Friday, 25 January 2013

French breakfast

I had a nightmare last night: it was that my husband said that if I didn't want to have any more than two children then he was going to go and have more with someone else. He was very matter of fact about it (in the dream) and sort of morphed into Tom Hardy in The Take - and not in a good way, ladies. In fact, it was ghastly. I woke up feeling uneasy and rather than barking at him and boxing his ears as is the usual way, was very nice all morning.

I have spent the entirety of this pregnancy feeling conflicted and inadequate for loudly calling it quits at two children. "I do not have the guts," I say to people, "for three." And I don't. At some point, you have to be realistic about what you are like. I am physically cowardly, mentally unreliable and morally slippery.

I just want to go on fucking holiday to somewhere hot and sunny and I do not want to have to buy a giant ugly car.

I don't want to do all this without children, you understand. I want to take children on holiday, take them to beaches and swimming pools, rub fragile shoulder blades with suncream, let them have two Cokes with lunch then pretend to lose count so they have three. Later, when they're older and if they're still talking to me, maybe we'll go somewhere crazy with them, like Cuba or India or Russia.

But I do not want to wait another six or seven years before we're able to jet off easily. And if we have three, could we even afford to go anywhere? We'd need three hotel rooms, five plane tickets, eighteen arms. An unlimited supply of benzos. Three children, to me, never seems like two children + 1, it seems like two children squared.

And yet... and yet... I am one of four children. Four sisters. One, two, three, four - that's us. A never-ending stampede of hair and teeth and nails and words.  There are so many of us that we are rarely all in the same room at the same time. Our relationship with our mother is like the painting of the Forth Bridge. Once she's got off the phone with the last one, it's time to ring the first one all over again.

Two children is lonely. Suburban. It's neat and dreary. And what if - oh god, horror - one of them moves to live in another country? Worst nightmare. What if neither have their own children? What if neither turns out to be the life-saving scientist I secretly crave to bring into the world? What if it's the third one who would have found a cure for cancer, or discovered a clean, free, sustainable source of energy for the world?

I am being stupid. Three children would kill me. Kill. Me. And my marriage. And they won't be scientists - who am I kidding. They will be pointless arts graduates like me. And they won't be lonely, I say to myself. They will naturally end up being better at making friends than I was, what with no instant gang at home.

I say two children is lonely but there was no lonelier person in the world than me during the summer holidays as a 14 year-old, sitting out the long, friendless six week stint in our London house, never going anywhere, never doing anything; there were just too many of us, at such wildly different ages, to configure any sort of holiday that would suit everyone. That won't need to be Kitty; we'll be getting on a plane to Croatia, just to see what's there.

This pregnancy has driven me to the edge of madness as it is; I find nothing about it charming, or fulfilling or interesting. It is doing unspeakable damage to vital areas of my body. It makes me a poorly-motived and boring parent. Kitty has already had to suffer the mild neglect and lack of stimulation caused by one extra gestation, why should she have to suffer two?

This is what goes round and round in my head. Endlessly, day after day. I feel like I ought to have more than two children - for Kitty's sake. But precisely bearing her, and only her, welfare in mind, I also think the exact opposite.

I cannot win. I can only hope that it really was only a dream, not my husband whispering sleepy truths into my slumbering ear.

Continuing on the theme of Kitty, I have been forging on apace with her international gastronomic education (just so she knows what to eat when we arrive at teatime in, say, Bucharest).

We have turned recently - keeping things simple - to France.

I am always casting about for things to do with my round griddle pan as part of my resolution not to leave kitchen equipment sitting about idle; I thought I would capitalise on Kitty's love of croissants to introduce a filled croissant to our breakfast repetoire.

A split croissant filled with either Nutella or ham and cheese goes down extremely well and it's very easy to do on a hot griddle pan: split, fill, place on griddle, squash with flat implement for 4 mins each side.

Because if she's not going to be a scientist, she's might as well know what to order on a History of Art trip to Paris.


Thursday, 24 January 2013

Aromatic pork belly hotpot

My husband absolutely loves Chinese food. If you want to make him seriously happy, ring him up and say "Shall we go out for dim sum?" This year for his birthday I am going to make a thing happen that I've failed to every year we've been together to do, and organise a party at a Chinese restaurant, get one of those tables with a big swirly round glass rotating thing in the middle. It's all he wants really, ever - to be about to sit down to a big spread of Chinese platefuls.

But as well as dainty dim sum bites, he also likes the scarier aspects of Chinese food; he is completely down with the Chinese love of texture - finding a plateful of cold jellyfish or chicken's feet as interesteing as a steamed pork bun. Often even more so.

I've never had that much success cooking Chinese food. Curries are easy, but I start out trying to make something Chinese and it turns into a Thai stir-fry.

But the other day I stumbled across a recipe for an Aromatic (i.e. Chinese) pork belly hotpot. There is a very famous Singaporean restaurant in North London called Singapore Garden, which does something very similar and I thought I would re-create it for Giles last night.

Because he is a bit down in the dumps, my husband. He is so, so bored. It is dark. We are not in the middle of an exciting boxset. I am grumpy and fat and not interested in anything except lying down and not being spoken to or looked directly in the eye.

Anyway this thing, from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, was absolutely terrific. Really amazing. And very simple, in fact - it only required a few things and the prep was easy.

I had been considering doing a Massaman curry but the list of ingredients was quite bonkers. Reading it and losing more and more heart as the ingredient list went endlessly on brought to mind that thing of when someone suggests a night out and it all sounds great but then they start saying "... the restaurant's in Putney... then we could all go out dancing...." and you look outside and it's just started snowing again and you say "Oh actually I think I've got a bit of a throat coming on, might give it a miss *Click Brrrr.*"

So if you like the sound of this hotpot, please give it a go because it produces something really quite echt and marvellous. It is, because it is pork belly, quite fatty and glutionous, so if you've got a bit of a "thing" about fat, this isn't for you. I mostly mean you, Becky B.

The only other drawback is that, like a lot of Chinese food, that it makes you thirsty as hell afterwards.

Aromatic Pork Belly Hotpot
Serves 4

1kg pork belly, skin on
8 spring onions
dried chillies
1 fresh red chilli
1 pint chicken stock
100ml light soy sauce (absolutely not dark)
75ml Chinese rice or mirin wine
25ml rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp light brown sugar
3 star anise fruits (fruits??? have always thought that was stupid)
10cm fresh ginger peeled and cut into slim pieces. Yes I know it is hard with a knobbly bit of ginger to achieve this, but just do your best
1 nest of fine egg noodles per person
1 little whatsit of baby bok choi per person

1 Chop up your belly into chunks, leaving the skin on

2 Put it in a pot and cover it with boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes. Scoop off the yukky scum that floats to the top. Try to ignore the slightly nasty porky stench.

3 Drain the pork, give the pan a rinse and then put the meat back in. Chop 5 spring onions in half and chuck these in then add the stock, soy sauce, rice wine, rice vinegar, sugar, star anise, ginger and a good pinch of dried chilli.

4 Now simmer all this for 2 hours with a lid firmly on.

5 After this time, lift the pork out with a slotted spoon and put to one side. If you have a gravy separator, run the remaining liquid through it to get the worst of the grease off. If you don't, do your best skimming the top off the liquid with a spoon.

6 Now boil the liquid briskly to reduce it a bit. Keep tasting as it boils because what you don't want is to reduce it too much and just get a far, far too salty thing. Better it still be a bit runny but edible.

7 Put the pork back into the liquid and turn the bok choi in the stew for 5-10 mins to steam.

8 Serve on a bed of noodles with some fresh chilli (no seeds) and spring onions cut on the diagonal over the top.

Eat and try to look on the bright side.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Salmon en Croute

I had salmon en croute once at someone's house and it was absolutely disgusting.

The cook had failed to use any salt, because they are the sort of person who thinks that any salt kills you stone dead within weeks. My view is that you can either use a decent amount of salt in your cooking and run the extremely tiny risk of it doing you some damage, or you can use no salt and die of a) starvation b) boredom. And get some mean leg cramps in the night.

But there's no reason why salmon en croute shouldn't be a delicious thing. It's wrapped in pastry!! I mentally file this kind of thing under my "finishing school" category of cooking. Quiches and souffles are also filed under this category. Baked bone marrow and suet puddings are filed under "New British", curries and stir-fries go under "student", lemon meringue pie, soup, and devilled kidneys go under "yuk" and so on.

I consulted the internet for a good way to do this and came across something by Gordon Ramsay. I'm normally shy of things by Gordon Ramsay or Gary Rhodes or anyone who has spent more of their waking hours in a kitchen than they have outside; they make all sorts of insane assumptions about the domestic cook, like that they will have a fish kettle, or a sugar thermometer, or that they are cooking for 80 people.

But this looked really quite straightforward. And it was! And it was also delicious - I really recommend it. It looks fantastically fiddly and impressive but it was really very easy. It also has the tremendous advantage that you can do all of it in advance and then just shove it in the oven 1/2 an hour before you want to eat.

It also doesn't create a lot of mess and it doesn't stink your house out while cooking. So it's no wonder really that it was served at every dinner party during the 70s and 80s country-wide. So out, it's got to come back in soon. I say bring it back now.

Roughly Gordon Ramsay's Salmon en Croute
Serves 4 (with something on the side)

2 salmon fillets - if you can get the salmon from a fish counter or fishmonger who can take the skin off, otherwise you are going to have to do it yourself and you will most likely make a huge buggery mess of it. Trust me, I have a shimmering range of the most expensive fish-skinning knives available for purchase legally and I can't do it nicely

Small bunch of dill
1 tsp-ish chopped lemon zest
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard, yes I know this sounds weird but it works
about 40g butter at room temperature (this is important so just be patient with it)
salt and pepper
1 packet all-butter puff pastry from jus-roll (not just the puff, in the green packet, but the all-butter puff, in the gold packet)
*My sister has pointed out to me that in Waitrose, if there is no all-butter puff available in the chiller cabinet, Waitrose have their own all-butter puff available frozen. Thank you Harriet for this most useful tip.*
1 egg, beaten, in a small bowl

Preheat the oven to 200C

1 Make a herb butter by smooshing together about 2 tbsps of chopped dill with a large pinch of salt, about 7 twists of the pepper grinder and the butter.

2 Dry the salmon fillets well with kitchen paper to help the butter stick and then paste one upturned curvy fillet side with the herb butter and the other upturned curvy fillet side with the mustard. Then fit these fillets together to make a reasonably even shape - like a yin yang sign. Put this to one side.

3 Roll out your pastry to a thickness of a £1 coin. This is thinner than you think it is, so maybe just have a quick check. Put the salmon in the middle of the pastry. Brush the pastry with beaten egg and then fold the sides up over the salmon like you're wrapping a present (have flashback here to most awful Christmas present received). Don't overlap the two long ends of pastry too much otherwise you'll have a great ridge of pastry down the middle of the salmon, which will not look chic.

4 Trim the sides and ends as much as you need to and then tuck the ends in under the salmon. Roll your parcel over so the seam is underneath and place on a greased or non-stick baking tray. Mark three slits diagnoally across the back of the bundle to let steam escape.

5 Brush the whole thing over with more beaten egg and then sprinkle with sea salt and more pepper for good measure.

6 Bake in the middle of your oven for 35 mins. The recipe said 20-25 mins but it was still cool in the centre after that time and after 35 mins it wasn't overcooked or burnt - and I've got a mega mental fan oven that razzes the living shit out of everything - so you ought to be okay.

And that's it! When it comes out, slice on the diagonal and serve with something nice. A salad maybe, if that's not the most boring thing I've ever said.

I would say here that obviously this is nice because it's wrapped in pastry - how could it not be? But I know for a fact that pastry can only do so much.


Sunday, 20 January 2013

Posh peas

In my brief but intensive 2-year study in parenting I have arrived at the conclusion that when it comes to children, it's all about picking your battles.

It is so easy just to spend all day shouting at your kid(s) but is that nice for anyone? No. One gets such a sore throat. So what I have ended up doing is spending all day wondering whether I should make a fuss about this or that thing that Kitty is doing or just let go. I don't always get it right. But neither do I end up shouting very much.

Here are some things that I have decided not to fight her about:

1 Drawing on the walls
2 Throwing marbles
3 Covering herself in fingerpaint when we are fingerpainting
4 Wanting to stand up while her nappy is being changed
5 Playing on an unattended iPad
6 Eating an unattended eye-level chocolate or biscuit
7 Finishing food

I even often, unbidden, let her behave like a complete animal, such as this evening, when she ate her dinner, standing up, straight from the pan with a wooden spoon:

Here are some things that I am a massive horrible strict bitch about at all times:

1 Bedtime
2 Physical aggression towards any Apple product
3 Pabbling her fingers in her water glass
4 Smooshing her hands into her food
5 Charging into the road
6 Snatching things off children we don't know. With the children of friends, it's basically every toddler for himself

Cooking is often about picking your battles, too. When asked about catering, I am always preaching on about making something simple that isn't going to stress your head, like spaghetti bolognese  or shepherd's pie or toad in the hole. But then whenever we DO have people round, I leave everything to my husband, who makes some giant complicated thing with eight side dishes and all I have to do is the washing up and light some scented candles.

But it means I have come to fear mass catering again. So this weekend, after I had invited Katie Razzall off the Channel 4 news and her terrifically handsome actor husband Oz and their two children round for lunch, I said that I would do the cooking. After consulting this blog for advice, I decided to make a Shepherd's Pie and peas and also Spotted Dog, just because it was so incredibly popular last time I made it. The pudding was the battle bit, but I just bought the custard - Madagascan Vanilla something or other from Waitrose. Delicious.

But I decided that the Shepherd's Pie would also have an element of battle in it - the topping. I insist on a reasonbly time-consuming topping for Shepherd's and Cottage Pie, which involves passing the potatoes through a ricer or a mouli legume, which gives a crunchy sort of rosti top, rather than just mashing it up and spreading it on top.

(Incidentally, my husband had a mouli legume when I moved in, the like of which I had not seen since I last saw one in my mother's house. This was very surprising as he had no cafetiere, or food in the fridge and had long run out of loo roll so there was some kitchen paper in the downstairs bog. He also kept the Flymo in the kitchen. But he had this mouli, some pearl caviar spoons and a £300 Japanese sushi knife. It made no sense.)

I also decided to do battle with the peas. Just boring old peas won't do if you are dishing up such an unglamorous, although delightful, feast as Shepherd's Pie and a suet pudding. So I thought I would do that thing where you tart them up with bacon and onions and cream - and it was absolutely terrific and well worth the fight.

Posh peas
With thanks to Tom Parker Bowles, who's cookbook Let's Eat is brilliant. All this royal in-law puffing is getting a bit suspicious isn't it? As it happens, I can't honestly say I'd turn down a gong, just in case anyone is listening.

Frozen peas (1 ladleful pp)
Frozen baby broad beans (1tbsp pp)
1 packet lardons, or 10 bacon rashers cut up smallish
1 large or two small onions
1 glass of shitty white wine
some cream if you have it
a scattering of chopped mint, if you have it

1 Fry the lardons over a medium heat until coloured.

(If you have been forced, like me, to buy reasonably cheap lardons, they will release the most ghastly amount of dribble and spit - just pour this off, while puckering your face in disgust, so that the lardons don't just steam grimly in the liquid, and carry on frying until done.)

2 Add the chopped onions and fry all this up together gently for a good 15 minutes. Add your glass of shitty wine, turn up the heat and bubble down until the bottom of the pan is about 90% dry.

3 Turn the heat down and add about 2 tbsp of cream if you have it.

4 About 10 minutes before you want to eat, add your peas and beans to the onion and bacon mix and cook all this over a medium heat for about 10 mins. Scatter over the optional mint.

Eat, while ignoring the scribble all over the walls.


Friday, 18 January 2013

Butternut Squash Lasagne

I'm sure you get the picture now: Celebrate is a pretty good book and you ought to buy it if you like the sound of it.

But just for laughs here's one last recipe from it, for a butternut squash lasagne, which is really great.

I don't especially like butternut squash but I often feel, especially at this dark time of year, that one really ought to make an effort to vary one's vegetable intake, or you can go for months just eating cheese on toast and baked beans.

This is a very good thing to do for an awful lot of people and it's also, if this is a factor, incredibly cheap to make.

Don't be scared of the white sauce involved in this (also called a bechamel). I will talk you through it. Now is as good a time as any to learn how to make one if you don't know how already.

Butternut Squash Lasagne
Serves 8
this is not Pippa's precise recipe, but it's very close.

1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1.2kg butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and sliced into crescents about 0.5cm thick (that's about the width of a pound coin).
1 bunch sage leaves
4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
450g fresh spinach
some nutmeg
salt and pepper
12-15 fresh or dried lasagne pasta sheets
2 x 125g balls mozzarella

for the white sauce or bechamel
125g butter
125g flour
800ml milk
75 grated parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling between layers of lasagne

Preheat the oven to 200C

1 Put the butternut squash, onion and garlic on a baking tray and sloop over some light olive oil, a generous scattering of salt and pepper and a small handful of chopped sage leaves. Roast for 20 mins.

2 NOW - make your white sauce.

- Melt the butter in a pan. I know it seems like a lot, but this is how much you need, so just go for it. That much butter takes a while to melt, about 5-10 mins.

- When the butter is melted TAKE THE PAN OFF THE HEAT and then add the flour, a tablespoon at a time. Mix and mash together between spoonfuls until you have a thick paste.

- WITH THE PAN STILL OFF THE HEAT, splash over some milk and incorporate. Then splash over some more until you have a runny concoction.

- Now put this back over a medium flame and add the rest of the milk, whisking all the time. Keep stirring and whisking until this gets very thick, then take off the heat and add the 75g parmesan. Throw in a good pinch of salt and about 6 turns of the pepper grinder.

3 Put the spinach in a pan with about 1 cm water in the bottom and grate over a bit of nutmeg, about three swipes of the nut on the grater ought to do it as nutmeg is terribly strong and too much ruins everything.

Cook this for about 5 minutes until the spinach has wilted. Then drain in a colander or sieve and really squash it down to get all the water out. I also usually have a go at it with a pair of scissors, just to make it look and seem a less like a tangle of dead leaves caught in a drain.

4 If you are using dried lasagne sheets, you now have to blanch them for 3 mins in boiling water. Now, the minute I put my sheets into boiling water they stuck together, causing me to panic and burn my fingers off later frantically unsticking them by sliding a knife between the layers.

I have no idea how one is supposed to do this without the lasagne sticking together. A lot of oil in the water or what? All suggestions welcome in the comments box.

5 Now assemble your lasagne. Put a layer of pasta on the bottom, followed by the butternut squash and onion and the spinach. Then white sauce, then a bit of parmesan. layer this as best you can, it doesn't really matter what you end up with on top. Although if you finish with a layer of pasta, it's wise to make sure you've got quite a lot of white sauce left otherwise the pasta crisps up in the oven and crunchy pasta is a bit of a challenging mouthful.

6 Finish this off with sliced mozzarella. Stick in the oven for 25-30 mins. You can fry off some sage leaves in butter and stick them on the top if you're feeling really flash.

Alas, I just looked through my pictures and I can't find the one I took of this lasagne. Though I'm absolutely sure I did take one. Anyway I've written it now and I'm not writing up another bloody recipe for something I HAVE got a photo of - I've got SNOW to play in!!!! So you'll just have to imagine what it looks like.

Or buy Celebrate, it's there on p. 30 looking splendid.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Raspberry souffle

These raspberry souffles nearly gave me a fucking heart attack while I was making them. They are absolutely the most complicated thing I have ever made. Anything that involves an instruction to "be careful not to scramble the eggs" sends me white with fear because I can scramble eggs just by looking at them.

But in actual fact although it was nerve-wracking, nothing went wrong and the result was absolutely terrific.

So please, if you have half a mind to do something like this, do give it a go with confidence; a recipe has to be so, so foolproof for me to attempt it for the first time in a bit of a panic and not to get it horribly wrong.

Most of the stages can be done in advance and I recommend you do just that to give yourself a break in order to cut down on Wild Hostess Panic Face.

Raspberry souffles
Makes 4

4 SMALL ramekins. And you must use ramekins here, not any other kind of ceramic bowl or any other size ramekin otherwise the souffle will not cook properly and you will get an eggy sludge in the middle.

some softened butter

For the coulis:
300g raspberries
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice

For the cornflour mixture:
90 ml double cream
100ml whole milk
4 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp plain flour

For the custardy extra:
2 egg yolks
6 tbsp caster sugar

You also need 4 egg whites, so before you start, separate 4 eggs: in one bowl keep the whites and put two egg yolks in two separate bowls.

And, of course, 4 tsp raspberry jam. I used seedless because there is nothing more irritating than a raspberry seed in one's molar.

Here we go:

1 For the raspberry coulis, whiz the coulis ingredients in a whizzer, then pass the resultant sludge through a sieve to get the pips out. Have a taste and if it is unbearably sour then add some more sugar, but this will be mixed with a reasonably sugary thing later, so don't go nuts.

I missed a huge trick here and used fresh raspberries imported from, I don't know, Burkina FASO or somewhere, when I should have used frozen British raspberries instead, which are available now in great quantities in your local supermarket freezer section.

2 Brush the insides of 4 ramekins with some soft butter and coat with caster sugar and then shake out the excess. Put 1 heaped tsp of raspberry jam in the bottom and put in the fridge to chill.

3 Mix the cream, flour and cornflour to a smooth paste.

4 Warm the milk over a medium heat, until just threatening to boil, then gradually splash into your cornflour paste. Whisk until smooth, then pour all this back into the milk pan. Keep this over a medium heat and keep whisking until it has thickened. This is terribly good for your triceps. Take the pan off the heat when it looks sort of thick.

5 Put the egg yolks in a separate small bowl and add the caster sugar. Mix to a paste and then add to the cornflour mixture in the pan. Now put this back on a medium flame, whisking until it begins to bubble slightly around the edges. I was so terrified of scrambling the wretched yolks that I waited until there was literally one tiny bubble and then snatched the pan off the heat in a cross-eyed panic.

6 The mixture ought to now look a bit like custard. Take it off the heat and leave somewhere to cool completely. At this point, you could stick this in the fridge and forget about it for up to two days and just finish the souffles off before you're ready to serve them. I did the whole thing in one night, hence mega stress.

7 Now pre-heat the oven to 180. Put the egg whites in a large bowl and beat until you get soft peaks. Add 1 large spoonful of egg whites and 6 tbsp of raspberry coulis to your cooled custardy mixture and mix well.

8 Fold in the remaining egg whites until the mixture is just all pink. Fill the ramekins to the brim and level off with a spatula. Put them on a baking sheet and bake in the middle of the oven for 14 mins.

Friday, 11 January 2013


Hello and welcome to part II of my Celebrate cooking odyssey, where I tell the tale of how I cooked three things from Pippa Middleton's book in one evening and almost had a nervous breakdown.

Today is gravadlax, which is home-cured salmon. I was really worried about this. I am terrified of supermarket raw fish. I think one ought to buy it, race home with it, cook it at 200C for 30 minutes and then eat it and throw the remains away in a council bin at least 300ft away from one's house.

(To all those who are on the verge of referring me to my home-made sushi phase - I used cooked, peeled prawns for that.)

So the idea that I was going to let some fish sit in my fridge "curing" for two days caused me intense anxiety. But not so anxious that I was going to go to a fishmonger for specially super salmon.

But I needn't have worried and you needn't worry either because it was just terrific and if I hadn't decided to do a moderately complicated starter and fiendishly tricky pudding either side of this, it would have been a complete doddle.

The premise is that you take some salmon, rub it with a lot of salt, herbs and GIN and then put something heavy on it and let it sit in your fridge for two days and it basically turns into smoked salmon. No, wait, it actually turns into gravadlax.

(Please see @emfrid, the associate-editor-at-large of this blog, who is a Scandi, for more information on an echt gravadlax.)

But this is vaugely how Pips does it. This is not her exact recipe as hers makes enough for 12 people.

Gravadlax for 2

2 salmon fillets
rind of one lemon
rind of one clementine or 1/2 an orange
2 tbsp gin - any old piss will do
1 small bunch dill
1 small bunch chives
2 handfuls maldon sea salt
a pinch of black peppercorns
1 tbsp coriander seeds

1 Put everything except the salmon in a whizzer and whizz. If your salmon has arrived with skin attached, remove this the best way you can see how.

2 Lay the salmon out on some clingfilm and then smother it all over with your curing paste. Wrap the fish reasonably tightly in cling film and then sandwich it between two chopping boards or other heavy flat things and stick it in the fridge for two days.

3 When you are ready to eat this, take it out of the fridge, take the clingfilm off (the gin will probably have slightly leaked out of the clingfilm - don't worry), and brush or scrape off with a knife most of the curing paste, just to make sure no-one bites down on a rogue still-whole peppercorn.

Give yourself a bit of time to plate this up as what you are going to do is slice it very very thinly with a fucking sharp knife and it requires a reasonable amount of care.

4 In advance, make up some condiments to go with this such as:

Toasted soda bread - essential

Pickled cucumber
In a pan dissolve 1 tbsp of sugar in 2 tbsp white wine or rice wine vinegar. Leave to cool and then drop into it strips of peeled, de-seeded cucumber - marinate for at least an hour

Dill sauce
1 heaped tsp dijon mustard
about 6-8 snips from a bunch of fresh dill
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp light olive oil
1 tbsp white wine vinegar

Some capers

Some very finely-chopped shallot if you want

Ice-cold vodka shots????

Isn't this also sometimes eaten with boiled potatoes and sour cream or something? Em? Hello? Is this thing on?


Thursday, 10 January 2013

Mushroom cappucino

I hope you realise how lucky you are to have me. How hard I work on your behalf. Do you know how much washing up there is involved in this little jig? I mean, I could just eat takeaway every night but I don't. I slaaaave away! Over a stove! Barefoot and pregnant! Just so you don't make a mess of recipes.

This is the sort of mood I'm in at the moment. Vile. Self-pitying. Martyrish. Rather than just doing whatever it takes to keep myself in a decent mood, I am tiring myself out, trying to do certain things, tick certain boxes and then snapping at everyone because I have run myself ragged or not had a nice time.

I've got to stop this. That way misery and divorce lies.  I realised at some point last year that if you are a wife and mother, you control the mood in your house. It's not your husband, or your child, it's you. If you are in a rat, everyone suffers; if you are depressed, everyone suffers. Happy wife, goes the saying, happy life.

Take yesterday. I decided on a whim to cook a three-course meal for my husband from things picked out of Celebrate, by Pippa Middleton. They all looked tasty to me and I haven't been doing many new things recently, so I thought I would. The menu went as follows:

Mushroom cappucino
Raspberry souffle

P-Mid did not, I ought to point out, put this menu together herself - these are just things I picked at random to make up a dinner.

And I ran myself absolutely flipping ragged doing it. By 8.30pm I was basically asleep on the sofa but hadn't yet finished the raspberry souffle, which was unbelievably complicated (although in the end a terrific success).

Anyway I recommend each of these dishes to you individually, (my husband said he had never eaten such good food in a domestic kitchen before, which makes rather a mockery of the last five years), but maybe don't do them altogether.

It would be too much to post all three recipes here, so I'll do each one in turn. Today it's mushroom cappucino, which is basically a little cup of delicious mushroom soup garnished with a froth. Giles says this is very early Nineties - Gordon Ramsay invented the soup cappucino apparently. But in 1993 I still hadn't been to a restaurant that wasn't McDonald's, so it all rather passed me by.

Generally-speaking I don't like soup, but what I mean by that is that I don't like a huge bowl of sloppy soup that you have to plough through. I'm always delighted with a little shot-glass amuse bouche of incredibly tasty soup that you gulp in one or two goes and go "yum yum". So this is what this is.

Mushroom cappucino
Serves 6

300g mixed mushrooms - chestnut/portobello mushrooms, for example
300ml milk
100ml double cream
dried mushrooms - wild or portobello or whatever
1 pint chicken stock
salt and pepper
4 spring onions
1 large clove garlic
butter and oil for frying
salt and pepper

1 Wash and roughly chop the mushrooms and spring onions. Melt about 40g butter with 2 tbsp groundut oil in a large pan and then sautee the mushrooms, spring onions and sliced garlic very hot for 4 minutes. Keep an eye on the time and keep everything moving around the pan. You do not want the garlic to catch and burn because it will taste filthy.

2 Now pour over the chicken stock and bring it all to a simmer for a minute.

3 Blend this however you can - with a stick blender or in a whizzer or whatever. Add 200ml milk, a long sloop of double cream and then season generously with salt and pepper.

4 To make your sprinkles, grind a palmful of dried mushrooms with a pinch of salt and about 10 turns of the pepper grinder in a peste and mortar if you have one. If not, you could probably just about get it all chopped up in a whizzer.

5 To serve put a ladleful of soup in a cup, topped with the froth off some frothed milk and a sprinkling of your dried mushroom powder.

To froth your milk, put about 100 ml in a pan and heat it gently then using one of those stick frother things, froth the milk in the pan over the heat. You will probably have to hold the pan at an angle and heat the cornered milk up over the flame.

(I am grateful to my sister Harriet for this tip as I had always tried to froth milk just heated up in the microwave and it doesn't work - at least, you don't get a foam.) 

If you don't have a stick frother thingy, it's perfectly okay to just drizzle on top of the soup some more double cream and add your sprinkles to that. I'm sure you could still call it a mushroom cappucino. I won't tell Gordon.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Pippa's Rainbow Cake

I sometimes worry that I might be a witch. It would make sense - I am not totally unsinister, with my weird red hair, beady black eyes, fearsome straight nose and strong Welsh ancestry (full of witches, Wales).

And it would explain a series of terrible things happening to people I hate. Three people, whom I have had cause to dislike intensely, have come to sticky ends - one had a near-fatal heart attack and was then made redundant, another broke their leg in an horrific accident and the other one actually died of cancer. All completely true. All in the last 3 years.

I cannot deny that I wished bad things for all of these people. But at the same time I cannot feel too guilty about any of it, because that would be to acknowledge that I think I really might be a witch - and that question would bring the priest and the doctor in their long coats running over the fields.

And anyway, terrible things happen to people I like, too - for example the woman I know whose newborn suddenly died last week, or my mother-in-law who had to have an emergency operation at Christmas. So if I do have any magical powers of Wicca, it probably isn't that I bring great pain and suffering to people who cross me - it's probably just that I bring shitty bad luck to everyone.

It is in this contrite mood that I turn to Celebrate, by Pippa Middleton. Everyone made terrific fun of this book when it came out, so furious were they all that she not only has a marvellous bottom and lovely swingy hair, but that she had landed a £400,000 book deal for writing about how to make paper chains.

But the thing is, this book is really terribly good and very inspiring and completely worth it if you are halfway inclined to throw parties but have, like me, little creative flair. And those famously obvious tips everyone scoffed at are actually perfectly sensible and not so obvious and stupid when you think of the awful, charmless parties you have been to where there's nowhere to sit, nowhere to put your coat and not enough to eat. If I turned up at any party even half as pretty as the ones shown in the pictures in Celebrate I'd be fucking beside myself with excitement.

So anyone who says this book is no good is just a bitter, miserable sour-face and I hope something awful happens to them.

It's also full of recipes, which I didn't realise. They are good, all useful classics like kedgeree, gravadlax and simnel cake and she has some brilliant ideas for inexpensive mass-canapes, like baking tiny baby new potatoes and finishing them off with a blob of sour cream and caviar (she suggests Sevruga, but there is nothing wrong with Lumpfish, frankly). AND she's got a twice-baked souffle thing, which I've been meaning to try for ages.

Pippa has also had the audacity to include a rainbow birthday cake, which caught my eye as it's Kitty's birthday quite soon and I do so like to present children with exactly what they want - i.e. hideous plastic toys with flashing light and noises, telly, full-fat, full-sugar, full-salt foodstuffs and enough E-numbers to blast them into space.

I was sceptical about the instructions for this cake, so I thought I would give it a go and possibly fuck it up, just to spread that essential extra bit of bad karma.

But even I didn't manage to ruin it too badly, although it didn't turn out anything like the picture. But that's my own fault. My complaint with this cake is not the method, which would be fine if you were a little more precise, artistic and meticulous than me, but that my blue and green came out as more or less the same colour. I think if I was going to do this again, I would know my limitations and maybe stick to only four colours - two in each sandwich half.

I might even, thinking about it, if I wanted to do four colours per sandwich half, fashion a cardboard cross to sit in the tin so that you could dollop the batter with confidence and whip the card away at the last minute to leave four reasonably even segments of colour.

I am also at a loss as to how one would present this without covering it with some sort of icing, as although the colours come out beautifully on the inside, the outside goes brown during cooking. Pippa helpfully includes a recipe for buttercream icing, which does the job: 125g soft butter, 250g icing sugar, 2 tbsp freshly boiled water and whisk.

The cake itself is delicious and the batter doesn't suffer too much from having the air knocked out of it when you mix in the food colouring.

Anyway so here we go:

Pippa's Rainbow Cake

the exact recipe can be found on p.312 of the excellent Celebrate, which I urge you to buy if you have half a mind to.

This mixture makes enough for a 20cm round or 18cm sq cake tin.

200g self-raising flour
200g sugar
200g butter at room temperature
4 eggs !! I know rather a lot
Large pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180C.

1 Cream together 200g butter and 200g sugar. Add the salt.

2 Whisk in the four eggs one by one. You do this to stop the mixture from curdling. I must say, I have never managed to stop a cake mixture from curdling completely even when doing this - but at the same time it has never made the cake horrible or anything. Having said all this, best not to dump all four eggs in at the same time.

3 Now fold in the flour.

4 Now divide your cake mixture into as many separate bowls as you have colours and give each bowl its own teaspoon with which to mix in the colour. Add each colour until you are happy with the saturation and then spoon the colours into your (well-greased) tin.

I was worried about this as I assumed they would all merge together and create a hideous grey/brown cake. They do not, as cake batter is reasonably stiff, but a clumsy hand such as mine means that I didn't get a gorgeously even distribution of colour as someone more talented might have. But these things are all about practice.

3 Give the tin a little shake to even the top out and then bung in the oven for 30-40 mins.

After this has cooled you may find you need to level off the top with a knife in order to be able to sandwich your two halves together, with the prettiest cake bottom (eh? See what I did there??) facing uppermost. As I had buttercream on the outside, I filled the middle with jam.

And I was really very pleased with it. So if Pippa suddenly drops dead of a brain tumour, you will know who to blame.


Thursday, 3 January 2013

Bread and butter pudding

My mind has gone. I felt it fading away about two months ago but it's really gone now. Bye bye. I can't read anything and am starting to do things like order 5 of the same thing on Ocado when I only wanted 1 and leaving the iron on.

When I was just newly up the duff I was reading Bring Up The Bodies and although I didn't really understand what was going on, there was no doubt that I was genuinely reading it, enjoying the, you know, atmosphere, if not actually taking on board any content. But then, like the bloke in Flowers for Algernon, I gradually ground to a halt, got stupider and stupider, more vague. I read fewer pages every night until my Kindle battery ran out and I just didn't bother to recharge it.

And that was the last literary thing I read. Now I read newspapers and Twitter and that's it. I can't even really concentrate on films. It's not forever, I know, but it is annoying. It happened with Kitty, too, but things were easy then. I just sat about humming to myself, eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and ordering things off the John Lewis website. Now, with nothing to read and nothing to think about all I do is obsess over when this will all be over and I don't have to be pregnant anymore - or ever again.

I am constantly struck by the pitifulness of the pregnant woman-with-toddler combination. Whenever I saw them in the playground I always used to think "Oh god, you poor cow." And now it's me. Yesterday, as I pushed Kitty's buggy through the freezing rain I was brought to mind of a character in The Mayor of Casterbridge*, the tedious Thomas Hardy novel, (which I hope for your sake you have not bothered reading): little Fanny Robin, pregnant out of wedlock by a scoundrel soldier and forced to walk for miles and miles through the snow, 8 months gone. I think that's what kills her. Or maybe she dies in childbirth. Anyway, it's grim and I dwell ghoulishly on poor Fanny Robin as I am forced, bookless, to focus inwards.

It will do that to you, being pregnant - it makes you selfish, self-pitying, green-eyed. It makes you covet things - slimness, agileness**, more help or the life of the woman whose children are all at school.

This is an inappropriate introduction to my recipe today, which is for bread and butter pudding - probably the antithesis of all this stark moaning. If stark moaning were a foodstuff, it would be a bad cheese sandwich from a motorway service station. Bread and butter pudding on the other hand, is the food equivalent of a really brilliant wedding speech.

I am not going to provide you with completely exact quantities for this because your pudding dishes will all be different and it's a very simple thing to make, so being very precise doesn't matter and you can judge things by eye yourself. And if I say that, you know it must be true.

This is based on Delia Smith's recipe, so if you can't handle the vague quantities thing (and I wouldn't blame you), do seek hers out online.

So here we go, Bread and Butter pudding.

Some white bread
ground cinnamon, allspice or nutmeg or all three
some mixed candied peel might be nice? But don't go out specially for it
3 eggs (ok you really DO need 3 eggs here)
double cream
50g sugar
some lemon zest if you have it

Preheat your oven to 180C

1 Generously butter your pudding dish. Then start buttering slices of white bread on one side, cutting them in half - rectangles or triangles, up to you, (crusts on) and arranging them in the dish.

2 You ought to be able to get about two layers of bread in here, and between the two layers, throw in some currants and sultanas and a sprinkling of spice or spices. Be generous. I used only Allspice, but a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg would be lovely as well.

3 Repeat this on the final layer.

4 In a jug beat the three eggs and then add to this the sugar, lemon zest then the double cream and milk in a ratio of about 2/3 double cream to 1/3 milk and mix.

NOW - this is the bit where you have to judge for yourself how much cream and milk you need. You don't want the egg-and-cream mixture to be slopping over the sides, but you want the top layer of bread to be soaking up the mixture from the underneath. Err on the side of caution and add less than you think you need - you can always top up the cream and milk afterwards.

Stir all this round and then pour over the bread. Give it a small jiggle. Mix some more cream and milk together and slosh over if you think it needs it.

5 Finish this off with a sprinkling of granulated sugar, if you have it, then shove in the oven for 30-40 mins. The eggy mixture ought to be just set.

Eat with custard or more cream, while staring into space.

*Fanny Robin is not, of course, in The Mayor of Casterbridge but in Far From The Madding Crowd - I TOLD you I'd lost it...
** agileness!! not EVEN a word!! Just give me some colouring-in to do...