Julie Powell's character makes such a fuss of in Julie and Julia.

Anyway, I was right, deboning a duck is easier than getting a book deal. But it's still a quite traumatisingly gross process. Those who feel sensitive about these things ought to look away now.


HOW TO DEBONE A DUCK

So, if you want to do this, and I can't imagine why you would, take your bird, apologise profusely and then lay it down on a board breast-side down. Then take the smallest, sharpest knife you can find and make a slit down the middle of the back.




Then, visualising what the bone structure of the duck looks like - i.e. a barrel-shaped, hollow thing, cut and scrape along the bones with your knife so that you remove as much of the duck along with the skin as you can, leaving the bones bare. It'll make sense once you're actually doing it.









You have to cut through the joints where the legs are attached to the main ribcage. Be firm. The main objective is just not to cut through any skin and the finesse with which you do the rest of it doesn't matter.

After the top of this is mostly clear, you have to release the ribcage from the breast-side of the duck, which is very fiddly, but you'll get there in the end. The picture below is just a horrifying mess, but it will be instructive if you're about to do this, or are in the middle of it.






I cut off most of the ribcage here so I could see what I was doing. Please, for the love of God, if you do this at least make a stock out of the bones so it's not a waste.

Detatching the last bit of the bonecage, at the top, which constitutes sort of the shoulders and the attachments to the wings, is really hard and I haven't got any advice other than be very careful. You'll do a lot of bending over and squinting and swearing at this point. Just cut very carefully as best you can see how around the bones, just bearing in mind all the time not to cut right through any skin.

Cut the wings off at the mid-joint (i.e. cut off most of the wing) and then carefully scrape round the bone to release it and pull it out. Child says you can leave the drumstick bones in, which I did because I so much wanted the whole awful process to be over, but I'd advise going that extra mile and taking those out too.



Ta da!

Then pile on your stuffing. I made mine out of 2 packets of Waitrose's finest chipolatas, skinned, 1/2 a cooking apple - diced, the zest and juice of half an orange, 5 prunes - finely diced, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp mace, about six scrapings of nutmeg and a lot of salt and pepper. You also slice off as much of the duckmeat from the breast and thigh that you can without tearing through the skin, dice it and add it to the stuffing.



Here you are supposed to sew it all together with a trussing needle and string, but I forgot to get it off my mum (despite going round to her house specifically for it - you know how it is) so I just had to tie it up with string, which worked okay.


Then you brown it all over





Then you wrap it in pastry


Decorate it, brush it all over with eggwash and stick a foil funnel in the top to let the steam escape



Tune in tomorrow to find out what happened next...

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Stuffed boned duck

I've been doing this for a while, now. Recipe Rifle's first birthday came and went in October without me even really noticing. I'm not especially sentimental about things like that. Although I realise I'm going to have to be a bit sentimental about the child's first birthday or people will just be, like, so judgmental.

Anyway, quite a lot of people have started saying to me "are you going to turn it into a book..?" or, if they're feeling mean "I suppose you'll be wanting to turn it into a book."

And the idea that all you need to do to get a book deal is write a fucking blog really really makes me laugh. Bitterly. "Ha!" I say. "Ha ha haaaaaaaarghhhhhghgh."

I have in fact written a book and it's great and I love it. In fact, it's the best thing I've ever written or probably will ever write. It's perfect. It's as good as Edmund: A Butler's Tale, with fewer sizzling gypsies. But no agent or publisher will touch it.

Why? Because it's a short comic homage to Kingley Amis's Lucky Jim. And the publishing world is like "What the fucking fuck do you want us to do with that? Is it a misery memoir? No. Is it about a dead toddler? No. Are you Michael fucking Macintyre? NO! Get out of my office, kid."
That's how they talk in publishing, seriously.

Except for a nice man, whose name I can't remember, who works at my husband's publisher. He asked me if I was writing a book and when I told him what it was, this short comic homage to Lucky Jim, set in a school, he made a face like a surgeon looking at a really nasty X-Ray. Then, with the bedside manner of a private doctor telling someone they're going to die, and quite soon, he explained very nicely why it was never going to get published. But I knew that already.

Occasionally a sympathetic friend who also has literary pretensions will demand to read this magnificent octopus. And I always refuse. And they say "Why?"

And I say "Because my book is like Centrepoint?"
And they say "Centrepoint the office block in Tottenham Court Road?"
And I say "Yes."
And they say "?"

And I say "Well, you're probably too young to remember all this, but after Centrepoint was built in 1966 by the property tycoon Harry Hyams, it was left empty for years. No-one could understand why. There was all this excellent office space just empty. What was Hyams thinking? Well, what he was thinking was that Centrepoint was more valuable to him empty than it was rented out - because the money he could levy against the potential rental income of the office space was more useful to him than the income itself.

"In the same way, sort of, if no-one ever reads my book, it can remain potentially the best short comic homage to Lucky Jim, set in a school, ever written. But once a lot of people read it, they'll start having all sorts of opinions about it and say it doesn't live up to the hype and stuff like that. So it's more valuable to me un-read than read."

People usually make their excuses and leave at this point.

But I tell you who did get a book deal out of writing a blog: Julie Powell of Julie & Julia fame. And I was reminded of how irritating she is while watching the eponymous film the other evening. The fuss she makes about boning a duck. Honestly. The scene when she says to her husband "Can you even conceive of boning a duck?" while waggling her fingers infuriates me. Illiterate French pot-bashers can do it, for fuck's sake. Stop whining.

So I thought I'd make that ludicrous and revolting-sounding stuffed boned duck in pastry thing just because that scene pissed me off so much. And just because I want to prove that however hard it might sound, boning a duck is so much easier than getting a book deal.

But I haven't done it yet because I need to pop out for all the ingredients. So bear with me.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Relax, it's totally kosher



I'm worried that I'm turning into a bit of a neat freak. It's worrying because I have built an entire persona around being a bit shabby around the edges, a bit sloppy in my personal administration. I use the clothes horse as extra storage space and there is a sludgy layer of decomposed receipts, tickets and tissues from last winter's cold at the bottom of my handbag. And about eight lip balms! So that's where they all went.

But I've been sober for too long. And now mess bothers me. An unplumped sofa is irritating. This very morning, I got up and got dressed and couldn't - actually couldn't - put on a slightly wrinkled sweater (fresh from the clothes horse) until I'd given it a quick iron, despite the fact that it's just some size 18 navy blue thing from Gap to go over a size 14 ugly striped tube dress I've been wearing for the last 6 years, (it feels like).

It's a shame that this new manic cleanliness has coincided with the too-huge-to-move stage of up the duffness. As I spot a cobweb in a corner of the living room, I flail for a good five minutes like a tortoise on its back to get off the sofa in search of a duster. And I thought pregnant women were just putting it on! No.

But I don't want to be a neat freak because I don't really like neat freaks, although they're better than hopeless slobs. But my identity! It's my identity. It's like alcoholics and smokers who can't give up, not because they're actually addicted, but because they truly believe it's the most interesting thing about them.

So I thought the best thing to do would be to invite a kosher Jew round for dinner. If there's anyone who appreciates a bit of manic housewifery, it's a kosher Jew.

My friend X lives and works primarily among the goyim, (that's you and me), and doesn't get to eat meat very often, and especially not at other people's houses, because buying kosher meat isn't like buying organic meat, it's like buying magic meat or contrabrand and the purveyors don't really want to sell it to you.
They hide their shops away in the middle of nowhere and shut, on Fridays - when you need it most - at lunchtime. But they're pretty nice people, otherwise, and when you run in shrieking "Give me that fucking chicken!" three minutes before they lock up for the weekend, they sell it to you, and some chicken livers for good measure.

Because of the list of rules and regs about kosher cooking, which thrilled the new neat-freak me, and the heavy dose of the religious about proceedings, I stopped thinking it was my old friend X coming for dinner, and started worrying that it might actually be God himself.

And an Old Testament God is quite a scary prospect. He's not really into turning the the other cheek and lending you his tamborine to sing kumbaya; he's more about raging down off the top of a mountain, shaking you by the neck and screaming "What the fuck do you think you're doing?!" before sending a plague of boils through your letterbox.

So as I cast my eyes over my Shabbas table with its candles and covered bread (don't ask - too complicated) and white tablecloth, it all looked so ritualistic that I got a faint sense that I was about to be sacrificed.


See what I mean?

But then X arrived and said a couple of prayers and my feeling of doom disappeared and we all fell on the chopped liver like we hadn't seen meat for a fortnight, which X actually hadn't.

The pot roast chicken I did with this late-purchase kosher bird was exactly the same as Nigella's chicken, so I won't go through all that again,



...but here's a picture anyway

but chopped liver is a thing worth describing.

Obviously, unless you're kohser, you can use any chicken liver for this.

Chopped liver, for 4

1 packet chicken livers from Waitrose, which I think comes in at about 300g
1 large onion
3 eggs
some parsley if you like
a lot of salt and pepper

1 Put your eggs on to boil for 10 minutes. You might have some clever way of boiling eggs, in which case, do it like that.

2 Chop your onion and fry gently for at least 15 minutes in some vegetable or groundnut oil.

3 Wash the livers and take off any gross or green bits. Then grill hard, both sides, until they start to blacken a bit. Yes, I know this is counter-intuitive but it's how it's done, okay? This won't take more than about 4 minutes each side.

4 Roughly chop 2 of the boiled eggs and the livers and put them, with the onions, in a food processor. Pulse or blend until you get a kind of mortar-ish, spreadable rubble. You might have to do this in two batches and you might have to loosen it a bit with some veg or light olive oil.

5 Add salt and pepper until it tastes nice. I added a lot, probably in the end about three or four big pinches of salt and nine or ten turns of the pepper grinder.

6 Turn out onto a serving plate thingy, then chop up the last boiled egg finely and sprinkle over the top. You can also sprinkle over some parsley if you like

7 Eat with challah, which is that plaited bread. It's very sweet and you can make an excellent bread and butter pudding with the leftovers, says X. And don't forget the pickle! Haimisha cucumbers. Yum.

Amen.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Mrs Coren's Chicken Pie

Even better, if possible, eaten re-heated the next day


A lot of people like to say that they don't do things by halves. "I'm an 'all-or-nothing' person" they say.

I don't know about you, but I usually take that not to mean that they're the kind of person who, once they've started the washing up, washes up until everything looks like new and then clears the draining board, dries everything up, puts it away and then wipes down all the surfaces.

Rather, I usually take it as a euphamism for them liking to get very shitfaced. More shitfaced than anyone else, in fact. Not half shitfaced, but fully shitfaced. And they end up not doing the washing up at all because they're too shitfaced, or hungover, to do a "proper" job. "I'm an all-or-nothing person," they'll say, from the sofa, a glass of Alka Seltzer dangling from a pale and trembling hand.

I'm not like that. I like doing pretty much everything by halves. I find that six or seven halves add up to some wholes. People who don't do things by halves usually end up not doing anything at all, whereas I rage through to-do lists like Tas of Tasmania, doing everything a bit rubbishly. But it gets done. In the end.

There are exceptions, of course, to my general slapdash attitude. And this chicken pie is one of them.

Most pies are a thing that you do with the leftovers from a roast. Shepherd's pie - leftover lamb; Cottage pie, leftover beef; Chicken pie - you get the idea - made to go further with pastry and vegetables. But people don't really do that anymore. They put any leftovers in sandwiches and buy ground lamb, ground beef or chicken pieces if they want to make a pie.

And if you want to make a chicken pie fast, you can. You can use breast meat and bought puff-pastry. I reckon you could  have it done, start to finish, in an hour. Maybe an hour and a half.

But I kind of think, what's the point? I find those kinds of pies a bit thin and insubstantial - the precise word is "jejune", if you're interested - you know what I mean? The breast meat is bit gritty and not right for a pie and bought puff pastry is all very well... but the point of any pie is not that it's quick, it's that it's rich, comforting and a little bit of an effort.

If you haven't got time to make a chicken pie properly, then maybe leave it until you do have some time and, instead, whip up a perfectly servicable spanish omelette, or a chorizo-and-bean stew or - hell - bacon and eggs.

This chicken pie takes a while and this recipe is very long, because you have to make the rough puff pastry, the white sauce and roast up the chicken seperately, then assemble it. But it really isn't hard and it really is worth it. If you find yourself with a slow afternoon, make some of the pastry - or the entire thing - and freeze it if you want to cut out a stage or more.

I'm using Hugh FW's rough puff pastry for this and not Delia's quick flaky pastry because I find grating frozen butter incredibly horrid.

Please don't be freaked out by the long list of ingredients - they're all very readily available.

Mrs Coren's Chicken Pie
serves 6

1 quantity of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Rough Puff Pastry (see below)
4 chicken drumsticks
4 chicken thighs
6 rashers streaky bacon
A handful of mushrooms - any you like
1 leek
2 stalks celery
1 medium onion or two small ones
3 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
4 cloves garlic
1 quantity white sauce:
(50g butter
some plain flour
600 ml milk)
salt and pepper
1 glass shitty white wine
1 beaten egg
vegetable oil - or dripping if you're feeling a bit Mrs Beeton

1 Toss your chicken pieces, peeled garlic cloves and HALF the herbs in oil, salt and pepper and then put in the oven at 180 for 1hr 10min to roast. Give them a jiggle round once or twice during cooking.

2 Make your pastry thus:

- 400g plain flour
- 200g lard, cut into 2cm x 1cm chunks
- large pinch salt
- about 200ml iced water

Sieve the flour into a bowl and sprinkle over the salt. Chuck in the lard lumps and toss until all coated with flour. Then add the iced water until you've got a firm-ish dough that's not to wet and sticky. Although if you do splosh in a bit too much water just sprinkle over some more flour to compensate.

At this stage it will look ghastly - all bits hanging off and massive lumps of lard - and flour everywhere. Don't worry, this is normal. Turn out your scraggy dough onto a floured surface and roughly shape into a fat rectangle.



With a floured rolling pin, roll the pastry away from you in one direction until you get an elongated rectangle. When the pastry is about 2cm thick, fold the furthest third towards you and the nearest edge away and over the other, like you're folding a letter.



Now turn your bundle 90 degrees to the right and roll it away from you again. You should do this a minumum of 4 times, but preferably 6 or 7. You'll find that the pastry becomes better-looking as you do this. Keep count of your turns, though, because if you over-roll the pastry it'll become tough.



Keep it well-floured. Then stick it in a freezer bag or in a bowl in clingfilm and put in the fridge for an hour.

2 Chop up your onions, leek, mushroom, bacon and celery all small-ish and fry very gently with the remaining half of the herbs in some vegetable oil or dripping for at least 15 minutes. After this time, throw in your glass of shitty wine and turn the heat up full until the wine has bubbled away - this takes about 3-4 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and set to one side.

3 Make your white sauce by melting 50g of butter in a large-ish saucepan (it needs to be large because you are going to add the chicken and vegetables to it later). Then take the pan off the heat and add enough flour to make a butter-and-flour paste. Then with the pan still off the heat, add a long sloop of milk and stir until the paste and the milk are mixed in with each other. A few tiny lumps at this stage don't matter.

Put the pan back on a medium heat and add the rest of milk. Stir or whisk until the sauce thickens but don't bring it to the boil. Once the sauce has thickened - this takes about 4-5 minutes - take the heat right down and season with salt and pepper until it tastes nice. Add cream if you want but not creme fraiche as I did the other week because it makes it go strangely sandy.

4 By this point, give or take, your pastry ought to have had enough time in the fridge and the chicken ought to have roasted up. If it's not quite ready, read Grazia for a bit. Or clean up the kitchen, if that's not the lamest suggestion I've ever made. But I've started clearing as I go, although I really despise myself for it.

When all your various bits are ready, strip the meat off the roasted-up chicken and chop up into chunks. It's your call whether you put the skin in or not - I do. Then add this and your cooked veg - fish out the bay leaves and thyme stalks - to the white sauce. Give it all a stir. Taste. Cry if it's horrible. (But it won't be.) Add more salt and pepper now if you want. If you feel like it, maybe a spoonful of Dijon mustard or some finely-chopped parsley.

Pour this mixture into whatever dish you're going to bake your pie in. Then remove the pastry from the fridge and roll it out to about 0.5-1cm thick. Or more, if you really like pastry. If you're feeling really pedantic, don't press too hard otherwise it will shrink on cooking.

Brush around the edges of  your pie dish with beaten egg to help the pastry stick and then lay the pastry on top. Trim away the excess (ball it up and put in the freezer for another project) and press down round the edges of the pie dish with the flat edge of a fork to make little lines. Brush the whole of the top with beaten egg and make a 1cm slit in the middle of the pie to let steam escape.

Put in the oven at 180C for 40 minutes. If you've rolled your pastry very thick, it will need a bit longer, maybe an hour.

After all, you're not a person who does things by halves.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Jamie's jerk chicken




Sorry for the appalling picture. I simply don't understand my camera and it occasionally has a kind of spontaneous fit and if it agrees to take a picture at all, it's a bad one, despite the machine costing several hundred pounds (of someone else's money).

So last night I made this out of Jamie's 30-Minute Meals because I LOVE JAMIE OLIVER in the way only a trembling, slightly tearful frightened pregnant lady can. Every time I turn to my recordings on the V+ box there is just a long list of Jamie Oliver programmes. It's quite embarrassing when my husband's in the room because it's like he can see into my head and it's going: "Jamie Oliver Jamie Oliver Jamie Oliver Jamie Oliver." But I think my husband's got a weeny little crush on JO as well so that's okay.

This jerk chicken is very exciting, but I think there might be a small mistake in the sauce quantities. I only think, though, I'm probably wrong. But it specifies 6 tablespoons EACH of vinegar and rum, which makes the sauce quite wet, and it gets wetter on cooking, which I'm not sure can be right.

Feel free to make this as it stands, or to do what I would do if I were making this again, which would be to add only three tablespoons each of the vinegar and rum to make six tablespoons of wet stuff in total.

A little bird, okay it's my friend AC... who actually is quite little and a bird so very apt description... says that she thought this sauce was a bit wet, too - and something else Jamie did with plums was also wet. So, it's still a mystery, but at least IT'S NOT JUST ME.

[N.B - I made this again the other day with half-quantities of the wet stuff and it turned out much, much better - so do that, I'd say.]

The ingredients list below is exactly as it is in the book. The method is a bit different.

Jamie's jerk chicken

4 chicken breasts
4 spring onions
small bunch fresh thyme
3 fresh bay leaves
ground cloves
ground nutmeg
ground allspice
6 tbs rum (!) - I say use only 3
6 tbs cider/red wine vinegar (!) - ditto
1 tbs runny honey
1 Scotch bonnet chilli (I used 2 red chillies from Waitrose, one seeds in, one seeds out - worked v well)
4 cloves garlic

1 Turn your oven to 220C. Oil a griddle pan, or a normal pan if you haven't got a griddle, and get it roasting hot. Cut the chicken in two at the fattest part so it's still in one piece at the thinnest part but then divides like a sort of cloven hoof (does that make sense?). This helps it cook quicker.

Put the chicken skin-side down in the hot pan and then leave it alone for about 5-6 minutes. Don't poke it about because you want the skin to go crispy and a bit charred and you've got a better chance of that happening (this goes for steak, too) if you just let it get on with it.

2 Chop up the spring onions a bit and put in a whizzer with all the other sauce ingredients. If you haven't got the spices ground, as I didn't, smash about half a teaspoon of each in a pestle and mortar and grate in a big pinch of nutmeg. If using ground, take a big pinch of each spice.

3 Pour your whizzed jerk sauce into an oven dish. Then remove the chicken from the pan and place skin-side up in the pool of sauce. Drizzle over, if you like, an extra tablespoon of honey, more salt and pepper and sprigs of thyme and rosemary if you want it to look nice. Jamie's advice, which I always now follow (because it's love, after all) is that you should smush oil over herbs before scattering them on top of a dish like this so that they cook rather than frazz.

4 Cook on a high shelf for 15 minutes.