Finally, after 32 years of toil and suffering, I have made it. Recognition has come and I’m basking in it. What has happened, you might ask, wearily.
My Christmas dinner kebabs are on the Guardian food blog, and have snuck their way on to the homepage. Amazing.
All hyperbole aside (which isn’t something I generally say, I frickin’ love hyperbole), this is my favourite moment of 2012.
(Originally published October 2010)
Went foraging today (honestly, we really went foraging today), in Knole Park in Sevenoaks, and filled a bag with big, fat chestnuts. As it’s Roast Day(TM), I decided to use some of them for stuffing. I winged it a bit, measured nothing, and hoped for the best and it was really very nice.
“The best stuffing I’ve ever had,” to quote Mr Seddon, though he may have just been being kind/want something.
So if you want to make the best stuffing that my husband has ever had, you will need (for four to five people) the following ingredients plus a food mixer.
Around half a pack of butter
4 rashers of streaky bacon
1 red onion
A handful of sage leaves
A handful of curly or flat parsley
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tin loaf of white bread (or any day-old bread, but you need quite a bit)
15 – 20 big fat foraged chestnuts (or you can buy a pack of Gourmet Merchant chestnuts and put the whole lot in)
Salt and pepper
Pre-heat oven to 200degC.
Top, tail and peel the onion, put whole in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Leave bubbling away gently for five to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, clean the chestnuts and dry them, then put a slit in each (don’t try to cut corners here, if you don’t do this, they will explode and it’s more messy than exciting). Put them on a baking tray and put a few dollops of butter on too. Roast for around eight minutes, shaking every few minutes to distribute the butter and check for explosions.
While they cook, whizz chunks of the almost-stale bread (I used some of my Big Bread from the night before) in the mixer and put the resultant breadcrumbs in a large bowl. Then, drain the onion, and mix that so it’s very soft and finely chopped, tip this into the breadcrumb bowl. Take the chestnuts tray out and shake them out into another bowl, leaving the chestnutty butter on the tray, place the bacon rashers on here and put back in the oven, checking regularly into they’re fairly crispy. When they’re ready, take out, chop slightly and then put into the mixer. Pulse it carefully until you have some little baconny bits. Tip these into the breadcrumb/onion bowl.
When the chestnuts are cool enough to handle, carefully peel and scoop out the flesh inside, which should be quite soft and crumbly. Put this chestnut ‘meat’ into the breadcrumbs and then add a slug of olive oil, plenty of pepper and a good pinch of salt. Melt the rest of the butter (maybe a third of a standard block, roughly) and then pour into the bowl. Snip the sage and parsley into the mixture, stir firmly until it’s really well-mixed.
There’s no way to make a decent stuffing ball without getting your hands dirty, so stick your hands in and fashion some lovely, slightly-greasy balls. Try not to be too childish.
Put on a greased baking tray (or re-use the one you roasted the chestnuts then bacon on) and bake for about 30 – 40 minutes or until golden brown (the exact time will depend on how big you make the balls). I suspect this would work just as well inside a chicken or turkey neck.
Supermarket coleslaw often tastes really fake and weirdly metallic doesn’t it, and the cheaper it is the more it coats the roof of your mouth. Gross. Making your own is really easy, it just takes a strong grating arm…
Ingredients for a family sized bowl, with leftovers:
1 small red onion
2 - 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1tsp horseradish sauce or grated horseradish
Pinch of black pepper
Chopped chives to serve
Finely chop the onion, add to bowl. Grate the celeriac and carrot with the finer side of the grater and add. Stir in the mayonnaise and horseradish, then add a grind or two of black pepper and some roughly chopped chives.
I know that leek and potato soup is a bit boring, but I promise this updated version is really nice and makes a substantial lunch. God knows how many calories the croutons have in them though, so maybe pencil in a jog in the afternoon to make yourself feel better.
Ingredients for three to four as a lunch:
(for the soup)
3 leeks, washed and trimmed
4 tbsp double cream
1 stick of celery (top and tailed)
1 tbsp unsalted butter
3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 pints vegetable stock (Marigold Bouillon is ideal)
2 tsps truffle oil (I know it sounds a bit ‘yuppie wine bar’ but it makes a real difference
Fresh thyme - a few sprigs
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
(for the rarebit croutons)
1-2 tsp Dijon mustard
50g grated parmesan
1 tbsp roquefort or other crumbly blue cheese
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp double cream (or whatever’s left from the soup)
Salt and pepper
Melt the butter over a gentle heat in a big saucepan. Finely chop the shallots (or use half a white onion if you don’t have shallots) and celery and soften in the butter while you chop the leeks to a fairly fine size. Add the leeks to the saucepan with a pinch of salt and pepper, soften for around five minutes over a gentle heat.
Add the peeled and cubed potatoes, thyme, bay leaf and vegetable stock, cover and leave to simmer for 20 minutes. While you wait, prepare the croutons (see below).
Take off the heat and cool for a few minutes. When the croutons are in the oven, stir the cream into the soup and reheat gently for a couple of minutes. Ladle into bowls, drizzle with a few drops of truffle oil, a grind of black pepper, a sprinkling of parsley and serve.
Method (rarebit croutons):
Pre-heat the oven to 150deg C.
Slice the ciabatta and arrange on a baking tray. Brush each side with olive oil.
In a bowl, mix the cream, mustard, blue cheese, pinch of salt, pinch of pepper and half the parmesan. Stir until creamy and then spread onto the slices of ciabatta, sprinkle with the rest of the parmesan. Bake the croutons in the oven until browned and crunchy. Serve with the soup.
(Originally written September 2010)
It’s the perfect time of year to collect a bunch of blackberries from hedgerows pretty much every time you leave the house. I like to turn a small tub’s worth into a jar of jam every few weeks in Summer, but as Autumn approaches, I start to freeze batches of berries so I can keep up the jam habit throughout Autumn.
Blackberries - tub
Sugar (caster or jam sugar with extra pectin)
Lemon juice (bottled or freshly squeezed from half a lemon
Warning: I don’t really do measurements if I can get away with it.
Wash your blackberries in a colander and leave to drain until dry.
Before you do anything else, put a little plate or ramekin in your freezer, this will be useful later. Turn your oven onto about 50 deg C and put the jar you plan to use into the oven upside down (this sterilizes it).
Chuck your berries into a deep saucepan and dump over your caster sugar. Roughly speaking, for jam that’s not too sickly, I’d use two parts berries to one part sugar (but that’s very rough and visual, I’m not talking about weight at all).
Turn the heat on and stir around with a wooden spoon as the berries start to break down and when things are nice and squishy squeeze in your lemon juice or drop in a teaspoon of the bottled stuff.
*I wouldn’t bother with lemon juice if you’re using jam sugar as this has pectin in for binding it all together in a jammy way, so it’s a bit pointless and could make things too stiff.
Add one bay leaf and a sprig of fresh lavender (if you wish, it’s fine without it).
Eventually, you will have a boiling, bubbling molten jam in your saucepan. This happens quite quickly and you can’t really wander off and leave your pan at all. When it’s really liquidy, take your frozen dish out of the freezer and drop a teaspoon’s worth of your jam liquid on it. If it solidifies into a jam consistency you’re ready to act.
Get your jar out of the oven. Tong the lavender and bayleaf out, and put half the jam mixture into the jar. Then – to stop it being too ‘seedy’, get a funnel shaped colander (if you have one) or a tea strainer even, and put it over the jar, strain the rest of the mixture through this, stir it all around, pop the lid on and whack it in the fridge. Once it’s cool, it’s ready. It’ll keep for a couple of weeks refrigerated.
I had a hankering to make cheese yesterday but after a doomed trip to Lakeland Limited where I bought all sorts of things but very few of them cheese-related, I decided to have a go at a really simple, no-special-gadgets goat’s cheese.
Two pints semi-skimmed goat’s milk (in retrospect, I think full fat would have been a bit nicer and creamier)
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
Garlic clove (optional)
Very important: you will need a couple of big squares of muslin (if you’ve had a baby fairly recently, you’ll have plenty kicking around, if not you can get it from most cooking shops)
Pour the goat’s milk into a saucepan (I used a stock pot) over a gentle heat. Keep warming for about 12-15 minutes. Bravo if you have a dairy thermometer, get it to 180 deg F (82 deg C) and then take it off the heat. If you don’t have a thermometer (I didn’t) you’ll just have to use the force or guess that it looks pretty hot. Worked for me.
Once off the heat, pour your lemon juice in. Give it a quick stir then leave it alone to curdle. This will all take under a minute, so have faith.
Line your colander with muslin - ideally too squares - and then spoon/ladle your curdled milk into it. Take this slowly so it doesn’t overflow. You’ll notice a thin, clear liquid (it kind of looks like pee to be honest) running out the bottom. When all your sour milk is in the colander, dripping away, tie up the corners of your muslin to make a little ‘bag’ (as in the picture above) and hang it on a wooden spoon over a big bowl or sink.
I left mine for an hour and a half and it was perfect. Scrape it out into a bowl, add the salt plus garlic and herbs if you wish, and mix in. Gorgeous on griddled toast, oatcakes, crackers or - as I had it last night - stirred into mashed potato.
This recipe is pretty easy, but if you don’t have an electric whisk (as I don’t), it will knacker your arms…
2 egg yolks
1/2 pint groundnut oil (use sunflower if you don’t have groundnut)
1tsp red wine vinegar (or white is fine)
1.5tsp Dijon mustard (got to be Grey Poupon in my house)
Salt and pepper
1/2 garlic clove (optional - I tend to leave it out)
1tsp lemon juice
You will need:
A mixing bowl
A good whisk or electric mixer
Put your egg yolks in a bowl, add mustard, crushed garlic if you want it, a teaspoon of salt and a grind of black pepper and whisk (as in first photo).
Now comes the arm knackering bit: Add a couple of drops of oil, whisk really well, repeat slowly and carefully over and over again until you’ve added about a teaspoon or two’s worth of oil. At this point, drop your wine vinegar in and mix well. Then add the rest of the oil in a steady stream mixing all the time. This is a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy but it is worth it.
It will be very thick and stiff by the end, I like to add in a slosh of lemon juice which stops it being too rich and sickly but it works well with extra mustard and garlic too. Try it and add extra pepper and salt to taste.
This will keep for a good few days, a full week if you keep it in an airtight container.
If your early mix curdles, heed Delia’s wise words:
“Mayonnaise only curdles when you add the oil too quickly at the beginning. If that happens, don’t despair. All you need to do is put a fresh egg yolk into a clean basin, add the curdled mixture to it (drop by drop), then continue adding the rest of the oil as though nothing had happened.” Love you, Delia.
I’m not going to lie, this is more labour-intensive than ripping open a pack of frozen Chicken Dippers, but I promise it’s tastier and – so long as you buy good quality – bound to be better meat then shredded, greying mush. If you can get some discounted closely-dated chicken breasts or take advantage of a BOGOF deal, it can even work out a comparable price to frozen crap.
2 tablespoons plain flour
1 teaspoon paprika
Pinch salt and plenty of ground pepper
Groundnut oil (if you have it, if not olive is fine)
2 chicken breasts (ideally free range)
2 - 3 tablespoons pre-prepared golden breadcrumbs (to fool the kids) or a couple of almost-stale slices of nice white bread (to impress the adults)
Break your egg into a bowl and whisk. In another bowl, chuck your breadcrumbs and then on a side plate or shallow dish put your flour, mixing in salt, pepper and paprika. If you want more warmth, Cayenne Pepper is good.
Chop your chicken breasts so the pieces are all roughly the same size (this helps them cook evenly).
Line your plates and bowls up thus: Flour, egg then breadcrumbs.
Have something ready to put your coated nuggets in.
So, one by one, getting egg everywhere and coating your fingers like nuggets, you need to dip each piece of chicken in the flour (coating all sides), the egg and then the breadcrumbs. Pat slightly and lay down carefully.
When you’ve got all your nuggets ready, heat some groundnut or olive oil in a frying pan. You want it on a medium steady heat, not so hot it’s smoking or you’ll just burn the outside. No-one likes a burnt nugget.
Fry your nuggets, turning occasionally, for around 10-15 minutes in all depending on the size. They need to be golden all the way round. If you’re cooking them for adults, whacking a sprig of fresh rosemary in the frying pan adds a lovely flavour.
It is possible to oven cook them, brush a tray with olive oil, cook them on 200 deg C (180 deg C for fan ovens) for about 15 - 20 minutes, turning occasionally. The reason I fry them is that it seals the outside quicker, keeping the breast meat more moist .
When they’re done, lay them out on a bit of kitchen roll. For kids, you can’t beat homemade chips and some Heinz baked beans with. But for the grown-up version, a squeeze of lemon juice and a side portion of home-made mayo is delicious… if a bit poncey. Like a mini Pollo Milanese.
Everyone enjoys a weekend ham, right?!
Anyway, for about £4-5, I buy a smoked gammon joint and get enough ham to keep a family of five (a greedy family of five at that) in sandwiches for the weekend. It’s a really nice process, not technical at all and it makes the house smell a bit like fruit cake.
A joint of smoked gammon
Bayleaves x 2
Onion x 1 or preferably 3 x shallots
Cloves x 6-10
Cardamom seeds (optional)
Sprig of thyme (optional)
Sprig of rosemary (optional)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
3 tsp runny honey
We’ve got a glut of cucumbers at the allotment at the moment but Winter’s just around the corner so they won’t last long. I’ve started pickling a few things for when everything frosty and barren again. I know it doesn’t sound great, but the little swirly slices of cucumber are dead pretty and taste fantastic in a winter salad with baked croutons and blue cheese.
1 x small cucumber
6 fl oz white wine vinegar
3 oz sugar
2 fl oz water
pinch of rock salt
Sprig of fennel or 1 tsp dried dill
1 x bayleaf
3 x cardamom seeds
One or two sterile jars.
Slice your cucumber lengthways using a vegetable peeler. Put the peppercorns and fennel/dill in the jar(s). Fold the slices into a jar or two jars (depending on size of cucumber and jars) and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
Meanwhile, boil your vinegar, sugar and water with the bayleaf and cardamom seeds and simmer for about a minute.
Pour the solution over the cucumber slices, stir with a chopstick or skewer to get rid of air bubbles and then seal. Leave to cool and then keep in the fridge.
The slices will be lovely in about a week.