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.
The sky was yellow, a Saharan dust covering London. A strange light and a weak red sun poking through. Perhaps this was a new and rather full-on marketing push for the new Bladerunner film, or maybe we are hurtling toward apocalypse now. I met a friend for supper that evening and the gloom meant we all scuttled indoors a little quicker than usual. We eat steak tartare, prepared tableside by a crisp black and white linen-ed and desiccated waiter then hurried back to our homes.Summer is now well on it's way to the other side of the world and autumn has properly pulled the duvet over us. Soon, the woolly hats and gloves will be on and we can be justified in not leaving the house until March.It's a strange feeling, the desire to go to bed at six in the evening and the sure mistake of the alarm going off at what seems like the middle of the night. The clocks will soon change, giving us a little more light in the early morning for about a week before we sink ankle deep into winter. I hope the farmers are grateful as we all finish our afternoons with night vision goggles on, stepping over the bodies of run-over school children.There are still some green leaves clinging desperately onto the branches of the tree today as I look outside the sitting room window. Most of the other branches around are bare and I swear I just saw a pigeon with a scarf on. But as civilisation comes to an end around us and turnips are the only thing that will still grow, I still insist on serving a green salad at almost every meal. The children have a bowl of it tossed with mustardy vinaigrette to eat before I give them their supper. We don't live in an American restaurant, it just keeps them quiet for a bit and they wolf it down. I should stop wearing a frilly apron and serving them bottomless mugs of coffee though.This week saw me grate half a clove of garlic into my usual dressing. This is what is passing for excitement in our house at the moment. We are all pretty tired now, and half term hasn't come soon enough. The children need a rest and we are grateful for the change of pace it brings. Although we now find ourselves, with unbelievable inconvenience, having to feed them three meals a day plus occasional snacks and seek out entertainment.This Sunday morning though, the children let us sleep until quarter to nine before waking us up to complain of hunger. They then retired to their room to tidy their drawers for two hours, as if possessed by Mary Poppins. Ours was not to reason why, so I read the paper alone in peace while Bee read her book in bed drinking tea. Unsettling.But by the time evenings come around and the children are in bed, supper sometimes seems a huge effort. It's more often than not something I can throw into one pan and leave to do it's thing, such as the hearty haricot and chorizo stew we had early in the week. or a tray of chipped sweet potato, sprinkled liberally with garam masala and chilli flakes, roasted in the oven with a couple of bream, olive oil, fat garlic cloves and cherry tomatoes that had started to explode in the heat.One night, I found a bag of figs, now perfectly ripe (one overly so and destined for the bin), some very ripe Rocamadour goat's cheese that you could smell from France and some slices of a sourdough loaf. A little honey, olive oil, salt and pepper and a pinch of fresh parsley was enough to satisfy the evening hunger. Simple, good ingredients made something far more than the some of their parts and figs, well they are practically the flavour of Christmas aren't they?This week:Watched: Finally getting around to Fargo season three. Perfectly wintery, and the Minnesota accent is so great.Read: Still reading Middlemarch. And I fear I shall be for some time yet. Lincoln in the Bardo sits on my bedside table and the pile of books I want to read is growing longer than there are years left to read them.Listened to: The Omen on Radio 4 iPlayer. A perfect example of an epic child's tantrum.Eat: Steak Tartare in 1980s Toremolinos, or rather La Barca, Lower Marsh. Methi chicken at Lahore Karahi in Tooting. Pakistani canteen food better than most, quick, friendly and a great place to top up the spice levels. They promise a "genuine spicy taste", so you'd hope they deliver. And they do.
There is a strange kind of calm in the house. Just the gentle hum of the washing machine in the background. I hear a car pass by and the clock ticking on the wall. It's a special kind of silence now the children are back in school. I've even turned off the radio that I normally keep on for a kind of company so I can hear the quiet clearly.The early morning sun on the walk to school this morning shone on one half of the road. Maya asked to not walk in the shade so she could feel it on her face. Our hands were a little chilly, the day still warming up. It is after all, only April.All the trees round here are now full of leaves. Most of the blossom has fallen and some still carpets the pavements like the confetti in the aftermath of a wedding, fluttering around every so often in the light wind.Last night we sat down as a family and ate a cottage pie with garlic green beans. A hearty meal eaten in the early evening still-light as the days lengthen toward summer. We can move on from these winter dishes now, so yesterday was a kind of farewell.And as the wild garlic appears everywhere, like a surreptitious Frenchman in the hedges, other greens and shoots and tender vegetables fill the stalls at the market, colours taking over from the drab dullness that paint companies may call 'dried turnip'. I bought a large bag of sorrel there this weekend. Usually I raid my mother-in-law's plentiful supply from her garden, along with the garlic leaves and flowers, but as I was there, I though a few pounds for a plentiful bag was worth it.This recipe comes, originally from my mother-in-law Sue. She is to take all credit for it and it is so delicious, zest, clean and fresh tasting that I'm sharing it here. It's almost effortless to make and is everything good cooking should be. Simple, good ingredients, full of flavour all coming together to give you something more than the sum of its parts. No doubt, you could try it too with a bit of wild garlic added, or if you're unable to get sorrel, spinach, a splash of lemon and some nutmeg would be equally tasty, but I urge you to try as hard as you can to find this lemony, fresh leaf.Ingredients for twoA handful or two of sorrel leaves, any tough stems removed250ml double cream2 eggs. Duck eggs would be great as wellSalt and pepper to seasonThat really is all you need.MethodI have a steamer pan which is perfect for this, mine fits two steel ramekins on the steamer basket, but a tray on the hob filled with water and the eggs in ramekins on a trivet bain marie style works well too over a gentle heat. You could even poach them and transfer them to a ramekin if you fancy.However you choose to cook the eggs, they should be just past the point of runny-yolked, and not quite at the set point, so keep an eye on them.While they are gently cooking, Heat the cream to just below boiling in a saucepan and season it well. Put the sorrel in a blender and pour in the hot cream before blitzing to a vivid green sauce. Doing it this way keeps the colour bright. Taste and adjust the seasoning then pour over the eggs and just cook for a minute further to take away the rawness of the sorrel.Serve immediately with some sourdough toast and salad. I drizzled a little green chilli sauce on mine with a dash of rapeseed oil. Not enough to change the flavour, but just enough to tickle the tongue.
I've been using different types of flour recently, trying more wholegrains as well as looking for interesting flavours and texture. There's more to life than wheat, and anyway, I'm not convinced it's that good for you. I haven't ruled it out though, it just has to be worth it, such as with silky and elastic homemade papardelle or deilcate ravioli. As Oscar Wilde said, "Everything in moderation, including moderation."I believe that homemade is best, especially when it comes to bread. Or at the very least, bread made traditionally and slowly by a proper baker. It takes a little more time, effort and planning, but it's worth it and you can always freeze extra for toasting. This loaf uses khorasan flour, an ancient Egyptian grain that is soft, nutty and delicious.My sourdough starter is one year old this month, I'm very proud of that. I've kept it alive for longer than some animals. Like all pets though, it does have to be fed, and sometimes cleaned up after. I keep mine in the fridge in a state of suspended animation, feeding it once a week when I make a loaf. There are plenty of starter 'recipes' out there, but basically do this:Get a large glass kilner jar, fill it 3/4 full with an equal amount of flour and water. Start with a mix of wheat and rye if you like. Stir it well and leave open on the kitchen bench for a couple of days. Throw away half of it and replace with more flour and water. Leave for another day. Repeat this for five to seven days and you should have a nice bubbly and tangy starter. Now you can close the lid properly. Look after it and it should last indefinetely.To make great sourdough, I would recommend buying a bannetone and using a lidded cast iron casserole dish (also known as a Dutch Oven). It bakes and steams the dough with it's own moisture so you get a beautiful crust. If you don't have one, just use a baking tray and put a bowl of ice cubes in the bottom of the oven to create steam. You will notice the difference if you just take a little time and see bread-making as an act in itself. This recipe works equally with wheat flour or other types, you may just need to add a little more or less water.Ingredients240g sourdough starter300g khorasan flour (kamut)30g rye flour60g strong white wheat flour8g saltApproximately 255ml water. If your dough is too stiff add a little more. Bread making is also about using your senses. These will improve with practice.Extra flour for dustingMethodI use my Kenwood Chef to do all the kneading for me, but you may have tension and anger you want to work out by hand. Either way, the dough needs like us all, to be kneaded. I usually do it for about 12-15 minutes.Add the starter to the bowl and pour in the flour and salt then mix well. Slowly add the water and gently incorporate it until well mixed. Knead on the bench for about 15 minutes then put back in the bowl, cover and leave to rise for four hours.Take the dough out of the bowl, knead for a minute or two and shape into a ballthen dust very well with flour.If you're using a banneton, make sure it is well dusted inside with flour. If you like, you can sprinkle some rye grains or other seeds into it so they come out on top of your loaf. Put the dough in, cover it and leave to rise again for another eight hours. I usually leave mine overnight, but be careful to not leave it too long otherwise it will overprove, have too much air in it and collapse.Heat your oven as hot as you can with the pan inside. Remove the dough from the banneton, dust with a little more flour and put in the pan, covering with the lid. Bake for about 30 minutes, then turn the heat down to medium hot and take the lid off. Bake for another 20 or so minutes then remove from the oven and leave to cool.If you're baking this on an oven tray, make sure the ice is in the oven and keep an eye on the loaf so it doesn't burn. It should sound hollow when you tap it. Again, use youre senses.Serve with unsalted butter, thinly sliced (you can use salted butter if your partner threatens you and sees that as an open act of hostility). Or, as we sometimes do, toast it and top with avocado, chilli, lime juice, tomato, spring onion and coriander. Amazing.