Thursday, 29 November 2012

Toddler lunch

Kitty will eat perhaps a third of this

I have recently noticed an unusually high number of women confiding in me that their toddler hardly eats anything. "He's only eaten two of those Organix carrot stick thingies today," said one on Twitter. "And I bet he won't eat anything else for the rest of the day." Others fret about fruit and vegetables. "How," they whisper, "do you get Kitty to eat vegetables?"

Answer: I DON'T. I read, earlier this year, a book that changed my attitude towards Kitty's diet and therefore my whole life, as I was so neurotic and anxious about what she ate. The book was called My Child Won't Eat! by a Spanish nutritionist called Carlos Gonzalez and it is the most brilliant book on childcare I have ever read. And as you can imagine, I've read a lot.

He basically says this:

1 It doesn't matter how much your child eats. Your child is not small and spindly because it doesn't eat, it doesn't eat because it is a small and spindly child. You cannot, he says, turn a chihuahua into an Alsatian by making it eat a lot.

2 Your child will naturally, as long as he is given a range of food to choose from, balance his own diet. It might seem like the child eats no fruit or veg, but even a little lick of broccoli here, a nibbled end of carrot there, a tiny bit of apple somewhere else, will fulfill his nutritional needs. The important thing is that fruit and veg are offered, not that they are always finished.

Small children, says Gonzalez, have tiny tummies so they go for very calorific, high energy foods - cake, sweeties, chips, toast, crisps etc; fruit and veg are all very well but they are mostly water and fibre, useless is large quantities to the small stomach.

Children in deprived areas of the developing world will become malnourished faster than adults because they cannot physically fit enough of the sort of food that is available (vegetation, berries) in their tummies in order to draw out the relevant nutrients and calories.

3 You are very unlikely to be able to cajole, bribe or force your child to eat more than it wants to, to the extent that you will alter the child's food intake in any significant way.

So, he says, don't bother. You will only upset yourself and the child.

Put the food in front of the child, let the child/children get on with it for a reasonable amount of time and say nothing about uneaten food. Never try to get more food in than they want. No "here comes the airplane" or "you have to eat this or no pudding" or anything.

"Hurrah!" I screamed, after finishing the book. I threw it over my shoulder, rubbed my hands together and vowed from that day forth not to give a shit about how much Kitty eats.

She gets food, three times a day, with snacks. She gets carbohydrate, protein, fruit and vegetables. But I do not care - DO NOT CARE - how much she eats. I cannot begin to tell you what a release it has been.

And, further, I have now banned any cooking at lunchtimes. She gets a cold lunch every day and she loves it. She has

1 carbohydrate - crackers, bread and butter
1 sort of cheese - chedder, Jarg, Dairylea, mini baby bell, whatever's floating about
1 veg - carrot sticks, cucumber, baby tomatoes or a bit of sweet pepper
1 dollop of hummous if we've got some
1 protein - some leftover chicken, or ham, or a mini pork pie

Then she has some fruit and a biscuit.

And I can't tell you how great it is not to have to cook or fucking wash up pots and pans at lunchtime as well as dinner time. And there isn't a big hot lunch stink about the house AND if she's not in the mood to eat much, you can usually put back the uneaten stuff rather than throw an entire fish-pie-and-rice concoction in the bin.

I feel like women must have felt when they first started doling out the Pill - liberated. I feel, in fact, as relieved as when I confessed to Kitty's paediatrician Dr Mike, (when Kitty had a fever of 104 for three days), that I was worried that she would get brain damage and he said: "When was the last time you heard of someone getting brain damage from a fever?" And I said "Err," and he said "Unless you put her, with her temperature of 104, in a sauna, she isn't going to get brain damage." And I said "Ok," and have ceased to worry about fevers, too.

One can wind oneself up terribly about the strangest things, when there are so many better things to get your knickers in a twist over. Like steaming!! I have had the most terrific feedback on my miracle cure and have already this morning dispensed two separate specific steaming instruction miracle cures.

I can die happy.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Slow-braised kale

Oh Lord, Lord winter is really here and everyone is sick, dying, just trying to make it through the long dark afternoons to bedtime.

Tuberculosis lite? Cough cough cough couughghghgghghghggh *GAG* [pause] waaaail [pause] cough cough cough; or actual norovirus (please please God not noro, anything but noro); non-descript colds, going on and on, merging seamlessly into each other. Maybe one day in every fornight you feel alright, you wake up not all puffed up, stuffed up like your head is full of packing polystyrene.

Or is it just me.

But I should be pleased!! Because mass illness allows me to dispense to everyone my miracle cures! I am such a bore with my miracle cures, especially for coughs in the under 5. "You must STEAM him" I will bellow at perfect strangers at Talacre baby gym. "You must SIT in a STEAMY BATHROOM for TEN MINUTES MINIMUM three times per day! Put Karvol in the water! It's the regularity that does it. Three times a day! I know it's boring! But it's a miracle cure! When someone first told me I said 'Oh fuck off with your hippy shit - give me amoxycillin!' But it really works!"

I am making fun of myself, but I really do think this IS a miracle cure. Kitty had a cold that went feral last week and I had NOT been steaming her, (because it is so tedious), and she got a cough and last week one night was awake from midnight until 5am, coughing. Every time she was about to nod off, she coughed herself awake. It was awful! Not very nice for her, either. By about 0430am she was wailing "Sleepy-byes! Sleepy-byes!" it was terribly sad. Anyway the next day I steamed her to within an inch of her life and that night she only coughed from 9pm - 11pm. Miracle cure!

Are you still with me?
Are you with me or against me?

I also boast how I have bought a huge pack of latex gloves and surgical masks (mad!!) in order to prevent the inter-house spread of the inevitable noro.

What can be done?! How are we going to survive until spring? I can't imagine how in the world vegetables can possibly help but maybe, like steaming, they are the simple answer right under our noses, which we ignore because we just want to eat macaroni cheese and mince pies right now, thanks.

But allow me to introduce you to the idea of slow-braised kale, which is a way of making kale edible. I know! Who would have thought?

My husband made this the other night and it was genuinely a very delicious thing and I really can't imagine any scenario in the world that would make me think that about kale.

Slow-braised kale

2 bags kale - any sort
1 carrot
2 sticks celery
1 clove garlic
1 small onion
1 turnip if you have it
1 glass shitty white wine
1 organic chicken stock cube
1 chilli, deseeded and sliced (you can leave this out if you don't want it spicy)
salt and pepper
some thyme leaves if you have them

1 Make a mirepoix with the carrot, celery, onion, garlic, turnip and chilli. A mirepoix, if you have forgotten, is all of these things very, very finely chopped together.

2 Cook this down for 10 or so minutes in a pan in some groundnut oil, then throw over your glass of shitty wine and turn up the heat to bubble this down. Crumble your stock cube and sprinkle it over.

3 Rinse the kale and without bothering to dry it too much, put it in the pan and snip at it viciously with a pair of kitchen scissors, like a seagull attacking a bag of chips until it has sort of flattened itself out in the pan (but you do not want to obliterate it).

4 Now cook this on your smallest burner on the lowest heat for 1.5 hours. I know it is a long time.

We ate this with some Dover Sole and it was DELICIOUS. Cooked like this, kale magially takes on the taste of red cabbage, which is very strange but I think they are the same brassica-ish family so I suppose that makes sense.

Then we each took and Actifed and went to bed at 9.30pm.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Curried fish in yoghurt

This is a really terrific fish curry that I found in Guardian Weekend by Vivek Singh, via Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Watch out for the chilli in this - the way I use chillies is to buy packs of non-descript chillies from Waitrose and then let them sit in a jar until I need to use them. Of course, while they're sitting around they famously get very hot. I used one large one in this curry, no seeds, and it was fucking spicy. I mean, I don't really mind because I'm rock hard like that (I was especially tough and cool when I GOT SOME IN MY EYE!!!).

But the thing is, because you're not going to cook the chilli much here, you need to have a care for how hot your chilli might be whatever stage in its life it is and you might, perhaps, only put half in.

Anyway I really recommend this, it was delicious and doesn't take long. Like all curry recipes, the ingredients list doesn't seem to half go on for bloody ever, but it's worth buying everything in if you don't have it, especially the cinnamon sticks, which really make this extra yummy, in my opinion.

Even though I've always thought that cinnamon in curry is a bit gross, like fruit in leafy salads. But it's nearly Christmas for god's sake!!! You ought to have cinnamon sticks poking out of every drawer.

Curried fish in yoghurt
enough for 4

300g plain whole-milk yoghurt (I used Greek yoghurt, which was fine)
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp chilli powder
salt and pepper
500g white fish - haddock or similar, cut into chunks
oil for frying
1 bay leaf
2 cardomom pods, squashed with the flat of a knife blade
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
1 large onion, or three tiny ones, chopped or finely sliced
chilli, de-seeded and chopped or sliced
Fresh coriander and black onion seeds to scatter over the top if you fancy although on reflection, what with my rodent issues, onion seeds look a lot like mouse poo. This did not occur to me last night as I was eating this, which is a good thing. Sorry I've really ruined the whole thing for you now.

1 Mix together the yoghurt, ginger, garlic, turmeric, chilli powder and large pinch of salt. Turn the fish out into the marinade and leave for 30 mins.

2 Heat the oil in a pan then add the bay leaf, cardomom, cinnamon and cloves. Cook these for 2-3 minutes until you can smell the cinnamon and cloves. Add the onion and chilli and turn the heat right down. Cook these, turning often, for 10 minutes (use a timer).

3 Add the fish and its marinade and cook for 10 minutes. Turn it once carefully during cooking as you don't want to smash up the fish. Cooked yoghurt always ends up looking a bit grainy and gross, so don't worry about that.

4 Add more salt if you think it needs it (it probably does) and then scatter over coriander and onion seeds if you want to.

In fact, with all these cinnamon and cloves it's really quite a Christmassy dish.


Thursday, 22 November 2012

Sushi for obsessives

This is why you need to wipe your knife between roll cuts. Notice how I have focused on the only clean one

Up until very recently I laughed at people who made their own sushi. There are some things that are best left to the experts, is my view - and sushi is one of them.

Then my raging pregnancy craving for sushi got quite out of control. It's all I want to eat, ever. It's all I can really stomach eating. I don't really mean actual raw fish, although that will do, I really mean cut rolls, maki rolls - California rolls, spicy tuna rolls - even vegetarian rolls. I don't care. I'm not fussy. I just want fucking sushi. I am an addict.

Even my Japanophile husband is getting a bit alarmed by it all, especially when we went out to a robata (a Japanese grill, where they cook tiny things on skewers - really delicious) and refused to eat anything except sushi.

But I can only squeeze a trip out for sushi out of him about once a fortnight or he starts getting bored with it, so I've had to come up with ways of filling in the gaps between my professional sushi hits. I stopped short at the Japanese sundries section of Waitrose the other day, dithered for a moment, then held out my arms, and swept the whole lot off the shelves and into my trolley: sushi mat, nori paper, wasabi, sushi rice, sushi rice seasoning. Then I wheeled back to the vegetable aisle and bought a cucumber, then I wheeled over to the fish section and bought some cooked, peeled prawns.

And I will say this: homemade sushi is actually pretty good. It's not that hard to do and doesn't make much of a mess - all you need to cook is the rice and everything else is just an assembly job - I can see if you did it reasonably often you'd get very good at all that rolling.

My problem is with the rice - although I've never been good at cooking rice, I'm hoping that results will come with practice. The two times I've cooked it now it comes out a bit overcooked and means a slight mushiness in the resultant roll. I now wonder if this might not be because of actual overcooking but allowing the rice to soak for more than the advised 30 minutes prior to boiling.

If you are going to make homemade sushi, then obviously the thing to do is look up a tutorial on YouTube, that is the only way to see properly how to do it, but I also offer the following additional notes:

1 When you cover your sushi mat with cling film, tuck the ends of the film in under the mat, to stop the film ending up getting rolled up inside the sushi, which is not the idea at all.

2 Sushi rice is like fucking concrete. Do not allow it, as I did, to sit in sieves, pots, on knives or sushi mats for more than a few minutes because it wil lliterally superglue itself to any unguarded thing - it's mental.

3 Do wipe your knife on a wet cloth inbetween cuts of your sushi roll as it will make it all look so nice; if you don't, little bastard grains of rice will stick to the knife and then stick to the next roll of sushi and look all messy (see photo above).

4 Be generous with your sushi rice seasoning. Plain old rice is awfully boring and I have found that the directions on the back of the seasoning bottle don't allow for enough.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Duck and pancake (sort of)

I spent almost my entire first pregnancy worried about how much harder and worse it would be to be pregnant with a toddler in tow.

Of course, I was right to be worried. It's absolutely horrible. I have also got much fatter and stiffer quicker this time and am out of breath and feel queasy and faint at any sort of physical effort. Bending down makes me feel dizzy and lightheaded and if I pick Kitty up I feel like my bum is going to fall off.

But in some ways, being pregnant the second time around is easier. No-one pushes you around. No-one lectures you about how shit/marvellous having a baby is. Basically no-one really cares and it is great.

I also now know how long nine months is. It's a fucking long time. So you might as well take your coat and shoes off and arrange all your stuff around you nicely and get comfy because you're going to be in this state for a flipping age. My friend AC compares it with flying long-haul, economy. Just when you think you can't stand it any more, it turns out you're only in Dubai and you've got another huge slog left.

Mistake #1 that I am not going to make with this pregnancy is to look like a horrible slob. Last time around I just slopped around in disgusting denim jeggings and filthy Converse and ugly jersey tops, thinking that money spent on maternity jeans, or tights or new shoes or underwear or anything was a waste.

No fear. Not this time. I went out and bought, on the advice of my wardrobe guru Becky B, a pair of J Brand black skinny jeans for £185, which the nice girl in the shop, (Trilogy in Hampstead), sent off to get turned into a pair of maternity jeans. Then after you've had the baby, they turn them BACK into a pair of normal jeans! Let no-one say I am not thrifty. Although frankly they are probably going to be so knackered by next May that won't be much left to turn back into normal jeans.

And I've got a dress from Isabella Oliver, and ankle boots and a Zara tweed jacket with leather sleeves (I know! I AM fashion!), and some smart harem trousers and THREE new pairs of maternity tights and loads of these t-shirts from Top Shop, which are an absolute life saver.

Giles hates all of it. But as Becky B said as she saw me hesitating over the harem trousers "Don't ask yourself whether Giles will like it. He will only think you look nice if your arse and boobs are all hanging out." Becky B is Scottish via Blackheath and I always do whatever she tells me.

But I am, basically, doing all this for Giles. Because the person who really suffers during my pregnancy frump-outs is him. But it's not for him, him - if that makes sense - because he is a bit wary of all these rather @ManRepeller new clothes, but for other people, looking at him. I don't want people in restaurants to go "Oh look, there's Giles Coren and there's his.... really frumpy... dowdy.... fat... wife... urgh," I want them to say "Wow Giles must be really cool to be married to someone who wears harem pants!!!"

Mistake #2 I am going to try not to make this time is to get incredibly fat. I've already put on a stone, in the first trimester sugar/carb/neausea feeding frenzy - but I am wondering if all the eating I did last time in my 2nd and 3rd trimesters wasn't done out of self-pity and boredom, rather than actual hunger. I don't mean going on any sort of diet, I just mean when I've got a raging thirst I might try to quench it with sparkling water first, rather than a giant thing of Coca Cola.

(I once read in a pregnancy magazine, by the way, a thing that said "By five months, your jeans might be feeling a little tight." A LITTLE TIGHT??! Fucking hell, in both pregnancies I was in stretchy waistbands at EIGHT WEEKS. I wanted to set fire to the magazine but it would have made a terrible smell.)

What gives me hope is that I'm not as in to full Sunday roasts and lots of carbs as I was first time. All I really want is sushi. Sashimi, nigiri, california rolls, spicy tuna rolls. Maybe a seaweed salad? Cheeky little hot sake? It's all I can think about. Large bits of roast meat, creamy things, sticky, rich things all turn me green.

But that's still what my husband likes to eat, so I bought for his dinner the other day some duck breast. And then it sat in the fridge for days as I found excuse after excuse not to cook it because I just couldn't face it.

Then I came up with an idea, which was to use it in a sort of ersatz duck-and-pancake thing. I didn't hold out much hope for this as I only had fajita wraps for the pancake and a bottle of bought hoisin sauce for the sauce and duck breasts for the duck rather than leg.

But it basically worked. Which makes me think that if you could actually get some duck pancake pancakes from somewhere (one of you smartarses must know where?) you'd be really sorted.

I also discovered a very good way of cooking duck breasts, which gives you a really crispy skin and doesn't fill the kitchen with blue smoke.

1 Score the skin of the duck in a diamond pattern and then place on some kind of grill or grid suspended over the skin then pour 1/2 a kettle-full of boiling water over them.

2 Dry the duck very well and then put in the fridge to dry out completely - all day is great but 45 minutes will make a difference.

3 When you are ready to cook the duck, season with salt and pepper and five spice (if you want) and then put in a dry frying pan skin side down.You don't need any oil or anything because the duck is going to leak a lot of grease. If you have a skillet that will go in the oven use this. Cook this very gently for about 10 minutes, until the skin is brown and the pan is full of duck fat. Then turn the duck over and cook the bottom for 4 mins.

4 Now put in a 180C oven for 8 mins for medium and 10 for well done.

And that's it. Eat with your sliced up cucumber and spring onion with plum or hoisin sauce on whatever pancake type thing you can lay your hands on. Close your eyes and you could almost be in Chinatown.


Monday, 12 November 2012

Pear and hazelnut muffins

Muffins are a little bit passe these days. Like Friends and Snapple, they're just a bit nineties. They have been overtaken by their brash, rather disgusting, cupcake cousin.

But I still have a lot of affection for them. I think muffins are nice. And I came across this very straightforward looking recipe in a newspaper, but which utilised American cup measurements.

I was annoyed about this, just as I am always annoyed when a recipe specifies some sort of wildly exotic spice, cut of meat or fruit in an offhand manner, which implies that of course you ought to know where to source it from. I fucking don't!! And even if I did, I am not going to spend one of my three child-free mornings a week tracking it down. If you can't get it in Waitrose I am. Not. Interested.

Of course these days I DO, however, have a set of cup measurements, which I bought in Waitrose, so can convert the measurements for you.

On a whim, I decided to make these muffins with some pear and hazelnut because those were some things I had knocking about. I also used soured cream instead of buttermilk, (buttermilk!! we are in ENGLAND, nowhere sells it except big branches of Waitrose and I'm not always near one of those), which worked just fine.

You do not have to use pear and hazelnut in these - pretty much anything works: apple, chocolate, sultanas, banana, whatever. It's a very flexible vehicle, muffin mix. Having said that, the pear and hazelnut combination was really terrific and I recommend it to you.

Pear and hazelnut muffins - makes 8

2.5 cups plain flour - 340g
1.5 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup sugar - 160g
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup soured cream or buttermilk - 120ml
3 drops vanilla essence
1/cup melted butter - 75g butter, melted
2 ripe pears, diced
2 lady-handfuls of hazelnuts, chopped and toasted in a dry frying pan for about 10 mins

1 In one bowl combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. You do not have to sieve this but you could swizzle it about with a whisk for a bit.

2 In another bowl mix the beaten egg with the soured cream, vanilla extract and melted butter. Someone like Raymond Blanc would separate the eggs first, beat the whites and then add them separately, to make the muffins lighter.

3 Add the flour to the egg mixture and mix just until there is still about 10% flour showing, then tip in your pear and hazelnuts (or whatever you are using) and mix to combine.

4 Spoon immediately into muffin cases. Fill these to just below the brim. This is important, as these will not rise that much on cooking and you want that big luscious, over-spilt look.

5 Bake at 200C for 16-20 mins. Keep an eye on them if you have a light on in your oven. Mine were slightly underdone as I put them in at 180 (because of fan nuke horror panic) but if you have a normal oven I think you'll be okay at 200C for 16 mins. Bake in the middle shelf.


Friday, 9 November 2012

Date bread

If this looks familiar, it's because it is almost identical in every way to a Banana Bread For Dory (q.v.) but it uses dates instead of bananas.

I wanted to try this out because my friend Becky B brought over a sticky date cake the other day and it reminded me of the packet of dates in the larder I had been meaning to use to make a sticky toffee pudding, but have never quite found the excuse for.

It's also because I do LOVE that banana bread recipe but quite often don't find I have quite the right number of overripe bananas to justify it. So I wondered if it was possible with dates. And it is! It is still a sort of date bread, rather than a cake, because it's not especially sweet, which I think is a good thing. You could definitely spread this with butter, for example. Like all cakey/breads that are not a sponge, this keeps very well in tupperware for a few days.

Becky B did a terribly clever thing with HER date cake, which was to soak it, in the manner of a lemon drizzle cake, with a caramel sauce that she bought from Waitrose - it was Bonne Maman, she said: "Confiture de Caramel". She thinned it with some hot water, pricked the cake all over with a skewer and then went MAD with the sauce. It was really, really fab. My mother always says that things that other people have made for you are always more delicious than something you have made yourself, but still - Becky B is a terrific cook.

You can also make your own caramel sauce if you are that sort of person - there is a recipe somewhere on here, have a rummage.

So here we go

Date bread

150 veg oil
200g dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
250g dates
75g natural yoghurt
1 tsp bicarb of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
225g wholemeal spelt flour (get it from Waitrose)
2 tbs caster sugar or cane sugar

1 Pre-heat your oven to 170C and butter a 2lb loaf tin and line it (YES you must do this, don't be lazy) and line a baking sheet, too.

1 In a bowl whisk together the oil, sugar, vanilla and eggs

2 Chop up the dates roughly then put them in a bowl and pour over boiling water to just cover them. Leave them to soak for 20 mins then drain them and sort of gently mash them through the sieve to get out most of the water.

3 Add the youghurt to the dates and mix together. Sprinkle over the bicarb of soda, baking powder, and salt and stir again.

4 Mix the date mixture and the sugar/egg mixture together. Then sprinkle over the flour and stir until things are only just combined. Over-mixing is disastrous here so stop as soon as you can't see any more flour. Spoon the batter into your smugly-lined tin.

5 Sprinkle some sugar - caster, cane or granulated -down the spine of the loaf and then put in the oven.

7 Bake for 45-50 mins.

HOW is Kitty, people say to me. How is she, how is she? I don't talk about her that much any more because she is just off my hands. She turns two in February but she has been off since she turned 18 months old and could walk, talk, ask for things, watch tv, sit and draw or look at her books, play imaginary games with her stuffed animals, scoot around the kitchen on her little trike and so on. She is an actual person these days and it's such a relief, I can't tell you.

When I look back on some of the darker things I wrote when she was small I feel awful, so guilty. But it must have been bad for me to write those things, it must have been like that. She's now this little chattering pixie, everyone wants a piece of her, everyone wants a smile and to hear her squeak "I'm knackered!" - her first party trick.

I used to dread her waking up in the night - the thought of it made me feel actually sick with anxiety. Now sometimes I wake in the night and hope that she might wake, too and need me. But she never does.

Here is a picture of Kitty with her bunny, her hair a bit wild from her nap. Note how she is gripping the bunny quite hard round the neck - I think she is trying to get him to tell her where the chocolate is. I can get pictures printed on t-shirts, mugs, bags and mousemats for a small fee if anyone is interested?

Though I can see the benefits of babies, I suppose. They are not constantly after your iPad and whatever it is that you are eating. And they don't have a massive fucking tantrum when you try to stop them from doing incredibly dangerous things.


Thursday, 8 November 2012

Pot-roast partridge with savoy cabbage

I felt so guilty all of yesterday for the carpet disaster that I set about making a very elaborate partridge thing for my husband's dinner, using the two partridge he had bought on an impulse at the Farmer's Market the previous Saturday.

This was a slightly over the top thing to have on a cold November weeknight but I think my husband liked it - though I had a sudden and unexpected massive attack of nausea at 7.45pm so couldn't eat a thing.

This would be very good for a dinner party - everyone gets their own partridge and the sides are straightforward and easy to do in bulk. I'm sure you could do this with quail, as well. Or pheasant? Or are pheasant huge?

Pot-roast partridge with Savoy cabbage

For the partridge

2 partridge
1 small savoy cabbage
2 carrots
1 medium onion
2 bay leaves
4 sage leaves
4 sticks thyme, leaves picked off
2 sticks celery
1 glass white wine
1 pint chicken stock

For the cabbage
(you do not have to have cabbage with this. Maybe some lovely mash instead, or a cauliflower cheese?)

1 cabbage
1 small onion
4 rashers streaky bacon
1 tbsp cream if you have it

1 In a casserole pan with a lid, melt some oil and butter and then brown the partridge all over. Do this quite thoroughly - I'd say for about 6 minutes in total. Once browned, remove the birds to a plate and take the casserole pan off the heat.

2 Now make your mirepoix. Don't panic! I will explain what this is.

A mirepoix is a mound of very finely-chopped onion, celery and carrot, (although there are variations on this), which makes up the base of a lot of French sauces and soups. This is one of the reasons to own an incredibly expensive, very sharp knife from the likes of Global. Ask for one for Christmas! (I am not on commission)

Chopping up carrot and celery very small is easy enough, but I always struggle with onion. What I tend to do is try my best and then when it all starts going to piss and slipping about everywhere, I just go over it with my knife in a levering motion to get the rest really small. Not what Jamie would do BUT HE'S NOT HERE :(

Anyway so that is a mirepoix. Make one of these and then add to it your bay leaves, thyme leave and torn sage leaves.

This is a mirepoix. The veg could stand to be even smaller but I am a bit ham-fisted.

3 Add the mirepoix to the recently-vacated casserole pan and cook this over a medium flame for 4 minutes. I chose to stir this a lot to stop the onions from catching and it was a good idea. After this time, add your glass of white wine and turn the heat up so that it all bubbles down to just a thin pool of liquid at the bottom of your casserole. This takes a few minutes.

Now add your stock - it really must be decent stock, not from a cube - and put the partridge back in. Put the casserole with a lid on in a 180C oven.

The recipe I followed, although good, left the partidge rather scarily underdone as it only specified a 15 min cooking time. So if I were to do this again I would do 15 min with the lid on and then 10 mins with the lid off. Another benefit of this is that partridge can have an unfortunate greyish tinge to the skin and taking the lid off allows the top to brown, which is so important for presentation. And, because this is a pot-roast, you don't have to worry about the partridge drying out because it is protected by the surrounding liquid.

4 While the partridge is cooking, shred the savoy cabbage and chop up the onion and bacon. Sweat the onion for a few minutes in some butter and oil and then add the bacon. Cook this for about four minutes and then add the cabbage. Put a lid on and leave for another four minutes. I was not happy about leaving this with so little liquid so added a ladleful from the partridge cooking sauce. In all I reckon I cooked the cabbage for about 10 minutes. The recommended 4 minutes just left it raw and crunchy. I finished the cabbage with some cream I had knocking about.

4 Once the partridge is done, remove and put somewhere to rest and keep warm. Put the casserole pan back on the hob and give it a good boil to reduce the sauce. Season generously with salt and pepper after it has reduced.

5 Serve with a pile of cabbage, a partridge (on or off the bone, up to you) and the cooking sauce.


Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Cinnamon buns

The plan for this morning was to write some hilarious thing about something or other as an introduction to these terrific cinammon buns, while the carpet man replaced the scraggy old carpet in what is about to be Kitty's new bedroom.

It was all going so well. I hadn't lost the recipe for the cinnamon buns, (a miracle), my laptop was working (double miracle), I'd had a cup of tea and the carpet man was actually early (such a miracle that I ought, then, to have smelled a rat).

But then he brought in the wrong carpet. It was a stripey one, the one we use on the stairs. Not the plain beige one, that we use in bedrooms.

Oh god!! Oh god oh god oh god I've ordered the wrong fucking carpet.

I searched my email, shaking, looking, searching frantically for some indication that this wasn't my fault. But it just completely was. Is. Is my fault. So I now have to re-order the carpet at vast expense and try, for the rest of the day, not to burst into tears about it.

"YOU KNEW I WAS AN IDIOT WHEN YOU MARRIED ME," I screamed pre-emptively and defensively at my husband, who was standing in the kitchen looking at me sympathetically.

Anyway here's a recipe for some cinnamon buns. They're nice.

Cinnamon buns by Edd Kimber
makes 16

For the dough

250ml whole milk
50g butter, plus extra for greasing tin
500g strong white bread flour
30g caster sugar
1 tsp salt
7g fast-action yeast. This is the equivalent of one of those sachets you get in boxes of yeast. I decided instead to use 7g of yeast in a tin, which was past its sell-by date, so the first lot of dough I made didn't rise and I had to throw it away and start again. It's all just going so well in my world at the moment.
1 egg, beaten
veg oil for greasing

For the filling

150g light brown soft sugar
3 tbsp ground cinnamon
60g butter, very soft, plus a bit extra to brush over the buns pre-baking
75g currants

... and some icing sugar. Edd mixes 125g icing sugar with 75 cream cheese and 2 tbsp whole milk. I didn't do this and plain icing is just fine. However, I have tasted this other sort of icing and it is very nice, so if you are so inclined, give it a go.

1 Put the milk and the butter in a small saucepan and heat very gently over the lowest available heat until the butter has melted. Set aside and leave it to cool to a lukewarm temperature.

2 In a bowl, mix together the:

- flour
- sugar
- salt
- yeast

to this add the milk/butter mix and the beaten egg. Mix this round until you have a dough.

3 Flour a surface and knead this for 10 minutes. Ten minutes is a VERY long time, so put a timer on or something because you will want, powerfully, to give up after about 3 minutes.

4 Put the dough in a bowl that is large enough for it to double in size. I do not have a bowl that big so I used a massive saucepan instead. Anyway whatever you use, lightly oil the base and sides.

And NOW stretch some cling film across the top of the pan/bowl in order to form an airtight seal over the dough. I think I am possibly the only person in the world who doesn't know that you are supposed to do this with dough, but I didn't. Maybe you don't know either. Maybe you think, like I used to, that you could just sling a tea-towel over it. No. If you do that air will get to it and form a very thin crust, which will both stop the dough from rising properly and also make it very difficult to shape later.

You're all laughing at me now, I can tell. Go ahead! I don't care! Kick me while I'm down why don't you.

5 Leave the dough to rise in a warm place for 1 hr. While this is happening grease with butter a 23cm x 33cm high sided baking tin. If you, like me, don't have one of these, you can use whatever combination of high-sided baking tins you've got to fit the buns in.

6 Tip your dough out onto a floured surface and roll out to 40x50cm. I ended up using a tape measure for this. The funny thing about rolling out dough like this is that at first you think - how am I going to roll this out to any sort of rectangle shape? If you try the dough sort springs back on itself and will only go into a round shape. But if you keep on rolling it out thinner and thinner it suddenly complies and relaxes into a rounded sort of rectangle. It has to be seen to be believed.

7 Mix the brown sugar and the cinnamon together in a bowl. Now take your 60g of very soft butter and spread the dough with it. Now sprinkle over the sugar mixture and then the currants. Don't be afraid to press all this into the dough reasonably firmly.

8 Now roll all this up into a tight log shape. I'm sure the Bake-Off Masterclasses showed a terribly clever way of doing this, but I missed that episode, so just do this the best way you can see how.

9 Trim the ends off the roll and then cut into 16 pieces. I used a tape measure again for this. All you do is mark out the middle of the roll, and then mark out the middles of those two halves and then again until you've got 16 bits. Cut these up and then arrange in your collection (or not) of baking tins then leave THESE to rise for 45 mins, again with the tins covered with an airtight seal of clingfilm. Before baking brush these with some melted butter.

10 Now - to bake. My oven is a fan oven and therefore nukes anything I bake, which is why I don't do much baking. If you have one of these wretched bloody ovens then bake your buns at 165 for 30 mins, laying a sheet of foil over the buns for the last 15 mins of baking time. If you don't have a fan oven, bake these at 180 for 30 mins, but also cover for the last 15 mins of baking time.

I lost my nerve halfway through baking these and turned the temp up to 180 and although the buns were a triumph, if anything they were a tiny bit over-cooked. So next time I will just stick to 165 the whole way.

11 Mix up whatever icing you are using and drizzle or spread once the buns have cooled a bit.

Eat and then hang yourself with a length of carpet gripper.


Thursday, 1 November 2012

Bond, villain

I hope you don't mind my husband butting in on our conversation (that is not my husband above, that of course is Daniel Craig).

My husband, Giles Coren, will only be with us for a moment. He's just got a few words to say. It's a piece that was supposed to go in The Times on Saturday, you see - only they wouldn't run it. It was about James Bond and there's been too much Bond, they said, someone else is doing something on something or other. So write something else, yeah Giles? Well my husband is an accommodating sort of chap so he said okay then - but it's such a good piece it deserves to be read and Tweeted and to bust out from behind the paywall will make him so very chipper.

I promise this won't be a regular thing.

Coming soon: a recipe!!!

(The piece they tried to ban. Warning! This contains plot spoilers...)

by Giles Coren
There is a moment in the new James Bond film so vile, sexist and sad that it made me feel physically sick. If you have not seen the film and fear a spoiler, then look away now. Or cancel your tickets and do something less horrible instead. Like pull all your fingernails out.

In short, there is a young woman in this film whom Bond correctly identifies (in his smug, smart-arse way) as a sex-worker who was kidnapped and enslaved as a child by human traffickers. She is now a brutalised and unwilling gangster’s moll. She gives no sign of being sexually interested in Bond, merely of being incredibly scared and unhappy. So he creeps uninvited into her hotel shower cubicle later that night, like Jimmy Savile, and silently screws her because he is bored.

That is vile enough. And totally out of keeping, I’d have thought, with Daniel Craig’s Bond. But it gets much worse when she is later tied up with a glass of whisky on her head in a hilarious William Tell spoof, and shot dead in a game devised by the baddie. We knew already knew the baddie was bad, so there was no plot developing element here. It was merely disgusting, exploitative, 1970s-style death-porn (like when Roger Moore torpedoed the beautiful girl in the helicopter in The Spy Who Loved Me and then joked about it – a scene from which it has taken me 35 years to recover).

The ‘new’ Bond’s immediate response to the killing of a tragic, abused, indentured slave woman is to say, “waste of good scotch” (this must be the ‘humour’ Daniel Craig said he was keen to put back into the role) and then kill everyone. He could have done it three minutes before and saved her. But that wouldn’t have been as funny, I guess.

That Macallan (the whisky brand on her head) presumably paid to be involved in the scene, as part of the film’s much-touted product placement programme, is utterly baffling to me.

Personally, I am ashamed, as a journalist, of the five star ratings this film garnered across the board from sheep-like critics afraid or unable to look through the hype, to its rotten soul.

I am ashamed, as a man, that women are still compelled in the 21st century to watch movies in which the three female outcomes are:

1) Judi Dench’s ‘M’ dies, and is replaced by a man;

2) The young abuse victim is shagged by Bond and then killed for a joke; and

3) The pretty girl who manages to remain chaste despite Bond’s ‘charms’ is rewarded at the end with a job as his secretary.

And I am ashamed, as a British person, that this film will be mistaken abroad for an example of prevailing values here. It is a sick, reactionary, depressing film and its director, Sam Mendes, should be ashamed of himself, all the way to the bank.