My first mumbled thought on waking this morning was that it is now acceptable to have a mince pie. Bonfire night has passed and November is wrapping its chilly fingers around mine reminding me I need some new gloves. Here at the kitchen table I'm doing a passable impression of a snowman.We have moved out of ours temporarily so the decorators can paint over years of underinvestment and its accumulated grime, which includes the children's use of walls as Basquiat did. Bee's parents are kindly letting us stay with them, and unused as we are to big, old houses, (insert joke here about the owners being creaky and and falling apart? Pretty sure mother-in-law doesn't read this? Check first) I'm considering turning their thermostat right up and convincing them it must be their advanced years that is giving them hot flushes.The beginning of the week, although disorganised and busy packing boxes, didn't prevent us eating homemade food. We had the leftovers from the Sunday roast as an evening meal of chicken noodle soup. That also left, in turn, chicken noodle soup leftovers for Monday's supper, pepped up with a little ginger, garlic and chilli. For us, Monday's meal is usually light and often no more than scrambled eggs on toast. Albeit scrambled eggs cooked with fresh curry leaves, garlic, ginger, green chilli, onions, garam masala and coriander.We saved the eggs for Tuesday, where I cooked down some tinned tomatoes with garlic, onion, some sautéed chorizo and a dash of nutmeg and chilli flakes. The eggs went into this sauce and baked in the oven for ten minutes before we eat it spooned onto lightly toasted sourdough, plates balanced on our knees watching the penultimate episode of W1A.Our first meal in our temporary home was Sue's 'Greek chicken', a delicious rich tomato and cinnamon stew. The following evening I cooked us all beef stroganoff at Bee's request, using a recipe from 'The Cookery Year'. To some, it may be comfort food, and I suppose if you've eaten nothing but turnips in the Russian winter it probably is, but it left me, like a Moscow November, rather cold.The week ended with me returning from a day at work to a cosy kitchen and a Bolognese. Its aromas of soft and sweet garlic and sautéed onion is one of the most welcoming things there is. This was most appreciated after a long day. Being cooked for and looked after is something we all need from time to time.Sunday brought roast pork with its glorious crackling, the fat having been rubbed with salt and left uncovered in the fridge overnight to dry. I contributed a deep and slightly piggy apple gravy from the roasting juices. After, there was an apple crumble which is fast becoming a legal seasonal requirement. Thank God we'd been for a walk in the park before lunch. But it was the ribs, tender and falling off the bone after two hours cooking beneath the pork joint that were the best part. The juices and flavour from the apples, onions, rosemary and garlic had soaked and poached them in a robust liquor that was as if the whole meal had been distilled into a single, melting bite.I made a dhal for the evening meal. Simple but full of caramelised onion flavour and spiced with warming turmeric, cumin, mace, mustard seeds and coriander. There were homemade flabreads, the dough filled out with a little natural yoghurt and a handful of seeds thrown in for good measure as well as a side dish of flash-fried garlicky courgette cubes. This just filled the little gap that always seems to appear late in the day even after such a handsome and substantial lunch.For the week ahead I plan, having liberated the barbecue smoker from ours, to slowly cook the 1.5 kilo chuck joint I have. Six hours should do it, perhaps a little longer, rubbed with spices and smoked with hickory wood. These cold, crisp days seem made for cooking on a fire outside where I can sit warmed by the heat and breathe the fresh, clean air mingling with the smell of flaming meat and smoky wood. Perhaps I need to grow a beard and get a padded check shirt for this.Another night I may suggest a chickpea tagine with lamb chops and prunes. And to use the big bag of homemade chicken stock I found in our freezer perhaps I'll cook us a simple risotto bianco, or a wild mushroom and white truffle oil one loaded with butter and Parmesan.But for now, here is my recipe for a quick apple tart. I've used Granny Smiths, they are slightly sharp and keep their shape well when cooked, which is ideal here. Bee doesn't seem to share the enthusiasm my son and I do for cooked apples, but I made this the other day and there were almost tears, certainly a wobbly bottom lip, when I told Noah there was none left. There was almost the same from me when I realised it too. Maya seemed less bothered, she had solemnly and silently cleared her plate and then disappeared to run around somewhere with a cardboard box on her head or something. But it's so simple to make, and the children loved helping, I'm pretty sure it will be appearing on the table again soon.Ingredients6 granny smith apples, peeled (keep the peel), cored then cut into segments and thinly slicedJuice and zest of half a lemonA fair old scoop of butter, melted. Probably four or five tablespoons, perhaps a little more. I can't be sure exactly. These things are more often than not a matter of judgement2tbsp soft brown sugar1tbsp ground cinnamon3-4 sheets filo pastryAn equal amount of water and brown sugar for the syrup glaze. Just enough to cover the apple peelingsMethodToss the apples through the lemon juice and zest and heat the oven to 180c.Bring the apple peel, water and sugar to the boil and simmer for five minutes. Leave to infuse while you prepare the tart.Butter the inside of a small to medium oven dish and lay a sheet of the filo down. Brush this with more butter, a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar and lay a load of the apples down in neat rows.Sprinkle over some more sugar and cinnamon and a healthy drizzle of butter then lay down another sheet of filo.Repeat until you have finished with a final layer of apples and another sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon.Drizzle over the syrup and bake in the oven until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Leave to cool a little before serving with vanilla ice cream and the crushing disappointment that one slice just isn't enough.This weekWatched: Blue Planet 2. Mind-boggling stuff. The BBC justifying its licence fee on this alone. Incredible stuff. Maya asked me if Attenborough was a real man and still alive. Long may he be.Read: Obviously, still Middlemarch. I'd say you can take that as read, but I'm still only halfway through. I'm beginning to have mutinous thoughts. But there was also the brilliant Bill Buford writing in the New Yorker from 2002 about his time spent with Mario Batalli in his New York restaurant Babbo.Listened: Dirty John, a podcast about an online relationship with a nutter.Eat: Bad chicken and pappy chips that was anything but 'cheeky' before a perfect fireworks display in Beckenham for the children. Quieter and friendlier, the kids went free and the £5 per adult went toward the scouts. Refreshing to see a community event not being run for profiteering. We bought lemon ice creams from the van and came back to snack on Bombay mix and peanuts while watching 'Strictly'.
I was five or six, and for some reason, every so often in assembly, we would sing 'Yellow Submarine' — I had no idea who the Beatles were, let John Lennon who had just been shot, although not in my assembly — and less frequently, but with no less gusto, 'Sinnerman' by Nina Simone.If you look at me closely, you can tell I didn't grow up as an African American, and yet, the reasons lost to me (and probably the whole of my 1970s hugely white suburban, middle class, Catholic primary school outside Reading), our perm-laden television-sized glasses wearing music teacher used to get us all tunelessly belting these out like some disfunctional gospel choir.To a child just grasping the concept of a cat sitting on a mat, Yellow Submarine is a suitable song. But why anyone would sing a song questioning where some cinnamon was going, where it was running to, where it was going to hide was beyond me.To this day, the two are superglued firmly together; Simone's song and some aromatic tree bark. When I cook with it I sing the song and when I hear the song I think of the spice. It's a strange place, sometimes, the mind.To that end, today's recipe is cinnamon buns. Soft, sweet, pillowy spirals of spiced dough wrapped around melting, sugary cinnamon butter. I quickly made these while waiting for a beetroot chutney to finish cooking. A nice treat, I thought, for the children to come home from school to. They don't go to after school club on Mondays, so they need something to keep them quiet for a little while.Noah loved them. Silence for a calm ten minutes. Maya took one bite and threw the rest in the bin.In the town, where I was born, that would have got me a clip round the ear.Ingredients1/3 small block of fresh yeast or a 7g sachet140ml water300g plain flour1tsp salt1tbsp brown sugar1tbsp ground cinnamon130g butter2tbsp ground cinnamon75g coconut or brown sugar4tbsp icing sugar (sieved otherwise it's lumpier than school porridge)2tbsp waterMethodMix the yeast with a tablespoon of the water and leave somewhere warm for about five minutes.Pour the flour, salt, brown sugar, 1tbsp of cinnamon and the water into a bowl and mix well until you have a soft dough. Almost sticky, but not quite. Knead for ten minutes (stand mixers and processors are handy here) and leave somewhere warm until it has doubled in size. This could take between 30-60 minutes. Longer, probably, if you live in Alaska.Dust the worktop with some flour and roll the dough out into a 25cmx45cm rectangle. Melt the butter, 75g sugar and 2tbsp ground cinnamon together and pour evenly and carefully over the dough.Sprinkle the sugar all over the top and give it a little light roll with the rolling pin.Roll up along the longest edge until you have a long cylinder and then cut evenly into 15.Put face up in an oven tray and leave to rise again for 45 minutes to an hour. Cover the tray with some film so they don't dry out.Heat the oven to 180c and bake for about 25 minutes until golden and springy. I think it was about this long, I'd forgotten to set the timer. Just cook them until they're done.Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tray for five minutes then transfer them to a wire rack.Mix together the icing sugar and water until you have a smooth glaze then drizzle over the buns. Serve slightly warm if you like.
I prefer Autumn lamb, more flavoursome than spring and in my mind, less mean-spirited to eat. It's had a chance to gambol about and is saved from the misery of the long dark days of winter. It will never know what it's like to leave the shed first thing in the morning in the dark and come home after a hard day still in the dark. It's had one glorious summer.Harissa, garlic and rosemary were born to go with lamb. Spread all over a leg and studded through is a heavenly mix. Here though, I've stuffed the breast with a few other bits and pieces then rolled it tightly, slowly roasting it, at first on high to crisp the skin, then slowly for a few more hours so all the flavours melt into each other. Once you've done the chopping, which is a pretty quick job, you can just put it in the oven and you're free to do some gambolling of your own.We ate this with a butter bean mash laced with lemon juice to cut through the richness. All you need for this is a tin of butter beans, the juice of half a lemon, some salt and thyme sprigs. Heat them all together in a pan and crush until mashed.Ingredients1kg lamb breastA few thyme sprigs, leaves only1tbsp cumin seedsSalt and pepper3tbsp harissa1/2 red onion, sliced1 red chilli, finely sliced1 fat garlic cloveFor the stuffing6 dried apricots, preferably the natural black ones, choppedA handful of pistachios, crushed1tsp capers1tbsp ground cinnamon1/2 block of fetaMethodHeat the oven to 220cRoll back the layers of meat and sprinkle the thyme and cumin seeds under the first layer of skin.Lay the next layer back down and spread all over with the harissa then sprinkle over the pistachio. Spread over the onion, garlic and chilli then the apricot and capers.Crumble over the feta and sprinkle on the cinnamon.Tightly roll the lamb and tie it well all round with string.Cook for half an hour then turn the oven down to 150c and cook for another two and a half hours. Leave to rest and carve into slices.
I love meat that needs cooking for hours until it falls apart. Cheek, shin and brisket for example all go really well in the slow cooker. Five minutes work at the beginning of the day and then in the evening you have a rich, delicious meal. Think Boeuf Bourgignon, pulled pork or lamb shanks in a rich tomato sauce.Most of the tougher meats are also the cheaper ones, which is ridiculous really. There's so much more flavour in the meat that's been well worked than in the lazy bits and I'm especially a fan of oxtail. Oxtail soup was very popular in England, but seeing as how I don't live in 1943, I never make it.This recipe is based on the Roman oxtail stew 'coda alla vaccinara' and while I also don't live in Ancient Rome, some dishes are timeless. Usually, raisins or candied fruit are added to give a sweet and sour taste to the dish, but I've left that out as I'm not a fan. I was tempted to serve it with some large prawns for the sweetness, I've been known to pair the two before. However, I've just kept this one simple and will serve the prawns on their own, charred with chilli, garlic, parsley and some good olive oil.This makes a great sauce for pappardelle but works just as well on it's own and definitely tastes better the next day. It's also a great way to use up loads of celery. Is there anyone out there who actually has managed to get through a whole head of the stuff before it starts to limpen?If you don't have a slow cooker, just put it on the lowest possible heat and check it every now and then to make sure it's not burning. A good stir never hurt anyone. I would recommend getting one though, they're great, especially in the winter months when you need those cosier, richer meals to get you through the dark evenings. They also make a pretty good ersatz sous vide machine if you're that way inclined.Ingredients4 chunks of oxtail1 head of celery, chopped2 bay leaves1 medium stick of cinnmonA sprig of rosemarySome thymeA pinch of dried oregano1 tin of chopped tomatoesA tinful of beef stock or just water2 tbsp tomato pureeA glass of red wine thrown in if you fancySalt and plenty of pepper to season