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Showing posts from December, 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…