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Showing posts from 2009

AGA SAGAS

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People who own Agas absolutely ADORE them! They will tell you endlessly how useful an Aga is, as a cooking device, a heater, a place to dry knickers and a nifty means of reviving newborn lambs and kittens. Agas are often described as "the heart of the kitchen/home/family" and seem to elicit a certain reverence in owners and fans for their womb-like qualities. True, they can bring comfort and warmth to an otherwise draughty Dorset farmhouse (I should know; I used to stay in one on a regular basis), but I cannot understand their much-vaunted cooking abilities. To my mind, an Aga is just HOT or NOT HOT. If you boil a kettle for your morning tea, you must then let said device heat up again sufficiently to make toast (which has to be done with a strange wire contraption, to which the toast inevitable sticks and has to be dislodged by hitting it violently with a wooden spoon). You cannot do flash-frying, or indeed any other cooking technique which require anything more than rudim…

A MENU FOR CHRISTMAS EVE....

Caipirinha cocktails
Champagne

Manchego & Membrillo
Serrano ham
Cheese crisps

Duck 'Fattee' - layered Lebanese celebration dish
Wine: Rioja reserva

Jacky's surprise pudding

SOUR CHERRY AMARETTI

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I have a very sweet tooth: I love good-quality milk chocolate, and I have a penchant for biscuits and cakes made with almonds, especially macaroons and Amaretti biscuits. When I was in northern Italy last summer (Liguria, a region famous for its food), I developed a real passion for soft amaretti biscuits (sometimes called "amaretti morbidi"), and was determined to try and make them. An internet search drew a blank and it was only when I leafed through the Ottolenghi cookbook, that I found a recipe, so easy I can now make these delicious chewy biscuits virtually from memory. They are delicious served with a glass of sweet wine, or Amaretto liqueur, or a cup of good strong coffee at the end of a meal. Actually, they are delicious at any time......

This is the Ottolenghi recipe. The quantities double up easily, and you can experiment with different flavourings, so long as you keep to the basic core ingredients of almonds, sugar and egg whites. I use a very high-quality almond e…

LADUREE!

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Who can resist the delicious charms of Laduree macaroons? Certainly not me! It's pure girly heaven in their shop, a tiny rococo gilded grotto at the Piccadilly end of Burlington Arcade. There you can gaze upon the prettiest macaroons known to woman, laid out in serried ranks, in the most gorgeous colours and flavours imaginable: bright yellow lemon, pink raspberry, dark chocolate, violet violet and matt black liquorice. And turquoise! They are crisp on the outside, smooth and soft on the inside, and each season Laduree pays "hommage" to its most famous creation by bringing out a new flavour - rather like a French fashion house (which I suppose is what Laduree is, in some ways).

I was delighted to find a recipe for Laduree-style macaroons in the wonderful Ottolenghi cookbook and intend to try and make them at the earliest opportunity. After my success with soft amaretti biscuits (also from the Ottolenghi book), I am inspired. They can't be that difficult, can they?

In t…

CHRISTMAS COOKING

Christmas for me begins at 3pm on Christmas Eve with the pure sound of a boy tenor singing the opening bars of Once In Royal David's City, which always heralds the start of the service of nine lessons and carols from King's College Chapel, Cambridge. I am usually cooking while listening to the radio, happily chopping things, assembling a meal for Christmas Eve, while singing along to my favourite carols.

Despite being an unashamed foodie, I am not very good with Christmas food. I don't like turkey, finding it too dry and uninteresting a meat, though my mother-in-law does a very good Coronation Turkey, which, when she lived in the farmhouse, was always served on Boxing Day after we'd been out with the hunt. I don't do the rum-soaked cakes and puddings, and have never liked raisins and their cousins, sultanas and currants, nor mixed peel or indeed any other dried fruit to speak of. Thus, Christmas cake, Christmas Pudding and mince pies are all anathema to me. Other pe…

ALE & PIE

To Mayfair to shop at my favourite jeweller, Wright & Teague, and then onto The Guinea on Bruton Lane for lunch. The Guinea is one of those staunchly old-fashioned pubs, probably Victorian, very small with the bar in the middle, and little benches all around the walls. It has tartan carpet and woodwork with treacly varnish. It hasn't been gastro-pubbed, and its clientele is still largely male, old buffers in Crombie overcoats (at the back of the pub is the Guinea Grill, serving meat) and young Tory boys with signet rings and striped shirts. It also boasts the Mirabeau, an amazing steak sandwich. I was wary of eating said sandwich because I was wearing a red silk crepe blouse and whenever I wear a garment like that, I tend to spill something oily on it. As it was, the Mirabeau was "off", but - joy of joys! - the steak & kidney pie was ON.

Pies done well are delicious. Pies down well washed down with a pint of Guinness are even better. The Guinea's steak & k…

BABY, IT'S COLD OUTSIDE

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I've had to scrape a thin dusting of ice off the car twice this week, and I've got the heating on all day, which means winter is finally here. Plus, I've got my annual head-cold, and for the past twenty-four hours have been dreading losing my sense of taste.

The colder weather has brought with it thoughts of warming, homely meals: bangers and mash with onion gravy, slow-cooked casseroles, and tonight's Friday Night Supper - slow-roasted loin of pork with gratin dauphinois and braised red cabbage.

Friday Night Supper is usually an occasion, of a sort, in my house. It has been designated "gastropub night" because I cook a gastropub type meal for a friend who for the past two years has been living on his own and subsists on pasta for the intervening days. He is one of my favourite dinner guests because he loves food, so cooking for him is always a pleasure. I try to make something different each week, but more often than not, we end up having some variant on the s…

MONDAY SUPPER

Lamb chops Mechoui-style

I bought a pack of nice fat juicy lamb cutlets in M&S and decided to Moroccan-ise them for supper. Mechoui is a north-African way of cooking over an open fire, with a special spice mix. The spice mix I use is:
1 tbsp groun coriander seeds11/2 tsp groun cumin seeds3/4 tsp sweet paprika11/2 tbsp olive oilFor the roasted cumin salt1 tbsp cumin seeds11/2 tsp sea salt flakesMix the dry ingredients (not the Cumin salt ingredients), put in a plastic bag, throw in the chops and give it all a good shake to coat the chops. Leave to marinade for a while. In the meantime, put the cumin seeds in a dry frying pan and roast over a flame until them begin to release their aroma. Pound to a powder in a pestle and mortar with Maldon sea salt.

I cook meat like this on my trusty Breville electric grill. This was a kitchen gadget I resisted buying for a long time; then one day last year, I was in John Lewis, buying a large plasma screen tv, and thought, what the hell, I'll buy…

FOODIE THOUGHT No. 1

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It was raining when I got to the station, hard and cold, the sort of rain that looks like it will never stop. And an icy wind was blowing. I was hunkered down in my deeply inelegant ski jacket, but at least I was warm - that is, until I got to Wimbledon and had to change onto the District Line. The District Line always seems to be unheated in the winter, and over-heated in the summer. As I froze between Wimbledon and Notting Hill Gate, my thoughts turned, as they often do, to food, and I had a sudden yen for mussels, steamed in the classic way with white wine and garlic. I've always liked seafood, and have never been squeamish about eating it (though I do draw a line at oysters, because I really can't see the point of them). I wasn't allowed to eat seafood as a child because my mother thought it would poison me; as a consequence, I love it and sometimes buy a whole dressed crab at the fishmonger for my lunch.

As the train rattled on through Fulham Broadway and Parsons Green…

'FAVOURITE SALAD'

A select few, who are regulars at my dinner table (you know who you are), know this salad very well. It has earned the nickname "favourite salad" because that's just what it is! It comes from the first Moro cookbook.

Spinach and Feta Salad with sumac dressing
Sumac is a tree with red berries. The dried berries are ground to produce a dark purple spice with a sharp, citrussy flavour. It is one of my favourite ingredients, and is used a lot in Turkish cooking (a friend who has a holiday apartment in Turkey brought me a huge bag of Sumac last summer; it should keep me going until her next visit!).

Half a bag of baby spinach leaves
Half a block of feta cheese
1 garlic clove ground to a paste with salt in a pestle & mortar
Extra virgin olive oil
Good quality red wine vinegar
Toasted pine nuts
About a tsp of Sumac

Make the dressing first. Pound the garlic to a paste with a generous pinch of Maldon sea salt. Add about a tbsp of olive oil and then the red wine vinegar and keep stirrin…

TAGINES & TAJINES

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A tagine is a clay cooking vessel with a conical lid. The shape ensures all the condensation from the cooking food returns to the pot, keeping the ingredients moist. A dish cooked in a tagine, is also called a tagine (or tajine).

It really is a wonderful thing, and with very few ingredients, a delicious slow-cooked meal can be made very easily. A tagine can be a celebratory feast or a homely supper. The simplest one I make consists of only half a dozen ingredients. I chuck all the ingredients in the pot, stick the lid on, bung it in the oven for an hour or so, and voilà, the meal is made. No need to brown meat or any of that fiddling about: a tagine quite simply makes itself.

I was given one as a Christmas gift some years ago and use it regularly. It is one of my favourite pieces of kitchen kit, and it's elegant enough to bring to the table, where I fling off the lid with a flourish, allowing the lovely aromas of the pot to waft around the table. The food is comforting and warming, …

SANDWICH VS STEAKWICH

I'm not afraid to admit that I love Pret a Manger sandwiches. In the old days, when I worked in a rather fusty publishing house opposite the British Museum, Pret was the exciting newbie of the High Street sandwich shops. The only other ones were the little continental delis and cafes where sandwiches were made to order, or rather uninspiring places like Benjie's or Greggs. Pret had interesting fillings, "secret sauce", friendly staff, and great combos like Brie, tomato & fresh basil, or their famous - and still excellent - avocado salad wrap (also with secret sauce!). When I was pregnant I craved, and regularly succumbed to, the All Day Breakfast: sausage, bacon, egg & tomato wedged between two slices of chewy multigrain bread. It assuaged my dreadful cravings for carbs, but was notoriously difficult to eat tidily, and more often than not, I would be disturbed, mouth full of messy sandwich, by my boss who would hurriedly and apologetically back out of the cor…

WASHING UP

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It's like piano practice: you just gotta do it!

WEDNESDAY SUPPER

Wednesday supper is always tricky. I teach piano for three hours continuously in the afternoon and by the time I finish, I am too tired to do little more than loll on the sofa, not speaking, and raise a glass of chilled Chat-en-Oeuf to my lips. Wednesday Supper has to be quick, requiring little thought, and even less preparation.

In anticipation of this, I took a couple of salmon steaks out of the freezer earlier in the day and left them on the chopping board, hoping inspiration might strike. I planned something simple - pan-fried salmon with new potatoes and avocado sauce, but the naughty-but-nice smell of the deep-fat fryer, in which I'd made my son's fish 'n' chip supper was all-pervading, and my thoughts turned to tempura (salmon, aubergine, courgette and sweet potato), which I ate off my knees while watching 'The Thick of It'.

ICE CREAM FOR ANNE

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Anne, one of my oldest and dearest friends, reminded me recently that I used to make fantastic brown-bread ice-cream. To be honest, I don't actually remember making it, but she assures me that I did. We used to eat it together at The Double Locks, a wonderful pub by the river in Exeter where we were students. We also used to enjoy the garlic mushrooms topped with Stilton and a pint of Exmoor. When our exams were over, we would walk along the river to the pub and have brunch at 11 when the pub opened: the full English fry up with a pint of Wadworth's 6X on the side. Looking back, The Double Locks was probably my first introduction to the gastropub - but this was nearly 25 years ago, before the idea of a "dining pub" became fashionable, and all sorts of perfectly good, old-fashioned pubs started being tarted up and morphing into 'gastropubs'. The Double Locks served good food and good beer; it was as simple as that.

Back to that ice-cream....

It seems a bizarre…

TUESDAY SUPPER

RISOTTO
There's something very therapeutic about making risotto, all that gentle stirring, gradually adding liquid, watching it all begin to soften and meld together. And then there's the eating. It's the ultimate comfort food: warming and soft in the mouth. It can be stylish and sophisticated or robust and homely, depending on what's in it.
I don't believe making risotto is a mystic art. The correct rice (though I sometimes use Spanish paella rice), and little patience is all that is required. It needs some attention towards the end to ensure the rice doesn't overcook, but otherwise it can be left to simmer away happily on its own while I watch 'Location Location Location' or 'How to Look Good Naked'. Just make sure it doesn't dry out. My favourite risottos are mushroom, roast squash with gorgonzola, and chicken.
Tuesday's supper risotto was made with the leftovers from a whole chicken I pot-roasted for supper on Sunday. I kept all the rem…

PESTO

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Pesto is sexy. A slick of fragrant greenness coating strands of spaghetti, a generous smearing over toasted sourdough for a quick snack, a delicious topping to baked salmon steaks....

I make my own. It's dead easy, and far more delicious than even the most superior bought Pesto. In the summer, I even managed to grow my own basil to make Pesto.

IF I KNEW YOU WERE COMING, I'D HAVE BAKED A CAKE....

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A good friend asks me to provide a pudding for her dinner party which I'm also attending, and requests Torta de Naranja, a deliciously moist almond and orange cake drenched in syrup.

I buy the ingredients, but when I go to the fridge I find Someone Else has used some of the eggs for breakfast omelettes. I don't want to go to the supermarket again because I've got a headache and the beginnings of a rough throat, so I begin a fruitless search through other favourite recipe books for something baroque and chocolatey. But every recipe calls for 8 eggs (I have 7), and copious amounts of double cream, alcohol and other ingredients I don't have. In the end, I decide to wing it with 7 eggs and make 2 rather thin, sad-looking cakes. I pour the orange syrup over both cakes with my fingers crossed behind my back.

When I get to the hostess's beautifully appointed house in Clapham Old Town, I peel off the tin foil, taking the sticky top of one cake with it, like pulling a plaster…

COOKING AND ME

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There are two things I do when I've time on my hands, or I need to de-stress, or if I just fancy a bit of homemade therapy. One is playing my piano and losing myself in some knotty Chopin. The other is COOKING.

"How do you find the time?" people ask. The answer of course is that I MAKE time - for cooking, and piano practice. Bread can be set to rise while I'm studying op 25/7; a cake can bake while I'm wrestling with Brahms's finger exercises.
The other thing about food, and, more specifically, me and food, is that I am very very interested in it - and very, very greedy. I'm an adventurous and curious eater - there's not much I won't eat apart from celery, oysters, raisins and their cousins, and anything that resembles semen - and I'm an adventurous cook too.
I probably did learn to cook with my mother, standing by her side stirring the Christmas cake mix, making choux batter for eclairs or rolling out biscuit dough. She was queen of the 1970s d…