Monday, 24 December 2012

Recipe Rifle's Christmas message




I would say it had been a joyous year, but it hasn't. I mean, not especially. I would say that it has been an eventful year, but it hasn't. I would say that it has been an annus horribilis, but it hasn't been that either.

It's just been one of those years that goes from one month to the next. I have spent it mostly wiping down an Ikea highchair, opening the door to the Ocado man and marvelling at that thing where you spend 20 minutes tidying the kitchen only for it to still look like a fucking bombsite.

And it's been a year of TV suppers, eating off our knees in our 1.5 hour telly and dinner watching slot before our eyes glaze over and we can't concentrate and we simply must, must, must go to bed before we fall down. I have slumped entirely out of the habit of cooking for more than two people. We spent months and thousands on a kitchen extension only for us to have 3 dinner parties in 7 months. But Kitty likes it.

What of Kitty? She is a child now, almost no longer a toddler - though still toddlerish to her destructive habits, lack of reason, lack of responsiveness to bribery but she is at least old enough to sit quietly on the sofa watching Peppa Pig for nine hours.

So Merry Christmas, then. See you in the New Year. I've got a bread and butter pudding to tell you about and also a chicken, pork and apricot raised pie - if it works out.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Cheat's mayonnaise



So it happened: the very worst thing. I got norovirus. And just to make sure everyone else had a miserable time, too, I Tweeted about it step by step, reminding those on shift work at 5am that I had now been vomiting for EIGHT HOURS, reminding those getting up with their kids at 7am that I had now been going for TEN HOURS - like some terrible telathon.

But in the end, you know, it wasn't so bad. I mean, it was the most physically traumatising thing to happen to me apart from giving birth - but once you've had it once, you know the drill. Puke so hard it feels like you're going to turn inside out all night and then sit back for the next day sipping Ribena, graciously accepting an avalanche of sympathy. People are so nice about it that it almost makes it worth having.

And anyway you have to shrug these things off. Like you do when, say, when the Mail rings you and offers you enough money to pay for Christmas, an iPhone and a small non-extradition island in the Caribbean to write a slightly controversial piece for them, and then you get a bit carried away and then get over-excited strangers jumping on your head for days and days because they haven't worked out yet that no-one writing in the Mail actually means a word they say, (apart from Melanie Phillips). Like that. You have to shrug that off, too - while crossing your fingers that Samantha Brick pops up again to re-direct some heat.

And Christmas. I think I might shrug Christmas off this year. We haven't got a tree yet. I didn't get an advent calendar until December 4th. I haven't done any festive baking. I'm not even that excited about this year's wrapping paper colour combination (purple with lilac ribbon printed with white snowflakes). It's the last year I'll be able to shrug it off, though. I think Kitty will be aware of Christmas next year and we won't be able to get away with anything less than a 10ft tree and an actual herd of reindeer in the garden. I'm not saying I'm anti-Christmas, before you all get your flipping pitchforks out, I'm just saying that I am shrugging off the pressure.

I'm relaxing, too, about doing things like making my own pastry. I used to insist on making my own pastry before I realised that only people very devoted to the idea of from-scratch baking or who don't happen to have a packet of Jus-Roll in their freezer or who don't have children make their own. It's not that time-consuming, it's just so much easier getting it out of a packet. Go ahead! Judge me! I don't care! Not after the week I've had.

I'm also henceforth never making my own mayonnaise again, having discovered a way of tarting up Hellman's that is so satisfying that I actually feel more smug about doing it than making my own. My mother always makes her own mayonnaise, even when we were small, but she has the patience of a saint and was always able to deftly tune out the murderous squabblings of children, humming as she drizzled the oil into the yolks: dum de dum "FUCKING BI.... HATE Y" dum de dum de dum "I'M GOIN TO FUCKING KIL" tum te tum te tum "FAT C" dee dee dum "UCK OFF!!!" dee dee deeeee.

Anyway so this is my cheat's mayonnaise, which is just super. We have been buying small cooked shrimp from the fishmonger recently and we have it with that, but I recommend you deploy it as an accompaniment to all cold cuts and elaborate sandwiches this festive season.

Some Hellman's mayonnaise (or whatever you've got)
an unpeeled garlic clove
salt
pepper
lemon juice
some olive oil
hot smoked paprika

So what you do is start with the mayo in a bowl get some olive oil, dribble a bit in, then some salt and pepper and lemon juice. Taste. Do it all again until you think it tastes nice. You might like a grassier mayonnaise than me.

Now take a clove of garlic and without bothering to peel it, stick it in a crusher and then crush until just a little scraping comes out and flick that into the mayo and stir. You just want a hint of garlic, because too much is just terrible for the digestion and extremely antisocial. If you had some garlic oil I think that would do the job of the olive oil and the garlic in one.

If you are planning to have this with seafood, a dollop of tomato ketchup - 1/2 a teaspoon I'd say, turns this into a Marie Rose sort of thing.

Finish with a rakish dash of paprika.

 

Friday, 7 December 2012

How not to look like a fat frump when pregnant

You will notice, because you are smart, that I almost never promote anything on this blog. "Oh it's too much like hard work," I say to the occasional food person who gets in touch wondering if I'd like a free packet of spelt. "I'm so lazy," I say. "I'll never get round to it, sorry."

But the fact is that I'm not interested in food freebies. (Sometimes I wonder whether I'm interested in food full stop.) If I want something for free I will say to my husband: "I want some rare albino truffle please," and he will make a phonecall and it will turn up on my doorstep and I won't even have to write about it.

But clothes? Cloooooothes?? Special nice clothes for preggy ladies that don't make you look fat or pinch your bump or squish your boobs?

"Do you want some?" asked my friend Celia. "From ME+EM. We want you to be a sort of brand ambassador."

"FUCK YEAH" I screamed. I didn't even stop to say "Oh but why me? I'm so shit and fat and ugly. You don't want me, you want someone more glamorous and interesting." No, I did NOT say that, I just asked how much stuff I could have. Should I hire a parcel van to drive to the shop? Because I can do one on my Addison Lee app...

Then I immediately started to fret about it, as I always do. That the clothes wouldn't fit or wouldn't be nice and I would take a lot and then not wear them but have to be nice about them anyway. And then I would break our special bond, the one where I tell you the absolute truth about absolutely everything and don't try and sell you anything, ever.

Don't worry. I am not leading you a merry dance. This shit is for real. It's amazing. There are dresses here that make you look, if you're under, say, 20-24 weeks like you're not pregnant. Especially from the front. And after that, they just expand like magic so even though you look like a Sherman tank, you feel comfy.

Pregnancy wear is mostly so so horrible. Massive floaty things with a big print. But this is all terrifically chic. And THE best long-length jersey vests and long-sleeved t-shirts EVAH.

THERE'S EVEN A SALE ON RIGHT NOW!!!

These are the things I got, which are particularly excellent and I recommend to you, pregnant or not. More original, I think, and better fabrics than Isabella Oliver or Seraphine - though God bless them both, eh? Where would we be without them.

On the ME+EM website they do a thing where they use skinny models for all the clothes, so you can't really imagine how they would work on a massive pregnant arse and giant blobby tits, so this is my edit for anyone with a blubbery mess to cover up.

Just think of me like a very badass Gwyneth Paltrow, yeah?

Almost all of this comes in different colours and is available HERE. The sizing is very generous. I am 5'6'' and weigh in at 10 stone 3.5 and fit into a small.



Crepe swing dress. MAKES YOU LOOK NOT PREGNANT. £104. You will wear it everywhere and it's crepe so it won't get bobbles.

Tuck neck swing dress. This is just so cool, such a nice shape. Great with long boots, ankle boots or little slippers. £115. I will be wearing this on Christmas Day.


Extra long layer T. The last word in long-length long-sleeved tops. Soft as a kitten. £42. There are also excellent vests at £19 each. Fucking BARGAIN.

V-neck box pleat dress. Very similar to one at Isabella Oliver but a nicer colour, a more slimming fit and less expensive at £104

An amazing thing. If you only get one thing when you are pregnant, get this. It is sort of drapey and concealing without being heavyweight so you don't end up looking like a piece of soft furniture. It also has lovely long sleeves. I plan to wear mine until it has holes in it. Knit sleeve 3/4 jacket - £119

And a snood. Because I've decided that I hate scarves. Wide rib snood - £68
 
Happy shopping and have a great weekend.






 

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Onion and gruyere tartquiche



My husband and I have been at each other's throats recently. It happens sometimes and there is usually a period of a few days when we simply cannot exchange a civil word.

I, of course, think it's because my husband is a fucking arsehole. And he maintains it's because I'm such a cold, horrible bitch - times a hundred at the moment because I am pregnant and therefore "barely able to tolerate" his presence.

In actual fact, these rocky patches are so short and intense that it feels more like some sort of bad planetary alignment.

But the bad cosmic voodoo is not helped by the fact that we are both irritable shitbags and very good at saying very mean things to each other. Sometimes arguments are like an arms race, us firing the very horriblest things we can at each other, he culminating in something about me being boring and fat and me asking him if it isn't time he went to see his shrink.

I, of course, think it cannot possibly be me. I am not grumpy, I am just bravely tolerating the horror that is pregnancy. But after a period of quiet reflection, I think maybe I do play a part in these marital breakdowns.

On paper, I probably come across as reasonably chatty. But in real life I often don't say terribly much - I am conversational in bursts but most of the time, I am quite quiet. And I sulk. And fume.

I live in my head quite a lot, I suppose, whereas my husband lives his life out loud. He could never, for example, have an affair and keep it secret because at some point, while emptying his brain out through his mouth, he would just confess it.

So if I do something annoying he will tell me in plain language what I am doing that is annoying, (coughing, clearing my throat a lot, leaving the car unlocked, interrupting him, blatently glazing over while he is talking etc), whereas if he does something annoying, (leaving me to clear away his cereal bowl, not understanding that giving Kitty her lunch or tea ALSO involves wiping down the bloody highchair), I don't say a word - I just rage internally about it. And it's not impossible that this rage, suppressed, translates itself to frostiness and unpleasantness.

Marriage is played out so much in the domestic sphere, especially when you have children, that is it very difficult not to focus and obsess about small matters, like cereal bowls and irritating coughs. I often fail to take my own advice in these situations, which is to think immeditely about the nice things one's husband does that cancels out the need to wipe down a highchair.

Like how my husband does bathtime, on his own, every night. I've always taken this for granted but I am now aware that other men do not do this. Some because they can't because they work long hours, but some because they just don't want to deal with the screaming and the bending over and the sweat and the toothbrushing and so they magically manage to walk in the door at 7.20pm every night.

I also never see a bill for anything, I live an entirely paperwork-free life untroubled by insurance, tax, mortgages or credit card statements; someone else looks after the garden; I haven't taken out the bins or touched a recycling bag for 5 years; I get to give birth in any private London hospital of my choosing.

And there's me moaning on about the occasional cereal bowl. I think Giles is right. It's not him: it's me.

So to make amends I made Giles a tart. Not a tart though, really, in the end - much more of a quiche.

I felt terribly grown-up making this because it felt very French, very accomplished. Like one really ought to know how to talk to the Queen, get out of a sports car and make a quiche.

It was also the first time that I have successfully blind-baked something and I am NO LONGER AFRAID!!

It was an onion and gruyere tart and it was absolutely terrific and I really recommend it - especially if you are racking your brains for good mass-catering buffet lunch solutions as we stare down the festive season like it's the barrel of a shotgun.

Onion and gruyere quiche
make about 8 picnic-sized pieces

1 23cm flan tin. Ideally with a removeable base but don't fret if not. Most flan tins are 23cm, but this is reasonably important so if it looks to you at a vague guess like much BIGGER or SMALLER, then you might have to think again
1 packet shortcrust pastry from the excellent and life saving Jus-Roll
3 large onions, sliced as thinly as you can
200ml double cream
3 eggs (I know, rather a lot)
salt and pepper
200g gruyere, grated
50g parmesan, grated
some thyme leaves - maybe 10?
50g butter

Preheat your oven to 180C

1 Cook your onions on your lowest available heat setting with the butter and a large pinch of salt for TWO HOURS. I know this is a long time, but you just put it on the thing and forget about it.

2 Roll out the pastry and lay it in the flan tin. Trim the excess and then line with paper and then baking beads or beans or whatever. You can ALSO use cling film for this. I was worried that it would melt but it doesn't. Use a triple thickness of film to line the pastry and then pour in the beads.

3 Bake this for 15 mins then take out the paper/film and beads and cook for another ten minutes.

4 Mix together your now gloopy sticky onions with the double cream, beaten eggs, cheeses, pepper, (the onions will already be quite salty), and thyme leaves.

5 Pour into the pastry case and bake for 30 mins.

Really delicious with a winter coleslaw or any kind of cold, sharp salad.



 

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Toddler lunch

Kitty will eat perhaps a third of this

I have recently noticed an unusually high number of women confiding in me that their toddler hardly eats anything. "He's only eaten two of those Organix carrot stick thingies today," said one on Twitter. "And I bet he won't eat anything else for the rest of the day." Others fret about fruit and vegetables. "How," they whisper, "do you get Kitty to eat vegetables?"

Answer: I DON'T. I read, earlier this year, a book that changed my attitude towards Kitty's diet and therefore my whole life, as I was so neurotic and anxious about what she ate. The book was called My Child Won't Eat! by a Spanish nutritionist called Carlos Gonzalez and it is the most brilliant book on childcare I have ever read. And as you can imagine, I've read a lot.

He basically says this:

1 It doesn't matter how much your child eats. Your child is not small and spindly because it doesn't eat, it doesn't eat because it is a small and spindly child. You cannot, he says, turn a chihuahua into an Alsatian by making it eat a lot.

2 Your child will naturally, as long as he is given a range of food to choose from, balance his own diet. It might seem like the child eats no fruit or veg, but even a little lick of broccoli here, a nibbled end of carrot there, a tiny bit of apple somewhere else, will fulfill his nutritional needs. The important thing is that fruit and veg are offered, not that they are always finished.

Small children, says Gonzalez, have tiny tummies so they go for very calorific, high energy foods - cake, sweeties, chips, toast, crisps etc; fruit and veg are all very well but they are mostly water and fibre, useless is large quantities to the small stomach.

Children in deprived areas of the developing world will become malnourished faster than adults because they cannot physically fit enough of the sort of food that is available (vegetation, berries) in their tummies in order to draw out the relevant nutrients and calories.

3 You are very unlikely to be able to cajole, bribe or force your child to eat more than it wants to, to the extent that you will alter the child's food intake in any significant way.

So, he says, don't bother. You will only upset yourself and the child.

Put the food in front of the child, let the child/children get on with it for a reasonable amount of time and say nothing about uneaten food. Never try to get more food in than they want. No "here comes the airplane" or "you have to eat this or no pudding" or anything.

"Hurrah!" I screamed, after finishing the book. I threw it over my shoulder, rubbed my hands together and vowed from that day forth not to give a shit about how much Kitty eats.

She gets food, three times a day, with snacks. She gets carbohydrate, protein, fruit and vegetables. But I do not care - DO NOT CARE - how much she eats. I cannot begin to tell you what a release it has been.

And, further, I have now banned any cooking at lunchtimes. She gets a cold lunch every day and she loves it. She has

1 carbohydrate - crackers, bread and butter
1 sort of cheese - chedder, Jarg, Dairylea, mini baby bell, whatever's floating about
1 veg - carrot sticks, cucumber, baby tomatoes or a bit of sweet pepper
1 dollop of hummous if we've got some
1 protein - some leftover chicken, or ham, or a mini pork pie

Then she has some fruit and a biscuit.

And I can't tell you how great it is not to have to cook or fucking wash up pots and pans at lunchtime as well as dinner time. And there isn't a big hot lunch stink about the house AND if she's not in the mood to eat much, you can usually put back the uneaten stuff rather than throw an entire fish-pie-and-rice concoction in the bin.

I feel like women must have felt when they first started doling out the Pill - liberated. I feel, in fact, as relieved as when I confessed to Kitty's paediatrician Dr Mike, (when Kitty had a fever of 104 for three days), that I was worried that she would get brain damage and he said: "When was the last time you heard of someone getting brain damage from a fever?" And I said "Err," and he said "Unless you put her, with her temperature of 104, in a sauna, she isn't going to get brain damage." And I said "Ok," and have ceased to worry about fevers, too.

One can wind oneself up terribly about the strangest things, when there are so many better things to get your knickers in a twist over. Like steaming!! I have had the most terrific feedback on my miracle cure and have already this morning dispensed two separate specific steaming instruction miracle cures.

I can die happy.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Slow-braised kale


Oh Lord, Lord winter is really here and everyone is sick, dying, just trying to make it through the long dark afternoons to bedtime.

Tuberculosis lite? Cough cough cough couughghghgghghghggh *GAG* [pause] waaaail [pause] cough cough cough; or actual norovirus (please please God not noro, anything but noro); non-descript colds, going on and on, merging seamlessly into each other. Maybe one day in every fornight you feel alright, you wake up not all puffed up, stuffed up like your head is full of packing polystyrene.

Or is it just me.

But I should be pleased!! Because mass illness allows me to dispense to everyone my miracle cures! I am such a bore with my miracle cures, especially for coughs in the under 5. "You must STEAM him" I will bellow at perfect strangers at Talacre baby gym. "You must SIT in a STEAMY BATHROOM for TEN MINUTES MINIMUM three times per day! Put Karvol in the water! It's the regularity that does it. Three times a day! I know it's boring! But it's a miracle cure! When someone first told me I said 'Oh fuck off with your hippy shit - give me amoxycillin!' But it really works!"

I am making fun of myself, but I really do think this IS a miracle cure. Kitty had a cold that went feral last week and I had NOT been steaming her, (because it is so tedious), and she got a cough and last week one night was awake from midnight until 5am, coughing. Every time she was about to nod off, she coughed herself awake. It was awful! Not very nice for her, either. By about 0430am she was wailing "Sleepy-byes! Sleepy-byes!" it was terribly sad. Anyway the next day I steamed her to within an inch of her life and that night she only coughed from 9pm - 11pm. Miracle cure!

Are you still with me?
Are you with me or against me?

I also boast how I have bought a huge pack of latex gloves and surgical masks (mad!!) in order to prevent the inter-house spread of the inevitable noro.

What can be done?! How are we going to survive until spring? I can't imagine how in the world vegetables can possibly help but maybe, like steaming, they are the simple answer right under our noses, which we ignore because we just want to eat macaroni cheese and mince pies right now, thanks.

But allow me to introduce you to the idea of slow-braised kale, which is a way of making kale edible. I know! Who would have thought?

My husband made this the other night and it was genuinely a very delicious thing and I really can't imagine any scenario in the world that would make me think that about kale.

Slow-braised kale

2 bags kale - any sort
1 carrot
2 sticks celery
1 clove garlic
1 small onion
1 turnip if you have it
1 glass shitty white wine
1 organic chicken stock cube
1 chilli, deseeded and sliced (you can leave this out if you don't want it spicy)
salt and pepper
some thyme leaves if you have them

1 Make a mirepoix with the carrot, celery, onion, garlic, turnip and chilli. A mirepoix, if you have forgotten, is all of these things very, very finely chopped together.

2 Cook this down for 10 or so minutes in a pan in some groundnut oil, then throw over your glass of shitty wine and turn up the heat to bubble this down. Crumble your stock cube and sprinkle it over.

3 Rinse the kale and without bothering to dry it too much, put it in the pan and snip at it viciously with a pair of kitchen scissors, like a seagull attacking a bag of chips until it has sort of flattened itself out in the pan (but you do not want to obliterate it).

4 Now cook this on your smallest burner on the lowest heat for 1.5 hours. I know it is a long time.

We ate this with some Dover Sole and it was DELICIOUS. Cooked like this, kale magially takes on the taste of red cabbage, which is very strange but I think they are the same brassica-ish family so I suppose that makes sense.

Then we each took and Actifed and went to bed at 9.30pm.
 

Monday, 26 November 2012

Curried fish in yoghurt



This is a really terrific fish curry that I found in Guardian Weekend by Vivek Singh, via Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Watch out for the chilli in this - the way I use chillies is to buy packs of non-descript chillies from Waitrose and then let them sit in a jar until I need to use them. Of course, while they're sitting around they famously get very hot. I used one large one in this curry, no seeds, and it was fucking spicy. I mean, I don't really mind because I'm rock hard like that (I was especially tough and cool when I GOT SOME IN MY EYE!!!).

But the thing is, because you're not going to cook the chilli much here, you need to have a care for how hot your chilli might be whatever stage in its life it is and you might, perhaps, only put half in.

Anyway I really recommend this, it was delicious and doesn't take long. Like all curry recipes, the ingredients list doesn't seem to half go on for bloody ever, but it's worth buying everything in if you don't have it, especially the cinnamon sticks, which really make this extra yummy, in my opinion.

Even though I've always thought that cinnamon in curry is a bit gross, like fruit in leafy salads. But it's nearly Christmas for god's sake!!! You ought to have cinnamon sticks poking out of every drawer.

Curried fish in yoghurt
enough for 4

300g plain whole-milk yoghurt (I used Greek yoghurt, which was fine)
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp chilli powder
salt and pepper
500g white fish - haddock or similar, cut into chunks
oil for frying
1 bay leaf
2 cardomom pods, squashed with the flat of a knife blade
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
1 large onion, or three tiny ones, chopped or finely sliced
chilli, de-seeded and chopped or sliced
Fresh coriander and black onion seeds to scatter over the top if you fancy although on reflection, what with my rodent issues, onion seeds look a lot like mouse poo. This did not occur to me last night as I was eating this, which is a good thing. Sorry I've really ruined the whole thing for you now.


1 Mix together the yoghurt, ginger, garlic, turmeric, chilli powder and large pinch of salt. Turn the fish out into the marinade and leave for 30 mins.

2 Heat the oil in a pan then add the bay leaf, cardomom, cinnamon and cloves. Cook these for 2-3 minutes until you can smell the cinnamon and cloves. Add the onion and chilli and turn the heat right down. Cook these, turning often, for 10 minutes (use a timer).

3 Add the fish and its marinade and cook for 10 minutes. Turn it once carefully during cooking as you don't want to smash up the fish. Cooked yoghurt always ends up looking a bit grainy and gross, so don't worry about that.

4 Add more salt if you think it needs it (it probably does) and then scatter over coriander and onion seeds if you want to.

In fact, with all these cinnamon and cloves it's really quite a Christmassy dish.

 

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Sushi for obsessives


This is why you need to wipe your knife between roll cuts. Notice how I have focused on the only clean one


Up until very recently I laughed at people who made their own sushi. There are some things that are best left to the experts, is my view - and sushi is one of them.

Then my raging pregnancy craving for sushi got quite out of control. It's all I want to eat, ever. It's all I can really stomach eating. I don't really mean actual raw fish, although that will do, I really mean cut rolls, maki rolls - California rolls, spicy tuna rolls - even vegetarian rolls. I don't care. I'm not fussy. I just want fucking sushi. I am an addict.

Even my Japanophile husband is getting a bit alarmed by it all, especially when we went out to a robata (a Japanese grill, where they cook tiny things on skewers - really delicious) and refused to eat anything except sushi.

But I can only squeeze a trip out for sushi out of him about once a fortnight or he starts getting bored with it, so I've had to come up with ways of filling in the gaps between my professional sushi hits. I stopped short at the Japanese sundries section of Waitrose the other day, dithered for a moment, then held out my arms, and swept the whole lot off the shelves and into my trolley: sushi mat, nori paper, wasabi, sushi rice, sushi rice seasoning. Then I wheeled back to the vegetable aisle and bought a cucumber, then I wheeled over to the fish section and bought some cooked, peeled prawns.

And I will say this: homemade sushi is actually pretty good. It's not that hard to do and doesn't make much of a mess - all you need to cook is the rice and everything else is just an assembly job - I can see if you did it reasonably often you'd get very good at all that rolling.

My problem is with the rice - although I've never been good at cooking rice, I'm hoping that results will come with practice. The two times I've cooked it now it comes out a bit overcooked and means a slight mushiness in the resultant roll. I now wonder if this might not be because of actual overcooking but allowing the rice to soak for more than the advised 30 minutes prior to boiling.

If you are going to make homemade sushi, then obviously the thing to do is look up a tutorial on YouTube, that is the only way to see properly how to do it, but I also offer the following additional notes:

1 When you cover your sushi mat with cling film, tuck the ends of the film in under the mat, to stop the film ending up getting rolled up inside the sushi, which is not the idea at all.

2 Sushi rice is like fucking concrete. Do not allow it, as I did, to sit in sieves, pots, on knives or sushi mats for more than a few minutes because it wil lliterally superglue itself to any unguarded thing - it's mental.

3 Do wipe your knife on a wet cloth inbetween cuts of your sushi roll as it will make it all look so nice; if you don't, little bastard grains of rice will stick to the knife and then stick to the next roll of sushi and look all messy (see photo above).

4 Be generous with your sushi rice seasoning. Plain old rice is awfully boring and I have found that the directions on the back of the seasoning bottle don't allow for enough.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Duck and pancake (sort of)





I spent almost my entire first pregnancy worried about how much harder and worse it would be to be pregnant with a toddler in tow.

Of course, I was right to be worried. It's absolutely horrible. I have also got much fatter and stiffer quicker this time and am out of breath and feel queasy and faint at any sort of physical effort. Bending down makes me feel dizzy and lightheaded and if I pick Kitty up I feel like my bum is going to fall off.

But in some ways, being pregnant the second time around is easier. No-one pushes you around. No-one lectures you about how shit/marvellous having a baby is. Basically no-one really cares and it is great.

I also now know how long nine months is. It's a fucking long time. So you might as well take your coat and shoes off and arrange all your stuff around you nicely and get comfy because you're going to be in this state for a flipping age. My friend AC compares it with flying long-haul, economy. Just when you think you can't stand it any more, it turns out you're only in Dubai and you've got another huge slog left.

Mistake #1 that I am not going to make with this pregnancy is to look like a horrible slob. Last time around I just slopped around in disgusting denim jeggings and filthy Converse and ugly jersey tops, thinking that money spent on maternity jeans, or tights or new shoes or underwear or anything was a waste.

No fear. Not this time. I went out and bought, on the advice of my wardrobe guru Becky B, a pair of J Brand black skinny jeans for £185, which the nice girl in the shop, (Trilogy in Hampstead), sent off to get turned into a pair of maternity jeans. Then after you've had the baby, they turn them BACK into a pair of normal jeans! Let no-one say I am not thrifty. Although frankly they are probably going to be so knackered by next May that won't be much left to turn back into normal jeans.

And I've got a dress from Isabella Oliver, and ankle boots and a Zara tweed jacket with leather sleeves (I know! I AM fashion!), and some smart harem trousers and THREE new pairs of maternity tights and loads of these t-shirts from Top Shop, which are an absolute life saver.



Giles hates all of it. But as Becky B said as she saw me hesitating over the harem trousers "Don't ask yourself whether Giles will like it. He will only think you look nice if your arse and boobs are all hanging out." Becky B is Scottish via Blackheath and I always do whatever she tells me.

But I am, basically, doing all this for Giles. Because the person who really suffers during my pregnancy frump-outs is him. But it's not for him, him - if that makes sense - because he is a bit wary of all these rather @ManRepeller new clothes, but for other people, looking at him. I don't want people in restaurants to go "Oh look, there's Giles Coren and there's his.... really frumpy... dowdy.... fat... wife... urgh," I want them to say "Wow Giles must be really cool to be married to someone who wears harem pants!!!"

Mistake #2 I am going to try not to make this time is to get incredibly fat. I've already put on a stone, in the first trimester sugar/carb/neausea feeding frenzy - but I am wondering if all the eating I did last time in my 2nd and 3rd trimesters wasn't done out of self-pity and boredom, rather than actual hunger. I don't mean going on any sort of diet, I just mean when I've got a raging thirst I might try to quench it with sparkling water first, rather than a giant thing of Coca Cola.

(I once read in a pregnancy magazine, by the way, a thing that said "By five months, your jeans might be feeling a little tight." A LITTLE TIGHT??! Fucking hell, in both pregnancies I was in stretchy waistbands at EIGHT WEEKS. I wanted to set fire to the magazine but it would have made a terrible smell.)

What gives me hope is that I'm not as in to full Sunday roasts and lots of carbs as I was first time. All I really want is sushi. Sashimi, nigiri, california rolls, spicy tuna rolls. Maybe a seaweed salad? Cheeky little hot sake? It's all I can think about. Large bits of roast meat, creamy things, sticky, rich things all turn me green.

But that's still what my husband likes to eat, so I bought for his dinner the other day some duck breast. And then it sat in the fridge for days as I found excuse after excuse not to cook it because I just couldn't face it.

Then I came up with an idea, which was to use it in a sort of ersatz duck-and-pancake thing. I didn't hold out much hope for this as I only had fajita wraps for the pancake and a bottle of bought hoisin sauce for the sauce and duck breasts for the duck rather than leg.

But it basically worked. Which makes me think that if you could actually get some duck pancake pancakes from somewhere (one of you smartarses must know where?) you'd be really sorted.

I also discovered a very good way of cooking duck breasts, which gives you a really crispy skin and doesn't fill the kitchen with blue smoke.

1 Score the skin of the duck in a diamond pattern and then place on some kind of grill or grid suspended over the skin then pour 1/2 a kettle-full of boiling water over them.

2 Dry the duck very well and then put in the fridge to dry out completely - all day is great but 45 minutes will make a difference.

3 When you are ready to cook the duck, season with salt and pepper and five spice (if you want) and then put in a dry frying pan skin side down.You don't need any oil or anything because the duck is going to leak a lot of grease. If you have a skillet that will go in the oven use this. Cook this very gently for about 10 minutes, until the skin is brown and the pan is full of duck fat. Then turn the duck over and cook the bottom for 4 mins.

4 Now put in a 180C oven for 8 mins for medium and 10 for well done.

And that's it. Eat with your sliced up cucumber and spring onion with plum or hoisin sauce on whatever pancake type thing you can lay your hands on. Close your eyes and you could almost be in Chinatown.


 

Monday, 12 November 2012

Pear and hazelnut muffins




Muffins are a little bit passe these days. Like Friends and Snapple, they're just a bit nineties. They have been overtaken by their brash, rather disgusting, cupcake cousin.

But I still have a lot of affection for them. I think muffins are nice. And I came across this very straightforward looking recipe in a newspaper, but which utilised American cup measurements.

I was annoyed about this, just as I am always annoyed when a recipe specifies some sort of wildly exotic spice, cut of meat or fruit in an offhand manner, which implies that of course you ought to know where to source it from. I fucking don't!! And even if I did, I am not going to spend one of my three child-free mornings a week tracking it down. If you can't get it in Waitrose I am. Not. Interested.

Of course these days I DO, however, have a set of cup measurements, which I bought in Waitrose, so can convert the measurements for you.

On a whim, I decided to make these muffins with some pear and hazelnut because those were some things I had knocking about. I also used soured cream instead of buttermilk, (buttermilk!! we are in ENGLAND, nowhere sells it except big branches of Waitrose and I'm not always near one of those), which worked just fine.

You do not have to use pear and hazelnut in these - pretty much anything works: apple, chocolate, sultanas, banana, whatever. It's a very flexible vehicle, muffin mix. Having said that, the pear and hazelnut combination was really terrific and I recommend it to you.

Pear and hazelnut muffins - makes 8

2.5 cups plain flour - 340g
1.5 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup sugar - 160g
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup soured cream or buttermilk - 120ml
3 drops vanilla essence
1/cup melted butter - 75g butter, melted
2 ripe pears, diced
2 lady-handfuls of hazelnuts, chopped and toasted in a dry frying pan for about 10 mins

1 In one bowl combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. You do not have to sieve this but you could swizzle it about with a whisk for a bit.

2 In another bowl mix the beaten egg with the soured cream, vanilla extract and melted butter. Someone like Raymond Blanc would separate the eggs first, beat the whites and then add them separately, to make the muffins lighter.

3 Add the flour to the egg mixture and mix just until there is still about 10% flour showing, then tip in your pear and hazelnuts (or whatever you are using) and mix to combine.

4 Spoon immediately into muffin cases. Fill these to just below the brim. This is important, as these will not rise that much on cooking and you want that big luscious, over-spilt look.

5 Bake at 200C for 16-20 mins. Keep an eye on them if you have a light on in your oven. Mine were slightly underdone as I put them in at 180 (because of fan nuke horror panic) but if you have a normal oven I think you'll be okay at 200C for 16 mins. Bake in the middle shelf.

 

Friday, 9 November 2012

Date bread



If this looks familiar, it's because it is almost identical in every way to a Banana Bread For Dory (q.v.) but it uses dates instead of bananas.

I wanted to try this out because my friend Becky B brought over a sticky date cake the other day and it reminded me of the packet of dates in the larder I had been meaning to use to make a sticky toffee pudding, but have never quite found the excuse for.

It's also because I do LOVE that banana bread recipe but quite often don't find I have quite the right number of overripe bananas to justify it. So I wondered if it was possible with dates. And it is! It is still a sort of date bread, rather than a cake, because it's not especially sweet, which I think is a good thing. You could definitely spread this with butter, for example. Like all cakey/breads that are not a sponge, this keeps very well in tupperware for a few days.

Becky B did a terribly clever thing with HER date cake, which was to soak it, in the manner of a lemon drizzle cake, with a caramel sauce that she bought from Waitrose - it was Bonne Maman, she said: "Confiture de Caramel". She thinned it with some hot water, pricked the cake all over with a skewer and then went MAD with the sauce. It was really, really fab. My mother always says that things that other people have made for you are always more delicious than something you have made yourself, but still - Becky B is a terrific cook.

You can also make your own caramel sauce if you are that sort of person - there is a recipe somewhere on here, have a rummage.

So here we go

Date bread

150 veg oil
200g dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
250g dates
75g natural yoghurt
1 tsp bicarb of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
225g wholemeal spelt flour (get it from Waitrose)
2 tbs caster sugar or cane sugar

1 Pre-heat your oven to 170C and butter a 2lb loaf tin and line it (YES you must do this, don't be lazy) and line a baking sheet, too.

1 In a bowl whisk together the oil, sugar, vanilla and eggs

2 Chop up the dates roughly then put them in a bowl and pour over boiling water to just cover them. Leave them to soak for 20 mins then drain them and sort of gently mash them through the sieve to get out most of the water.

3 Add the youghurt to the dates and mix together. Sprinkle over the bicarb of soda, baking powder, and salt and stir again.

4 Mix the date mixture and the sugar/egg mixture together. Then sprinkle over the flour and stir until things are only just combined. Over-mixing is disastrous here so stop as soon as you can't see any more flour. Spoon the batter into your smugly-lined tin.

5 Sprinkle some sugar - caster, cane or granulated -down the spine of the loaf and then put in the oven.

7 Bake for 45-50 mins.


HOW is Kitty, people say to me. How is she, how is she? I don't talk about her that much any more because she is just off my hands. She turns two in February but she has been off since she turned 18 months old and could walk, talk, ask for things, watch tv, sit and draw or look at her books, play imaginary games with her stuffed animals, scoot around the kitchen on her little trike and so on. She is an actual person these days and it's such a relief, I can't tell you.

When I look back on some of the darker things I wrote when she was small I feel awful, so guilty. But it must have been bad for me to write those things, it must have been like that. She's now this little chattering pixie, everyone wants a piece of her, everyone wants a smile and to hear her squeak "I'm knackered!" - her first party trick.

I used to dread her waking up in the night - the thought of it made me feel actually sick with anxiety. Now sometimes I wake in the night and hope that she might wake, too and need me. But she never does.

Here is a picture of Kitty with her bunny, her hair a bit wild from her nap. Note how she is gripping the bunny quite hard round the neck - I think she is trying to get him to tell her where the chocolate is. I can get pictures printed on t-shirts, mugs, bags and mousemats for a small fee if anyone is interested?

Though I can see the benefits of babies, I suppose. They are not constantly after your iPad and whatever it is that you are eating. And they don't have a massive fucking tantrum when you try to stop them from doing incredibly dangerous things.

 

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Pot-roast partridge with savoy cabbage



I felt so guilty all of yesterday for the carpet disaster that I set about making a very elaborate partridge thing for my husband's dinner, using the two partridge he had bought on an impulse at the Farmer's Market the previous Saturday.

This was a slightly over the top thing to have on a cold November weeknight but I think my husband liked it - though I had a sudden and unexpected massive attack of nausea at 7.45pm so couldn't eat a thing.

This would be very good for a dinner party - everyone gets their own partridge and the sides are straightforward and easy to do in bulk. I'm sure you could do this with quail, as well. Or pheasant? Or are pheasant huge?

Pot-roast partridge with Savoy cabbage

For the partridge

2 partridge
1 small savoy cabbage
2 carrots
1 medium onion
2 bay leaves
4 sage leaves
4 sticks thyme, leaves picked off
2 sticks celery
1 glass white wine
1 pint chicken stock

For the cabbage
(you do not have to have cabbage with this. Maybe some lovely mash instead, or a cauliflower cheese?)

1 cabbage
1 small onion
4 rashers streaky bacon
1 tbsp cream if you have it

1 In a casserole pan with a lid, melt some oil and butter and then brown the partridge all over. Do this quite thoroughly - I'd say for about 6 minutes in total. Once browned, remove the birds to a plate and take the casserole pan off the heat.

2 Now make your mirepoix. Don't panic! I will explain what this is.

A mirepoix is a mound of very finely-chopped onion, celery and carrot, (although there are variations on this), which makes up the base of a lot of French sauces and soups. This is one of the reasons to own an incredibly expensive, very sharp knife from the likes of Global. Ask for one for Christmas! (I am not on commission)

Chopping up carrot and celery very small is easy enough, but I always struggle with onion. What I tend to do is try my best and then when it all starts going to piss and slipping about everywhere, I just go over it with my knife in a levering motion to get the rest really small. Not what Jamie would do BUT HE'S NOT HERE :(

Anyway so that is a mirepoix. Make one of these and then add to it your bay leaves, thyme leave and torn sage leaves.

This is a mirepoix. The veg could stand to be even smaller but I am a bit ham-fisted.


3 Add the mirepoix to the recently-vacated casserole pan and cook this over a medium flame for 4 minutes. I chose to stir this a lot to stop the onions from catching and it was a good idea. After this time, add your glass of white wine and turn the heat up so that it all bubbles down to just a thin pool of liquid at the bottom of your casserole. This takes a few minutes.

Now add your stock - it really must be decent stock, not from a cube - and put the partridge back in. Put the casserole with a lid on in a 180C oven.

The recipe I followed, although good, left the partidge rather scarily underdone as it only specified a 15 min cooking time. So if I were to do this again I would do 15 min with the lid on and then 10 mins with the lid off. Another benefit of this is that partridge can have an unfortunate greyish tinge to the skin and taking the lid off allows the top to brown, which is so important for presentation. And, because this is a pot-roast, you don't have to worry about the partridge drying out because it is protected by the surrounding liquid.

4 While the partridge is cooking, shred the savoy cabbage and chop up the onion and bacon. Sweat the onion for a few minutes in some butter and oil and then add the bacon. Cook this for about four minutes and then add the cabbage. Put a lid on and leave for another four minutes. I was not happy about leaving this with so little liquid so added a ladleful from the partridge cooking sauce. In all I reckon I cooked the cabbage for about 10 minutes. The recommended 4 minutes just left it raw and crunchy. I finished the cabbage with some cream I had knocking about.

4 Once the partridge is done, remove and put somewhere to rest and keep warm. Put the casserole pan back on the hob and give it a good boil to reduce the sauce. Season generously with salt and pepper after it has reduced.

5 Serve with a pile of cabbage, a partridge (on or off the bone, up to you) and the cooking sauce.

 

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Cinnamon buns



The plan for this morning was to write some hilarious thing about something or other as an introduction to these terrific cinammon buns, while the carpet man replaced the scraggy old carpet in what is about to be Kitty's new bedroom.

It was all going so well. I hadn't lost the recipe for the cinnamon buns, (a miracle), my laptop was working (double miracle), I'd had a cup of tea and the carpet man was actually early (such a miracle that I ought, then, to have smelled a rat).

But then he brought in the wrong carpet. It was a stripey one, the one we use on the stairs. Not the plain beige one, that we use in bedrooms.

Oh god!! Oh god oh god oh god I've ordered the wrong fucking carpet.

I searched my email, shaking, looking, searching frantically for some indication that this wasn't my fault. But it just completely was. Is. Is my fault. So I now have to re-order the carpet at vast expense and try, for the rest of the day, not to burst into tears about it.

"YOU KNEW I WAS AN IDIOT WHEN YOU MARRIED ME," I screamed pre-emptively and defensively at my husband, who was standing in the kitchen looking at me sympathetically.

Anyway here's a recipe for some cinnamon buns. They're nice.

Cinnamon buns by Edd Kimber
makes 16

For the dough

250ml whole milk
50g butter, plus extra for greasing tin
500g strong white bread flour
30g caster sugar
1 tsp salt
7g fast-action yeast. This is the equivalent of one of those sachets you get in boxes of yeast. I decided instead to use 7g of yeast in a tin, which was past its sell-by date, so the first lot of dough I made didn't rise and I had to throw it away and start again. It's all just going so well in my world at the moment.
1 egg, beaten
veg oil for greasing

For the filling

150g light brown soft sugar
3 tbsp ground cinnamon
60g butter, very soft, plus a bit extra to brush over the buns pre-baking
75g currants

... and some icing sugar. Edd mixes 125g icing sugar with 75 cream cheese and 2 tbsp whole milk. I didn't do this and plain icing is just fine. However, I have tasted this other sort of icing and it is very nice, so if you are so inclined, give it a go.

1 Put the milk and the butter in a small saucepan and heat very gently over the lowest available heat until the butter has melted. Set aside and leave it to cool to a lukewarm temperature.

2 In a bowl, mix together the:

- flour
- sugar
- salt
- yeast

to this add the milk/butter mix and the beaten egg. Mix this round until you have a dough.

3 Flour a surface and knead this for 10 minutes. Ten minutes is a VERY long time, so put a timer on or something because you will want, powerfully, to give up after about 3 minutes.

4 Put the dough in a bowl that is large enough for it to double in size. I do not have a bowl that big so I used a massive saucepan instead. Anyway whatever you use, lightly oil the base and sides.

And NOW stretch some cling film across the top of the pan/bowl in order to form an airtight seal over the dough. I think I am possibly the only person in the world who doesn't know that you are supposed to do this with dough, but I didn't. Maybe you don't know either. Maybe you think, like I used to, that you could just sling a tea-towel over it. No. If you do that air will get to it and form a very thin crust, which will both stop the dough from rising properly and also make it very difficult to shape later.

You're all laughing at me now, I can tell. Go ahead! I don't care! Kick me while I'm down why don't you.

5 Leave the dough to rise in a warm place for 1 hr. While this is happening grease with butter a 23cm x 33cm high sided baking tin. If you, like me, don't have one of these, you can use whatever combination of high-sided baking tins you've got to fit the buns in.

6 Tip your dough out onto a floured surface and roll out to 40x50cm. I ended up using a tape measure for this. The funny thing about rolling out dough like this is that at first you think - how am I going to roll this out to any sort of rectangle shape? If you try the dough sort springs back on itself and will only go into a round shape. But if you keep on rolling it out thinner and thinner it suddenly complies and relaxes into a rounded sort of rectangle. It has to be seen to be believed.

7 Mix the brown sugar and the cinnamon together in a bowl. Now take your 60g of very soft butter and spread the dough with it. Now sprinkle over the sugar mixture and then the currants. Don't be afraid to press all this into the dough reasonably firmly.



8 Now roll all this up into a tight log shape. I'm sure the Bake-Off Masterclasses showed a terribly clever way of doing this, but I missed that episode, so just do this the best way you can see how.

9 Trim the ends off the roll and then cut into 16 pieces. I used a tape measure again for this. All you do is mark out the middle of the roll, and then mark out the middles of those two halves and then again until you've got 16 bits. Cut these up and then arrange in your collection (or not) of baking tins then leave THESE to rise for 45 mins, again with the tins covered with an airtight seal of clingfilm. Before baking brush these with some melted butter.



10 Now - to bake. My oven is a fan oven and therefore nukes anything I bake, which is why I don't do much baking. If you have one of these wretched bloody ovens then bake your buns at 165 for 30 mins, laying a sheet of foil over the buns for the last 15 mins of baking time. If you don't have a fan oven, bake these at 180 for 30 mins, but also cover for the last 15 mins of baking time.

I lost my nerve halfway through baking these and turned the temp up to 180 and although the buns were a triumph, if anything they were a tiny bit over-cooked. So next time I will just stick to 165 the whole way.

11 Mix up whatever icing you are using and drizzle or spread once the buns have cooled a bit.

Eat and then hang yourself with a length of carpet gripper.


 

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Bond, villain






I hope you don't mind my husband butting in on our conversation (that is not my husband above, that of course is Daniel Craig).

My husband, Giles Coren, will only be with us for a moment. He's just got a few words to say. It's a piece that was supposed to go in The Times on Saturday, you see - only they wouldn't run it. It was about James Bond and there's been too much Bond, they said, someone else is doing something on something or other. So write something else, yeah Giles? Well my husband is an accommodating sort of chap so he said okay then - but it's such a good piece it deserves to be read and Tweeted and to bust out from behind the paywall will make him so very chipper.

I promise this won't be a regular thing.

Coming soon: a recipe!!!



BOND, VILLAIN
(The piece they tried to ban. Warning! This contains plot spoilers...)

by Giles Coren
 
There is a moment in the new James Bond film so vile, sexist and sad that it made me feel physically sick. If you have not seen the film and fear a spoiler, then look away now. Or cancel your tickets and do something less horrible instead. Like pull all your fingernails out.

In short, there is a young woman in this film whom Bond correctly identifies (in his smug, smart-arse way) as a sex-worker who was kidnapped and enslaved as a child by human traffickers. She is now a brutalised and unwilling gangster’s moll. She gives no sign of being sexually interested in Bond, merely of being incredibly scared and unhappy. So he creeps uninvited into her hotel shower cubicle later that night, like Jimmy Savile, and silently screws her because he is bored.

That is vile enough. And totally out of keeping, I’d have thought, with Daniel Craig’s Bond. But it gets much worse when she is later tied up with a glass of whisky on her head in a hilarious William Tell spoof, and shot dead in a game devised by the baddie. We knew already knew the baddie was bad, so there was no plot developing element here. It was merely disgusting, exploitative, 1970s-style death-porn (like when Roger Moore torpedoed the beautiful girl in the helicopter in The Spy Who Loved Me and then joked about it – a scene from which it has taken me 35 years to recover).

The ‘new’ Bond’s immediate response to the killing of a tragic, abused, indentured slave woman is to say, “waste of good scotch” (this must be the ‘humour’ Daniel Craig said he was keen to put back into the role) and then kill everyone. He could have done it three minutes before and saved her. But that wouldn’t have been as funny, I guess.

That Macallan (the whisky brand on her head) presumably paid to be involved in the scene, as part of the film’s much-touted product placement programme, is utterly baffling to me.

Personally, I am ashamed, as a journalist, of the five star ratings this film garnered across the board from sheep-like critics afraid or unable to look through the hype, to its rotten soul.

I am ashamed, as a man, that women are still compelled in the 21st century to watch movies in which the three female outcomes are:

1) Judi Dench’s ‘M’ dies, and is replaced by a man;

2) The young abuse victim is shagged by Bond and then killed for a joke; and

3) The pretty girl who manages to remain chaste despite Bond’s ‘charms’ is rewarded at the end with a job as his secretary.

And I am ashamed, as a British person, that this film will be mistaken abroad for an example of prevailing values here. It is a sick, reactionary, depressing film and its director, Sam Mendes, should be ashamed of himself, all the way to the bank.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Surrendering onions



I've been away. I know. I have noticed. Thank you for your patience during the disruption to your service.

I've been terribly ill, you see. Sick, so sick. Morning sickness it is. Was. It's over now - sort of. I still get the odd billowing wave of it, bobbing up around my solar plexus but I'm no longer a drooping, greyish figure haunting my house. Urgh. I hate - hate - people who say that horrid thing to pregnant women - "You're not ill, you're pregnant." Really? Because it feels an awful lot like norovirus to me.

Anyway I feel better now. And I had my 12 week scan - just one spratling, thank god, in the right place - and so I can start moaning on about being pregnant again. The other thing that's happened is that I've finished putting together that book I was talking about. In the end it really wasn't very much work, it was just impossible to do anything feeling so sick. Ten minutes typing, 1 hour lying down, ten minutes typing, one hour lying down. SO SO SICK. I got some pills off my doctor, The Beast, in the end. I just couldn't take it anymore. But they only took the edge off, it wasn't like I was bouncing out of bed in the mornings.

I honestly am still reeling from how awful it was. It just wasn't that bad with Kitty. And I wasn't that tired either. But for the last six weeks I've been wiped out, asleep from 1-3pm every day. Wiped out like chalk on a blackboard. And then wake up feeling like shit. Poor old Kitty. Or rather lucky Kitty - she has eaten biscuits and watched telly solidly for six weeks. But thank god for telly. Thank GOD! What would we have done without it.

I am trying not to think too much about being plunged back into a babyhood. I am trying to look on the bright side. I must have learned something since Kitty was born. It surely won't be as awful as it was. I don't want to go mad again, I really don't.

It has to be different this time - for one, Kitty was brought home to a house that didn't have any children in it. It was a grown-up house, really quite spooky in a lot of ways - silent and strange and unfit for a baby. These days it has a chattering lunatic nearly-two-year-old in it, dropping crumbs and kicking balloons and watching telly and running from one end of the house to the other for no reason other than youthful high spirits. The changing mat now has its own room, rather than squatting on the kitchen table. The kitchen extension means that everyone can slob about in the kitchen, rather than me being at the stove, running out every ten seconds into the living room to make sure everyone's okay.

And maybe I'm different. Broken in, broken down. Resigned. Institutionalised. Used to that special sort of monotony you get with small children, so intense particularly in babies. My expectations from life are different now. I am surrendered, like onions.

Surrendering onions is a slow but pleasing task. It is what you do if you want very soft, aromatic, almost creamy onions (for an onion gravy for example, or a tangle alongside some sausages) and the trick is to cook them for a good 1.5-2 hours on the lowest heat on your smallest available burner.

You slice them into rings, reasonably thinly and scatter them in a pan with some oil - and butter, if you like. Then sprinkle over a generous pinch of salt and put a lid on and leave them. Do not turn the heat up and do not poke them about too much. Take the lid off if at any point the onions start to even think about sizzling. Towards the end of the cooking time, the onions will almost in a matter of seconds collapse into themselves - they will surrender. I can't help but think of motherhood like that. But not in a bad way.


 

Monday, 1 October 2012

How to get ahead in journalism




I spent almost all of my adult working life feeling like a fraud. I wanted to be a journalist because of a television series in the 80s called Press Gang, to which I was completely addicted. I wanted badly to be the Julia Sawalha character: brilliant, tough, uncompromising. I was a terribly unfriendly child, very angry, resistant to organised fun, terrified of humiliation - in this cold and unbending fictional telly character I saw how some of my unfortunate personality traits could be handy.

But it became very obvious very early in the postgraduate thingummy I did in journalism after leaving university, that I was never going to be a good journalist.

Please, by the way, do not laugh at me for having done a "course"; people do these things nowadays because it's so hard to get a job in newspapers. In fact, unless you are incredibly brilliant or insanely hard-working (with a private income), getting a job in journalism these days comes down to luck. When pompous parents tell me that their blobby children are "thinking about" going into journalism I laugh nastily and say "as if it's that easy".

Anyway, the course director declared to us on the first day that journalism is "not about writing. It is about information. It is about being nosy. It is about being a gossip. It is about always wanting to be the person who knows things first."

My heart sank. I am none of those things. I am terrific at keeping secrets and I'm always the last to know everything, I don't pry, I feel sorry for people and do not want to put them through the media mill even if they've done rotten things. I think pretty much everyone is entitled to a private life.

I struggled on, experiencing full-body cringes whenever I had to make awkward phone calls, hating every second of interviews, fighting with sub-editors over ultra-mean headlines to interviews with people I had thought were perfectly nice. I edited quotes so that interviewees wouldn't get into trouble.

Years ago, before the media was in such a terrible state, I probably would have been able to swing some sort of "mummy" column when I chucked in my job and smugly retreat home with purpose. But those gigs are few and far between these days. My husband has a friend who in the early 90s earned £80,000 from writing two weekly columns. £80,000!!! Those were the days.

I resigned myself to never making any money again, and took to the internet and here we are. The internet being, as it happens, the reason that newspapers and magazines are in the toilet. But you certainly can't beat the internet, so I joined it.

So much so that I threw open the doors of my home the other day to some of the editorial staff of a website called What's In My Handbag.

They wanted to photograph the contents of my handbag, focusing particularly on my make-up, which they would then use to do something or other. I don't really understand how it works. But I've always wanted someone to come round to my house and talk to me about make-up, so I screamed "YES!" when they emailed to ask if I wanted to do it.

Browsing their website the night before, I saw with rising panic that other handbag interviewees had prepared exciting banquets for the website's photo shoot staff, or at least plied them with exotic breakfast liquers.

It was a full week since my last Ocado order. I had no eggs, no milk, very little butter not at freezing temperature. It was 10.30pm and I had just returned from a night out, the remains beside me of a hastily-scoffed kebab from E-Mono, London's finest kebab house (I am not joking).

I suppressed a luscious burp. My mind started to race. These bitches would be expecting treats!! My mind first turned, as it always does, to in what ways I could throw money at the sitution. Could I beg my husband 10 minutes' grace in the morning while I ran up the road to Sainsbury's, bought 25 assorted pastries and then try to pass them off as being from an artisan bakery?!

No, think - think!!! I don't know how it came to me, but it did. Divine inspiration, or something, I don't know.

The answer was: flapjacks.

No flour, eggs or milk required. Some might say they are a thing that requires no actual cooking. But in that moment, they presented themselves not as a delirious cop-out, but as a lifesaver.

What I did happen to have, which made all the difference, was a box of extremely expensive posh museli from a company called Dorset Cereals, which are filled with all sorts of exciting nuts, grains, raisins and sultanas. I had only to bind the whole lot together with an appropriately enormous amount of melted butter and golden syrup.

I am not going to give you exact quantities for this, because flapjacks are, thank god, a thing you can basically do by guessing.

I got a square, loose-bottomed tin and filled it with museli to a depth I considered respectable for a flapjack (about 2in). Then I melted about 3/4 of a block of butter in a saucepan, added to that 3 generous tablespoon dollops of golden syrup and a big pinch of salt, poured in the museli and mixed it round.

Then at this point I, fatally, panicked and poured over a tin of condensed milk. I mean, the flapjacks were really delicious but the condensed milk made them fall apart in an annoying way and in actual fact, they were a bit too sweet. So leave the condensed milk out, if I were you. I also chopped up some chocolate and sprinkled it on the top, which probably wasn't neccessary.

After turning out the buttery rubble, (sorry that's all a bit Nigella isn't it), into the square tin, I patted it down with a spatula and shoved it in the oven for 20 minutes.

They worked incredibly well, even allowing for the condensed milk over-kill and the girls pretended to like them well enough, while marvelling at how quickly and efficiently I had filed the product descriptions for my chosen make-up.

What can I say? I should have been a journalist.

 

Monday, 24 September 2012

Banana bread. Again.





There is an American writer - dead now - called Richard Yates. You will know him because he wrote a book called Revolutionary Road, which was made into a film with Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet a few years ago - 2007 I think, or 8.

Anyway he wrote loads of books and I read them all. That's not a boast, they're mostly very short. But I did also read his biography, which was really long. And then I wrote a very long piece, almost as long as the biography, for The Independent about him, which I think they still owe me my £90 fee for.

The thing about Richard Yates, the reason why you don't know his name as well as you know other big American writers, is that he was just really obsessed with his mother. In every single book he wrote, there she is. Irritating, mad, feckless, vain, selfish, shrill, talentless, deluded. In Revolutionary Road she appears as an estate agent and because that's the only book of his most people have read, they think nothing of it.

But she's there, in all the others, lurking. And when you read one Yates book after the other, it ends up seeming really quite mad. After the third or fourth book you get a horrible psycho "ehhr ehhr ehhr" tingly feeling, like if you were to walk into the bedroom of a friend and it was plastered with photographs of you.

So the reason that Yates never really made it, died alone and mad in a tiny dirty flat, despite being a really terrific writer, was that he was unable to tackle the big themes that make you properly famous; instead he zeroed in, time after time, on miserable little people leading miserable little lives, every book, every page, stalked by his unbearable mother. Revolutionary Road was a hit by accident, while obsessing about how much he hated Ma, Yates also - almost as a side-line - struck a chord with discombobulated middle America. But it was a fluke.

I fell to thinking about Richard Yates and his unwitting, untherapised obsession with his mother when I found myself, almost trance-like, making yet another type of banana bread. Considering I am trying to get material for a book, it seems so mental and obsesseive compulsive to keep making the same thing over and over again with no reason, no explanation.

Although I suppose there is an explanation. And that is, banana bread is fucking delicious.

This recipe I found on a card in Waitrose, and it was originally a banana, chocolate and caramel cake, using a tin of Carnation caramel, but I got home and didn't have any caramel but did have a tin of condensed milk, so I used that instead.

I know it's just banana bread and I know there are already about fifteen recipes for it on this blog and I probably belong in a nuthouse but this is really terrific, all the same.

Banana and Condensed Milk Bread
Makes a 1kg loaf

75g butter
25g caster sugar
1 large egg
1 397g can condensed milk
225g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
3 ripe bananas, mashed

Preheat your oven to 180c or 170c for fan ovens. Grease and line your 1kg loaf tin. You can get away with just lining the sides with one long strip of greaseproof paper, but you must grease the ends well.

1 Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy then add the egg - do not worry too much if this curdles -  followed by your can of condensed milk. Mix the flour and baking powder together and fold into the mixture.

2 Fold in the banana and then pour into the tin. You can decorate this, if you like, bearing in mind that it is going to rise quite significantly. I dotted a spine of walnut halves down the middle, which then heaved away to the left - like a hip tattoo on a pregnant woman.

3 Bake for 1 hr

Eat, then ring your shrink.



 

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Poached chicken breast and its sauce for Laura*




Most diet plans and recipes featured in newspaper colour supplements and in magazines will at some point instruct you to eat a poached chicken breast. I am not averse to diet recipes but a poached chicken breast has always struck me as a terrible thing. Tasteless, papery, depressing.

But I have to lose some weight. I don't know how it happened, but I've got fatter. I don't recall eating more, or differently, but some cosmic shift has occurred to make me acquire more weight. I don't know how much because I don't weigh myself, but I know that a few months ago all my clothes fit and now they don't. Specifically certain pairs of jeans. Specifically round my middle. I would go on my own-brand Shitty Food Diet, but it has been failing me. I don't know why.

Things were made worse recently by going on holiday to a Greek island where among the guests were two 40-year-old women who were in terrific shape. They were lean and mean like Japanese calligraphy; they exercised all the time - running down to the beach at 7am to swim to a neighbouring island and back - and ate practically nothing. AND there was this 18 year old boy who had abs you could grate cheese on. He looked like he'd been Photoshopped. All round it was not a terrific week for feeling hot and sexy and whippet-like. And my hands swelled up so much in the heat that I had to stop wearing my wedding ring.

By the way, don't all rush to shriek that I am pregnant, because I am not - chance would be a fine thing. (Not quite as easy second time around, it seems.)

Anyway looking pregnant without actually being pregnant is the worst of both worlds. So I have been casting about for things to eat that won't make me get any fatter and thought that things may have got to such a drastic stage that I will have to give poached chicken breast a whirl.

The thing that made me definitely decide to do this was recalling an interview with Cheryl Cole about two years ago, when we were still in thrall to her and were not yet weary of her chocolatey eyes and perfect teeth and cavernous dimples, where she talked about losing a lot of weight. She would eat for dinner, she said, poached chicken breast (A-HA!) with "some kind of creamy sauce" and steamed vegetables.

The creamy sauce here is key - a rich creamy sauce will liven anything up, even a sodding chicken breast and you can, if you are doing a low-carbohydrate regime, as I am, slobber it all over whatever you're eating. It will just make everything okay.

Please do not be daunted by the sauce I have invented here. It is the same principle as Hollandaise but very easy as you are not required to do that awful buggery thing where you cook the egg-and-butter mixture only for it to fucking split and make you cry (this may only apply if you have PMT). What you sacrifice for ease and speed is a small amount in the way of consistency, which in the case of this sauce is a little thinner than an echt Hollandaise. But it is the key to being thin. So just do it.

Poached chicken with its sauce
For 2

2 chicken breasts
3 egg yolks
200g butter
a dash of vinegar
salt and pepper
juice of half a lemon
1 tsp of stock powder if you have it, don't worry if not


1 In a pan large enough to accommodate both chicken breasts heat up about two inches deep of water with your stock powder and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat until it is simmering and then add the chicken. Cook this for 12 minutes, turning occasionally. Try not to let the water hit a rolling boil, or dip below a brisk simmer.

2 If I were you, I would wait until the chicken was cooked then take it out of the pan to rest before you attempt the sauce because although the sauce is not hard, it is best to have no distractions while you are doing it.

(I made sure Kitty and husband were both watching television while doing this and not liable to pester me for biscuits, stickers, hugs or story-reading. Kitty can be pretty demanding, too.)

The chicken needs to rest for a bit anyway. Don't be put off by how utterly disgusting the chicken looks when cooked - all pale and dead-looking - this will be disguised later; see picture above.

3 For the sauce first melt the butter in a saucepan. If you have one of those marvellous pans with a little pouring lip, use that, if not don't worry. After it has melted keep it over the lowest flame possible to keep warm. Then separate the three yolks into a small bowl.

4 I have an electric whisk for this step. I'm sure you could do it by hand but it might be tough on the old wrists. So, while continuously beating the yolks, add the melted butter in a thin stream. People make a lot of fuss about how hard this is, it really isn't, just be careful.

5 Once add the butter has been added, season with salt, pepper, lemon juice and vinegar. Add all these cautiously and taste all the time. Egg yolks are precious; leftover egg whites are a bore - you do not want to have to do the whole thing all over again. I like a very vinegary Hollandaise - or should I say "Hollandaise" - but you might not.

6 You can just eat this now, or if you need to wait a bit while cooking some veg -  (I made a broccoli accompaniment *cries* by boiling some broccoli for 5 minutes then tossing in toasted sesame oil, soy sauce and sesame seeds) - then get any old pan, fill it 2 inches with water and then heat to skin temperature and keep it there, then place your "Hollandaise" in the water to keep it a sort of baby-bath temperature, which will stop it from going grainy. Stir every now and again anyway.

7 To serve! (And this is key, for morale) slice the chicken into what is know in the restuarant menu trade as "medallions" and lay out on the plate, slather generously with sauce, and also any accompanying boring vegetables.

Giles, to my total astonishment, declared this "the most delicious thing" I've ever cooked. I was stunned. He hasn't said that for ages. So there you go. Although just between you and me, I think he might have just been trying to be nice because I'm so fat and spotty at the moment.

Happy dieting! :(






N.B. I have not been posting because my publisher wants an absolutely terrifying amount of original copy and so I have been sitting in my room in front of my computer not posting anything because any new ideas I have must go into the book... but I haven't been writing any new copy either. What is wrong with me?


*This post is dedicated to a really terrific girl I know on Twitter, @lauraewelsh, who once said the funniest thing to me ever, which is that the greatest skill a parent can have is to eat an entire packet of crisps with their head in a cupboard. She is on a diet, too.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Lemon Ricotta Cookies


I do love my lemon, and I will not apologize. I like it strong and unabashedly tart, especially in desserts. So I decided to give this recipe by Giada a whirl -- lemon ricotta cookies. Now I've used ricotta cheese in desserts before, but never as part of a cookie batter, so I was anxious to try it out.


These cookies are fairly easy to assemble, just start by zesting and juicing some lemons.

Cream butter and sugar.

Add the eggs, cheese, lemon juice and zest.


Add in the dry ingredients (premix the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl first).


Drop onto a parchment lined cookie sheet with a #40 scoop (or about 2 tbls per cookie)


Bake about 15 minutes but watch them carefully, it is easy to burn the bottoms. When the edges just start to turn golden, they are done. 

Have your glaze (powdered sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest) ready to go. The cookies need to set on the cookie sheet for 20 minutes before they can be moved to a cooling rack, and this is the perfect time to glaze them, while they are still warm (the heat will help you spread the glaze more easily). Spoon on the zest, and use the back of the spoon to gently spread the glaze. Be careful, the cookies are delicate, you don't want to rip the tops.


The glaze needs about 2 hours to fully set before you can think about packaging them. I was very surprised by the texture of these cookies. They were almost pillow-like, soft and chewy, with a great lemon flavor.


You'll notice on the bottom, there are two ingredients that I put a range for rather than an absolute value. The first is the amount of sugar in the cookie batter. Giada's original recipe called for 2 cups, but I (and some other reviewers) thought this was too sweet) used 1.5 cups of sugar instead. I really wanted the lemon flavor to shine through, so I dialed down the sugar. I loved how mine turned out, but I am really picky about lemon-flavored desserts, the cookies might have more general appeal with 2 cups of sugar in the batter, I don't know.

The second range is the amount of zest in the glaze. I have doubled the glaze recipe, because the amount Giada called for was rather small, and the bulk of the lemon strength comes from the glaze so I didn't want to skimp on it. Keeping the proportions the same as Giada's glaze, this glaze recipe should call for the zest of 2 lemons. I liked the zest at this strength, some found her glaze proportions too lemony, so if you just want a nice hint of lemon, use 1 lemon worth of zest in the glaze instead of 2.

Also, for giggles, I tried these cookies with lime juice and zest instead of lemon, and sprinkled some toasted coconut on top. These were also quite good, and in retrospect, toasted coconut would be a fine addition to the lemon version as well. Just make sure to sprinkle the coconut on before the glaze sets, otherwise it won't stick.


All in all, I was quite pleased with how these lemon cookies turned out. I think they are a great choice for a lemon cookie, especially if you want something that tastes a little fancier. These would be a great cookie to serve with afternoon tea!



Lemon Ricotta Cookies


Ingredients

Cookies:
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1.5-2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 lemon, zested

    Glaze:
    • 3 cups powdered sugar
    • 6 tablespoons lemon juice
    • 1 tbls vegetable oil
    • 1-2 lemons, zested
    • toasted coconut (optional)

    Directions
    1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
    2. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
    3. In the large bowl combine the butter and the sugar. Using an electric mixer beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. 
    4. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating until incorporated. 
    5. Add the ricotta cheese, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Beat to combine. 
    6. Stir in the dry ingredients.
    7. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Spoon the dough (about 2 tablespoons for each cookie or a #40 scoop) onto the baking sheets. 
    8. Bake for about 15 minutes, until slightly golden at the edges. 
    9. Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 20 minutes.
    10. FOR GLAZE: Combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Spoon about 1/2-teaspoon onto each cookie and use the back of the spoon to gently spread. Sprinkle on toasted coconut if using.
    11. Let the glaze harden for about 2 hours. Pack the cookies into a decorative container.