The results came in as follows:Noah loved it and had more, so I won the carrot halwa war that no one else was fighting.Maya spat hers out in the bin and asked for a yoghurt instead.Read More
It's very hilly where we live in Crystal Palace. And the park has wonderful sweeping tree-lined slopes, some Aspen pines among them. If you close your eyes there in winter you could imagine you're in Colorado. Except by the time we eventually got round to buying plastic sledges for the children (at an ambitious 20 quid each I hasten to add -- I'm sure the shop owner rubbed his hands together as Bee bought them) the snow was melting quicker than a 99 flake in Marbella. It was snølosing, as the Norwegians would have it among their many descriptions.So it was more like a muddy Colorado parking lot in late spring by the time we arrived. Sludging is more of an apt term. But seeing as the children didn't know any better -- we haven't had decent snow here in their young lives -- they had huge fun until Maya's lips started turning blue and she wanted her home comforts. Immediately.That morning had already seen me up at the crack of the ever earlier dawn having a text by text instruction from the chap who fitted our alarm ten years ago. For some reason, after all these years of perfect behaviour, it decides in the weeks leading up to our selling the house to start beeping loudly every 45 seconds.After disconnecting various panels he instructed me to disconnect one of the two wires. Sweat trickled down my brow in slow motion. With my breath held, I pulled out the red wire expecting alarmageddon. Nothing. Silence. Bliss. And seeing I was up, I went outside to get the paper that hadn't been delivered and grumbling like Muttley from Wacky Races came back in to make coffee. At least you can rely on coffee.So with all that excitment, after all that fresh air, some comfort food was just the thing. As a little treat for the crumble-loving fiends the children are, I secretly made these for them while they were glued to the telly. Individual crumble pots using up a couple of apples we had in the fruit bowl and some blackberries from the freezer. The braeburns are a great cooking apple for holding their shape and are a nice change from the cooking ones I normally use. It seems almost classier. Still, it takes a while for them to cook but you really don't have to do much. Perfect after an hour in the melting snow.It's such a quick to put together dish and much more delicious than the time and effort would suggest.Ingredients for two2 braeburn apples, cored and cut into segmentsa child's handful of frozen blackberries (or fresh if it's the season)1-2tbsp of golden caster sugar, dusted over the fruitA small shake of ground cinnamonA pinch of ground turmeric50g butter50g sugar100g plain flourMethodBriefly cook the fruit in a saucepan with some sugar, cinnamon and turmeric until starting to soften and the blackberries give up their juices.Make the crumble by mixing together the butter, sugar and flour until sandy and well combined.Divide the fruit between two tapas-style terracotta dishes top with the crumble (there will be some left over) and bake in the oven at 180c for about half an hour. Keep an eye on it and perhaps turn the tray around halfway through if it looks like it's catching. Serve warm.This weekRead:Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck. Funny in parts, bleak in others. And short. Which was a blessing.Watched:Derry Girls. Some great lines in there, and it's one hit after another on the soundtrack. I licky boom boom down.Listened:The Final Countdown, by Europe. Noah's eyes bulged with joy when it came on, as if he couldn't believe such amazing music could exist. He ran off to note down the songs in his notebook of music to listen to. He then informed me they sing 'The eye of the tiger' in assembly. What a school that must be.Eat:Roast chicken on a layer of thinly sliced potatoes with rosemary and garlic. It takes about five minutes to put together and then goes into the oven for a couple of hours to cook itself. The Parma ham on the top goes as crisp as frazzles and is delicious. The chicken came from Farmdrop which is doing great things.
Clearing out the kitchen this week, before I put everything back in the new cupboards, I found some antique yeast, a vintage packet of baking powder and many other long expired historic foodstuffs.There were baking trays which had developed their own culture and civilisations and substances that NASA may well be interested in. I'm sure the black treacle stuck to the top of the shelf is really from a Tudor roof and certainly would have been something the children could have used in a science experiment.Now we are approaching the end of the year and December has its icy tentacles wrapped around my neck like a frozen octopus disguised as a scarf, we need to start getting into the spirit of things. The children are tired, as they always are by the end of term -- if their toast is a little too dark there are howling tears -- and I'm ready to wear a festive jumper and eat mince pies for supper.But before we go full steam(ed pudding) ahead into Christmas, and while a little of me is still mentally in Paris, I've made these Tartes Bordaloues. They are named after the bakery named after the Parisian street named after the Jesuit preacher where they were invented. It's a simple poached pear and frangipane in a short and sweet, buttery, crisp pastry. Easy to make and impressive looking, it's as if they've come straight from the patisserie. And with a strong, black coffee they make a perfect elevenses. Forget the partridge in the pear tree, just go for the tart rich in pear, see.IngredientsFor the pate sucrée200g plain flour130g butter40g icing sugar1 egg, beatenFor the frangipane115g ground almonds115g icing sugar115g melted butter1tsp vanilla pasteFor the pears4 small and firm rocha pears or similar. Soft ones will collapse to mush1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise800ml water (enough to cover the pears)300g sugarMethodPoach the pears in the vanilla, water and sugar until al dente then leave to cool.Make the pastry by mixing the flour and icing sugar together then stir in the ground almonds.Add the butter and mix well. Add the beaten egg and bring together to a dough. Lay in between two sheets of baking paper and roll flat. Put in the freezer for 15 minutes or in the fridge for half an hour.Make the frangipane by beating all the ingredients together until you have a paste, then put into a piping bag. Set aside.Heat the oven to 180c.Remove the pears from the syrup and slice.Line 4 small tart tins with the pastry. (With removable bases)Pipe in the frangipane then layer the pears into each.Bake for about 30 minutes, until golden.Leave to cool to room temperature and serve.This weekSaw:Glengarry Glen Ross. Christian Slater at the Playhouse Theatre. Excellent, and swearyBraquo on Netflix, gritty Parisian cops from about six years ago.Listened:Maya's Christmas carol concert at school. So, so sweet. She was very excited, saying it was "the BEST day ever."Johnny Hallyday. French radio playing nothing but his songs. Sounded the same as usual to be honest.Eat:Flatbreads with and Sicilian oregano and harissa slow-roast lamb leg . Piled with houmous, guacamole, olives and chilli oil. Sort of Moroccan tacos.Lahore Karahi fenugreek chicken as we sat surrounded by our house still in boxes.I made a sausage, pea and tomato risotto for the children which they hoovered up. As did I while I was dishing it up.Bratwurst hotter than the sun at Herman ze German on the way to the theatre. Thank God I made it through the whole play.Read:Fred Vargas' Quand Sort la recluse. Still enjoying this French thriller.Viz Christmas issue. Obviously a little levity is good for the soul.
There are weeks, like the one just gone where I can barely remember the slightest thing of interest happening in day to day life.Most noteworthy was hurriedly inflating an air bed on the pavement outside my in-laws' house fifteen minutes after the children were due to be asleep on it in our bedroom as there were guests needing theirs. I had to do it outside, in case you were wondering, because the air pump attaches to the car's cigarette lighter. It wasn't because I love the great outdoors.I immediately punctured it on the thorns leading up the path to the house. This is what comes of doing things last minute. We've had this mattress ten years without incident, using it perhaps three times over the decade. The one time we really need it a prick burst it.I've barely cooked this week at home –by home I mean the in-laws house as we continue our stay away from the dust sheets and collapsed lost tomb of the Incas our place resembles– which has made a welcome change. It is nice to have an occasional break from the kitchen, if a little odd. As much as I love feeding people, I like the control I have over something and the feeling I get when making other people happy. Filming every day this week I haven't been around much for my family; I've felt my absence keenly.Still, the food cooked for me by mother-in-law Sue has been delicious. Highlights were the mushroom risotto and an incredibly irresistible pineapple pudding from a Jane Grigson recipe that over the course of three helpings with ice cream overcame my avoidance of sugar during the week. I have a feeling that in a fortnight we will have extended waists as well as a redecorated home.But I have cooked a couple of things. A simple ten second pasta sauce for the children on Saturday (blitz together one tin of tomatoes, 1 clove of garlic, olive oil, a pinch of oregano, a dash of tomato purée and a pinch of salt then cook quickly) which everyone tucked into except me. I had bratwurst onto which I spooned the remains of the salsa verde from the other night. Its zing and freshness had faded like a green velvet curtain left in the sun, it's lost grandeur just a reminder of better times. And because everyone else seems to hate bratwurst in my family I got all the sausages.On Saturday night, as we all sat down to watch 'Strictly', the children's eyes kept open with matchsticks, zombified with tiredness yet unwilling to admit defeat to the enemy of sleep, we ate bowls of haricot beans slowly stewed with chorizo, sofrito, a dash of stock and chicken thighs first browned in the paprika infused oil then left to slowly simmer in the mix until tender. Comforting and very tasty.Here's a recipe the children helped me to make the weekend before we shipped out. The sourdough starter and longer ferment gives the brioche stronger structure and deeper flavour than the standard brioche so it stands up a little more to serious abuse from pouring over a load of hot chocolate sauce, if that's your kind of thing. It is mine. At least when I'm not avoiding sugar...Ingredients2tbsp starter200ml lukewarm water plus 50ml350g flour plus extra for kneading15g fresh yeast (or 7g dried)1 egg, beaten60ml milk, lukewarm80g butter80g golden caster sugarAnother 150g flourA generous pinch of saltChocolate buttons, I used a mix of dark, milk and whiteMethodAdd the water to the starter and stir well until dispersed. Stir in the 350g flour and mix well. Leave to rest for about half an hour.Add the salt and the 50ml water and knead together until mixed. The dough should be quite wet and sticky.Add a little more flour and start to knead on the bench, folding and pushing it until it starts to become smooth and elastic. Add flour a little at a time until it becomes tacky rather than sticky and you can shape it into a nice firm but soft ball of dough.Leave in the bowl, covered with a cloth for four hours.Add the yeast to the milk and stir to dissolve. Pour onto the rested dough and add the butter, sugar and egg to this. Mix into the dough. It will be quite sloppy. Add the 150g flour and knead well for another five minutes, adding a little more flour if the dough gets too sticky. Don't make it too dry and firm though, it needs to be on the wet side of tacky.While kneading, add a little more flour if you need, just so it doesn't stick to the bench too much. It will become sticky but silky enough to handle and shape into a ball.Leave to rise for a further two hours then knock back and shape into eight balls.Put the balls in two lines in two brioche or loaf tins. Brush the top with beaten egg mixed with a splash of milk. Dust the top with sugar crystals and a sprinkle of grated chocolate. Leave to prove for another half an hour and bake at gas 7 (190c) for 25 mins until golden and cooked through. Don't have the heat on too high and blacken them as I did. Leave to cool until just warm before serving.
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.
Garlic grilled lobster, 24 hour slow-roast pork, smoked salmon scrambled eggs, roast chicken. The list of snacks the children are asking me for each evening they get back from after school club is becoming a joke. And now, they are demanding I just whip them up a tarte Tatin.*They already have a strong attachment to certain dishes, and as they grow up these meals will be remembered and recreated with, I hope, the same comforting happiness I attach to my childhood meals from my mum and grandparents. Most people love their mum's roast chicken, or their Granny's apple crumble. Although in my case I've developed a love for frozen chocolate gateaux wafted with the aroma of Player's Navy Cut cigarettes. It's a funny thing, nostalgia.I don't think they will talk fondly of Daddy's lark's wing soufflé with basil foam, compressed finger lime and watermelon (Nb.) but will probably look fondly on the roasts, bolognese, crumbles, 'taco day', korma with fluffy rice and soothing dhal and the simple home cooking we all crave as adults.The classics are classic for a reason. And generally survive because of their simplicity. That doesn't necessarily mean they're all completely easy to make. A beurre blanc or Hollandaise can easily split, a risotto can become as thick and stodgy as Donald Trump and a salmon steak can be as tough as a shoe if you don't pay attention. But the pleasure these simple dishes give is as joyful as a walk on a misty autumn morning or reading a book by the fire on a cold night.And so to the tarte Tatin. Or, if you prefer, the tarte Solognote. Traditionally made with apples it's the French comfort food par excellence. I also love making it with pears, but may cast my net as wide as mirabelle plums, apricots and even banana for a laugh. It also works brilliantly with shallots for a savoury version. Make sure you use a good pan that is suitable for the hob and oven. I use the incomparable prospector pan from Netherton Foundry, a thing of great beauty.This time, I made my own puff pastry from scratch. It's a wonderful thing to do and the difference is sublime. It's very easy, really, it just takes a little time so do it on a weekend, make plenty and freeze it. I'm not going to give a recipe here for it, but be prepared to use a whole block of butter. You'll also need a dedicated spot in the kitchen, it needs rolling, folding and chilling about seven times.Failing that, buy some all butter ready-made puff pastry. You can't be as smug, but it will still give a very good result. I used a mix of Bramley and Braeburn apples this time, but fully Braeburned is usually how I roll. I also sprinkled a little thyme into the mix but that's up to you. Whatever you choose to do, this is a dish of most excellent comfort.Ingredients1 Braeburn apple, peeled, cored and cut into wedges3 Bramley apples, as aboveA good handful or two of unrefined golden caster sugarA splodge of butterEnough rolled out puff pastry to cover the top of the pan with an overhang to tuck inA pinch of thyme if you likeMethodGet the oven nice and hot. About gas mark 8 or 220c.Heat the sugar in the pan until it melts and starts to turn to a soft caramel. Add the butter and neatly layer in the apples. Cook for a minute or two then add the thyme if using and layer the pastry over the top, tucking it in around the apples edges.Transfer to the oven and cook for about twenty minutes, until the pastry is risen and golden.Remove from the oven and carefully turn upside down onto a plate. Leave for a minute before removing the pan and serve hot or warm. Or eat it cold from the fridge just before bed when no-one's looking.*Not true. They normally ask for a yoghurt or banana or the occasional biscuit. We haven't raised Veruca Salt and her brother here.