Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Egg and potato pie



We have got a mouse.

I say that like this is a new thing. We've actually had a mouse for ages. And when I say mouse, I dearly hope I do mean mouse, singular, not mice, plural. It's hard to tell, mice look similar. And if there are two mice living in this house, it's highly likely they are related and therefore even more indistinguishable.

The reason I mention it only now is that up until a fortnight ago, only other people had ever seen this mouse and I, of course, dismissed the sightings as fanciful imaginings of hysterical people.

"Okay," I would say, "if there's a mouse, where's the mouse poo?" But then one evening when my husband was watching football, I was sitting right here at the kitchen table, writing, and out from under the oven came a small, sleek mouse with a twitchy nose, beady eyes and very large ears.

It was indescribably cute.

Then it saw me and disappeared like lightning, leaving, in terror, a trail of poo behind it.

I didn't say anything to my husband, because my husband thinks we should get Rentokil in and I do not want this. I do not want to set glue traps or lay down some sort of ghastly poison that causes the mice to die slowly from internal bleeding. Neither do I want to get a cat. I like cats, but there are too many cats already on our street already and they kill all the birds. I have never been ok with death. I don't like it and I don't want it around me. I certainly don't want to be party to it.

I have purchased, online from somehere that calls itself "Tooled-Up" a humane mousetrap but when I catch and release this mouse on to Hampstead Heath I fully expect another one to replace it.

Anyway, aren't mice inevitable? These old London houses with their mouse-sized gaps everywhere and rubbish aplenty - surely every building, except hermetically-sealed new builds, has got a mouse somewhere. Rather than issue a mouse holocaust, we should all just try to get along.

(Incidentally, my sister in law told me that she heard on the radio that there is an influx of mice at the moment because it has been so rainy - the mice flee the flooding sewers and take shelter under, for example, ovens in North London. She has the same attitude to mice as me: live and let live.)

Anyway I know why we have got a mouse. It's because of Kitty. Or rather, it's because of me. It's because I allow her to roam freely round the ground floor carrying a variety of brittle foodstuffs, which rain little mouse-snack-sized crumbs hither and thither, which, later on, the mouse posts into its gob with both hands. I have seen it with my own eyes, while sitting on the sofa watching Breaking Bad and eating Green&Blacks.

The only thing to do is vacuum the entire ground floor every night before bed. I do not wish to starve the mouse, you understand - merely think that it might have better luck elsewhere until the sewers dry out and it can return to its natural habitat.

Speaking of natural habitats, mine is carbohydrate-based. I have been dieting like mad recently because I am still so traumatised by being fat while pregnant (yes, after 17 months. That's how fat I was). But recently, I have fallen off the starvation waggon and have been scoffing like my little mouse friend. It's partly because I am trying to have another baby and think maybe if I've got a bit more meat on my bones it might help.

Incidentally, I know what you're thinking: you're thinking - why are you trying to have another baby when all you do is complain on and on about how awful having children is? And my answer is this: Kitty needs a little buddy. If she didn't need a little buddy I wouldn't do it. No way. The thought of doing it all again makes me feel quite ill but at least I only have to do it once more. Then I can wash my hands of the whole sorry business and concentrate on dieting until I'm so thin a stiff breeze would blow me over.

But until then, here is a terrific recipe for egg and potato pie that my husband makes when we're feeling skinny and virtuous enough to risk letting such things pass our lips.

Giles's egg and potato pie
for 4

3 large floury potatoes
4 eggs
butter - about 100g
salt and pepper

1 Peel and boil the potatoes whole for 15 minutes but stop boiling if they look like they're falling apart, as floury potatoes are so wont to do. Boil the eggs for 7 minutes, cool and peel.

2 Slice the potatoes and the eggs. This is a reasonably fiddly job - especially with the eggs. If you have a purpose-made egg slicer, this is the time to extract it from the back of that drawer, wipe the grease off and deploy it.

3 Butter the bottom of a baking dish, then cover with a layer of potatoes. Dot with butter and season. Then add a layer of sliced egg. Repeat this until you have used up all your egg and potato.

DO NOT fret if this all looks a bit of a mess, it is an imprecise dish and will taste terrific no matter how it looks.

4 Put in the oven for 45 mins at 180


Monday, 18 June 2012

Coffe and hazelnut pissed cake

       

Stop me if you’ve heard this one already, but I only learned how to drive quite recently. I was 28 I think. Or 29. It was an absolutely ghastly experience. After a certain age, one doesn’t really have to learn new things and it’s such a relief because learning new things is awful - it’s mostly why having a baby is so horrible. I would sweat and shake before, during and after every lesson I had and used to weep and wail about how much I hated it to Giles at least twice a week.

“Just fucking do it,” he would say. “Don’t fucking quit like you quit everything else. Grow a backbone.”

I know that sounds mean but I am actually terribly tough, while simultaneously being a basket-case (if you can get your head round that), and that’s the kind of management I respond to best, alas. Just as, occasionally, if my husband is being a bit of a weed, I will say “Come on. For God’s sake pull yourself together – you’re an Englishman.” There really is no answer to that.

Where was I. Oh yes, driving. God MAN ALIVE I LOVE IT. Brum BRUUUUMMMMM!!! Out of my way, suck-ahs! It helps that my husband purchased, on the birth of Kitty, a shiny black BMW family estate that goes incredibly fast. It is designed specifically to go for long distances at Def Con II, very cheaply (it is a diesel) and I have, in my time, overtaken a convoy of boy racers in neon cars at 140mph while wearing a gilet and boot-cut jeans, without breaking a sweat.  Don’t tell the filth!!!

I have racked up many miles in my beloved car in the last 16 months, but I’ve never done a really long drive. So when my very dear friend from school, Izzy, announced that she was getting married in Norfolk I said to Giles “You stay here with Kitty – I’m going to take the beemer to stretch her legs up to Great Snoring.”

(A Twitter follower tells me that a Mr Gotobed once lived in Great Snoring and I choose to believe her.)

The wedding was marvellous. Izzy looked like a goddess and laughs like Sid James. In the days leading up the event I was terribly worried that there would be a lot of frightening people from school there who would all look at me and say “Oh hii Esther [scoff, chortle, snort] what are YOU doing here...????” but in fact it was just all my old mates, and we sat about and were mean to each other and bitched about people who weren’t there and smoked fags in a twilight field.

I raced back to London the next day in my rocket car, worried about Giles and Kitty alone together – even though I had been sent a series of picture texts, which showed what a rozzlingly brilliant time they were having together without me.

But of course they were: now Kitty is really walking she’s a piece of piss and just bumbles about the house without needing any entertainment, (for now). Just incidentally, the most surreal experience you can have happens when your child has just started walking and ambles into a room you are in. And you see them out of the corner of your eye and you’re like FUCK JESUS CHRIST THERE IS AN ESCAPED CHIMP IN MY HOUSE oh no, no it’s my daughter, phew calm down everyone.  

That evening, still recovering from the 3-hour-each-way drive and feeling rather smug at having left Kitty with Giles, successfully, for 24 hours, I got pissed and decided to bake a cake. The other week I made the most amazing pudding by layering leftover banana bread with Haagen-Daaz Dulce du Leche ice cream, (buy it now it is amazing), strawberries and Pedro Ximenez sherry and have henceforth decided that one must have a cake on the go at all times for emergency puddings.

So I thought I’d give my old coffee and walnut cake another go. But I didn’t have enough butter. Or any walnuts. So I boinged drunkenly around the kitchen like a pinball, richocheting off walls and singing “Tell Out, My Soul” trying to find substitutes to the ingredients I didn’t have.

Incidentally, the bride Izzy would have been proud of my crapulence; I can tell you for a fact that she spent no fewer than three hours in the pub after school every day, (including Saturdays as Westminster is technically a boarding school), and got A+ and “Excellent” in red pen on everything she did. Needless to say I slaved away like a terrified spod and was still totally average at everything.

Anyway I learned this from my drunken cake excursion:

it is not ideal to substitute vegetable oil for the ground nut oil you don’t have, to sub for the butter you don’t have either. Not ideal. But possible. There is the merest hint of chip fat about things if you use straight veg, rather than ground-nut oil, but it’s possibly less noticeable if you don’t know that that’s what you’re tasting.

So, what you do with this cake is weigh out the eggs (2 or 3 – or even 4, depending on how big you want the cake) and then mix with the same weight of flour and sugar and butter (and coffee and other stuff – see “Coffee and Walnut cake” for details). But I only had 60g of butter, so I made up the rest in vegetable oil. Like I said – not perfect, but totally fine in a dire/drunk cake emergency.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Breaded scallops



Before we got married Giles would, every so often, disappear off to have lunch with a friend, huffing and puffing as he bundled out of the house, always in a fluster, worried he was late, barking on about how he didn't want to go and god why did he agree to have lunch with anyone when he's so busy... the last thing he would say to me, as he returned for the fourth time for some forgotten item, was that he'd be home at 3.30pm and we'll have beans on toast tonight and watch an episode of whatever boxset we had on the go.

And then, without fail, he would go on a massive bender and not come home until 4am, calling at various points in the evening to say that he was just about to get in a cab, and then turning round and going back to the bar for another two hours before ringing again. "No really I am this time... I got distracted by that bloke, you know, that one with the face... I couldn't find a cab... I'm coming.. on my way... [muffled] one gimlet please, Geoff..."

I used to get incredibly pissed off about it. It made me feel like such an idiot. And also, when he rang at midnight to say he was getting in a cab and then still wasn't home by 2am, I would worry. Wouldn't you? My husband never tells lies usually - there was no reason why I wouldn't assume he was telling me the truth about the cab. I didn't have a problem with him going out all night - who cares? - but why not be honest about it and I'll make plans, too? Once or twice I'd even made him a nice dinner and had it waiting when I'd get phonecall no.1 of the evening from him, declaring that he was just getting in a cab and the dinner would sit there sadly until morning.

It took me a long time to get my head round how my husband really didn't think he was going to go on a bender, even though it would have been obvious to undiscovered pygmy tribes that that's where he was headed. I didn't understand how he could genuinely actually feel like he didn't want to go out and yet then, after merely spying a corkscrew tucked into a waiter's apron, find himself weaving his way home at dawn, usually having lost his shoes but with his pockets stuffed full of £50 notes, which he'd won on Blackjack, somewhere - he could never remember where.

In the morning, he would tear at his hair and tremble and shriek about what an awful time he'd had, how terrible he was feeling and how he was never, ever going to leave the house again. Wretched confessions rolled out; he'd passed out on the stairs, in a ditch, in a doorway, he woke up and someone was taking his photo with a bloody iPhone, he spoke for hours passionately to that awful bloke with the face.

He was reformed, changed. It was over between him and late nights. And then it would happen all over again.

After a good year of this sort of nonsense, I realised that the thing to do when Giles had finished his work for the week and was off out for lunch of a Friday, was to ignore his protestations that he'd be home at 3pm, make up the spare room, dig out some takeaway menus, pick a film to watch and settle in for a nice night in on my own. Once I went out with friends without telling him, got reasonably drunk myself, came back in the small hours and was STILL in bed before he stumbled in.

He's much better about all this since we had Kitty. But the thing is, unless my husband goes on out a bender every so often, he goes a bit mad.

He will claim, over and over again, that all he wants to do is bath Kitty, make dinner, watch something on the telly and go to bed and read his book. But after a straight 6 weeks of this, he starts to lose it and fray round the edges. If he was a parrot, he would start pecking out his feathers. He becomes catty, stroppy and unmanageable. He mopes about the house like a depressed King Kong. He starts wailing "Are we just going to go to bed at 9.30pm every night for the rest of our lives??"

At which point, I send him off out of the house and tell him not to come back until morning. Like on Thursday, when he left the house at 12.30pm for lunch and didn't come back until 3.30am. He'd had strict instructions to sleep in the spare room but he decided that this was not on and so came in and got into bed, waking me up. Then he woke me up further at 5am when he needed to wee, battering the door jamb with unsteady shoulders and stepping heavily on both outward and homeward journey on the really creaky floorboard that we both hop over in the night (when sober).

The next morning he was as contrite and pliable as a feverish child, his eyes trembling with pain as he tried to recall exactly what happened to him between 8pm and 3am. "And I think I've lost my black jumper," he said, sadly. "I'm sorry I'm such a terrible person," he added, wringing his hands together.

And just like that, he will be good as gold for at least a fortnight. Tee hee.

But when  he is not on a bender, or revving up for a bender - and is instead feeling uxorious, he often cooks for us. I am a terribly resentful cook, finding the whole thing an awful drag as I do it all the time, while my husband revels in it, when he has the time to do it, and cooks generously and imaginatively.

Anyway the other night he made us a starter of breaded scallops, which he found in Nigel Slater's fast food and they were really great

1 clove of garlic, crushed
finely grated zest of one lemon
3 tbs chopped flat leaf parsley
75 room temperature butter
black pepper
1 quantity of scallops - about 3 handfuls small ones?
1 beaten egg
fresh breadcrumbs or medium matzoh meal would work just as well
butter and groundnut oil for frying

1 Mix the garlic, zest and parsley into the butter and season with black pepper

2 Dip the scallops into the beaten egg and then roll them in breadcrumbs

3 Heat some oil and butter in a pan until you have about a cm in the pan. Heat until hot and then fry off the scallops for about 3 mins each side. Set aside

4 Chuck out the oil and butter and then heat your garlic/parsley/butter concoction and spoon over your scallops when midly frazzed and melty - about 30 secs.

Eat and wash down with an Alka Seltzer.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Spare ribs



I occasionally go on, what is known in our house as, "The Shitty Food Diet."

The Shitty Food Diet is very simple and very effective - if what you want to do is lose a lot of weight very fast and don't really care about the impact on your health.

What you do is eat INCREDIBLY shitty food - but hardly any of it. So on the downside you get quite hungry, but on the upside, you've got some sort of disgusting, shaming treat waiting for you and the thing about diets is that they're all about morale.

So a typical day's menu might go like this:

Breakfast: 1 latte with chocolate croissant

Lunch: nothing

About 2pm: McDonald's double cheeseburger and small coke

6.30pm: 1 packet peanut M&Ms OR 1 Krispy Kreme OR 2 Jacob's cream crackers

Dinner: 3 small glasses of oaky Chardonnay and 2 handfuls of crisps

This is the kind of menu I find myself eating quite often and I am thin as a rake. People say to me "You are so thin, what diet are you on?" and I say "The Shitty Food Diet" and they go "Ha ha ha, no really."

Except next-eldest sister. She said "You are so thin, what diet are you on?" And I said "It's called The Shitty Food Diet." And she said "Ooh really - what does one do on that?" But my sister lives in Notting Hill - nothing surprises her.

So this is what I do on my own time, but on my husband's time, it's a different story.

But as it happens, we are getting a bit slack about provenence in this house. My husband's strict rules about what, exactly, one is allowed to buy and eat basically allow for us to eat almost nothing except kale and roast chickens. He doesn't want to buy, from a supermarket any fish that isn't mackerel or any meat that isn't produced by Duchy Originals. So if we haven't been to the farmer's market recently (where one can buy, guilt-free, anything one wants), the menu round here gets a bit samey.

I used to observe these rules faithfully but recently I've got a bit loose around the edges with it. The other day I just wanted some spare ribs, damn it. We'd just been to a restaurant called Sonny's Kitchen in Barnes, which was AMAZING - just the best food I've had for a really, really long time and worth a trip if you're anywhere near it.

You would think that being married to my husband I get to eat a lot of amazing food, but it isn't so. A lot of new restaurants we go to aren't very nice and if you order wrong, well: yuk. Sonny's Kitchen genuinely stood out.

So anyway we had these spare ribs, which were like, out of this world and I wanted to re-create them, although nothing like as spectacular. But I couldn't find any free range organic spare ribs in Waitrose so I just thought - fuck it - and bought the essentials ones.

And they turned out gorgeous, drowning in a barbeque sauce, which contained the following:

5 tablespoons tomato ketchup
3 heaped teaspoons English mustard
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1tsp chinese five spice
the zest of 1/2 an orange if you have it
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tablepoons veg oil to loosen
1 tablespoon vinegar, any sort

1 Mix together the sauce ingredients and leave the ribs to marinade for as long as you can - all day for preference but even 30 mins will make a difference.

2 Put in the oven at 180 for about 25 mins.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Jubilee Coronation chicken (for Harriet)



Yes I know I've done coronation chicken before, but it was at the end of a long boring post about me having a mental breakdown and I didn't use a picture so I feel I didn't really do it justice.

So this time, things are going to be more upbeat, okay? Ready?

This is also a special devotional post for my sister, Harriet. You haven't seen much of Harriet here. She is my eldest sister: blonde, mysterious, powerful in ways no-one in my family really understands. She has a degree in physics. She has two children and Kitty is always so excited to see her that she SCREAMS at the top of her tiny little tinny baby voice. Harriet is a master of not only Play-Doh but Mega-Bloks.

Anyway so Harriet is knocking about in North London quite a lot these days as she is waiting for her youngest, Emily, to start nursery in September and has sort of had it with all that swings/Rhyme Time/zoo crapola. So she mostly comes round to my house and sits in my new giant scary, over-bright kitchen extension and we talk about soft furnishings while Emily teaches Kitty about "sharing".

As we sat there gently photosynthesising, she mentioned that she has a flipping great shitload of people turning up at her house this Jubilee weekend and was pondering what to cook.

"Coronation chicken!" I cried.

"Is it on your blog?" she said, flicking through the Osborne & Little collection on my iPad.

"Yes but I must re-do it," I said.

And I thought maybe some of you also have a flipping great shitload of people turning up at your house like gannets, pointing at their mouths and expecting to be fed and you are quite at a loss of what to do. 

So - do this.

Take a large serving dish and arrange a lot of salad leaves around the edges, dollop a lot of coronation chicken in the middle (recipe below), and serve with mini baked potatoes. It is important that the baked potatoes are MINI, not big ones so that people don't think they are being given a JACKET BLOODY POTATO for their lunch and just think "my word, these potatoes are quite delicious".

This is not my recipe, this is courtesy of Julia Churchill and I am grateful to her for allowing me to reprint it here not once but twice

Julia Churchill's Coronation chicken
This makes enough for 4 people and the leftovers are really wonderful

I know I always say this, but please try not to be put off by the long list of ingredients, they are all readily available.

1 small chicken
4 large tablespoon dollops of mayonnaise
3 heaped teaspoon dollops of mango chutney
1 fresh red chilli (seeds discarded in only a slapdash way) or a pinch of chilli flakes
1 handful of chopped coriander
1 medium onion
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp black onion seeds
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 cardomom pod
1 clove
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 lemon for juicing to taste
salt and pepper

1 Roast your chicken as you normally would - I'd say at about 180C for about 1hr15-30 depending on the size of your chicken. Leave to cool and then strip until you have a bowl of chic

2 Chop and fry the onion very slowly until quite dark - this will take at least 20 minutes.

3 Mix together your spices, including the chilli then scatter over the onion and cook on a medium heat until your kitchen is smelling like the Taj Star. Let it cool.

4 Mix together the mayonnaise and the chutney and then add your spice mix. Give it a good stir. Stand back and admire it a bit. Throw in the coriander and then add the lemon juice, salt and pepper until it tastes nice. Combine with the chicken.

I used biggish Jersey Royals for my baked potatoes. Prick them all over and put them in a 180 oven for 45 minutes. It is VITAL that you prick them all over because otherwise they will explode in the oven, as one of mine did the other night. I'm sure you all know this already but I didn't and it was quite a shock when the potato blew up.

I believe in overcatering when it comes to carbohydrate so allow 4 potatoes per person.

GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!!!