Friday, 28 January 2011

Feta and chilli salad

You've all gone perfectly potty for the idea of low-carb recipes. I had no idea that that was the way to your hearts. I had thought you liked my swearing, my slap-dash cooking instructions and my amateurish photographs.

But it turns out that you all just want to be THIN and want nothing more than ideas for low-carb stuff that isn't grilled chicken and broccoli. Whether you are preparing for weddings, or losing babyweight, or just trying to shift general blubber you all want to be SKINNY and to hell with all those fattie know-it-alls, who try and tell you about being a "healthy weight" and having a balanced diet.

"Fuck you!" you scream. "I don't need BOTH kidneys and heart failure is a small price to pay for being 7.5 stone."

So anyway, not that I'm really craven or desperate to please or anything, but I'll have a care to feature more low-carb things. I mean, it's going to be all you get once I'm on a diet too, so we might as well start now.

But I need to clarify what I mean by low-carb. I don't mean carb-FREE; I think as long as you cut out:

refined sugar (i.e. not fructose, so you can eat fruit)

weight will come off. Cutting out those things is hard enough, without also dodging stuff like butternut squash, fruit and whatever else randomly has carbs in it. Carrots, or whatever. I also don't think it's neccessary (unless you're feeling really hardcore) to cut out alcohol.

And I think a very occasional square of high-percentage cocoa solid chocolate is okay. That is, as long as you can ration yourself to 1 or 2 squares and aren't one of those people who ends up eating the whole bar. Which I think might possibly be everyone.

So, this chilli feta salad is a thing I pinched off Nigel Slater. We had it for dinner last night and although I almost never reach for a salad at dinner - way, way too depressing, especially in January - this was actually really great. As with all these things, I think you can get away with having it with some rye toast or a wholemeal pitta bread. Note I said A wholemeal pitta bread, not 6 wholemeal pitta breads plural.

Chilli and feta salad
for 2

1 packet feta
1 chilli, seeds out, chopped
1 lime
olive oil
3 spring onions
1 avocado, sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced
chopped coriander
mixed lettuce - I used chicory and little gem

It's pretty self-explanatory but I'll go through it anyway.

1 Cook in some groundnut oil over a very low flame the chilli and spring onion for about 6 minutes. Squeeze over some lime juice and scatter in some zest. Turn the heat up and add the block of feta and leave to cook for about 4/5 minutes each side on a medium-high flame.

2 Arrange the salad-bit on a plate and dress with olive oil, lime juice and salt. Plonk on top the cooked feta and scatter over the chilli, spring onion and coriander.

Eat while looking at a photograph of Megan Fox, and chant "THIN THIN THIN".

Jamie's cherry vanilla affogato

This I'll just mention in passing, seeing as I know a pudding isn't really what you want to know about right now. But I made it so you might as well know about it.

This is from Jamie's 30-Minute Meals and I thought it looked like a clever, sweet idea - and it is. Although the very expensive tin of organic black cherries I bought tasted of absolutely nothing at all. Really nothing. They were more of a texture than a taste. So this is only really worth doing if you can get your hands on some cherries that actually taste like something.

1 Mix up some instant espresso powder (you can get it from Waitrose, it's called "Percol" and it's just like very strong instant coffee - perfectly nice) - with a teaspoonful of sugar. For one cup, you only need about a shot's worth, so for, say, six people you'd need about a cupful.

2 Crumble some shortbread into the bottom of an espresso or small coffee cup

3 On top blob a ping-pong-sized ball of vanilla ice-cream and a tablespoonfull of cherries. Sprinkle over some flaked dark chocolate if you like. Just before serving, pour a shot-sized sloop of coffee over the whole lot. V nice, makes the shortbread go cakey and peps up the vanilla ice cream. And the cherries, if you can find some nice ones, will add extra mystery.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Roast halibut with vinegar sauce

I made an executive decision last night that we were going to have fish. We hardly ever have fish, except the odd bit of squid for ceviche, because we both feel so strongly that one shouldn't eat it, because there's hardly any left in the sea. But I decided yesterday that it was time.

So I went to the world's least friendly fishmongers, who are - conveniently for me - located in North London. I have tried and tried and tried with those men and all I can say is that they are simply impervious to charm. So I don't bother smiling, or saying hello any more.

"What's newest in?" I said to a man with tattoos on his face, who may or may not be an actual fisherman, but is always in a foul mood.

"ALLIBUT" he said. 

"Okay," I sighed. "Two fillets please."

I handed over abaout £20,000 and left.

Anyway, things didn't go that smoothly with the dinner as a whole. There was quite a lot of dropping things and swearing coming out of the kitchen. I won't bore you with what went wrong, because hearing about a series of cooking fuck-ups - unless they are REALLY BAD - is about as interesting as hearing about a bad tube journey.

But the actual fish and the sauce I made up to go with it, against all the odds, turned out very well. So I'm going to tell you about the fish as I ought to have done it.

So here we go:

Roast halibut with vinegar sauce
for 2

2 fillets hallibut
50g butter
1 sloop groundnut oil (about 2 tbs)
1/2 sloop olive oil
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp capers, rinsed
scattering of parsley (if you have it, don't go out specially for it)
1 glass shitty white wine
3 bay leaves - if you have

1 Preheat your oven to 220C. On a board, skin-side up, season the fish generously with salt and pepper.

2 Put a roasting tin, big enough to take your fish, on the hob and in it melt the butter and oils together. Add the bay leaves and heat until foaming.

3 Add the fish - skin-side down - and cook for 2 minutes. Then flip the fish over so it's now skin-side up and put in the oven for 7 minutes. It ought to be cooked by then but you'll have to be the best judge.

4 After this time, remove the fish somewhere to keep warm. This is the tricky part because for some reason fish goes stone cold really quickly. I am incredibly spoilt and have a double oven. If you don't, you could try leaving the fish on dish, pre-heated in your 220C oven, and then cover it with foil.

5 Put the roasting tin back on the hob, pour in your glass of shitty white wine and let it bubble down - (careful because it will spit everywhere, it got me in the eye from about 3 feet away) - for about 3 mins, stirring occasionally.

When this looks like it has reduced a bit, turn the heat right down and add a long sloop of cream (about 5 tbs), the vinegar and the capers. Here I also added some broccoli cooking water to lengthen the sauce, but you could just as well add a few dribbles from the kettle.

6 Cook this all round for a bit over a gentle heat and then at the last minute scatter over some parsley if using.  

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Ham, cheese and spinach fritatta

My mind, in the last fortnight, has turned to diets. Specifically the diet I intend to hit once this baby is finally out. One of the worst things about being up the duff for me has been the fatness. Fat face, fat legs, fat arms, fat bum, fat BACK, fat HAIR, fat EYES fat FINGERS. Fat fat fat.

Horrible. I'm not a fattist, or one of those people who finds fat people repulsive. But I DO, now, wonder how those who choose to be overweight can stand it. When you are overweight, everything is such a major hassle - from tying your shoelaces and walking upstairs to getting dressed. And your feet hurt all the time.

And I don't believe that getting fat involves some kind of moral choice. I just hate being fat. I don't carry these 3 extra stone well. Some people put on weight and look glossy and curvy. I look like a pudding. It all goes on my face, under my chin and on my arms and I look just awful.

Other people say to me "Yes but give yourself a break.. you'll be really hungry when you're breastfeeding and being pregnant is like a bomb going off and you'll probably take 18 months to get back to normal and yah yah yah noise noise talking talking talking boring boring not listening..."

I know it is shallow but I can't help it. I just want to be thin again. I say thin, I mean slim - I've never exactly been Nicole Ritchie. But I'll do pretty much whatever it takes to get this blubber off. And once I'm back to my old weight I am never, ever going to do that thing where I complain about being "fat" - I had NO IDEA what being fat meant until I got pregnant. I will just be thankful every day that I haven't got three chins. Until my husband demands another baby, of course.

But losing weight and keeping it off takes a considerable mental shift. Ever since I put on 1.5 stone at university and then lost it all on a semi-Atkins diet, I've never eaten just whatever the hell I liked - I was permanently running away from pasta and potatoes and screaming in fright at Krispy Kremes. But for the last 9 months I have been eating anything - pies and cakes and cream and stodge and coca cola and whatever else to keep my spirits up. But soon carbs will be out, protein and vegetables will be in.

So I thought I'd start re-flexing my no-carb cooking arm again in preparation, with this frittata. It's marvellously easy and more interesting, somehow, (despite being basically the same thing), than an omelette. You can chuck in whatever you like - cooked bacon, mushroom, finely-chopped courgette, different sorts of cheese, tomatos, peppers - whatever. Just no potatoes.

Ham, cheese and spinach frittata
For 1 hungry person, or for 2 with a salad

3-4 eggs
1 handful cooked chopped ham
1 handful any cheese you like
1 handful steamed chopped spinach
salt and pepper
1 tbs cream or sour cream (if you have it knocking about)
some butter for cooking

1 Preheat your grill to a medium-high heat. Beat eggs, salt, pepper and cream in a roomy bowl then add all the other ingredients, except the butter.

2 Heat the knob of butter in a non-stick pan until it's foaming and then pour in the egg mixture. Cook this over a medium heat for about 3-4 minutes, then slide pan under the grill to finish off the top. It's ready when it's light and springy to the touch and a weeny bit wobbly in the centre - about 2-3 minutes.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Roast garlic and camembert

There were a lot of alarming things about my husband's house when I first moved in. He lived in it like a little lonely bat shivering in one corner of a huge creaky, dark forest. The front door was chipped and turquoise, the number of the house printed out onto A4 paper and sellotaped to the glass-bit over the door. There was a roll of kitchen paper in the downstairs loo.

He didn't own a cafetiere despite having a moderately serious coffee-drinking habit; the convection hob either boiled everything dry or only heated up to baby-breath temperature, the thin grubby blue carpets left over from the previous owners (who moved out 6 years previously) wouldn't get clean with any amount of vacuuming, the canary yellow paint in the living room made everything look jaundiced, the lino was curling and wan and for some reason almost every picture he owned was hung in just one room.

But the most freaky thing was that there were no clocks. I know I have got a sort of mania for clocks, but even so. There were so many rooms, but no clocks. Not even in the kitchen.The first thing I unpacked was my bedside clock, a large retro silver thing with bells on top and a handle. At first he scoffed at it but I quickly found him in the mornings looming over from his side of the bed to squint at the time. (Just like he scoffed at the idea of a thermal cafetiere, but now declares it his favourite thing in the house.)

Now there are clocks everywhere. Kitchen (1 - huge one) bedroom (2) bathroom (1) living room (1) my room (1), the nursery (1). His study - zero - because he seems to be happy telling the time off his computer. Me? I need a clock.

And I need lists. I need lists like I need air. I don't even do very much with my time but I need lists in order to organise the nothingness, otherwise I will categorically not send my niece a birthday card, or ring the curtain man or write about bottarga or invoice that newspaper for my £95 kill fee.

When something is on a list, the liklihood of it getting done increases by a factor of 10. I used to write lists down on post it notes and stick them to things, or on scraps of paper and balance them in prominent places on my desk. Now I have a clipboard. It is red and it sits to the right of my laptop and serves the dual purpose of list-holder and mousepad.

Clipped to the board is a lined sheet of A4 paper, divided into 2 by a vertical pencil line. One column is for scribbling down things when I am on the phone, or off websites. The other column is The List. When the A4 page is full, another is clipped over the top, so that any vital notes made or things left undone don't get thrown in the bin, they merely move another layer down.

I love my list. But sometimes I fear I may have come to rely on it too heavily. If something isn't on the list, I instantly forget about it, meaning if it occurs to me that I have to do something, I often find myself racing to the list to write it down before I forget about it and the baby arrives home from hospital and there are no nappies.

I think this Lorraine Pascale girl looks to me like a list person, too. In the first episode of Baking Made Easy, she declares a love of online shopping, which I'm also mad for. I always think that making lists and a devotion to online shopping are two sides of the same coin.

She made the other day roast garlic and baked camembert, which struck me as a totally genius dinner idea, so I re-created it at home the other night and it went terribly well.

Lorraine Pascale's roast garlic and camembert
For 2

2 bulbs garlic
1 camembert in a wooden box
3 bay leaves
some thyme
50g butter
a bit of olive oil

1 Lop the tops off the garlic bulbs. Having first smeared butter on the base of whatever tin you're going to roast the garlic in (so it doesn't stick and have to be chipped off) put the garlic bulbs cut-face down on the butter. Chuck on top the rest of the butter, herbs and sprinkle over some sea salt. I also drizzled over a bit of olive oil.

2 Shove this in the oven at 200C for 45-50 mins. 20 mins before time is up, unwrap the camembert and peel off the sticker that'll be on either the upper or lower side. Then slide back into its box, without the lid, make a large cross in the top and put in the oven to cook for the remaining time. Eat with toasted rye or sourdough or whatever you fancy.

Monday, 24 January 2011


Ack! There are suddenly loads of you who've been directed here by my husband, Giles. I wish he'd warn me when he's about to do that on Twitter because otherwise I'm all unprepared for new visitors and am still in my dressing gown with a face mask on as you ring at the doorbell going "I was told there was a great food blog here...?"

And I go "Oh yes... yes... hang on a sec, let me just... put my face on..."

Anyway, welcome. It's not that great a food blog, really, it's just that it means Giles gets cooked for at home, which as you can imagine, is a status quo that's in his best interests to maintain.


Sorry if I'm sounding a bit freaked-out today, it's just that I went to see Black Swan last night. People suggested that it was scary but I thought "Please, how scary can a film be about ballerinas?!?!"

Incredibly fucking scary, it turns out. I kept waking up running with sweat having seen, in my nightmare, Natalie Portman creeping round the side of my bedroom door in a black tutu. Brrrrrr.

Anyway, today is about Bottarga. Bottarga, if you don't know, (and there's no reason why you should), is the dried roe of grey mullet that tastes strong and smoky and fishy. You can also get tuna bottarga, but obviously none of you buy tuna in any form these days because it's so monstrously ethically unsound.

Bottarga is sold vacuum-packed and looks like this:

and it's most commonly eaten grated onto linguine, because people in Italy and Sardinia (the country bottarga is usually associated with) don't have much imagination.

"Hmmm, what is? New fishy thing. Let's put it on.... pasta!!"

It's not that easy to get hold of. Even in London, I've only seen it in Panzer's, in St John's Wood or in Selfridges Food Hall. But it's worth poking around in your local fishmonger or deli snazzhole, if such a thing exists round your way, to see if you can source some.

People tend to bang on about how expensive it is, but it's not really; 70g, which will set you back about £10, is enough, served on pasta, for about 15 people.

It's best, to my mind, done as a rather chic and exotic starter. Some people saute it with chilli, which I think is a bit of a shame as the chilli takes over. But do do that if you want to.

The way I did it the other night was like this:

1 Allow 50g of linguine per person and when cooked dress with salt and good olive oil.

2 Turn out onto a pre-heated serving dish and grate over a generous amount of bottarga. You really do just grate it, with a grater, like this:

You can also shave a few bits off, too.

Then sprinkle over chopped flat-leaf parsley and lemon juice if you want. If you really want to taste the fishiness of the bottarga, leave out the lemon as it can overpower it.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Orange tiramisu

It is noticeable how you don't really give your own childhood much thought until you're faced with having a child of your own.

And the more I think about it, the more I think that the way I was brought up was quite weird. There were no bedtimes, for example. I never had to brush my teeth or do homework.

I did, of my own accord, but I didn't have to. There was no pocket money - each purchase was individually negotiated - no "curfew" later on as a teen and no question of doing chores or duties. I was never told to tidy my room. For one entire year I didn't go to school because I didn't want to.

I knew it was weird at the time, I suppose. I knew it was odd that I didn't have my own bedroom until I was about 8 - kipping down merrily until then in a huge bed with my parents - or that there was no such thing as compulsary pre-dinner handwashing or anything said about finishing everything on your plate. I distinctly remember feeling a bit sad that I didn't get a bedtime story like children on telly adverts did. But then I got to stay up late watching telly with my parents until I nodded off. Who else got to do that? Eh?

Up until quite recently I was baffled by this sentimental attachment that a lot of peoople seem to have to a bath before they go to bed. "I think I'll have a bath and then go to bed," people always say.

"Why a bath?" I always wondered. "Why not a shower?" Then I became vaguely aware of parenting routines and realised that bath-and-bed is a way that parents have of getting their children to go away and go to sleep at 7pm. Later on in life it seems to remain a treasured bedtime sleep trigger.

Some people, I'm sure, probably think that it sounds like quite an enviable childhood. And despite the chronic laziness, inability to take criticism, latent agoraphobia, filthy temper, crippling heartburn, weak veins, antisocial tendencies, stubbornness, foul language and fear of the dark, I think I escaped pretty much unharmed.

I truly believe that I invented this orange tiramisu, but that can't be possible. It's not really a tiramisu either, but I don't like the word "trifle".

Anyway, I made it because I can't get enough of oranges at the moment and so I thought this would be a nice thing to do with them. It's not really cooking, more of an assembly job, but it's a nice thing to have around about this time of year as it straddles the light and summeriness of impending spring, but also the orange booziness of winter just passing.

I made a small one, which would do about 4 people. My camera has been fixed so I went mad with the photos, but I don't think that's such a bad thing.

Esther's Orange Tiramisu (until someone tells me otherwise)

2 oranges
300ml whipping cream
5 tablespoons Cointreau
1 handful hazelnuts, chopped
4 trifle sponge fingers from Waitrose
2 vanilla pods (optional)

1 Peel your oranges with a sharp knife and cut them into small, spoonable chunks. This is my new favourite way of peeling oranges because it means you don't get skin and pith stuck under your nails and orange juice in your eye.

2 Arrange a layer of sponge fingers in whatever bowl you're using.

... it doesn't have to be neat

3 Pour over 1 tablespoonful of Cointreau per sponge finger, plus one for luck. So in this case, 5. Those in AA can substitute the same quantity of freshly squeezed orange juice.

4 Then arrange over that your orange chunks

5 Whip some cream - with the seeds of 2 vanilla pods if you want. I found adding vanilla seeds a bit of a faff and it didn't make anything taste especially vanilla-y, but you might feel different.

6 Scatter over the chopped hazelnuts...

7 ... dust with cocoa powder...

And then have yourselves a great weekend. Don't forget to wash behind your ears.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

The Cuisinart soup maker

I'll wager that even the most dedicated of my husband's fans are unaware that he writes a monthly column for a technology magazine called T3. It's one of those magazines that has models in bikinis on the front holding small items of new gadgetry made of brushed aluminium. Every month we are sent a piece of technology that he has to write about.

The joke being that my husband has a nervous breakdown if you suggest he so much as uses the "search inbox" function on his email. I can completely fuck his life up by setting his phone to Silent, because he won't notice or be able to put it back.

He was once sent a replacement mobile phone that wasn't a Nokia and hated it. But rather than ring up and send it back and get a Nokia, he drove himself into blurry fits of hatred and confusion and semi-tearful wobbles of frustration and despair trying to make it work. Every tantrum ended with a wail of "Why can't it just be 1930?" (Answer: because war would break out in 9 years and we'd all die.")

Anyway, he was too much of a tech-retard even to go onto the Nokia website and just buy himself a new sim-free Nokia. So after four months of this and of me finally snapping and screaming "Shut the FUCK UP up about how much you hate your stupid fucking phone!!" I went onto the Nokia website and bought him one myself.

Anyway, this is the kind of man we are dealing with, here. He hated the iPhone we were sent, and the 3D TV, and the XBox Kinetic. The Tom Tom HD traffic was more of a success, although the novelty C3PO voice got on his nerves after a while.

And then this arrived, the Cuisinart Soup Maker. Surely the most pointless and silly thing ever to have been invented by man. It's basically a blender that looks like it's been re-designed by Tim Westwood and it chops and cooks - yes it COOKS - your raw ingredients before whizzing them into soup

But soup is ridiculous. A slurry of mushed-up things, the first spoonful of which is nice but then you have to plough through the rest for what feels like years.

And in order to make it interesting you end up eating 16 slices of bread and enough Cheddar to fell an oak tree, when the whole point of eating (drinking?!) the soup in the first place was to lose a bit of weight while you consider doing the Tracy Anderson Mat Workout DVD that you completely forgot that you had bought on Amazon until it arrived at your door.

But when I unpacked the soup maker, from where my husband had dumped it after its arrival and had been nervously skirting around for the last week - like it was a dead body - it turned out to be rather an impressive beast.

And it came with a handy cookbook, which revealed I had been prejudiced and wrong to think that this sucker can only do soup. Not so! It can also do:

Thai fish cakes
Spiced apple chutney
Tikka Masala sauce

... some other stuff... well as all manner of soups such as carrot and coriander and broccoli and stilton. You know the drill. It'll take a lot to convince me that it's worth spending money on, though - let alone the critical cupboard space sacrifice.

I haven't tried it out yet, as I'm a bit busy at the moment complaining about the size of my swollen ankles and lumbering off to the doctor to be stabbed in the arse with massive needles. But I will soon - otherwise my husband won't get round to it because he'll be too scared and will have to write the whole column without having actually taken the piece of technology out of the box. Plus ca change.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Quick southern chicken

This is basically a massive cheat for anyone looking for a bit of Anglo-Tex-Mex in their lives. But it's brilliant and incredibly tasty and doesn't feel or taste like a cheat.

Using thigh meat for this, instead of breast meat, and then the fry/bake method reduces both the time and hassle involved in making a normal flat chicken/chicken schnitzel thing. But it also means that the chicken doesn't dry out, because thigh meat has more ballast.

The great thing about this is that you can prepare it ahead by doing the frying-off in advance and then the final bake before you dish up.

Don't be put off by the use of garlic granules - they might sound like an abomination, but once cooked off they're really tasty and fabulous.

This will feed 2 hungry people for dinner with a side salad, or 4 people with an extra side, such as macaroni cheese or some short corns on the cob. Yee haw!

Esther's quick southern chicken

4 skinned thigh fillets
3 slices of bread, any sort except rye bread, crumbed
2 tablespoons of medium matzoh meal (not essential)
3/4 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon mild chilli powder
1 tablespoon garlic granules (availble from Waitrose, you can also use onion powder)
2 dried chillies, crumbled (not essential either)
Some flour for dredging
2 eggs, beaten
vegetable or groundnut oil for frying

You could also throw in some black pepper, if you wanted, or cumin or cayenne pepper.

Pre-heat your oven to 180C

1 Unfold your chicken thighs and with a sharp knife slice them at a 45 degree angle on the horizontal (does that make sense?) until you've got 2-3 pieces out of each thigh. Each piece of chicken ought to be no more than about 4in x 2.5in. Some little ones are fine.

2 Assemble your crumb mixture by putting the breadcrumbs and all spices into a bowl and mixing round.

3 Dredge each piece of chicken in flour, then the beaten egg and then in the breadcrumbs. It'll get messy. Some people swear by doing that thing of putting the dredging stuff in a freezer bag and then putting the meat in and squishing round. I think this actually makes the mess worse - but do it however you fancy. It's your dinner.

4 Heat up your veg oil - about 1cm deep - to a medium heat in a shallow pan. Bear in mind frying in veg oil can make your house stink and ruin everything, so take the precaution of putting on the extractor fan in advance of  frying and if there's a door to your kitchen, close it and plug the gap underneath with tea towels. I also keep a see-through lid on my frying pan when I'm doing this.

Fry off your chicken pieces in batches. They won't need more than about 2-3 mins each side, just to get a bit of colour and oil on them. There should be a modest amount of bubbling happening at the edges of the pieces of chicken, but not violent deep-frying. If you see blue smoke, your oil is too hot.

5 Once all the chicken pieces have been fried off, arrange on a baking sheet then bung in the oven for 25 minutes.

Even though a really nice man in Hampstead fixed my good camera yesterday, I was too excited about eating this to run upstairs and get it, so I took a really shite picture with my little camera:

Sorry. But you get the idea. We were watching Zen on the V+ if you're interested.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Whoopie pies

I had another go at macaroons, because I'm that needy for achievement and they went wrong again. So that's it for me and macaroons. It's over. It was never going to be love but now it's, you know.... a bit awkward and embarrassing to be honest.

So I turned to Whoopie Pies instead, because I'd heard that they were more accommodating, less tricky and demanding, less... French.

And if you are into a bit of performance bakery, these are definitely worth the effort.

I strongly recommend using a piping bag for this, as it will reduce the mess you make and the accuracy of your Whoopie discs by a factor of 10. But, unlike HATEFUL BASTARD MACAROONS they will probably work if you just carefully dollop out the cake mixture.

So here we go, Whoopie Pies, recipe courtesy of Lorraine Pascale. These are chocolate, but you could take out the cocoa powder and they would just be a sort of vanilla sponge. For the filling, I chopped up some hazelnuts and added it to the buttercream with a splash of Frangelico, which if you don't already know, is a hazelnut liquer.

But fillings and flavours are up to your imagination, really. Orange buttercream might be nice? For that you'd add the juice and zest of half an orange to the buttercream. Or maybe some chopped pistachios? Anyway, you get the picture.

The quantities below make about 20 discs, or 10 pies.
I halved the quantities and indeed made 5 pies.

For the pies:

120ml milk
190g demerara sugar
120ml sour cream
180g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
55g cocoa powder
pinch salt
1 egg plus one egg yolk (I just used one egg and it was v nice - if I was using these quantities, I'd use 2 eggs plus whites. I can't be buggering about with separating eggs in my condition.)
2 drops vanilla essence
115ml sunflower or groundnut oil

Preheat your oven to 170C normal and 150C fan. Grease and line as many baking sheets as you can fit into your oven in one go. Yes, you must do this.

1 Warm the milk in a pan and then pour in the sugar. Mix this round for 2 minutes and then take off the heat and add the sour cream. Set to one side to cool down to lukewarm - it won't take long.

2 Meanwhile, swizzle together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarb and salt.

3 Once the milk-and-sugar slurry has cooled down, throw in the eggs, oil and vanilla. Give it all a gentle whisk until it has all combined. Then add this to the flour mixture and fold round until it's mixed it. It will be quite runny and will have some lumps in - this is normal.

4 Now the hard bit - piping out the mixture. I find that the best way to get mixture into a piping bag is to stand the bag in some kind of jug with the icing bag hanging over the sides like this:

Then pour or spoon in your mixture like this:

Then it won't go everywhere. I mean, it will go everywhere, but not as much as it might.

I think a small-ish Whoopie, and by that I mean no more than 3 inches diameter when cooked, is best because the sponge is quite rich and if you wolf down one any bigger than that you might be sick. This means getting a disc of mixture no bigger than 2in on the baking sheet and in the oven. This is a bugger because you think you've got the right amount out and then the mixture splurges out all over the place.

I ended up squeezing out the mixture of the piping bag at a slow, steady rate and counting "one, two, three" to myself and stopping when I got to three. That seemed to produce discs of about 2.5-3in. Leave at least 1 in between uncooked discs and between the discs and the sides of your baking sheet/tin.

Yes it IS a bit of a pain, but unlike BASTARD MACAROONS, you get the hang of it quite quickly.

If you're feeling unconfident about your sizing, do one and bake it to test it out - they only take 10 mins so it's not a total hassle.

5 As above, bake these in the oven for 10 mins. Do NOT use a skewer to test for readiness as then you'll have an ugly great hole in the lid of your lovely Whoopies. Just gently pat the top of the sponge with a finger and if it feels firm-ish, it's done. The cake will firm up as it cools, so err on the side of bouncy.

For the buttercream icing

200g butter at room temperature - it really must be, I'm afraid
400g icing sugar
1 tbsp milk

Beat together the butter and icing sugar. If you've never done this before and you're doing it with an electric handwhisk, I ought to warn you that it's quite an alarming process. First the icing sugar goes everywhere and then nothing seems to be happening and then after about 3 minutes with scary speed the whole thing gels and turns into buttercream. Once this happens, slosh over the milk and beat that in. Then add whatever extra flavourings you're into, or leave it plain.

Spread the buttercream between two Whoopie discs and sandwich together. Go easy on the buttercream because it can be a bit sickly.

These will keep in tupperware, somewhere cool, for up to 3 days. If you do want to store them, make sure they are interleaved with greaseproof paper because what they really like to do is stick to things.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Me and Alastair

I was nodding off at my desk the other day, when I got an email.

I was excited. I don't get that many emails. It was from Alastair, who is a boy who runs an in-your-own-home cookery school who wanted to teach me how to make pasta. Okay not a boy, he is 29.

He's more handsome than this in real life
 But  he really does run his own cookery school. He comes round your house with all the stuff and teaches you how to do it all, without you having to put your shoes on or anything.

"I saw on your blog you wanted to make pasta so I'll come and teach you how to do it," he said. My heart sank slightly at the prospect that I might have to do something, but then lifted slightly when I realised that what I could sneakily do was get him round to my house, feign exhaustion from pregnancy and get him to make me lunch.

"Ok," I said grandly. "But I get very tired. So we'll have to keep the lesson to one and a half hours."

Alastair arrived at 10am on his motorbike with all his kit. Then I talked about myself solidly for 3 and a half hours, while eating all the filling for the ravioli and all the cheese for the cheese sauce. He made the pasta, which I managed not to eat until it was actually cooked.

I'd explain how he did it but the thing is, it was quite complicated. Best get him round to your house to teach you how to do it. Or if you're doing a no-carb thing, he can teach you how to chop things, or fillet fish, or make sushi! Sushi-making is his most popular class and more details can be found here. I tried to persuade him to do a class in macaroons and one in whoopie pies, because that's all anyone seems interested in making these days. Apart from sushi.

If you don't have a pasta machine, you're not going to make pasta, probably. And if you do have a pasta machine, you're already going to have a good pasta dough recipe. But one or two of you have complained about Jamie Oliver's pasta dough recipe, so if you want Alastair's, which worked out great, here it is:

400g 00 pasta flour
2 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
2 pinches salt
1 tsbp olive oil
semolina flour for dusting

So we made the dough. Or rather, Alastair made it and I sat at the other end of the kitchen eating crackers and going "Uh huh, yup, yup."

I insisted that Alastair teach me (i.e. do and I watch) hand-made ravioli because I thought it would be nice for my readers to be able to make some pasta thingy without having to buy a pasta machine. But it would take you about 8,000 years to make a lot of ravioli by hand, because you have to roll out the dough so bloody thin, so we skipped over that quite quickly to rolling it out with a machine.

Alastair says that Kitchencraft make a good pasta machine for about £20. But he also said don't buy one on eBay because sometimes they're rusty.

So this is a ravioli tray-thingy, that Alastair bought from a cookshop called David Mellor, apparently not the former Minister for Fun who had an affair with Antonia de Sancha. You have to sprinkle a LOT of semolina in it to stop the wretched pasta from sticking.

Then you lay a super-thin sheet of pasta dough on the ravioli sheet, wipe water over the whole thing to stick it together and then add your filling (in this case butternut squash, pancetta and shallot, sauteed for 20 mins and then mashed) in little blobs. The you put another sheet over the top and press down. Sprinkle the top with semolina flour and with a rolling pin, sort of squish down on the jaggedy lines and then turn the whole thing upside down so it all come out, like the picture above.

The first trayload of these will be a disaster, and will get steadily better. By the end I, and by that I mean Alastair, was doing it like a pro.

The ravioli was boiled for 4 minutes and served with a pasta sauce made from melting some cream and the last scrap of dolcelatte that I didn't eat straight out of the packet with my fingers and some toasted walnuts (ditto) together and pouring over, finishing off with some basil leaves.

And here it is! It was fantastic. Even yummier for my barely having lifted a finger in its creation. That isn't normal, said Alastair. Usually his students are a lot more involved than me. I scowled. "But they're not pregnant obviously," he said hurriedly, as I posted a large spoonful of blue cheese sauce into my mouth and then shooed him out of the door so that I could have a nap.

I've got a limited number of promotional discount cards here, so if anyone wants a visit from Alastair (although he can't go much outside London on his bike), or to give a class as a gift, drop me an email and I'll post one to you.

Or if you'd like to pay full price, because that's the kind of person you are, email Alastair directly on or join up at the website at

Monday, 10 January 2011

The best curry in the world

A thing I swore I'd do, when I decided to learn to cook was to stock up on stuff. You know what I mean - all those ingredients that you never have, like fenugreek, tamarind paste, white pepper and fish sauce. It would make the difference, I reasoned, between staying within a limited zone of recipes I could attempt, and really going wild.

Even then, I still hesitated often at the spice rack in Waitrose over a glass jar of coriander seed, or turmeric, thinking "Am I really going to buy this? I'll only use it once, probably."

But eventually I bought it all. I've even got some star anise, although I'm not sure when I'll use it. They all sit in my "Curry Box", which is a large tupperware box I put all my curry spices in so that they don't stink the place out or lose their zing.

And I'm so pleased I do have my vast collection of spices, because it meant that when I came across Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recipe for Murgh Makhani (that's Butter Chicken to you and me) I had absolutely eveything I needed to make it, despite the jaw-droppingly long list of ingredients and the instruction to marinade stuff overnight (BORING!)

And my GOD GOD GOD this is an amazing curry. Yeah, fine, my Curry without the Bleurgh is perfectly okay if you're looking for a quick, simple spice hit of a weeknight.

But in fact, this is what you really want.

This is what you're craving in those moments when you really, really want a curry. This is like the kind of curry that arrives at your door on a wet winter's night from the slightly-more-expensive curry place round the corner and you carefully lift up the white lid from the aluminium tray while someone else runs to the kitchen for plates and cutlery and beer and you look at what's inside and you think "Oh my god... this is going to be special."

So my advice to you, if you like curry that is, is to use making this as an excuse to go out and raid the spice rack of your local supermarket, because basically once you've got all you need to make this, you can make pretty much any curry there is, probably. And this curry is so gorgeous, so rich and aromatic and cosy and pleasing that you'll want to make it again, loads and to hell with whatever Madhur Jaffrey thinks she's got to say.

So here goes. Ready? Try not to be scared. Have lots of sits-down and drinks of water. This sauce makes enough to cover an entire chicken, or 2 small pheasants. But don't fret about making too much, because you can freeze the leftovers to have with lamb or beef or some more chicken or whatever some other time.

If you're using chicken, get a lot of boneless thigh and breast pieces, because you don't really want to de-bone them after they've been roasted because they'll be covered in curry marinade. Alternatively, leave the bones in and eat round them. Anyway, you get the picture, you're a grown-up. I'm just limbering up to patronise a child for the next 40 years.

For the Tikka Marinade:

1 tsp salt
2 tbsp plain yoghurt
1 tablespoon lime or lemon juice (this is about half a lime/lemon)
2 tablespoons garam masala (you can make your own, or buy it)
2 tsp chilli powder
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp fenugreek
1 golfball-sized piece fresh ginger, grated
1-2 tbsp groundnut/sunflower oil
3 fresh chillies, finely chopped. Seeds in or out, up to you

Tired yet? Bit more to go...
For the Tomato Sauce:

2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes and their juices
thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, grated
2 garlic cloves, squashed
2 fresh chillies, chopped, ditto thing about the seeds
5 cloves
1 tsp salt
175ml water

Last lap...

For the Makhani Sauce

125g butter
2tsp ground cumin
2 tsp tomato puree
4 tsp honey
150ml double cream OR yoghurt
1 tablespoon fenugreek
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tsp black pepper

PHEWEEEEE. But please, please, I'm begging you - don't be put off. I know it's a lot of stuff but honestly, that really is the heavy-lifting over and done with. The rest is just an assembly job and it's an AMAZING curry.

So here's how it's done (if you're using chicken, I recommend taking the skin off first, because this is quite a rich dish anyway and you don't want the skin schmaltzing everything up).

1 Make up the tikka marinade and leave your chicken pieces in it all day or overnight.

2 Put the chicken in a roasting pan, marinade and all, cover with tin foil and roast for for 5 mins at 220C and then 20 mins at 200C

3 While that's happening, make up the tomato sauce and simmer on the stove for 20 mins

4 While THAT'S happening, melt the 125g butter in a pan or casserole big enough to hold all your chicken pieces, then add the 2tsp ground cumin and leave to foam gently.

5 Pass the tomato sauce through a sieve directly onto the butter-and-cumin mixture. Once the chicken's had it's turn, switch off the heat but leave it there while you finish off pushing the tomato sauce through the sieve.

6 Now add to the tomato-and-butter mixture the rest of the Makhani sauce ingredients and simmer together for 5 mins. Now take your chicken out of the oven and add that, tikka marinade and everything, to the tomato sauce. Cook all this gently for another 8-10 minutes.

Then congratulate yourself. You have just made one of the world's greatest curries.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Polpo's courgette salad

I don't like courgettes. Not usually unless they are deep-fried and covered in salt. Otherwise, they are just water in fancy dress.

But this salad really makes the best of them and it is really very delicious. I pinched it off Polpo, which for those who don't know, is like a tapas-y style Venetian restaurant in Soho, which is very hip at the moment. Raw and cut into strips, the courgettes retain a meaty, interesting flavour that you kill almost immediately if you boil them.

And (although my photo is typically shit, I'm getting my other camera fixed soon, I promise) it looks pretty, if that's your thing.

The ingredients look quite unpromising, but altogether they make a very delicious thing, which is simple to assemble and everyone likes it.

Polpo's Courgette Salad for 2

1 large courgette
about 20 parmesan shavings (you could also use pecorino)
the juice of half-to-3/4 of a lemon
the best quality olive oil you can get your hands on

1 Cut the courgette into strips using a speed peeler or a japanese mandolin

2 Put in a serving dish and pour over a few glugs of olive oil, the cheese, salt and lemon juice. Mix around to combine - it's easiest to do with your hands although you do get them totally covered in olive oil

This is really nice with something rich, maybe a rose veal chop, or chicken schnitzl.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Rabbit with yoghurt and mustard

Yikes, sorry - this is surely a competitor for all-time worst photo on Recipe Rifle

What with me being the size of a small South American country and liable to fall asleep at any second, my husband has been doing quite a lot of cooking.

You always get something a bit bonkers when he cooks. He'll set off for the shops with a cheery wave, planning to get a few simple ingredients for supper and, after returning two or three times because he's forgotten his keys, or his wallet, or his shoes, he'll make it to the shops and come back brandishing a pig's head, or a side of venison. Or, like the other day, some rabbit and pheasant.

More about the pheasant later, but with the rabbit he turned to Nigel Slater. That's what he does, my husband, he comes home with something weird and flicks through recipe books until he finds a thing to do with it. I, on the other hand, flick through recipe books and then go shopping for whatever it is I need. I'm not sure whose method is better. We're probably both idiots.

Anyway, I was a bit wary of the rabbit. I'm a bit wary of game in general. I don't like the occasionally pooey, ferrous tang much. But this was great. And not at all rubbery as rabbit can sometimes be. My husband claims this is from the resting.

So here we go - Nigel Slater uses cream, but we didn't have any so we used yoghurt (a danger of reading recipes post-shopping), but it was delicious anyway. Using cream would have resulted in a "longer" sauce, but I thought the yoghurt added an interesting tartness to everything. Either is good. You can also do this with chicken. I mean, not instead of the yoghurt, instead of the rabbit.

4 rabbit joints (we ended up using boned rabbit chunks from Waitrose that were reduced)
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp French mustard - one of Dijon and one of grainy if you can
olive oil
about 150ml of yoghurt or cream

1 Mash together the garlic and mustard with some salt and pepper. Stir in olive oil to make a thin paste (about 2/3 glugs). Rub the mixture over your rabbit.

2 Place in a shallow baking dish, drizzle over some more oil and bake at 190C for about 25mins.

3 Take the dish out of the oven and pour off most of the oil. Tip the yoghurt/cream over the rabbit and shift it all around so it's evenly coated. Bake for another 20 mins.

We ate this with buttered noodles. Then my husband went to play Fives and I watched 3 episodes of House back to back and painted my nails.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Chicken liver pate

Why does everyone go on about how much they hate January? I love January. It's my favourite month. There are so few expectations of joy and happiness that I, personally, love it. I can be as depressed as I like. No-one invites you out for dinner, or to a party, or anything. It's great!

And I always find the run-up to Christmas a tiny bit like the run-up to the end of the world. Quick, quick, quick... got to get everything done by this looming deadline. And you hold your breath and do it all and sort of expect the sky to fall on your head.  But then January 2 and 3 and 4 roll around in the usual fashion and you feel like you've been given a second chance at life.

My mistake in the past with January has been to leave Christmas decorations up. Now I take them down with great relish - all of them - on January 2. I throw away the cards, put everything else in a cardboard box, stash it away and forget it ever happened. And this year, we bought a living tree so we don't even have that sad throw-out-the-tree-carcass moment. It's just been moved outside in its little pot for next year.

My next move will be to go out and buy a lot of hyacinths, which I will do just after I've finished writing this and just before I go out and get a flu jab. My mother, who usually sounds surprised to hear from me when I ring, like: "Oh yeah! I thought there was another child somewhere. Which one are you again?", has gone mad and rung me every day for the past week asking if I've had my shot yet because she's worried about the baby. Not about ME, you'll notice.

Anyway, hyacinths are a key element to feeling good about January, if for some MENTAL reason you don't already feel good about it. Go and get some with your remaining pennies that you have not spent on cheap tat and mulled wine.

And then cook something frugal! Like this chicken liver pate. Easy peasy and very cheap.

In its most basic form, chicken liver pate is chicken livers cooked and then pulverised with melted butter and seasoned. That's it. (That's why it's always a starter in restaurants, because each serving costs the rezzy 50p to make, max, and then they flog it to you for £7.95).

Any extra seaonings besides salt and pepper are up to personal imagination. Below is a list of the stuff I usually put in my pate, but you can add extra things (mace? MUSTARD?) or leave things out if you don't like them/haven't got them.

1 400g packet chicken livers - I get mine from Waitrose, obviously
About 180g butter
3 shallots, chopped
some thyme - 2 sprigs, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic
some brandy, about 2 glugs
some sage - 5 leaves, roughly chopped

1 Wash and sort through your chicken livers for any green or grey bits, which are gall bladder and will make you fucking gag and ruin the whole thing if any gets in your pate. Err on the side of caution and snip out anything that looks even vaguely suspect.

Heat some veg oil in a pan and gently cook your livers for about 4-5 minutes, turning often. You're looking for brown on the outside and pink on the inside - but not red. Snip the livers in half if that makes it more manageable. If you're a bit squeamish about offal, cook them for longer, bearing in mind that the longer you cook them, the more grainy your pate will be.

2 Sling your livers in a food processor and then fry the onions, garlic and any herbs you want together in the same pan on a very low heat for a good 10-15 mins. If you want a really garlicky pate, keep back one garlic clove and chuck it in raw later.

3 While this is happening, melt the butter - about 180g. Yeah, it is quite a lot. I've never really been able to get the hang of clarifying butter, but in theory if you melt it really slowly what ought to happen is that the clear part of the butter floats to the top and the milky part of the butter sinks to the bottom. That much butter takes about 10-15 mins to melt.

4 Once the onions and garlic are done, add them to the livers in the food processor. Then pour about 2 tablespoonfuls of brandy into your pan and turn up the heat to full bongoes. Cook this down and scrape at the bottom of the pan to get all the gack off and swizzle it into the brandy for about 2-3 minutes and then add it to the food mixer. Chase this with about 2 tablespoons of your melted butter. If you want it garlicky, add your raw garlic clove now.

5 Whizz all this up. Taste. Season. You will need quite a lot of salt, about two or three big pinches, and about 8-10 turns of the pepper grinder. It is normal for warm, pulverised chicken livers to smell a bit scary and pungent. You may wonder just what kind of hellish mess I've got you into. Fear not, when chilled this horrifying mixture will be unscary and tasty.

6 I like my pate quite rustic and don't mind the odd corner of onion, but if you'd like yours more of a smooth parfait, pass it through a sieve. This is messy and annoying and quite tough on the old triceps, but it's what you have to do. Decant, seal with a layer of melted butter and chill. If you're feeling artistic, gently press a sage leaf into your clarified butter lid.

My advice is to decant the pate into a number of small ramekins and top each with a layer of butter, rather than putting the whole thing into a large container, so that you can use one small ramekin of pate at a time and still have some fresh in the fridge, rather than feeling under pressure to eat a huge cereal-bowl-sized wodge of pate at one sitting.

Eat with toast and cornichons, while pretending that the letter from the bank about your overdraft that you just threw in the bin in fact got lost in the post.

Keeps for about 10 days (butter-seal unbroken) in the fridge.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

I hate macaroons

Just marvel at how shit these are

A lot of you have been bothering me about macaroons - for months. How can you make them? What's the best recipe? The best method?

And my answer to you individually has always been: BUY THEM FROM A FUCKING SHOP. Because there some things that you ought to buy from a shop - turkish delight is one of them and the other one is macaroons. I'm sure there are other things. Croissants. Cheese. Gelatine.

The problem, people, is sugar. Sugar is hard to work with and although as a general rule I am quite disdainful of those who think that cooking is complicated, there are people who train for, like, days to become pastry chefs and chocolatiers. And when they come to make things like macaroons they have all the right kit - sugar thermometers and icing bags and silicon trays and special ovens and flavourings and all that shite that one doesn't neccessarily have in a domestic kitchen.

So I'd always say: buy them from a shop. They are a treat. They are not humble home-cooked fare - they are multi-flavoured, layered and coloured, designed for precious fashion gizmos and fizzy PR girls to send to each other and squeal over. They are not for the likes of you and me to knock up on a lazy afternoon.

But you're all such nags. Maybe you ought to give that up for January, yeah? Leave a poor pregnant girl alone. But despite making me hate you, the endless, endless pestering and nagging worked because like a chump I ordered some instant macaroon mix from some online shop and gave them a go. After all, not everyone, I reasoned, lives near a Laduree concession stand.

And it was, genuinely, the most boring and disappointing experience of my brief cooking career. Sometimes things that are a bit of a faff are worth making because they are, at the same time, fun and they work. But these things were both not fun to make and didn't work. I mean just look at them - cracked, discoloured, thin, wonky. Crap. CRAP!

Some of it was my fault (the whisk attachment on my food processor broke; I don't have an icing bag) but some of it was also the instant mix's fault (they didn't specify enough water but when I added more I added too much and it went sloppy; the food colourings I bought from the same online shop were cack and dull and actually came with a warning on the label that they might have "an adverse effect on attention and behaviour in children").

However the flavour was just excellent, as industrially-processed things containing Guar Gum, Silicon Dioxide, Lactic Acid Esters of Mono- and Di-glycerides of Fatty Acids usually are. So if you think you can do better than me, instant macaroon mix is available here.

Anyway, after that disaster I thought no more about the whole thing and wasn't even going to bother writing about them, until I had a nightmare last night about macaroons. It went on for ages - it really did. Don't tell me that in actual fact it only went on for three seconds or whatever, because I kept being woken up by my husband dithering about listening to the cricket and whenever I went back to sleep I'd still be dreaming about bloody macaroons. So it's a sign. I'm going to have to make them and master them. That, it seems, is my curse. Luckily I've found a couple of straightforward enough-looking recipes to have a go at. All I need is an icing bag. And some food colouring that isn't POISONOUS.

I hope your Christmas and New Year were okay and if you're back at work, I'm sorry. I don't even have a job and I'm depressed as hell that the holidays are over.

I was ill throughout all festivities. The highlight was when my husband got incredibly drunk on New Year and dived into the shallow end of a swimming pool and scraped his nose on the bottom and now he looks like he's been in a fight.

The next morning, (I was asleep at the time of the incident), I said: "Ha ha, you're such a dick" - and variations on that theme - throughout breakfast, until someone else said "My God - you could have broken your neck!"

I looked at my husband and felt more strongly than ever that my marriage is like an episode of The Inbetweeners - except that we are both that posh know-it-all one.