Wednesday, 23 February 2011


There are some things in life that are just okay to do.

We might beat ourselves up about it in the chilly dawn as we feed our tiny, trusting babies Infacol in the hope that wind is what's making her kick her legs and screw up her face and go "MmmmmmmmmmmNNNNNNNNNN!!!!! EEERrrrwwwwwwww!!!!!! *snuffle snuffle* pause HHII - EEEEEEEEE!!!!!!" when she is supposed to be asleep.

But in fact, we should all just relax.

Like it's okay to pay your tax bill a bit late. And it's okay to feel a bit sick when you see the amount.

And it's okay to still, at 30, raise your eyes to the sky and say "Please, please" when you're at the cash machine, in the hope that the machine will give you money, rather than tell you that you've got "insufficient funds".

It's okay to occasionally let your baby fall asleep on your shoulder and then put her down for her mid-morning nap, rather than take her to some far room, close the curtains, put her down while still sort-of awake and then let her cry herself to sleep.

It's okay to not do any laundry for, like, two weeks.

It's okay to hate people more successful than you.

And it's okay to salt your food.

A lot of people really don't think that's okay, though. It's mostly people of a certain age, who grew up thinking that salting your food was the equivalent of churning through 60 a day. Too much salt is bad for your heart, you see.

But what do we mean by too much? The recommended daily allowance of salt for adults is 6g. That's a lot - (see photo above with box of Infacol for scale) - but only if you don't eat any, or much, processed food. For example, a KFC wing contains 1g of salt. One whole gram. Six of those and you're done for the entire day.

I eat barely any processed food because my husband gives me such hell for it, so that means I merrily cover my food with salt. And if you know that you don't eat much processed food either, you ought to be salting your food, conscience-free. Because salt is what makes food tasty (something KFC knows only too well).

So bear that in mind. And next time you're standing at your stove, taking a sip off something off the end of a wooden spoon and feeling baffled as to why it tastes of nothing, reach for the salt - and be brave.

Because, *shush shush*, it's okay. It really is.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Henry's tit bread

This isn't going to be the start of a descent into a lot of baby chat, I promise. I am aware that a lot of you don't have children, or don't want them. Or have them and don't like them and don't want to hear about anyone else's. So I'm wary of mentioning mine.

Just like I'm not going to mention my cleaner ever again. I mentioned my cleaner last time and "Brian" left a comment saying "Why don't you get off your lazy arse and clean your own house like the rest of the real world." [No question mark.]

I'm lucky - I don't get much stuff like that. So at first I deleted the comment and my aim was to forget about it. But it bothered me.

My husband thinks I'm being silly.

"She's not your cleaner," he said, "she's my cleaner. When you had a job you had a cleaner. You haven't got a job anymore but I do. And professional, working people have cleaners - and X is mine. If you want to fire her and do it yourself, I'll pay you. But you'd be so shit at it I'd have to fire you for incompetence and re-hire X. And I don't have the energy for all that."

As die-hard fans of this blog know, my dad is a former Oxford History lecturer and the author of an academic text on Karl Marx (available for purchase here). So if anyone is going to be very bothered by the question of whether or not I am lazy for having a cleaner, it's me.

I rang Dad to ask what he thought about all this, but as it was 8.30am on Sunday morning, he was too busy working to talk. So I texted my sister, The Hamburgler, instead, because she knows all about this stuff, too.

Me: Would Karl Marx believe that my cleaner is oppressed?
The Hamburgler: He wouldn't believe it, he would know it. But he also 'knew' that chairs were 'really' the exploitation of man. Fucking idiot. It's a chair.

I don't know about you, but that made things no clearer for me. I would like to say something like "I'm not going to fire my cleaner, who has her own family to support, just so that people like "Brian" don't think I'm lazy. Because out of my cleaner and "Brian", guess whose good opinion I'd rather have?"

But that's just me being defensive. And I suspect that not wanting to starve their workers was the main self-defence cry of 19th Century mill-owners. "Put them out of work?" they'd cry. "But who, pray, would feed their children?"

I could fire my cleaner and do it all myself. Do I not because I am lazy? I don't think I'm lazy. But maybe I am. My cleaner is great and she would find other work. But I don't think that's the point. I think "Brian"'s point is that he thinks being a cleaner is demeaning. He thinks it's a shit job and that anyone who hires someone to do a shit job is a shitty person. But I don't think being a cleaner is a shit job.

Perhaps what "Brian" would like me to do is ring all X's clients and get her fired from everything, then she would see the light and go to university and become a lawyer. Or a buyer for Topshop, or some other suitable job for a young woman that isn't cleaning people's houses.
After a lot of thinking like this, I have come to the conclusion that, on balance, it's just best if I pretend my cleaner doesn't exist.

Anyway, I digress.

As I said, I won't go into the foul details, but I had cause the other day to be brought some "breastfeeing bread" by my friend Henry. It is supposed to... how to put this nicely... help things along. I don't think you need to know any more. Or is coyness extra revolting?

Anyway when he turned up with it I was slightly horrified, as it smells a lot like curry because of the fenugreek seeds in it: fenugreek being the active ingredient in aiding... supply. "Oh God," I thought, "curry bread? This is going to be horrid."

But it wasn't. It was fantastic. I mean really, like, "wow" delicious. It's like a very rich soda bread, only better. Superb with any kind of jam and, I suspect, really nice with baked beans. Definitely excellent with cream cheese and salmon, as I ate it just now.
Do not fear: if you don't happen to be breastfeeding, it won't make you spontaneously lactate. And if you find fennel seeds or fenugreek really disgusting leave them out. They are only essential to "nursing mothers" (vomit) but if you're not in that social category and don't like them, don't put them in.

[NB if you ARE breastfeeding and need a bit of help, this does actually work, despite sounding a lot like a load of old hippy cack.]

I must admit to you now that I haven't made this myself, yet. Henry assures me that it is easy and although he's no bullshitter, he is a chef - so his level of competence unevens the playing field a bit.

Anyway, here goes. This is copied word for word out of the first Leon cookbook - this is where my 100wpm touch-typing comes in handy - which is why there isn't any swearing in it.

Makes a 1kg loaf

soft butter
330g strong wholemeal spelt flour
170g strong white flour
5g fast-acting easy-blend dried yeast
2 tsp crushed sea salt
1 tsp aniseeds
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp fenugreek seeds - ground
4-g pumpkin seeds
40g sunflower seeds
2.5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
300ml warm water
15g extra sunflower and pumpkin seeds for the top
40g pine nuts

Smear a 1 kg loaf tin with butter. Mix all the dry ingredients (except the pine nuts and seeds for the top) together in a bowl large enough to knead the dough in. Add the oil, then the water, stirring until the mixture sticks together. Knead in the bowl for just a few minutes until smooth. You can add a little flour if it is too sticky, but remember the maxim - wetter is better. It doesn't matter if a little sticks to your hands.

Shape, then put into the tin. Cut a pattern in deep gashes on the top and sprinkle the reserved seeds into the gashes; slighty push the pine nuts into the surface and sprinkle a little extra spelt flour (or bran if you have some to hand) all over.

Put the tin into a large plastic bag that can be tucked under the tin to leave the loaf enclosed with plenty of air. Leave until the dough has doubled in size. This will take about 2-2.5 hours in a warm kitchen.
Bake in a preheated oven at 230C for 20 mins then turn down to 200C for another 20 minutes.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Osso buco

The best thing about working at the Evening Standard, which I did from 2005 to 2007, (although for fuck's sake don't tell the Student Loans Company that - as far as they're concerned I was missing presumed dead in western Namibia and therefore do NOT owe them any money for that tax year), was my boss.

He was so great because he'd always say "well done". It didn't really matter what you'd done, he'd always just say "well done". I mean, not if you'd done something bad. If you'd done something bad he'd say "oh dear". And then when you put it right, he'd say "well done".

Call me simple as a drooling gun dog, but that worked on me. Although I'd had nice bosses in the past, none of them had said "well done" with the frequency and fervour of Sebastian.

"Seb I got you a sandwich," I'd say.
"Oh well done," he'd say.

"Seb I rang Antonia Fraser about that thing," I'd say.
"Oh, well done. What did she say?" he'd say.
[She almost always said "fuck off", by the way]

"Seb I forgot to put through all those payments," I'd say.
"Oh dear," he'd say. "Can you do it now?"
"Yes I'll do it now," I'd say
"Oh, well done," he'd say.

You get the picture. On Fridays, I used to get us both chicken shwarmas from Ranoush Juice, just opposite the Evening Standard's offices in Kensington. Ranoush Juice is one of a chain of Lebanese places that will be familiar to Londoners, and not to anyone else. We'd eat the sandwiches at our desks, stinking the place out. On Fridays at the Standard there was nothing to do after about 1pm because there was no paper until Monday. So at about 3pm Seb would say:

"Okay, well done, you can go home now." And off I'd go. You see? I literally hadn't done anything, and he's say "well done". Awesome. It did wonders for my productivity. I would write 100 or maybe even 200 words a week in that place. Phew!
A note: our Friday lunches only lasted until Ariel Sharon had that heart attack; it turned out that his favourite food was chicken shwarma and Sebastian didin't want any after that.

Needless to say, I cried tears of genuine sadness when I left the Evening Standard to go and work at the Independent. And in the 12 months that I worked at the Indy I don't think anyone ever said "well done" to me. Not once. Ever.

As you can imagine there were no tears of sadness when I got the hell out of there.

But I had been infected with the habit of saying "well done" to everyone, about everything. It's a great motivator. I do it to my husband all the time.

"I put a wash on," he'll say.
"Oh WELL DONE," I'll say.

Recently, my husband has been mostly making dinner and I find that, even though before I had the baby he promised he would do a lot of cooking, it's vital to say "WELL DONE THIS IS DELICIOUS WOW WOW WOW" when we sit down. And it works because he's really kept at it.

Last night we had Osso Buco, which is one of those things that has a mystifying name but is really quite a simple thing. It's basically veal shin stew and it incorporates bone marrow, which makes the whole thing very glossy and sticky. Osso buco means "bone with a hole", which is a pretty unromantic description - but that's the Italians for you.

Sorry no photo but Kitty was freaking me out all night and the picture somehow never happened. But it's super-tasty, trust me.

When you go to a butcher to get your meat for this, you can ask for either some veal shin (you want rose veal, obviously) or if you like, "osso buco", which is the name of the cut. I know it sounds a bit like going in and asking for some "spaghetti bolognese", but it isn't.

This is a mash-up of Hugh FW and Claudia Roden in that Hugh does not include tomatoes and Claudia Roden does.

This is a pretty rich dish so you really only need one slice of veal shin per person. It is traditionally eaten with a risotto and gremolata but I won't go into that here because Kitty's only just gone to sleep and I need to go and have a shower before the cleaner gets here. I love my cleaner, but why does she always want to come at lunchtime?

Osso buco
For 2

2 slices veal shin
1 large handful, or about 50g plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
some veg oil for cooking, plus a large knob of butter
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
2 medium onions (i.e. not massive, white onions), chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
1 carrot, chopped - do not be tempted to be clever and use more than one carrot here because too much carrot makes everything very sickly sweet
1 large glass white wine, doesn't matter what
250ml ish light stock - pork, chicken - if you've got a bit less than that you can top up with hot water, do not fret
3 tomatoes (if you want, don't if not - I think they're nice though), skinned. You do this by making a cross in the bottom of the tomato with a knife and then putting them in boiling water for 2 mins and then the skins come off. The riper the tomato the easier this is
salt and pepper

1 In a large pan or casserole dish that goes on the hob, heat together a long sloop of veg oil and the knob of butter. Dust the veal shin in the seasoned flour and brown all over then set aside.

2 To the pan add the garlic, onions, celery and carrot and cook gently until soft. I find the best way to do this without burning everything is to cook it on the lowest possible setting for at least 15 minutes. You may have a better way of doing it, in which case don't let me stop you.

3 Put the veal pieces back in the pan - flat side down so that the marrow doesn't all fall out, then pour in the glass of wine, turn up the heat and sizzle until it's reduced by about half. Add your stock, topped up with water from the kettle if you need to - (mine has a fucking LEAK, it's so annoying... need a new one... any recommendations?) - and some salt and pepper, bring it all to a very gentle simmer, put a lid on it and cook for 2 hours.

4 And that's basically it. Turn the meat once or twice during cooking and keep an eye on the liquid level - if it looks like it's drying out, throw in some more stock or water. After 2-ish hours take the lid off, turn the heat up and bubble to reduce the sauce a bit.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Duck with pineapple, chilli and soy

I have lately started to do a thing that I call Russian Roulette shopping, where I go to Waitrose and just hurl whatever the fuck into my trolley. I don't want to make any boring sweeping generalisations about pregnancy and new motherhood, but it is just a fact that for the last three months I haven't been going to the shops with as gimlet an eye and as sharp a purpose as I might have done, say, six months ago.

So as I roll round the joint, cracking open huge yawns, I'm all, like celeriac? Sure, why not. Five aubergines? SURE. Some pigeon? WHAT THE HELL? Then I come home and look at it all and think "Oh God alive, what am I going to do with all this?

But something always emerges from the chaos in the end.

Rightly, this ought to be called Ready Steady Cook shopping. But Russian Roulette Shopping sounds better, even though the parallel doesn't work one bit. What do you want? I gave birth 10 days ago.

Last week, Russian Roulette shopping scored a real home run. In amongst the okra, dragon fruits and sugar snap peas, I had somehow purchased two duck breasts and a large pineapple. Do I remember buying them? No. Perhaps it ought to be called Amnesia shopping.

As luck would have it, my husband found a recipe for duck and pineapple in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Meat cookbook and set about it, like the trooper he temporarily is. He always turns to Hugh in moments of crisis because he believes the River Cottage Meat Book to be butch despite beating Hugh soundly at pool about 2 years ago. My husband is the most terrible hustler never trust him.

I was sceptical about the recipe. Duck and pineapple? Surely absolutely gross? No. Absolutely fantastic. Like something you would get in a very, very upmarket Chinese place. We ate it sort of laughing, going "I can't believe you made this," and "No I can't believe I made this, either. Cheers!"

We ate this with red rice (obviously) and some creamed cauliflower. But in truth, this would have been better with white rice and some broccoli sauteed with nam pla or oyster sauce.

So here we go:

Duck with pineapple, chilli and soy

This recipe can be found on p.366 of the River Cottage Meat Book

For 2
2 duck breasts
1/2 a pineapple
3 tbs dark soy sauce
1 tsp soft brown sugar or honey
3 garlic cloves, chopped
golfball sized bit of fresh ginger, finely sliced (we didn't have any and it was great anyway, but if you had some, that would be a bonus)
1 fresh red chilli, chopped. Seeds in or out. Up to you.
2 spring onions, chopped
few twists black pepper

Preheat your oven to 220C

1 Cut 2 slices from your pineapple half 2cm thick, cut into chunks and set aside. Chop up the rest and get the juice out, somehow. HFW says squeeze it with your fist. We have a juicer so FINALLY there a use for the enormous buggery thing, but if you are not stupid credulous twats like us and do not have a jucier, just do it the best way you can see how.

2 Make a marinade out of the pineapple juice (there ought to be about 3-4 tbsp) and the soy, sugar/honey, garlic, ginger, chilli and black pepper. Make some slashes in the duck breast and leave in the marinade. Ideally for a few hours, but 10 mins will make a difference.

3 Wipe the marinade off the breasts and sear them quickly in a hot pan in some veg oil. They need about 2-3 mins each side, just to brown the underside and crisp up the skin.

4 In a small roasting tin, make a bed out of the spring onions and lay the breasts on top and then pour over the marinade. The idea is that the breasts poach in the marinade so you need a roasting tin or oven proof dish that's quite small otherwise the marinade will just wash out everywhere and won't do an effective poaching job.

5 Roast these in your hot oven for 8-10 mins then remove from whatever they were cooking in and leave to rest somewhere warm. Do not chuck out the marinade.

6 In a small pan with some veg oil fry the pineapple chunks, turning occasionally so they get some colour. Sieve everything that's sitting in the duck-roasting-receptacle into your pineapple-chunk-frying pan and sizzle to reduce to a syrupy sauce. Poke the pineapple pieces around so they coat well.

7 Return the duck to the pan and turn a few times to coat. I always find it much more clement to slice things like duck breasts before eating, so you don't spend your evening sawing through a huge thunk of meat. Spoon over the sauce and pineapple chunks before serving.

Here is a picture of (part of) the baby because you know you love it you soppy fools.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Beef Stroganoff

Beef Stroganoff is one of those things that is almost always referred to as a "classic" dish, because "classic" is what people call things that were eaten a lot in the Seventies. I get the feeling menu turnover was a lot slower in the Seventies than it is now (although if I never see another chicken liver parfait with toast on a menu it will be 8 million years too soon) and so I think most of England lived on beef stroganoff from 1970 to 1979.

And like most "classic" dishes, beef strog is entirely brown and made mostly from cream.

My husband made this for me last night. He is very "classic" - i.e. he was made in the Seventies. Actually, he was made in 1969, but that's beside the point. He does this very well and isn't stingy with the cream.

I've got no idea how close this is to a "classic" classic beef stroganoff, but I find that there is always some terrifying and mad ingredient in "classic" classic recipes for slightly bygone things, like a pint of mustard, or tripe or sambuca or 18 anchovies.

Anyway, this is a lovely thing. I'm always very into meat with a slightly sour accompaniment, like pot roast chicken and gherkins for example. The sour cream in this fulfills that purpose, but you do need to know that there is a sour element to this because that might not be your bag at all.

We ate this with red camargue rice.

Beef Stroganoff by Giles
For 2

2 steaks - rump, fillet, whatever, just make sure it's suitable for frying
2 big handfuls of mushrooms
1 large while onion, or a lot of shallots (nice) or 2 medium onions, chopped finely
1 long sloop of tomato ketchup
1 large glass shitty white wine, or vermouth, and about half a glass of brandy
salt and pepper
1 small tub sour cream - that's about 100 - 150 ml.
1 dried chilli (if you fancy it, it's not essential)

1 Sautee the onions and mushrooms gently over a low flame in some groundnut oil. If you wanted this extra-rich, you could put in a knob of butter, too. But don't use butter only because it will burn. I like Nigella's thing of sprinkling some salt over the onions to help them sautee rather than burn. It works - just a generous pinch sprinkled over will do the trick.

2 Slice up your steak into strips and then get another frying pan really nice and hot and fry that off. It's important to do this in a separate pan because the onions and mushrooms will leak a lot of water and if you try to cook the steak in it, it will just sort of steam and be gross. Frying it in a separate pan fast and hard will give the surface of the steak a chance to char, which will make it damn tasty.

The cooked-ness is up to you. My husband has totally gone off very rare meat and now thinks that the trick to keeping steak tender is to cook it fast and hot until done sort of medium and then rest it.

3 Turn back to your onions and mushrooms. Turn up the heat and pour in the brandy. My husband got this to set light, which I wasn't expecting and scared the shit out of me, I don't mind telling you. I don't think you have to set light to it if that kind of thing freaks you out (and what normal person isn't freaked out by flames leaping to one's kitchen ceiling?) just cook off the alcohol. Then throw in your glass of shitty white wine and cook that down too.

4 Scrape the onions and mushrooms in with the steak and set that on a medium heat. Add the ketchup - just a long squirt - and mix that in - then add in the sour cream and stir in. If you don't have any sour cream, you can use normal cream with some lemon juice in it. My husband added the juice of a whole lemon and said that was too much, so you could try with the juice of half a lemon instead.

Eat, feeling nostalgic.

And there you were thinking that I was going to be writing all about the baby.
Ha ha. Joke's on you.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

If I knew you were coming I'd have baked a cake....

... but I didn't, so I got you a baby instead.

Kitty Coren

It's funny. I've been secretly worried out of my mind for the last 30 years that I'll be a terrible mother. Just like I didn't learn how to drive until I was 28 because I was so worried about being a shit driver, about driving absent-mindedly into lamp posts, or when drunk.

But then I finally learnt how to drive and it turns out that I'm a fucking brilliant driver. Like, seriously great. I can even park.

I mean, it's a bit early to tell whether babies are easier or harder than cars, but at the very least I'm not scared anymore. And you've got to start somewhere.

So, welcome to Recipe Rifle, Kitty cat. It's kind of like quite a shit food blog - but it's all yours.

(Back soon,
E xxx)

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

You, my crazy readers

Last night I made a St Clements pudding, which is a steamed sponge thing involving clementines and it didn't really work out - although don't think for one second that I am not eating some right now at my desk at 0925.

Anyway, I found myself this morning with nothing to write about. I didn't help that I had the major hormonal preggy sweats all night and had bad dreams about being chased by Jamie Redknapp (why didn't I just stop and ask him what he wanted? And then ask him out ON A DATE? Although I wouldn't do that because I think Louise Redknapp looks like a really nice person.)

But then I looked at the comments that had come in overnight - a record-breaking NINE - and was tickled by all of them, which were unusually bonkers, as well as being unusually plentiful but was extra-specially amused and charmed by this mad-but-endearing comment below.

Dear Esther, for no reason at all I've decided to take a closer look at your home page photo- the one of you holding saucepan (rather menacingly). Questions: is that a mirror splashback above stove? Isn't it crazy to keep clean? Why would one have mirror at that height and there? Is it a Cath Kidston reflected, near the Roberts radio? In addition to being expensively teethed and large bosomed, are you also very tall? Your island work-height appears low in relation to your hips, so presumably, you are either 1. very tall, 2. average in height but long-torsoed, 4.island is very low, or cook in Louboutins ala Nigella? I have a tiny kitchen and am envious of your light & spacious kitchen, that you did not have to stick units above worktop; I'm long in body so find most workheights too low for me (like to stack chopping boards) and also envious of big boobs :) I would like sone Invisalignbay some point in the future. I am feeling very nosy today I don't know why! Love LS xx

And so because I've not got much else to do or say, I thought I'd answer this in full, in a post.

1 Yes, that is a mirror splashback. It's actually not crazy to keep clean - it rarely gets dirty unless you cook something very greasy and spitty and then it's just a question of deploying the Windolene. It also helps that I have a cleaner

2 The mirror is that height and there so that you have a nice view of the garden while you are bent, barefoot and pregnant over the stove cooking your husband's dinner. Also, when you live with someone as naughty and sneaky as my husband, it's handy to have eyes in the back of your head. This mirror is a way of achieving this without a complicated operation.

3 That is indeed an item of Cath Kidston reflected near the radio, but it's not mine, it belongs to my sister, who is behind the camera.

4 I am not tall and I do not cook in Louboutins. I don't think Nigella does either, judging by how often she's seen in her FitFlops.  I am exactly five feet six and one half inches. It's my sister who is tall and the angle from which she took the photo makes the island look lower than it is. The island is exactly 90cm, or 35 and one half inches off the ground. It comes up to about 2 inches below my belly button. It is not unusually low. But, as it happens, I do have quite a long torso.

Yes my kitchen is pretty nice. There are no cupboards because I insisted on building a larder on the side of the kitchen, which stores all foodstuff and lots of odds and ends. I actually redesigned and built the kitchen as a kind of devotional act to my husband; when we started going out he was the cook and I was a mere bystander.  But then when it was finished I thought it was too nice and too lifestyle for him to do any cooking in it and quickly appropriated it for myself.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Cauliflower gratin

I always look a fright. No matter how carefully I get dressed, I always end up looking crumpled and baggy and I don't know how I manage it.

I've turned my mind to this because I've been thinking recently about the future and daring to consider all the clothes I packed away last June. And I can't help but remember with a slow, blinking awareness that despite my blurry remembrance of my thin self being terribly glamorous - that I always looked a fright.

I generally blame it on my mouth. My mouth is enormous and my teeth are big and square, like a set you might find champing on a bit just before the 3.40 at Newmarket, and there's one sticking-out snaggle one that I'm spending months and a small fortune trying to correct.

And I always forget about my ginormous mouth and when I laugh I don't got "titter titter" like I think girls are suppose to laugh - I go "Waha ha ha hack hack hack hack" and look like I'm about to swallow the room like the bit in The Little Mermaid when Ursula creates a swirly vortext in the water that sucks in all the ships. Then I have a coughing fit.

I think it's also because I've got quite big boobs. I mean, we're not talking Lola Ferrari, but neither are we talking a discreet handful. And when you've got big boobs, no matter how thin the rest of you is, you're always going to look a bit fat and sloppy if you're not careful. I often wish I was a different shape so that I could wear things for flat-chested people - chic little dresses and t-shirts with high necks or floaty baggy things. But I end up looking like an overstuffed sofa. With wonky teeth.

Angelina Jolie has the same problem as me - one of the few things we have in common, I'll wager -: but we both certainly have giant gobs and indiscreet bosoms. It's why she's lost all that weight, to get some ballast off her front and off her mouth. But it won't work!!! They'll still be there getting in the way no matter how much weight you lose, dear. Not that I think Angelina Jolie looks a fright, or anything.

Anyway, it's why I always wear the same thing - jeans and a top with some kind of v-neck thing to it. And I really ought to just get over it and realise that's what I look best in and stop buying flapper dresses and high-neck t-shirts. The truth is that jeans and a v-necky top are my secret weapons in my war not to look a fright.

A secret weapon in the war against actual fatness rather than perceived boob-created fatness is the gratin.

You can turn almost any scary vegetable that you'd really rather not eat (but you have to replace carbs with something, damnit) into something totally palatable by covering it in cream and giving it a crispy top.

The wetter the vegetable, the less likely it is to want to be gratinated. So, aubergine, tomato, courgette, spinach etc, aren't that wild about it, although it does work. But broccoli, fennel, leek, cauliflower, squash love it. Although - having said spinach, you can of course steam it and then add it to another veg and gratinate the whole lot together.

Generally, I would do a gratin with a white sauce. But no matter how good you are at making a white sauce (and I am probably one of the best in the country. No, seriously) it's a bit of a faff. So instead of making the white sauce, you can just cover the whole thing in a lot of cream, butter, salt and cheese and scatter breadcrumbs over the top. It's totally low-carb - let's not split hairs about the breadcrumbs shall we? - and totally cheerful.

Cauliflower gratin, for 4

1 cauliflower
about 170ml cream (double or single, up to you) and you could use more if you felt like it
3 large handfuls of cheese
- mix and match the cheese as it is available to you. You can absolutely use cheddar for the whole thing, it's just that it will taste a lot of cheddar. You could also use blue cheese and cheddar, or gruyere and parmesan or anything you like, as long as there's plenty of it.
2 slices of bread
1 clove garlic or some garlic oil
some parsley if you have it
about 50g butter
some olive oil

Preheat your oven to 180C and butter whatever dish you want to have your gratin in. You might have some butter left over from doing this - that's fine.

1 Break up the cauliflower and steam or boil until it is soft. Steaming takes about 12 minutes, boiling less long. If you were doing the cauli in a white sauce, you don't have to cook it for as long, because when you finish it off in the oven, it will continue to cook. But without a white sauce, the cauli won't do any more cooking, so you need to get it as soft as you want it in the first instance.

2 In a food processor, whizz up the bread, parsley, a big pinch of salt and a few twists of pepper, and your garlic clove or slug of garlic oil. If you wanted to add some chilli, you could.

3 Once the cauli is cooked and soft put it in a large pan and bash it about a bit so that there aren't any massive great tree trunks. Then pour over your cream and chuck in any leftover butter from buttering the gratin dish. Now add about 2/3 of whatever cheese you're using and give it all a stir until it's melty. It strikes me now that a tiny splash of truffle oil might be nice here. What do you think? Throw it in if it seems a good idea. Season all this with salt and pepper. This is an occasion to use white pepper, if you have bought some for something else and are now wondering how the hell to use it up.

4 Turn all this out into your gratin dish and sprinkle over your breadcrumbs and press down. Then cover this with the remaining cheese. Add more cheese if you feel like it. Dot with butter and stick in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the top looks yummy.

Eat with a clear conscience and plan your spring wardrobe.

I have already purchased a beige trench coat in a size S from Uniqlo and I'm very pleased with it.