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.
There are some days when I am rather overambitious in bringing home more food than I really know what to do with. I've got better over the years, and now, if I am spending a day working on aubergine recipes, for example, I no longer end up with a grocer's shops-worth of them. I give them to my neighbours instead.And this was the case yesterday, as I returned from a shoot with rather more soft fruits than a person could need, even a person with a Maya in their family who probably would raze a raspberry field to the ground like a plague of sweet toothed locusts.Today, as the boxes of raspberries sat gently pooling into juice on the kitchen bench I decided to do as any 1950's housewife would and make jam. That way, I could keep the abundance of fruit in jars taking up exactly the same amount of space, but not rotting and then being thrown away. We really do need a bigger kitchen. Or a food storeroom.This is quick and easy - it took about ten minutes to make, then a good few hours cooling and setting - a great success for jam novices. Sterilise two jam jars just beforehand. It's best to put the hot jam into hot jars. That way you won't be smashing glass with thermal shock and putting the whole lot in the bin.Ingredients300g raspberries50g blueberries100g jam sugarMethodPut the fruit in a heavy-based pan with the sugar on top. Boil the fruit until soft then mash up a little, stirring in the sugar which will have warmed up quite a lot on top of the fruit.Bring back to the boil and using a pastry brush dipped in hot water brush around the inside of the pan where the sugar is sticking. This will stop the jam crystallising and being grainy.Boil gently for about ten minutes and try to resist stirring too much.If you have a sugar thermometer, it should reach about 104c. That's when it's ready. If not, put a plate in the fridge and after ten minutes, put a blob of jam on the plate and see if it sets. If it does, it's ready. If it doesn't, it's not.Pour into the jam jars and put the lids on. Leave to cool. They should keep for about a month.
Although I firmly believe sugar to be the devil, I will occasionally find myself face down in a cake or suchlike. And when I say occasionally, I probably mean more like once a week. Or twice if you count the new 'tradition' I've invented of sharing an entire tub of Magnum almond ice cream with Bee while watching Antiques Roadshow on Sunday evening. That is how we roll round these parts.And yesterday, all I had to eat was two slices of homemade sourdough with a couple of eggs and sliced ham topped with herb salt and pickled sliced cucumber, so today, a little sugar is hardly the end of the world. And really, meringues are mainly air, so I count this as breathing.I first made came up with this recipe on a recent shoot and we eat them with strawberries, a little lemon thyme and a lot of gentle noises, which to the outsider could have sounded pretty rude. Hazelnuts, toasted and sprinkled through and on top of the crisp meringues gently giving way in the mouth to a soft, chewy interior with the sweet and sharp fruitiness of proper balsamic is pretty much the actual best. And it's so easy to make; as long as your equipment is clean, you can almost let the machines do all the work. And sometimes, there's nothing wrong with making life a little easier, especially when the result is quicker and better.Ingredients3 egg whites120g icing sugar60g golden caster sugarGood quality balsamic vinegarA handful of chopped hazelnutsA handful of chopped pistachiosMethodClean your mixers bowl and whisk thoroughly before you start and just give the inside of the bowl a rub with half a lemon before drying it with kitchen paper. This will ensure there is no grease inside which will make your meringues mewrongs.Whisk the eggs until they start to form peaks, somewhere between soft and stiff. With the whisk running, add the sugar a tablespoon at a time until, incorporating well before adding the next one. You can make more mixture if you like, just remember the simple 60g of sugar per egg white and use a mix of icing and caster as I've done, or all caster or all icing. Up to you. Golden caster will give you a more caramel colour and flavour though, so choose wisely.Whisk until all the sugar is in and the meringue mixture is shiny, smooth and stiff. Heat the oven to 100c/gas 1.Using a spatula, gently fold in some balsamic vinegar until you have nice ripples through it then shape four beautiful dollops onto a lined baking sheet.Sprinkle with nuts and bake for about two hours, leaving to cool in the oven.Serve with coffee, or as I did, because there wasn't enough sugar going on some melted hazelnut and chocolate sauce. You can make this easily by melting together 2 large teaspoons of gianduja paste (you could use Nutella if you prefer), 1 tsp of honey and 2tsp of butter until smooth. This, however, is entirely optional and may lead to needing a little lie down.
Recently, before Christmas and in the throes of trying to establish a new world record for sugar consumption, I bought a box of gulab jamun from the local supermarket. I've eaten a few Indian sweets before on the mean streets of Tooting: kulfi on a stick, jalebis and so on, each time suffering an immediate and swift ecstatic rush followed by an instant diabetic death., but these were in a league of their own. They came in a palatial bath of syrup, enough to upset even the most sweet toothed cake lover. Of course, I ate the whole box.So now, as life is slowly groaning back into gear and constantly attempting to violate our cosy January, I am as much as possible off the sugar. This, in part is an attempt to try and regain my Adonis-like figure*, which I seem to have misplaced somewhere in 1994, and also, because sugar is, really, the devil's work. However, we all need a little devil from time to time, so a little treat here and there is necessary to keep up morale.These are my version of the sugar soaked sponge, baked rather than fried and not as soaked in syrup as the original (they also don't have milk powder in them). You'll need a round mini cake sphere mould or a cake pop maker, both of which are pretty cheap and easy to find. If not, you could spoon the mix into mini fairy cake moulds. The children loved making and eating these, and it makes a nice change to the icing clad, mouth clagging fairy cakes they usually want and then give up on halfway through.I used a bought caramel sauce that I had leftover from a job, but feel free to make your own, it's not hard.*not even remotely Adonis-like, more just a lot slimmer than I am now.Ingredients100g butter100g golden caster sugar100g plain flour1tsp baking powder1 egg1tsp cinnamon powder1/2tsp ground cloves1/2tsp ground cardammonA small handful of chopped pistachio nutsSome dried rose petalsA little gold leaf and edible glitter if you fancyFor the syrup50g golden caster sugar1tbsp waterA few saffron strands2tsp ground cinnamonMethodHeat the oven to 180c or turn on the machine and preheat it.Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, then beat in the egg until smooth.Mix together the flour, spices and baking powder and add a little at a time to the butter mix, beating until smooth.Fill the moulds and bake for about seven minutes, until golden. Leave to cool a little.Make the syrup by bringing the sugar, cinnamon powder and water gently to the boil and then reducing it until syrupy, about five minutes.Pile the cake balls onto a plate, pour over the syrup and caramel sauce then sprinkle over the nuts, petals and gold. Serve slightly warm with coffee, or Thums Up! coke if you want a real rush, uncontrollable children and no teeth left.
At the back of my fridge you’ll find a jar or two of pickled herring from Ikea. I always stock up when I go, it’s the highlight of the trip.I get excited about any food that is cured, pickled, smoked, preserved or fermented and although I don’t need to travel across the desert with nothing but a camel and a bag of dried meat for company, taking a fresh ingredient and through salt or smoke or just air, turning it into something longer lasting makes me feel manly, much like standing around a barbeque.There is a sharpness to pickled fish that really gives it a zing. Here, I’ve gone for grey mullet rather than the more traditional herring, for the simple reason that my fishmonger didn’t have any. And it was a great success. The radish and cucumber give a great crunch and a slightly Asian feel to the dish and the dill brings it back to its Swedish beginnings.Serves: 4 as a starterPreparation time: 10 minutes plus curingCooking time: curing and pickling onlyIngredientsFor the pickled radish:16 radishes, sliced as thinly as possible2cm cucumber, sliced as thinly as possible1 head of Shimeji mushrooms, sliced from the base or 100g button mushrooms25g xylitol or stevia powder70ml cider vinegar1 tbsp Mirin2 tsp Japanese rice wineA few sprigs of mustard cress1tsp toasted cumin seedsFor the mullet:2 mullet fillets (400g)1 small bunch of dill, chopped1 shallot, sliced1tbsp juniper berries, slightly crushed1tbsp pink peppercorns, slightly crushed1tsp Szechuan peppercorns25g salt25g xylitol or truvia sugar substitute4 tsp caviar/lumpfish roeMethod1. Mix together the dill, juniper, shallot, pink and Szechuan peppercorns, salt and xylitol then sprinkle half of this into a shallow baking tray or dish.2. Lay the mullet fillets on top of the salt mix and cover with the remainder. Wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge overnight or for at least four hours.3. An hour before you want to serve, remove the fish from the fridge and rinse well then pat dry with kitchen paper.4. Mix together the pickled radish ingredients and set aside for 45 minutes.5. Serve the radish with the mullet and a teaspoon of caviar on each. Serve with a thin slice of toasted rye sourdough.