Tuesday, 28 September 2010


When I initially made this, I burnt it and so was too embarrassed to post a photo. So I made it again last night (I am very competitive with myself) and it turned out so nice that I can post a photo now.

The burning, I'd like to point out, was not my fault. It was the stupid flaming recipe, from the New Penguin Cookery Book. Stupid dumbass piece of shit. I ought to have smelt a rat, with its hilarious 220C for 40 minutes recommendation, but what can I say? I'm a trusting sort.

One of the comments below asks what one is supposed to eat with toad-in-the-hole. The answer is anything you like, but traditionally onion gravy and cabbage. I don't know how to make onion gravy but I hear it's not difficult.

In general, this is a really very easy and an excellent thing to cook for a relaxed Saturday lunch or something. You an make the onion gravy and batter well in advance and then half an hour before you want to eat you whack the sausages in the pan, pour over the batter and it's done.

Don't worry - or rather, you ought not worry - that this is perhaps not a very sophisticated thing to cook; everyone will be beside themselves to get toad-in-the-hole for lunch and cooking lunch at home for friends (if you have some) is not about sophistication, it's about you not screeching around the house, bright red, going "shit shit shit the roulade is FUCKED" and then sitting down, taking two mouthfuls of dry beef and wailing "This is horrible - no-one eat it!!!!!!"

Not that I speak from experience or anything.

Toad in the hole

Batter makes enough for 4-6
Allow 2 sausages each for girls and 3 each for boys. I'm not being sexist and trying to make out that girls have tiny tummies and eat nothing because they're all on diets to get thin, thin, thin so they can marry a rich man because that's all they're good for - I'm just saying in general, girls eat two and boys eat three.

Of course, one girl will eat only one and another girl will have three. One boy will have only two and one girl has one and the other girl will have four. It's just a rule of thumb, okay? so that you don't go mental and buy 50 sausages for 6 people.

For the batter
120g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1 egg yolk
300ml milk

sausages, nice ones
3-4 tbs vegetable oil or, ideally, beef dripping - about 25g

1 Pre-heat the oven to 220C. Whisk together the batter ingredients. You're less likey to get lumps if you half-mix the eggs and dry ingredients together before adding the milk. Rest the batter if you feel like it.

2 Put the fat in an roasting pan and stick it in the hot oven for 3-4 minutes until it's melted, then add the sausages.

3 Put the sausages back in the oven in the fat for 8-10 minutes. Now this is really important, so stop half-checking Facebook and listen to me: the fat must be SMOKING hot before you pour the batter in. When you open the oven and blue-ish smoke billows out, that's when it's time to pour the batter in.

I was always a bit scared of getting the fat this hot in the oven because I thought it would catch on fire or something. But turns out it doesn't.

4 Take the pan out of the oven when the fat is smoking and pour the batter around the sausages. Turn the oven down to 180C

5 Put the pan back in for 30 minutes, but check on it after 20mins just to make damn sure it's not alight. It'll be ready when it's all puffed up and golden brown.

Banana bread

When I was at school, there was such a thing as "tea", which happened at 4.10pm every day. This wasn't my grammar school, mind. At my grammar school you got booted out at 3.30pm and bought a Crunchie bar on the way home if you were lucky. But at the ludicrously expensive private school I insisted on going to from 16 to 18, (because there were BOYS), there was "tea".

Tea consisted of three things: toast, cake and cups of tea, served in thimble-sized catering cups with weeny handles so that if you spilt the whole lot all over the floor (this happened quite often) it didn't matter. The toast was made from white bread and eaten with peanut butter and jam. And the cake... well I don't remember anything about any of the other cakes they made except the banana bread.

O God! That banana bread. I was always starving at school. Starving. And it wasn't because I was a teenager, it was because there was hardly any time to eat food, only time for reading books and writing things down and worrying about your spots leaking through the concealer-and-powder you applied at first break.

By teatime I had probably consumed about 700 calories but probably expended 1,000+ all over my books and in the direction of whichever poor sucker I'd got a crush on that week. I had just about enough beans to drag myself on my belly, reaching hand over hand, whimpering along the pavement - being stepped over by better-looking and better-dressed boys and girls with no spots - to College Hall, a ramshackle and wonky building that looks like it was built by witches, down a small cobbled passageway off the main drag to Westminster Abbey.

You could hear the noise from 200 feet away as starving pupils clambered like huge, clumsy wasps over the trestle tables piled with Warburtons medium-sliced, Asda own-brand strawberry jam and Skippy peanut butter. And, some days, on the serving hatch, sat huge steel catering trays filled with row upon row of sliced-up banana bread.

Paydirt. I never ate fewer than three slices. And I simply didn't understand why no-one else was as wowed by it as I was. But that's being a teenager for you, I suppose.

This is a recipe I found on the Waitrose website, which is generally reliable. It also has the saving grace of having no dicking about with rubbing in or creaming together the butter and sugar - my most hated thing.

I have also added, for fun, some bashed up chunks of chocolate and walnuts, but if you prefer your banana bread as God intended, leave them - and/or the walnuts out too. I doubt it'll make any difference to anything.

But do NOT, please, be tempted to add cocoa powder for a hint of chocolatiness because it will dry the whole thing out and make it gross. No reason why you should, but I did this once because I'm an idiot and it was a disaster and someone might as well benefit from my mistake because my husband certainly didn't.

Banana, chocolate and walnut loaf

Makes 1 1kg loaf

350g self-raising flour
3 large or 4 small overripe bananas (yes, they must be overripe - any point up until actually mouldy is fine).
120g sugar
50g melted butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
125ml milk
some veg oil for greasing your loaf tin
handful of walnuts, chopped - if using
6 squares cooking chocolate, chopped - if using

1 Sieve the sugar, flour and salt into a bowl.

2 Add the egg, milk and melted butter and stir. At this point the mixture will look way too dry - don't panic and add more milk, thinking "Oh God Esther's such a spazmo". When you add the bananas it will all make sense.

3 Mash and add the bananas. Now is the moment to also nuts, chocolate, a dash of cinnamon, vanilla essence, or anything else you fancy.

4 Give it all a good stir and turn out into your greased tin. Bake at 180C for 1 hour.

If you try to slice it when it's still warm it will all fall apart, best to wait until it's cooled down and then it will slice up really well.

The rubbery texture you get is a classic banana bread side-effect.

Eat spread with butter and worry faintly about your mocks.

Friday, 24 September 2010


This is, as I'm sure you know, being the well-travelled sophisticates that you are, is a Greek spinach, feta and filo pastry pie.

It's extremely easy, very delicious and looks like it was way harder to make than it actually is. Lovely on its own if you've got a tedious veggie round, or as a side with grilled chicken. Not very autumnal, but I refuse to be constrained by such bourgeoise ideas.


To fit an 8in x 11in pan. Would feed 4 as a main and 6 as a side

400g baby spinach
600g feta, broken up into smallish pieces
1 pack filo pastry
2 eggs
3 shallots, chopped
a handful of pine nuts

1 Fry off the shallots and then add the spinach. Cover and leave to wilt, which will take about 5 mins.

2 Let the spinach cool a bit OR add the feta straight from the fridge. You may need to bash it all up a bit with the edge of some kind of cooking implement until it's all vaguely combined.

3 Lightly toast the pine nuts if you can be arsed and add them, the beaten eggs, salt, pepper and a couple of scrapes of nutmeg, but don't go crazy on the nutmeg because it's basically horrible if you can really taste it. And poisonous if you eat too much. There you go: a fact.

4 Brush the base of your pan with butter and lay down 6 or 7 sheets of filo. It's important to brush between each layer with melted butter, otherwise the layers sort of separate from each other while they're cooking, which is annoying.

5 Spoon in your, by now very horrible-looking, spinach and cheese mixture and then lay more sheets of filo on top of that. I say go mad with the filo here - I only used 4 layers which wasn't enough. I'd say even up to 10 sheets. Don't forget to brush between each sheet with butter and brush the top as well.

5 Cook at 180C for 40 minutes. Finish off with 5 minutes at 200C if the top isn't looking very brown.

My friend AC says her mum makes it with a garlicky yoghurt sauce, which sounds pretty nice.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

A prune pudding for Julia

I've always been really shit at making friends. My problem is that I never ring anyone because I can never think of anything to say and I worry that they're busy and will be wondering why I rang. I once told a spiritual healer (long story) that I never rang anyone and even she, all sort of accepting and calm, made a face and screeched "What - EVER?"

And I thought about it and said: "No." I don't ring my mum, I don't ring my sisters unless I need to talk about what's going on at Christmas this year, or I need to borrow money, I never rang my husband when we were "dating" and I don't ring any of my friends.

So that means I'm friends with people who are extremely patient and don't mind that I never ring them, and who ring me every now and again to suggest we go to the movies.

It also means that I hardly ever make any new friends because, as you can imagine, I'm not an especially attractive new friend prospect. "My name's Esther and I'm quite judgmental, will never let you finish a sentence, fall asleep at 10.30pm, will try to solve all your problems and I'll never ring you. Let's be friends." My one saving grace is that I remember birthdays and I always answer the phone sounding pleased to hear from people.

But I did last year make a new friend and her name is Julia. She likes dogs and does an incredibly convincing German accent. I think she is Dutch. Or from Holland (is that the same thing? Is Holland the place that only exists in England?) She's a great cook, which is quite rare in such a go-getting career girl, and has recently peroxided her hair bright white, which looks really cool. She finds almost anything funny, which is great because I need people to laugh at my jokes otherwise I can't sleep.

She quite often in the mornings, just as I'm slumped at my laptop weeping over the parlous state of my career, emails me to ask me what I'm cooking today, which more often than not makes me cook something.

She also does a thing that I approve of, which is to dispense with email niceties. Therefore an email might just say (no subject):

"What are you cooking today?"

and that's it.

I'll say:

"I'm cooking a Spanakopita"

and she'll say:


and that's it! It really cheers me up.

Anyway, last night I cooked a Nigel Slater prune pudding, which went really well. I didn't cook it specifically with Julia in mind, but now I think about it, subconsciously I probably wanted an answer for her this morning when she asked me what I'm going to/have been cooking.

Serves 4

10 ready-to-eat prunes
2 tbsp medium-dry sherry (I used port, you could also use, I reckon, brandy, marsala or calvados or any fortified wine really)
120g butter
70g muscovado sugar
70g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
120g self-raising flour
4 x 200ml individual pudding basins (or one big one)

1 Set the oven to 160C and roughly chop the prunes and pour over your alcohol. Set to one side.

2 Butter and lightly flour your pudding basins. YES YOU MUST DO THIS. The flouring bit is quite hard, don't rub the flour in, just sort of sprinkle it round the sides, shake it round a bit and then pour the remainder out into the next bowl.

3 Cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. God this is a boring thing to do. I wish I had an electric whisk

4 Add the eggs one small gloop at a time. They will attempt to curdle so you can add a bit of your 120g of flour at the same time as the egg to stop it doing this. Although I've never seen what the problem is with a bit of curdling.

5 Fold in the flour.

6 Add the prunes-and-booze and mix. Divide between your four small or one large basin (the mixture ought to come 2/3 of the way up the side of the dish) and bake for 40-45 minutes. If you are doing just one big one, it might take slightly longer. It will be ready when a skewer stuck into the middle comes out clean.

You absolutely need some kind of custard, cream or caramel sauce with this. It is not an especially dry pudding, but you need one just the same.

You can also (which I will be doing next time) substitute apples for the prunes, just because I like apples.


Monday, 20 September 2010

The judicious application of alcohol

Experienced cooks will laugh at me when I reveal that I have only recently discovered the reason for and method of including alcohol in certain things.

But amateur cooks will appreciate it so everyone else can just take a long cool drink of shut the hell up.

I've always chucked a glass of red wine here or there into things that seem like they might benefit from it (stews, bologneses etc) but I now see I've been putting it in way too late.

The thing to do, I now see, is to add the alcohol at a much earlier stage and let it reduce until the alcohol has burned off and you're left with a kind of sticky and rich saucy thing. I've been doing this with a lot of things recently and it really works and helps a lot.

So, for example, if you're making a bolognese-type-thing, add a large glass of red wine to your mince after it has done its browning and let it bubble for a few minutes - (try not to wander off at this stage - the doorbell will only be a young offender selling J-Cloths anyway and you don't need to be distracted by his handsome young rascally ways) - until it fizzles down to a faintly glossy halo around your beef. Then continue as normal, add your sauteed onions and whatever other veg you're using. You'll find the wine adds a real richness and darkness to it that you won't get from throwing it in after you've added chopped tomatoes, as I've been doing, like a complete penis.

In stews, you can do the same thing, although I tend to add the booze, (you can use beer), to the sauteed vegetables, rather than to the meat. Don't know why, it's just a gut feeling. And the Lord knows I didn't get here without listening to my gut. *burp*

Friday, 17 September 2010

Eat Like a Pirate: Tortuga Rum Cake

September 19th be International Talk Like a Pirate Day, which means we can all wear eye patches, brandish cutlasses, 'n yell "arrrr" 'n "avast" t' our heart's content while mutterin' about our mates and protectin' our booty.

I be completely unabashed in me love fer this holiday. It might only be 8 years ole, but 'tis already me fav'rit savin' only Halloween 'n Christmas (Ye can find out more information about International Talk Like a Pirate Day 'n any local activities here). This year, I be celebratin' by bakin' like a pirate, namely by combinin' those two thin's most often associated wit' pirates: Tortuga 'n rum! I present t' ye: Tortuga rum cake(s), potentially plural 'cause although I be usin' a mini-bundt pan here, I also include th' bakin' time t' make a full sized bundt cake.

I chose t' make mini-bundts 'cause I 'ave been dyin' t' try th' pan, 'n 'cause 'tis me mighty first submission t'
Sugar High Fridays (SHF), th' theme fer this month bein' Bite-Size Desserts. Th' mini-bundt pan I used has 12 cavities per pan, which are each roughly equivalent t' half th' volume o' a standard cupcake. Th' recipe yielded up 24 mini cakes.

Wha' follows below be a brief historical interlude, scroll down if ye wants t' skip right t' th' recipe, or keep readin' t' find out a wee bit o' pirate history!

Tortuga, literally th' Spanish word fer "turtles", be part o' Haiti 'n be situated jus' off o' th' northern coast o'
Hispanola. Jus' prior t' th' golden age o' piracy (1650-1730), 'twas a French settlement. But th' Spanish eventually expelled th' French 'n 'cause th' island 'twas too wee t' be o' any real use t' th' major colonizin' nations o' th' 16th 'n 17 centuries (France, England, Dutch Netherlands, Spain 'n Portugal), Tortuga became a strategic base o' operations fer pirates in th' area. Although words such as "pirate," "privateer," 'n "bucaneer" 'ave come t' mean th' same thin', they used t' be more distinct. Many pirates in fact considered themselves privateers, that be they were santioned by thar mother countries t' attack ships o' rival nations, carried Letters o' Marque t' this effect, 'n were granted safe harbor in thar nations' ports. Although they carried th' permission o' thar sovereign, privateers were nah directly paid by thar country, rather they sailed "on account" 'n loot thar pay from th' spoils o' captured ships, often payin' th' Crown as much as 1/2 th' booty.

Th' most famous Tortuga pirate, Cap'n Henry Morgan, was in fact an English privateer, 'n th' Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones, father o' th' U.S. Navy, was an American privateer considered t' be a pirate by th' British --  which jus' goes t' show that sometime th' distinction between legal (privateer) 'n illegal (pirate) activities comes down t' a matter o' perspective. In contrast t' Henry Morgan,  th' infamous Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, was a true pirate in th' sense that he didn' sail under any nation's Jolly Roger: although he was English, he routinely blockaded English colonies 'n was consequently hounded by th' British Navy 'til his death. Buccaneers originally denoted a specific subtype o' Tortuga seafarer. They may 'ave been either pirates or privateers, but they were distinct 'cause they were 1) only in th' Caribbean, 2) often had larger crews than other pirates in th' area, 'n 3) operated as a democracy wit' an elected cap'n. O'er th' centuries, th' distinctions between pirate, privateer 'n bucanneer became blurred as th' idea o' piracy became increasingly romanticized.

Th' pirates o' Tortuga formed th' Brethren o' th' Coast, which was a (mighty) loose association o' pirates 'n privateers governed by a code o' conduct, known as th' Articles o' Agreement, or simply th' Pirate's Code. Th' Codes would vary in wee details from cap'n t' cap'n, but were alike in essentials. Each new crew hand would 'ave t' sign th' Code when joinin' th' ship, which entitled 'im t' vote on "affairs of the moment," bear arms, 'n 'ave a share o' th' plunder. Th' majority o' th' Code dealt wit' discipline onboard th' ship 'n wit' th' distribution o' any captured booty.

Afore th' days o' effective water sanitation, few beverages were safe fer consumption. Jus' about th' only exception was spirits, since th' alcohol content would hold th' growth o' microbes at bay, although even then thar was a problem wit' long-term hold. Originally, naval ships carried ale, but 'twould sour after bein' stored fer any significant length o' time. Plus, on a long voyage, th' amounts o' liquid needed t' be stored would simply take up too much space, 'n was too expensive t' boot. Rum, on th' other hand, was cheap 'n plentiful in th' Caribbean, 'n became th' official drink o' th' British Navy from 1655 onwards. Pirate ships likewise made use o' rum. 'Cause o' th' boisterousness o' shipfuls o' rum-drunk sailors, th' British Crown officially imposed rum rationin' 'n rum dilutin', makin' fer mighty unhappy sailors ripe fer bein' lured into a life o' piracy. Th' most common dilutant was lime juice, which had th' added bonus o' combatin' scurvy. Th' resultin' rum-lime concoction was dubbed "grog" after Admiral Edward "Ole Grog" Vernon, who first introduced it t' th' British Navy. Rum thus became an effective method fer captains (pirate 'n Naval alike) t' motivate 'n control thar crews. Interestingly, th' official grog ration continued in th' British Navy 'til 1970.

If ye be interested in th' original Tortuga Rum Company 'n thar cakes, ye can find that information here. Th' recipe o' thar official Tortuga Rum cake be a closely guarded secret, but I found an excellent copycat recipe online, which I adapted fer use wit' a cake mix. I include both sets o' directions aft.

Th' recipe itself be fairly simple 'n consists o' 3 basic parts: basic cake dry mix (from scratch or boxed), cake add-ins to assemble th' batter, 'n rum sauce.

Th' basic cake mix can be made ahead o' time, 'n consists o' cake flour, sugar, bakin' powder, salt, butter 'n vegetable oil. Once combined, 'twill keep, covered, in th' fridge fer up t' 3 months, 'n can be used as th' base o' multiple kinds o' cakes. Or, ye can be substitutin' a box o' Duncan Hines yellow cake mix for th' basic cake mix if ye be not havin' enough sands in th' hourglass. If ye use th' boxed mix, ignore th' ingredients 'n directions for Basic Cake Mix, 'n treat th' boxed mix as if it be th' basic mix already assembled, 'n proceed directly t' th' directions fer th' cake batter. Follow th' directions fer th' cake 'n add in all th' "add-ins" for th' batter as if it were from-scratch cake. I've made th' cake both ways before, 'n they both turn out delicious, so 'tis a matter o' how much time ye be havin' and be willin' t' spend. Fer this post, I used boxed mix.

Me mini-bundt pan, filled with nuts 'n batter.
Additional add-ins fer th' cake batter include nuts (walnuts or pecans), instant puddin' mix, milk, eggs, vanilla, vegetable oil 'n rum. Th' original recipe calls fer vanilla instant puddin'. Here, I use French Vanilla, but I 'ave also used Banana instant puddin' in th' past 'n gotten fabulous results.

Th' cake workflow be fairly simple: make th' dry mix (or be usin' th' boxed cake mix), assemble th' rest o' th' batter, sprinkle nuts into th' pan 'n then pour th' batter in, bake, make 'n use th' rum sauce, 'n then wait. Th' rum sauce be potent, it needs time t' soak into th' cake 'n meet th' other flavors. Lettin' th' cake sit o'ernight be best, t' give th' flavors time t' get acquainted wit' each other 'n become hearties. When I make a large cake, I jus' poke holes in th' cake 'n spoon th' glaze o'er it (ye do this while 'tis still in th' pan, so th' glaze be soakin' in bottom t' top). Fer th' mini's, I chose t' use a flavor-injector syringe t' expel th' glaze rather than a spoon, 'cause 'twas less messy wit' so many wee cakes. Th' syringe makes it easier t' control th' flow o' th' glaze o'er th' cake. If ye have access t' a syringe or flavor injector, ye should be shootin' for in excess of 10cc per cake (1 tbls). This cake be delicate once th' rum sauce be soaked in, s'o when ye turn it out o' th' pan, 'tis best if ye turn it out onto th' servin' dish or carrier ye plan t' use, 'twill be a dicey propostion t' move it around too much once it be de-panned.
Make sure both holes be submerged in th' cake afore you inject th' rum!
Tortuga Gold Rum be available online or in th' Cayman Islands (if anyone wants an excuse t' loot and plunder on a Caribbean vacation), but Whaler Vanille Rum or Cruzan Vanilla Rum make great substitutes. I use Cruzan 'cause that was all me liquor store carries, 'n th' cakes always come out fantastic.

(Printable Recipe)  (Printable Pirate Recipe)

Basic Cake Mix (or ye can be substitutin' a box o' Duncan Hines yellow cake mix)
  • 2 cups cake flour (can substitute 1 3/4 C AP flour 'n 1/4 C corn starch)
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons bakin' powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, cut into bits
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Cake Batter Add-ins
  • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1 (3 1/2 ounce) packages instant puddin' mix (vanilla, banana, etc)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup rum
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Rum Soakin' Glaze
  • 3/4 cup butter (do nah substitute, 1 1/2 sticks))
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup rum

Basic Cake Mix:
  1. In a large mixin' bowl, combine all basic cake mix ingredients.
  2. On low speed combine ingredients 'til th' mix be th' consistency o' fine gravel, 'n all particles are about th' same size. This mix may be covered 'n stored in th' fridge fer up t' 3 months.

Fer th' Cake Batter:
  1. Preheat oven t' 325 degrees.
  2. Spray mini-bundt pans or a large Bundt pan (12 cup) wit' nonstick cookin' spray. Sprinkle th' chopped nuts on th' bottom. Th' minis take a wee 1/2 (heaping) tsp nuts each, more if ye like.
  3. Combine Basic Cake Mix (or boxed cake mix), puddin' mix, milk, eggs, rum, oil, 'n vanilla extract on medium speed wit' electric mixer fer 2 t' 3 minutes.  Batter best be mighty smooth when ye be done, ye don't wants lumps!
  4. Pour into Bundt pan(s) 'n bake fer about 20minutes (mini-bundts) or 55 minutes (large bundt pan). Keep an eye out 'n bake 'til th' cake be fully golden 'n a tester comes out swab. Th' cake will spring back when touched.
  5. Remove promptly from th' oven 'n ship on a coolin' rack while ye make th' rum soakin' glaze.

Rum Soakin' Glaze:
  1. Combine butter, water 'n sugar in a wee saucepan. Ye can 'ave everythin' measured 'n ready t' go in th' saucepan while th' cake be bakin', 'n then apply th' heat once th' cake comes out o' th' oven.
  2. Brin' t' a boil carefully. Th' mixture boils o'er mighty easily, so keep a sharp eye on it.
  3. Reduce t' a simmer 'n cook 'til sugar be dissolved 'n syrup be well combined 'n a wee bit thicker.
  4. Remove from th' heat 'n add th' rum, mixin' t' combine.
  5. While th' cake be still coolin', poke some holes in th' cake wit' a toothpick 'n pour some o' th' hot syrup on top o' th' cake, allowin' it time t' soak in (this may take a few minutes as thar will be a lot o' syrup) continue t' add syrup 'til all o' th' syrup be added. Fer th' mini-bundts, I used a syringe t' inject n' drizzle th' glaze, as 'twas easier t' control.
  6. Allow cake t' cool completerly in th' pan afore turnin' out onto servin' platter.
  7. This cake be delicate, so once 'tis turned out, it can nah be moved around easily.
  8. Can be eaten when fully cool, but 'tis better th' next day.

This cake be buttery 'n delicious, 'n I loved how th' minis came out! Packaged up properly, they'd be great favors fer a Pirate-themed party! By alterin' th' type o' rum 'n puddin', ye can easily customize th' flavor o' th' cake. As I said, here I used vanilla rum, puddin'  'n pecans, but I've also used banana puddin'. Ye could also add additional mix-ins such as cocoa powder or melted chocolate. In fact, usin' th' basic cake mix as a startin' point, ye can vary th' liquor as well, 'n make any kind o' liquor-soaked cake ye wish: kahlua, amaretto, frangelico, etc etc, 'n jus' pair it wit' a neutral puddin' 'n appropriate nuts. How good does a chocolate Frangelico cake wit' toasted hazelnuts sound??

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Cornish pasties

Continuing on a Paul Hollywood theme, this is his classic cornish pasty recipe. This means that the pastry is neither flaky nor lardy - it's robust and faintly chewy - as it would have to be to be transported down t'pit by the miners for whom these were invented.

The flavour of this recipe is just excellent and if you've never made a cornish pasty before and fancy having a go, this is a good recipe that works well and will produce something that tastes exactly like some cornish pasties that you have eaten in your life.

What it is not is an unctuous, greasy, sinful pasty you might purchase at Greggs or similar - just so we're clear. You'd probably be able to achieve that with a very high lard-content pastry, but I don't have exact measurements for that. Yet.

Makes 4 large pasties

For the pastry
500g strong white flour
120g vegetable shortening, eg Stork
1tsp salt
25g butter
174ml water
1 beaten egg

For the filling
350g beef skirt or braising steak
350g waxy potatoes
200g swede
175g onions
salt and black pepper

1 Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Cut the veg shortening and butter up into small chunks and add that. I squeezed it all round a bit in the flour to mix it in but that isn't neccessary.

2 Add all the water and mix round until  it comes together roughly. Then go in with your hands and bring together. Knead on a clean surface for 5-6 minutes. If you're feeling a bit neurotic, I recommend putting a timer on because 5 minutes is longer than you think it is.

3 After five mins the pastry ought to be a uniform colour, pastry-like and semi-silky. Stick this in the fridge for a minimum of 30 mins

4 Chop up all your veg very small. I'm talking 0.5cm cubes here. Chop the steak up bloody small, too. Mix it all together in a bowl and season. Add one more pinch of salt than you think you need and at least two more twists of pepper. A cornish pasty is traditionally quite a peppery thing.

5 The assembly part is quite tricky and is basically down to your individual dexterity. I rolled my pastry out then used an upside-down bowl to cut out a large-ish circular bit of pastry. I filled the middle with pasty mixture, brushed around the circumference of the pastry with egg wash and then sealed it. But I'm buggered if I understand how "crimping" the edges works. You may have more luck than me. I possibly, like the fated Jas on the GBBO, over-filled my pasties.

6 Lay out your pasties on a well-greased baking sheet, because these leak steak juice something terrible and will superglue themselves to an un-greased surface. Brush all over with egg wash and cook for between 45-55 minutes at 170C or 150C for fan-assisted ovens. I did mine for 150C at 45mins and then as they weren't going brown enough, wacked up the temperature to 180C for another ten minutes.

Eat down a mine. Or just in your kitchen.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Soda bread

As a general rule, I'm the first person to say something is shit. The thing I like doing most is laughing at the creative failures of others, while never being brave enough to do anything really creative myself, in case people laugh at me.

So when I read a couple of mean reviews of The Great British Bake-Off, I watched the first episode with popcorn and a party hat, thinking "Oh wow, this is going to be really bad." But it wasn't - it was brilliant. And anyone who says it's not just isn't interested in baking. That's all. That's the only thing wrong with it - if you're not interested in baking, it's dull. If you are, it's like porn.

I sort of love and hate Paul Hollywood - one of the Great British Bake-Off's "experts" although I shouldn't have put that in quotation marks because he really is an expert. He looks and sounds like an old editor of mine, whom I liked and disliked in equal measure. Anyway, he's really bossy and says things like "you haven't used enough salt" or "this has got a soggy bottom".

His book, 100 Great Breads - or something like that, is out of print and is changing hands for upwards of £90 on Amazon. But, God bless the internet, a lot of his recipes are available online.

Like this one, for soda bread. Soda bread is the potato painting of bread making. It requires no skill or dicking about with yeast whatsoever - all you need is opposable thumbs, a hot oven and an okay recipe.

And this is a good recipe, although I should point out that Paul Hollywood is not someone who is afraid of salt. Neither am I, so I think this bread is nice, but anyone who isn't that crazy about it, might think about reducing the salt content here from 1tsp to 0.5 or 0.75 tsp.

Paul Hollywood's soda bread - makes one loaf.

250g strong wholemeal bread flour
10g baking powder
1tsp salt
35g butter at room temperature -  (you really do need to have it at room temperature, I know it's a pain but really it will only take about 20 mins out of the fridge to achieve this. Take it out and then read Grazia for a bit and before you know it, the butter will be ready)
75ml buttermilk (yes, you can get it in Waitrose - please see the comments section for instructions on how to make your own buttermilk from Hannah of Han Picked )
75ml milk
1 medium egg, beaten

1 Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and work in the butter, as if you're making pastry. If you've never made pastry, this means you sort of crumble it and squeeze it through the flour, rubbing it together in your fingers until it goes crumby and disappears.

2 Add the other ingredients and mix well to form a dough, which ought to be quite heavy but not sticky or wet. Knead briefly, once or twice, just to get it all together and so that there are no obvious huge cracks in it.

3 Shape into a flattish round on some baking parchment on a baking sheet, score a cross in the top with a knife and leave to rest for 20 minutes. Set your oven to 200C now so that when you come to put the bread in the oven, it's really properly hot, which will mean your bread will bake evenly.

4 Dust with flour and bake for 35 minutes

Eat with butter and jam OR with a boiled egg, is my advice.

Padron peppers

My first date with my husband was at Fino in Soho. I drank too much because I was over-excited and because this was the first date I'd been on with someone who had a job and was paying for everything. The only thing that really stands out is when I keeled over gently sideways in the booth and had a short nap while my date went to the loo.

Actually that's not the only thing I remember. I remember the plate of padron peppers we had, fried until they looked like little crumpled green bags, and covered in salt.

"Sometimes you get a really hot one," said my date. Whether I did or I didn't, I don't know. I was so drunk I could have been eating my own dress and not noticed.

Anyway, you don't often see these in the shops. I bought a couple of handfuls from my local holy food shop, Earth, on Kentish Town Road. They're pretty easy to cook, although they take longer than you think they do, about 20 minutes.

If you can't locate a local supply you can buy them online here.

1 Heat some vegetable oil in a pan until it's very hot, tip the peppers in and then turn the heat down to medium.
2 Cook over a medium or low heat for about 20 minutes, turning now and again until they sort of surrender and crumple up.
3 Tip into a bowl and sprinkle generously with sea salt

Watch out because sometimes you really do get an awfully hot one. I got one yesterday and had to spit it out. It was pretty gross.

You are supposed to eat these with a very cold glass of fino sherry, but fino sherry tastes like pencil shavings and not everyone's crazy about it. But my experience is that if you drink enough fino sherry, it ceases to taste like anything at all.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

You cannot be serious

I'm deeply troubled by the number of people telling me that they're going to make the steak and kidney pudding without the kidney.

I would fight to the death to defend anyone's right not to eat offal and not be called fussy or pathetic but, really, it's a huge shame not to even have a few morsels of kidney in this. Fine! Don't use two kidneys - just one will do. But none at all? Then it's just a stew in fancy dress.

If you have small children and think they will make a fuss just chop the kidney up small and don't tell them what's in it. If they give you the sly eye and ask if there's kidney in it, just flat out lie. Say it must be a bit of mushroom.

And it really, really won't make your house smell like a nursing home. With the thyme and bay and garlic and then cooked for four hours it will just smell totally luxurious. Kidney doesn't really taste like kidney when it's been stewed long and hard like this - and you can trust me because I absolutely will not eat kidney in any other form, even devilled, I think it's really nasty. But it does add something very essential to the overall ambience of the pudding.

But, whatever. It's your dinner.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Steak and kidney pudding

Unfortunately, this looks like dog food, but in real life it was delicious and didn't look like dog food at all

This is one of those things that seems much harder to make than it actually is. Suet pastry must be one of the most forgiving things in cookery - you really only need to vaguely guess at the measurements and it comes out perfectly okay. And the filling, well - it's just a stew.

I classify this as an easy recipe because it worked for me first time and I wasn't even really paying attention and didn't have quite enough suet.

It's from Gary Rhodes' Rhodes Around Britain. I don't tend to cook much from this book, because all he ever wants you to do is reduce stocks from 5 litres to 1 tablespoonful and I've got better things to do. Like decide what colour to paint my room where I keep unopened bank statements study.

Like most pie or pudding recipes, this is a bit of a faff and requires time but it's not difficult. If you like steak and kidney pudding, this is well worth doing one weekend when you've not got that much on. You can make both the filling and the pastry a day in advance, if you like, and stuff like this freezes really well.

Steak and Kidney pudding, for 4

Gary Rhodes' recipe was for individual puddings but come the fuck on... we are not in a restaurant. This has been bastardised in a couple of other ways too, namely the tommy k and lea and perrins.

1 pudding basin - about 1 litre - buttered

For the pastry

100g dried suet
12.5g baking powder
225g plain flour
about 150ml water

For the filling

500g ish chuck or braising steak (these come in handy 1/2 kilo packets from WAITROSE)
2 lamb's kidneys, availabe from the Waitrose meat counter, diced
2 sticks celery, chopped
2 small-ish onions or one massive one, chopped finely
5 mushrooms, quartered
1 bay leaf
some thyme
1 crushed clove of garlic
salt and pepper
1 pint chicken or veal stock (I bought mine from the chiller cabinet at Waitrose. I've never done that before, but actually it was brilliant and I really recommend it.)
150ml Guinness
beef dripping
1 squirt ketchup
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce

1 Chop up all your veg and sweat them over a low heat with the thyme and bay leaf for about 5-10 mins until soft. You can do this in vegetable oil or in butter. Not olive oil, please.Once they're soft, pour in the 150ml of Guinness, drink the remains of the can, burp richly, then boil this ale-and-veg mixture briskly until it's sort of saucy and sticky round the edges. Season with salt and pepper, add in the ketchup and worcestershire sauce. Take off the heat.

2 Fry off your beef and kidney in dripping or vegetable oil. If you're feeling really proper, pat your beef pieces dry on kitchen roll before you fry it and leave about a 2cm gap between the pieces of beef and kidney as they fry. Something awful happens if they're allowed to touch each other in the pan.

3 Add the meat to the veg-and-ale and then pour in your pint of stock. Simmer GENTLY for 1.5 hours. Let it cool.

4 To make the suet pastry, sieve the dry ingredients, then add the suet and mix round a bit. Add water splot by splot until you've got a rough-ish dough that leaves the sides of the bowl clean. It will be sort of studded with bits of suet - this is fine. Rest the dough for 20 minutes.

5 Roll out the pastry thin-ish, as it will swell on steaming. Line the pudding basin with it and then fill with your cooled steak and kidney mixture, draining the meat away from the stew liquid and having taken out the bay leaf. Trim off any remaining bits of pastry hanging over the edge of the basin and re-roll to form a lid. This bit is a bit fiddly, but don't worry if it all looks a bit rough. It's a steak and kidney pudding for god's sake, not a Faberge Egg.

6 Cover the basin with a tin foil hat and then put in a much larger pot on the hob. Fill the pot with boiling water half-way up the side of the pudding basin and then set it to a fast simmer for 2 hours. Keep an eye on the water level, as what it really likes to do is boil dry and then set the house on fire.

7 Push the left-over stew liquid through a sieve and then lenghten if you need to with some water to make a gravy you can pour over the pudding on eating. Don't be tempted to turn it out onto a plate - it's not a Christmas pudding and it will collapse under its own weight and you will cry and I don't need that on my conscience, okay?!?! Just spoon it out of the bowl.

In other news, I am thinking about painting one wall of my study pink - "Calamine" by Farrow & Ball specifically. My husband's comment was "That's amazing, you've managed to find a pink that's actually beige." Thoughts?

Tuesday, 7 September 2010


Tender flakes of pastry interspersed with creamy filling, and topped with a sweet glaze with just a hint of chocolate, napoleons might very well be the stuff from which dreams are made.  Learning to make them was initially a little daunting for me, a baking hobbyist, because they look so complicated…and French…and professional…and French…but I’m here to say that with a few good recipes – and the help of Pepperidge Farm – anyone can make bakery-worthy napoleons in their own kitchen. And if it is a “wow” reaction you crave when presenting your baked goods to the general public, trust me, these things more than “wow.”

Napoleons, French though they may be, actually have nothing to do with the diminutive dictator of the same name. Only called napoleons in the US, they are actually referred to as mille-feuille in France (shortened from gâteau de mille-feuille), literally “cake of a thousand leaves” as a reference to the puff pastry they contain. In England and Australia, they are commonly called “vanilla slice” or “cream slice.”  The mille-feuille predates Bonaparte by at least a century, with the oldest extant recipe dating from the “Cuisinier François” published in 1651. The traditional napoleon consists of 3 layers of puff pastry filled with cream patissiere (a starch-containing custard), but they can also be filled with jams and whipped cream. In Italy, in addition to dessert pastries, they are also made as savory pastries filled with spinach, cheese and pesto.

What makes this post a particularly easy one is that the most labor intensive part, the puff pastry, is already done. Pepperidge Farm sells a wonderful frozen puff pastry that is relatively easy to work with, all you have to do is let it defrost at room temperature for about forty minutes. Then, you can gently unfold the pastry. When you do so, you will have 3 long strips of dough that are mostly separated. For the napoleons, I generally cut each of these strips into 3 smaller pieces, yielding 9 pieces per package, and 18 per box since there are two packs of dough per box. I made 2 boxes worth of puff pastry since I was bringing this into an office party, but you can always halve the recipe and make only one box, depending on what you want them for. You can also cut each strip into only 2 pieces, which I have done in the past…but then the napoleons will be HUGE, and I’ve learned from experience that no one will take them when they are that huge, everyone tries to cut them in half and makes a general mess of things. So.  My advice is to go ahead and use 3rds, because it will save a lot of grief in the long run.

Once you have your pieces cut, place them on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet,  gently prick them with a fork 2 or 3 times, put another layer of parchment over the top, and place a cookie sheet over the top parchment. Make sure your top cookie sheet can nest inside the bottom cookie sheet, the point is to keep the puff pastry flat. I generally don’t weigh down the top sheet, but you can if you have something oven-safe to put on top. Then they go into a 400F oven for 15-20 minutes on the middle shelf (the bottoms will burn before the tops are done if they are too close to the element). They will be golden when you take them out, and you can place them on a rack to cool.

Once they are completely cooled, I always match and stack them. Choose 3 pieces of roughly equal size, and stack them together, and repeat until all of the pieces are grouped by 3’s. If you split the pieces as per the directions below, each stack of 3 pieces will represent 2 napoleons by the time you are done, and will ensure that the layers are all roughly the same size.

Now that you have your stacks ready to go, you can start splitting each piece in half to get 2 thinner layers.

Each stack will yield 6 halves (3 bottoms, 3 tops), which you can group into 2 3-layer napoleons. I generally use bottom halves as the top layer because they are flatter and easier to frost. Repeat this for all the pieces, and have the napoleon groups ready to go. Occasionally, the centers will have softer flakes that stick to the knife, like the innards of pate a choux if anyone has made cream puffs before. You can tear out that soft stuff if you want, instead of leaving it dangling in an unsightly way. Remember, the splitting step itself is fungible, and you can adjust it according to your wants. If you want to use thicker pastry, don’t split your pieces, and have each stack of 3 become 1 napoleon (I’d still use a bottom as a top layer to frost, however).  If you don’t want 3 layer napoleons, make 2 layer ones. If you want 4-layer ones, go ahead, etc etc.

At the bare minimum, each napoleon will have a top and bottom layer of pastry. To frost the tops, you make a quick confectioner’s sugar glaze, and pipe or brush it onto the tops. Before it hardens, stripe melted chocolate in thin lines across the top, and drag a toothpick perpendicularly across the lines in alternating directions to create the distinctive pattern found on the tops of napoleons.  You can make your own disposable piping bag for the chocolate (or the glaze for that matter) with a ziplock bag. If you are doing this for the chocolate, snip off a teeny tiny part of the corner (I mean miniscule!) and you can squeeze out the chocolate in stripe from this, and then just throw the bag away when you are done. These tops can harden while you make your filling.

Now, not gonna lie, this recipe is not difficult at all, but it can take a few hours depending on how many napoleons you are making. So, if you want, you can stop at this point and store all the pieces (once the tops are dry) covered at room temp until the next day. If you have a carry along case meant for a rectangular cake, that is ideal since you can leave the pastry stacked into layers.

I adapted the pastry cream recipe from this recipe from Paula Dean.  When I make these, I make the full recipe cream, but even if you were short on time and just made the pudding part to fill them, they will still be delicious. I promise.  The filling has two parts. The first consists of beating cream cheese and condensed milk until well combined, and then folding in either freshly whipped cream or Cool Whip. Do yourself a favor and have a little taste of the cream cheese/condensed milk mixture before you add whipped cream.  Isn’t that tasty? It would make a great base for a fruit tart. Just sayin’. The second part is making 2 boxes of French Vanilla pudding with cream and milk, and whipping until stiff. Make the pudding in the biggest bowl you have, because then you fold the cream cheese mixture into the pudding mixture.  I was burned once, and I couldn’t fit all of my cream cheese mixture in the bowl with the pudding. It wasn’t a tragedy, they still tasted great. But forewarned is forearmed, so if you have a big bowl, now’s the time to bust it out.

Pudding plus cream cheese mixture equals filling goodness!
Once everything is combined to your satisfaction, you can fill and layer. I generally do this on a piece of wax paper on the table, since it is easier to slide the napoleons off the table than trying to pick them up from the sides.  I like piping the filling because I have more control, and you can do the same, with or without a tip. I used my 1M tip because I wanted the filling to look semi-fancy, but that isn’t necessary. You can also just use a ziplock bag with maybe a half-inch wide snip off the corner. You start building the napoleons bottom-up, pressing each pastry layer gently down into the cream as you go. Once you have one assembled, I usually take a strip of wax paper, and wrap it around the outside.

Wax paper has a natural curvature because it was stored as a roll, and it is much easier to bend the paper in the direction of this roll as opposed to against it. The wax paper should adhere to the filling as you wrap it around, and then you can slide the napoleon off the table and gently put it into whatever container you are storing them in. The wax paper also really allows you to pack them into said container, because you don’t have to worry about keeping them separated. Store them in the fridge and enjoy at your leisure.

What generally happens when I make these is that the first few I assemble, I’m skimpy on the filling, because I’m always scared I won’t have enough. And then, towards the end, I realize that I in fact have too much filling, and the napoleon layers get fatter and fatter as I desperately try to use up all the remaining filling. It is hard to gauge, so don’t worry overmuch. Skimpy or fat, they’ll still be delish.

The nice thing about this recipe is that it can be as simple or as complex as you want. The number of layers, types of filling and the amount of filling can all be customized. Want to add a layer of jam, fruit, or chocolate with the cream? What about a yummy layer of bananas next to the cream? Want to just use sweetened whipped cream as the filling, or just pudding? It is totally up to you! However they are made, they are sure to be both delicious and impressive!

For my gluten-free friends: I don’t know if there is gluten-free puff pastry commercially available in the US (in Europe you can find it here, but it looks like there is a relatively easy recipe here if you want to make it.

As an aside, I finally learned how to make printable recipe pages (and you can too here), so ta-da! Printable recipe! If I have time, I’ll eventually go back and do this retroactively for my other recipes, but it might take a while.

(Printable Recipe)

2 boxes of puff pastry


  • 1 C confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tbls water
  • Handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted


  • 2 boxes French Vanilla instant pudding
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2-8oz packages of cream cheese, softened
  • 1-14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 12 oz Cool Whip or sweetened whipped cream


For Pastry:

  1. Defrost puff pastry according to package directions and pre-heat oven to 400F
  2. Cut each strip of puff pastry into 3 pieces, and pierce with a fork.
  3. Place pieces on parchment lined cookie sheet, place another sheet of parchment on top, and top with second cookie sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes on center rack. Watch bottoms so they don’t over-brown.
  4. Cool pieces on wire rack until completely cool, place in groups of 3, and split each piece in half. Group 2 napoleons from the resulting 6 halves, and repeat for all pieces.
  5. For all designated top pieces, combine confectioner’s sugar and water, and brush or pipe onto the tops.
  6. Stripe melted chocolate across the tops and make pattern on tops with a toothpick dragged perpendicularly across the chocolate lines in alternating directions.
  7. Let tops dry.

For Filling and Assembly:

  1. Beat softened cream cheese and condensed milk together until fluffy and well combined. Fold in Cool Whip.
  2. In separate (large) bowl, whip the pudding mix, heavy cream and milk until stiff peaks form. Fold cream cheese mixture into pudding mixture and fold until well combined.
  3. Starting from the bottom, pipe filling into napoleon, press middle pastry gently into the bottom layer of cream, and repeat for the top layer.
  4. If desired, wrap wax paper around the outside of the napoleon for storage
  5. Store in the fridge.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Mamgu's sausage and cabbage hotpot

(Looks unpromising, but this is actually nice)

I've promised before not to go on about my mother in that tedious way that a lot of people do when they talk about food. I'm doubly not going to because my mother is Welsh. And to talk about her is to talk about where she comes from, and with it comes all that bogus teary nostalgia of the person who willingly fled their birth country years ago for a better life, barely to return, only to get all wistful about not returning.

There is a moment in Black Books when the Irish Bernard Black, now living in London and drunk, says to a 5 year old "Let me tell you about the old country, son. The songs! The songs! They'd... melt your face." That sums it up for me.

Having said all that, my mother did used to feed us so cheaply, despite my Dad earning a eyesmacking wack as some kind of City suit, on food so remeniscent of what you might get on a very dark farm in wartime Wales, that it's worth remarking on. The BSE crisis was paydirt for my mother, as no-one was buying beef on the bone, the price plummeted and we ate like kings until everyone else caught on that BSE isn't really a thing and then the price went up again. And so we went back to sausage and cabbage hotpot.

Which, it turns out, is absolutely delicious. I always dreaded it when I was a teenager, because I didn't have any inkling of how bad food could be in the real world when you have to buy it and cook it yourself. I went back home recently because my husband is away and I'm scared of the dark and get night terrors, like Kingsley Amis, and had this. I saw it and thought "Oh boring" but then tasted it and thought "Oh my God. How could I not have realised that this was delicious?" Then I became anxious and fearful at the thought of raising a child, which might become a similarly vile and ungrateful teenager as I am must have been.

Anyway honestly honestly, no really listen to me, this is a nice thing. It is. It's also a piece of piss. I can't explain how some cabbage leaves and skinned sausages can become something so rich and complex in the oven but it works. It's not a Welsh thing - Welsh food is exclusively leeks and stringy old mutton - just something cheap my mother found in a cookbook.

I gave it to my husband last night and I could tell he was dreading it from the sheer surprise in his voice when he took a mouthful and went "My word!". Like Y blydi Sais** he is.

Mamgu's* Sausage and Cabbage hotpot

1 savoy cabbage
however many sausages you want - probably 2 for girls and 3 for boys - the more expensive and rustic the better. my mother used to get them on special offer because of imminent sell-by dates

Pre-heat the oven to 150C

1 Blanch the cabbage leaves in boiling, salted water for 5 minutes. What you are going to do is layer the cabbage and the sausage together and you need about 2-3 cabbage leaves per layer.

2 Meanwhile skin the sausages. Yes, you must do this.

3 Butter a casserole dish and then start with a layer of cabbage leaves. Add a dot of butter, salt and pepper and 2 or 3 sausages.

4 Continue to layer sausage and cabbage, seasoning each layer with salt, pepper and butter. Go easy on the butter though because too much can be a bit vomity.

5 Finish with a layer of cabbage and then give a foil hat, then put the lid on and put in the oven for 2 hours at least. 2.5 hours ideally.

Eat with red camargue rice (or just dirt scooped up from the garden with your gnarled peasant fingers) and ketchup. Yeh-chid dah!***

* pronounced "Mam-gee", meaning grandmother
**the bloody Englishman
*** Cheers! (Obviously)