Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Tofu curry

God I fucking hate summer so much.

I know I've said this before, but it's worth saying again. Hate, hate, hate. I would try and blame it on my parents somehow, in the way that I manage to blame everything else on them, but I think summer may be my problem.

Where did it all go wrong? We had pretty dreamy summers as children, I think. Big garden, swing, making mud pies, all that. It was in my teens that things took a turn for the bad.

I often thought that working might be a good idea before I learned that London in August is a cauldron of awfulness and every day that you are there you feel a bit self-conscious, like you really ought to be on holiday. I always felt that the city was looking at me in mild curiosity the way that people do when you go back to school after you've left sixth form. "What are you doing here? Why are you here?"

And nothing happens. It's so boooorring. Day after day of nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing. If I do anything for my child it will be to send it to get tennis lessons, so it will have something to do in the summer. I have already started trying to make friends at Kentish Town city farm, so Kitty's got somewhere to go when I boot her out of the front door on summer holiday mornings, light a fag and shout "Don't come back til it's dark."

The only solution is to go away for as long as financially feasible in August. If that means staying in the UK, so be it. We went to France last year and were eaten alive by mosquitoes the size of kittens and rained on for 1 week solidly. So this year we are going to Sussex to see if anything happens there.

Now, don't laugh at me about this tofu curry. I haven't turned into a hippy, I was just curious about tofu. I have never cooked with it before and thought I ought to rectify this because I always eat it in Chinese restaurants and think it is nice. So the other night I made a tofu curry and it was really fantastic and I was very pleased with it.

If you've never cooked with tofu, don't be scared. The secret is prepping it. So you get a block of it in a packet (I used some by Cauldron from ... all together now... WAITROSE!), take it out, drain it, wrap it in kitchen towel and then press it between two chopping boards weighed down with something heavy [insert joke about my fat ass here].

I did this for 10 minutes, but I think next time I will do it for 20. It makes the tofu tighter and more likely to take on colour and texture when you fry it off, which you do in a pan with some oil in. It takes a while to fry off - about 20 minutes to do a really good job.

As with all veggie curries, this requires a lot of ingredients, but it is worth it. And it'll give you something to do to pass the time until summer's over.

Esther's tofu curry

For the curry paste

2cm knob fresh ginger
1 chilli, seeds in or out, up to you
1 tsp tamarind paste (don't worry if you haven't got it)
2tsp soy sauce
1 tsp fish sauce
2 kaffir lime leaves (if you have)
2 cloves garlic
2 spring onions
1 heaped tsp tomato puree
1/2 tsp runny honey
1/2 bunch coriander (if you have)


1 block tofu
1 large can or two small of coconut milk

and any combination of

sugar snap peas
bamboo shoots
baby sweetcorn
baby pak choi

1 Prepare the tofu as described and chop into chunks. Put all ingedients for the curry paste in whatever manner of whizzing machine you possess and whizz.

2 Fry off the curry paste for about 5 minutes over a medium flame. Fry off the tofu, add to the curry paste and stir. Add the coconut milk and stir further, being careful not to mash up the tofu blocks. Let this simmer for a few minutes.

2 Drop in your other veg and let the whole lot simmer for 5 minutes. If you're using pak choi, put a lid on your pan to help it all steam.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

NEW! Follow by email

Please note the new "Follow by email" button to the right of this post.

I think it means when I put down the baby, the laundry, my phone, my diary, the grouting tool and a washing up sponge and sit down to write a sporadic new post, you will be alerted by email.

Please note that I do not understand how this works so if something goes wrong, like you don't receive it, or you receive it 8 times, you are welcome to email me to complain, but I probably won't be able to do anything about it.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Apple and raspberry crumble for AC

Listening as I was to Magic FM in the nursery the other day, I was reminded of a thing that I always forget about, which is that in 2004 I went on a date with Jason Orange from Take That.

It happened like this: I was working at The Week, which as I'm sure you all know is a news digest magazine, and their offices used to be on Westbourne Grove, Number 90 - next to Sainsbury's Local. The combination for the keypad was 2589 and last time I walked past the building and keyed it in, it seemed they hadn't changed it. Next time you're walking past, why not try it?

Anyway, there were always famous people wandering past the office, because it's Westbourne Grove and the famous people who don't live in Primrose Hill live in Westbourne Grove or thereabouts. I saw loads, all the time: Brett Anderson from Suede, Jason Donovan. All sorts.

One day our buzzer rang, which was unusual because we never really got any deliveries or any visitors. I picked up the intercom but couldn't hear the person at the other end. So I went downstairs and there was Jason Orange.

"Hello," I said, wondering if he was lost.
"Hi, are you The Week?" he said.
"Yes we are," I said.
"I was wondering... can I have a look at one of your magazines? Only... I've heard good things about it but can't find it in any of the shops."
"Oh yeah," I said. "It's mostly subscription only. Come in and wait for a sec and I'll get you some copies."

So I left Jason Orange standing awkwardly in the cheese-smelling foyer of Number 90 Westbourne Grove while I went upstairs and got him some back copies of The Week. I didn't want to take him upstairs because I didn't want to expose him to the prying eyes of my colleagues. He seem guileless, naive, unaware that he was INCREDIBLY FAMOUS, but I knew if he came into the office it would be a piano-stopping moment. So I left him down there, like a pair of dirty shoes.

I came back with about 18 old copies of The Week.

"Thanks very much," he said, charmingly.
"The number to ring if you want a subscription's just there," I said, pointing to the number for subscription enquiries written in red, that no-one ever seemed to notice, always ringing us in the office to complain that Issue 435 hadn't arrived and this was the second time it had happened.

I waved goodbye to Jason Orange from Take That and went back to my photocopying. Then two days later he rang the office and asked me out on a date.

I wish I hadn't gone. I wish I'd just said "I'm sorry, I've got a boyfriend." It was true, I did have a boyfriend and I said I did. But I said I'd go for a drink with him anyway. Out of sheer bloody, morbid curiosity. Take That are incredibly popular and famous again now, but back then they were toxic dodos. I wanted, to be honest, to see how fucked up he was. The answer was: not really. I think I'm probably more fucked up for wanting to see how fucked up he was. It caused a terrible row with my then boyfriend. But he ran off with another girl two months later anyway, so I choose not to feel too bad about that.

Anyway on balance I don't think it's a very good idea to be in a boy band.

My friend AC has just had a baby and I am going round there to deliver her my baby death alarm, which is a thing you put under a mattress that tells you if the baby's stopped breathing. It's very useful, if you can work out how to stop it from going off all the time for no reason. I'm also taking round a crumble I made from actual fruit out of our garden, where it is currently raining raspberries and apples. I made it into one of those crappy foil take-away tins you can get from a certain sort of hardware shop because a) I can't spare a pudding tin (I'll never see it again, let's face it) and b) it means she doesn't have to do any washing up.

You can use whatever fruit you like for this, it doesn't have to be apples and raspberries. The interesting thing about this crumble is the topping, which is not a crumble crumble but a sort of flapjack lid, which is far superior, in my view.

Whatever fruit you're using, just stew gently in a pan for about 15 minutes with a splash of water and add sugar later if you think it needs it.

I have written about this before, but I get the feeling some of you weren't listening, so I think we'd better go over it again.

I'm going to be bold and say that quantities for this don't really matter. You need about 4 parts rolled oats (Scots porage oats will do), to 2 parts butter and brown sugar plus a large pinch of salt. Yammer it all up in a processor. You ought to get a soft and cohesive rubble, which you press all over your fruit and shove in a 180C oven for 20 minutes. If your mixture is not soft and cohesive (with some fly-away bits, obviousy), then add more butter.

I know that this is out of character for me, who is such a stickler for recipes, but I did it a few times, just by eye and it worked out. And I'm a fucking cack-handed moron, so you should be okay.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Jamie's Thai Red Curry

I had to take this photo on the hoof with my crappy Nokia, which is why it's so bad. I mean, I sort of wonder why I'm bothering with it, but you do all make such a fuss if there aren't pictures every ten seconds. If you want a nice picture, you can find one here

My husband used, for a long time, to go out with Katie Razzall off the Channel 4 news. She is very grand, Katie - tall and blonde and looks like you'd never find her hunched in a corner picking her cuticles with anxiety about having to take her 5.5 month old baby to Norfolk for the weekend. For example. She is married to a terrifically handsome actor called Oz, who is the sort of person that people having a party feel very relieved to see coming up the path.

They invited us round for dinner, which was very exciting because no-one ever invites us round for dinner, ever. I think it's because they are worried about cooking for my husband but my husband thinks it's because everyone hates us. As with everything in life, I think it's probably a combination of the two.

Katie made this Thai Red prawn curry out of Jamie's 30 Minute Meals and it was really storming success. My husband ate so much that he woke up in the middle of the night with a tummy ache and a sweat on.

We briefly talked about how Jamie's 30 Minute Meals don't take 30 minutes, which I always get very upset about because they DO take 30 minutes to actually make but he means 30 minutes with all your ingredients and all your chopping boards and everything already to hand. So no, from a cold standing start in an empty kitchen, they don't take 30 minutes BUT HE NEVER SAID THEY DID. I didn't say any of this at all because my policy in public these days is just to smile and say nothing controversial.

My husband has other ideas and wound everyone up all night by saying how terrific he thinks Rebekah Brooks is. I silently agreed because I have been on the receiving end of a Rebekah Brooks love-bomb and I've still got hearts and little tweeting birds circling round my head.

So, this is Jamie's Thai Red Prawn Curry, for 4.
It can  be found on p.132 of 30 Minute Meals.

2 stalks lemongrass
1 fresh red chilli
2 cloves garlic
bunch coriander
2 red peppers in oil (you can get these in a jar from waitrose)
1 heaped tsp tomato puree
1 tbs fish sauce
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
2cm piece fresh ginger
8 large unpeeled raw tiger prawns
200 sugarsnap peas
220g small cooked prawns
1 400g tin coconut milk

1 Put everything except the prawns, coconut milk and peas into a food processor and give it a good whizz. This is your curry paste.

2 Heat some oil in a pan and fry the tiger prawns for about a minute. Then add a tablespoon of the curry paste and fry for another minute. Tip all this into a dish and put in a 200C oven for 8-10 minutes.

3 Put your prawn pan back on the heat with more oil. Add the peas and the small prawns. Tip over the rest of the curry paste and stir round for a minute or two then add the coconut milk, stir and leave to simmer on a low to medium heat for 10 minutes.

You serve the prawns on the side with some lime wedges and rice and a finger bowl is useful, too.

It's tremendous, really - with all sorts of fish, I imagine not just prawns.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Moules Mariniere

I suppose now's a good a time as any to tell you about the time that I refused to go to school for a year when I was eight.
I hated school – I mean really hated it. It was a total chore and twice a day they shoved you into a freezing cold playground and at lunchtime you had to eat some gross cling-film tasting cheese and pickle sandwiches you’d brought with you, which had been festering in a warm corner of the lunch room all day.

Lunchtimes, in fact, were the worst of the worst. It was the smell of the lunchroom, for a start. All the kids who had a hot lunch went first and they always made such a giant, disgusting mess. Whenever you went to sit down, there was always a big smear of gravy somewhere, or a little puddle of mashed potato. It made me feel utterly sick. And then there were my own gross packed lunches.

It was always cheese and pickle sandwiches and a box of sour own brand orange juice and, like, a Penguin or something. Once when I was trying to get the gross smell of cheese and pickle out of my lunchbox, I thought it would be a good idea to spray some perfume inside it, so I sprayed some of my mother’s Anais Anais into it. It totally didn’t work. But instead of saying to my mum, oops – please can I have another lunchbox? I just kept using it, day after day, this gross, perfume-smelling lunchbox rather than telling her. And so my sandwiches were not only gross cheese and pickle, but they also tasted of perfume. If I close my eyes and think hard I can smell it now.

I don’t know why I didn’t tell my mum. It’s not like she was scary and horrible or anything – she is mostly a total pushover. Perhaps that’s just what you’re like when you’re little, you just don’t think to tell people things. Like those kids that you always get at school who’d rather wee in their knickers that ask the teacher if they can go to the loo.

So it all got too much and I started throwing up every day before I was supposed to go to school. I can’t remember if I made myself sick or I genuinely vomited with fear and anxiety each day, but I remember knowing that I wasn’t really ill. I remember knowing that I was faking it. Most of all, I remember feeling envious of those lucky little shits who got nosebleeds. Imagine! Imagine having something so real and obvious wrong with you! Something that people absolutely could not dispute – actual blood coming out of your head! Undisputable.

Eventually the battle to get me to go to school got too much for my mother and she and dad decided that I ought to be taken out of school and taught at home.

And so for a year, I didn’t have to go. I had a tutor, three times a week. It must have been terrible for my parents, and annoying for my sisters, who were twelve and fifteen at the time, who both had to go to school as normal. But I loved it. I was in heaven. And I did pretty well at home with the tutor, who was nice to me and patient and taught me everything I needed to know about everything.

For that whole year, I knew that there wasn’t really anything wrong with me. I just didn’t want to go to school and no-one was inclined to force me.

But ever since then, I’ve been fearful that people might think I’m faking it when I’m ill because I spent a whole year faking it. I assume everyone knows all about that episode on my life – that I would make myself sick and refuse to go to school just because I didn’t want to go.

And it means that even when I’m ill – really, really, ill – I feel like I don’t deserve to be ill. I’ve used up all my ill allowance. And on top of that ever since then I've been off-kilter, the weirdo, the one who doesn't fit in. I was the girl who didn't go to school.

But rather than trying to make myself as normal as possible and blend in with the crowd (not easy when you've got red hair and teeth the size of tombstones) I decided to say Fuck You Yeah so what, Yeah, I'm the weirdo, what of it?

This was a mistake. And I've only learnt too late in life that most of the time, you just want to be taken for another face in the crowd.

My general recalcitrance has extended to certain foodstuffs. For example, I have always refused to make moules mariniere because everyone bangs on about how easy and marvellous it is, which has always made me think "Well then, I will not make what it is you scumbags are having. I will make a PORK PIE because I am that special and cool."

But I decided the other day that I reallly ought to give it a go. And I did and it worked very well and it is now pretty much our Sunday night dinner staple. You do need very fresh mussels though, do try and avoid anything shrink-wrapped or anything that smells suspiciously bad. Like, say, cheese and pickle sandwiches with a hint of Anais Anais.

Moules Mariniere for 2

Enough mussels for 2 - a good fishmonger, which is where I hope you will purchase your mussels, ought to be able to guide you.
1 medium onion or 2 shallots
butter, about 50g
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 large glass shitty white wine
1 handful parsley
a sloop of cream, if you want

1 Scrub and de-beard your mussels, discarding any that are open. [NB mussels open when they are warm, so make sure you apply your Is This Open? technique to cold mussels.] WHAT a tedious fucking job scrubbing them is. Hateful. Get someone else to do it if you can. The "beard" is that feathery bit of grossness that emerges from between the two halves of mussels I suppose that attaches the thing to its rock. Anyway, pull it off, give the whole thing a scrub and dump it in a bowl. *Clang*

2 In a pan on the hob, large enough to hold all your mussels, melt 25g of the butter and some veg or olive oil sautee very gently the onion and garlic for about 10 minutes. Then pour in your large glass of shitty wine and bring to the boil.

3 Sling in the mussels then put a lid on and cook on a high heat for a good 4-5 minutes. If you are very daring you can cook them for less long and just scoop them out as they open. But I like my seafood cooked properly, so I do them for 5. Discard any that have remained closed. [You know, I think it might be this open/closed discarding thing that's always put me off mussels. Just too confusing.] Put the mussels somewhere to keep warm.

4 Strain the cooking liquid through a sieve into another pan. Giles always thinks this is unneccessary but I think it is nicer not to have chunks of onion everywhere. You can do what you like. Boil the cooking liquid hard until it has reduced by about a third. Keep tasting it until it turns from winey and gross to tasting like something you might find in the bottom of a bowl of moules mariniere. Take off the heat and stir in some cream if using.

5 Scoop out some mussels into a bowl, pour over some of the cooking liquid and scatter with parsley. Eat with bread and butter and dread Monday morning.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Red mullet with black olives

I can't do parties anymore. I used to be really good at them, but I just can't anymore. I can't drink, I can't make conversation and I can't stay up late.

It makes me feel like such a dick. I used to love a party. Though I was never, let's face it, the first or the last one on the dance floor or the one swept out with the fag butts at 5am, I went, I drank, I laughed, I had a good time.

Now when an invitation drops on our doormat I make a face. My husband and I argue briefly about whether or not we should go and we always decided that we probably ought to because otherwise we will just go mouldy sitting at home watching Californication.

I think about what to wear three minutes before we leave and end up putting on the same plain back jersey dress I have been wearing to parties for about 5 years, "jazzed" up with whichever necklace I bought from Anthropologie most recently. Then I put on eyeliner (but not mascara because it's such a pain to get off) while my husband puts the baby to bed.

I open the door to Kate, our teen babysitter who lives a few doors away, who is so thin and beautiful that I'd refuse to have her in the house if she wasn't so nice. I talk to Kate for a bit, wishing I was staying in watching telly with her, not least because her mum brings her dinner round and it always sounds really nice. But then we leave, driving (because I won't get pissed) and arrive unfashionably early. I gratefully suck down one aperitif, feel a bit dizzy, poke my dinner around and start wanting to go home at 11pm.

The other night we went to a party and the wife of a very famous person came to talk to me. We'd met before a few times. She was very drunk. "You've got suchajewish name," she slurred. "The MOST JEWISH NAME EVER," she shrieked. I stood there, with my hands in the pockets of my Topshop maternity jeans that I am still wearing and felt self-conscious in the not-very-me Gharani Strok blouse I bought from TK Maxx and gave her the smile I give to drunks and lunatics.

At least, I thought to myself, I am not wearing the black jersey thing.

"Do you smoke? Do you wanna fag?" she said. No, I don't smoke, I said. But I'll come and keep you company outside. "Do you wanna do a line?" she said and giggled. I blinked a few times and looked at her, feeling more square, I think, than I have ever felt in my life. I towered over her in my stupid clumpy Boden wedges. "I can't," I said. Which was not true. Of course I could. I just didn't want to. I should have just said that. "No thanks," I ought to have said. "I don't really want to." But instead I said something about having to get up early.

Then instead of vanishing as soon as her head was turned (drunks never notice when you do this) I actually accompanied her out into a street and stood there while she smoked a cigarette. I felt like I was back at school, hovering at the arm of the coolest girl in my year who will occasionally suffer my presence. There were a lot of people on the street from the party also smoking cigarettes, sucking up to the woman I was with because she is married to this very famous man and I felt like even more of a hanger-on and a wanker. But I didn't slip away back into the party. I just stood there, unable to think of anything to say. She finished her cigarette and we went back into the party. I walked in behind her and made my alarm face and frantic jazz hands at my husband behind her head.

She turned and suddenly threw her arms round me and blew a raspberry on my cheek and hissed "I don't like your husband much. My husband loves him. I don't really get it." Then she made a beeline for the bar.

It being 11pm, I insisted to my husband that we leave immediately.

This has been bothering me ever since. She has some children and a job, that woman. But she goes to parties and gets drunk and does drugs and makes a complete fucking mad spectacle of herself but she doesn't care and just carries on with her life regardless. Whereas I have one tiny baby and no job and I've decided this means that I can't ever drink again. Maybe I'm just using it as an excuse. Maybe I never enjoyed parties or drinking in the first place and domesticity is just a key to unlock my inner square and let her run free.

Olives are a thing that people always tell you to put with fish and I'm sceptical. But the other night we roasted a red mullet with lemon, parsley and black olives and it was terribly nice and worth doing if you can get your hands on a really fresh red mullet from somewhere.

I think this is from the River Cafe cookbook, which is always telling you to do things like put a fish in the oven covered with olive oil and a few select herbs and then charge £200 for it.

Red mullet with black olives

1 red mullet
about 20 black olives, roughly chopped
a large handful of parsley, roughly chopped
one lemon, halved
olive oil

1 Preheat your oven to 180C.

2 Wash the fish and put it in a roasting dish or tin. Sprinkle over salt, drizzle over a good sloop or two of olive oil, scatter over the parsley and olives and put the halves of lemon, cut side down either side of the fish.

3 Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes.

I think we had this with new potatoes. Or it could have been sourdough. At any rate, it was really very nice. And I hate fish.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Mutton in Port

Often it's not big things that can really make your day, like being proposed to, getting a new job that will allow you to maybe actually tell your shitty bastard boss to Fuck Off on your last day, finding out you haven't got that life-threatening disease you thought you had, or waking up thinking it's Monday and then remembering that it's Saturday.

Sometimes, it's the little things. Finding in your drawer a spare weirdly-shaped battery for that clock whose second hand has been twitching backwards and forwards for two months, for example. Or going to the shops to buy a microwave and finding that it fits exactly in the space you need it to, despite having forgotten to take any measurements. Or getting in the car to find that someone else has filled it up with petrol.

Or finding something to do with the clattery collection of vegetables that have been staring at you accusingly for the last week.

We are inundated with vegetables at the moment because my husband has become obsessed with the Saturday farmer's market at Parliament Hill. We used to go together and he would skulk about behind me saying "What about a cabbage? What about some tomatoes? What about some mussels?" all of which I'd say no to, because all I wanted to do was buy a chicken, get a sausage sandwich from the sausage sandwich van and go home. (Sometimes I see people at the market pretend to come and do their weekly shop, but actually all they've really come for is a sausage sandwich.)

Now I send my husband off on Saturday mornings by himself and he loves it. With no limits on his enthusiasm or spending he goes perfectly nuts and buys everything. He once took Kitty and came back with her slung over his shoulder like a sack of carrots because the buggy was full to brim with haunches of venison, racks of lamb and eighteen different kinds of vegetables.

It's all very marvellous, but the vegetables don't half sit about looking glum after a week or two. My inclination is to throw the whole lot in the compost, put it down to bad judgment and swear never to buy kohlrabi again, but my husband decided that this was the wrong attitude, and instead turned the whole lot into a stew using a leg of mutton he had purchased from someone at the market. We're not eating lamb anymore. We've decided that it stinks the house out. And lambs are cute. Although I know that's pathetic.

Anyway so here we go, an entirely original recipe, by Giles. This is excellent, although it takes 4 hours to cook.

Mutton in Port

Pre-heat your oven to 130C

1 leg of mutton. Purchasable, probably, at your local farmer's market or at a nearby butcher. Not sure if Waitrose does it
2 onions, chopped
2 bulbs garlic, chopped
4 sticks of celery, chopped
1 kohlrabi, or turnip, or celeriac or swede or any other root vegetable giving you the eye from the corner of your veg box
3 small carrots, left whole
1/2 a bottle of the cheapest port you can find. Real piss. You can sub red wine
1 mugful of stock, packet is fine
oil for sauteeing, salt, pepper
As many herbs as you can lay your hands on: bay, parsley, sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano (not mint) tied up together with string. Any combination of these, or none at all, is fine.

1 In a large casserole brown the mutton all over thoroughly, for about 20 minutes, over a medium flame, in some veg oil. Sunflower or groundnut will do. Please not olive oil because it will burn and taste horrible. Set to one side on a plate

2 In the same casserole sweat over a low flame the onions and celery for about ten minutes. Sprinkle over a good pinch of salt to stop the onions from burning. Towards the end of the cooking time, add the garlic and the herbs so they, too, don't burn and taste bitter.

3 Pour in your half bottle of pissy plonk and mug of stock. Cook off the alcohol but don't worry about reducing it right down. About 2 minutes fast simmering ought to do the trick. Then add in the mutton, carrots and any other root veg. Cook in your oven with a lid on for 4 hours.

4 When it's done, remove the whole vegetables and the joint and strain the cooking water of the herbs, onions, garlic and celery. Then leave the cooking liquid to settle for half an hour and skim off the good 1/2 inch of fat that will appear. If you're making this to eat the next day (which is a good idea, because it's superb re-heated) leave the cooking liquid in the fridge overnight and scoop out the fat even more easily.

We ate this with a lot of buttery macaroni, which sounds like a weird thing to have with it but it worked very well.