In the lovely little village I grew up in, the Fete, Produce Show and Hog Roast were big occasions in the village calendar.  One such event I remember vividly from my childhood was the ‘WI Winter Warmers’.   Around this time of year the  local WI would cook masses of winter food, sell tickets and then serve it in the Village Hall.  I remember that the windows steamed up and you could barely squeeze between the tables as everyone tucked into a warming wintery meal .

I remember beef casseroles, lamb hot pot, thick stews and spicy curries, followed by fruit pies, crumbles, sponge puddings all served with hot custard. It was such an occasion of village life, warm and friendly and delicious. I loved it because it heralded the start of winter, which was and still is my favourite type of year to cook and eat. Now it’s November and definitely winter, here a couple of warming winter recipes that are very effective at internal heating:

Sausage Casserole

You’ll need a non stick frying pan, a large saucepan and another saucepan to cook the rice

Olive oil

Salt and Pepper

2 ts Cayenne Pepper

2 ts Mild chilli pepper

Good quality sausages (2 – 3 per person, depending on size of the sausage & the person)

Two small red onions, sliced

2 cloves garlic

1 tin black eyed beans

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 chicken stock cube

Wholegrain rice

1.       Chop the sausages into thirds (width ways), and fry in a tablespoon of olive oil and half the spices until brown on most sides in a non-stick frying pan

2.       Meanwhile in a big saucepan fry the onions on garlic on a high heat until sticky and cameralized

3.       Add some salt and pepper and the sausages to the saucepan

4.       Add the chopped tomatoes

5.       Add the beans

6.       Add the stock (make in one of tins to save washing up)

7.       Leave to simmer gently away while you cook the rice

8.       Serve with lemon wedge, natural yoghurt, chopped chives and some parmesan cheese (or none, it’s so tasty it doesn’t matter)

Note: If I had smoked paprika I would add this instead of chilli powder. If I had any red or yellow peppers I would have added those. If I had chorizo I would have definitely chopped some of that in as well.

 

 

Revised Ginger Nut Crumble

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A while ago I promised that if I made my Ginger Nut Crumble again using the crushed biscuits in the crumble mix I would post the results. Last night I finally got around to it (nothing like freezing rain to inspire a bit of baking) and from now on I will ALWAYS add biscuits. I revised the recipe a bit, and this one is definitely better. I’m looking forward to experimenting with different kinds of biscuits – hob nobs are next on the list.

You’ll need an oven proof dish.

For the crumble:

275g plain flour

150g light brown sugar

50g of crushed ginger nut biscuits – I crushed them in a big bowl with a rolling pin (it was very theraputic)
200g/7oz unsalted butter, cubed at room temperature 

For the filling:

Three apples chopped into bite-sized chunks

4 plums quartered

1 big tablespoon of brown sugar

1 tablespoon of plain flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

5cm piece fresh ginger, finely chopped (optional)

1.       In a big bowl add all the filling mix and gently stir around

2.       Add to your oven-proof dish

3.       Wash the bowl out and

4.       Fill your oven-dish with the fruit mix

5.       Mix the flour, crushed biscuits and sugar in the bowl. Add the cubes of butter a few at a time and rub with your fingers until all the butter is added and the mix looks like breadcrumbs (you may not need all the butter)

6.       Add on top of the fruit

7.       Put in the oven at 180C for about 40 minutes. Check it at 30 – the fruit should be bubbling out of the sides a little bit and the crumble should be browning

8.       Eat in a bowl with custard or ice cream. (not out of the oven dish stood at the oven because you will burn your mouth. I learnt that the hard way – twice now.)

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Last Monday, my parents, Paul and I had lunch at Pierre Koffman’s pop-up restaurant on the roof of Selfridges.

For those who don’t read food blogs and restaurant reviews (where it’s been documented obsessively over the last month), I will provide a synopsis:

Pierre Koffman is probably the world’s greatest living chef.  He is a man of huge renown and worthy of great respect. London Restaurant Festival ran from 08 – 13 October and as part of it Koffman agreed to come back from one week only; to cook at a restaurant on the roof of Selfridges. The restaurant ended up staying open for a few weeks, due to the unrelenting demand to eat the legendary food of this French chef, who has 3 Michelin stars.

So, we were very fortunate to get a table. I have my dad to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the experience.

We met at Selfridges at 12.30. I had barely slept, terrified that I would get sudden food poisoning and not be able to go.  I was a nervous wreck because I wanted to take a jacket back whilst on Oxford Street – the shop had left the security tag in – and it kept setting of the alarms in Selfridges.  I had visions of missing the meal, sat in a windowless security room explaining how I was not a shop-lifter.  Then the improbably calm and pretty lady on the private Pierre Koffman lift didn’t have our name on the list. Oh, there we were. And then the adventure began.

I felt like Alice, falling up rather than down. As the lift went to floor 5, I left behind the London I knew and entered somewhere different, somewhere way above the rooftops, resting on the clouds. I was nearly delirious.

We started we cocktails, I had a Cosmo 150. A sharp but sweet pink number that settled my nerves.  Mum and I trying discreetly (craning our necks and barely refraining from standing on the chairs) to see if any celebrities were tucking in.

An amouse-bouche of salty cod told a promise of savoury deliciousness yet to come.  I chose the two most challenging dishes (snails, bone marrow, pigs trotters – I felt brave to order them). I read on the many, many blogs and columns about Pierre that pig trotters were his signature dish – many wrote that they were the most incredible thing they had ever eaten. It was too good a chance to miss. Although it did set the bar a little high.

My starter arrived. Succulent snails and morels cooked in meaty juices, served on a piece of bone, with a couple of unctuous lumps of bone marrow dotted about was very tasty. This was not a place for plate licking, so I did my best with a piece of bread.

I was so determined to enjoy every moment that I refused to be annoyed by the hurried service.  At this stage in the meal it resembled a table-turning waiter on Brick Lane, as my main arrived nearly on top of my starter.  And there it was – a pigs trotter – no fancy camouflage or towers or trickery to hide it actualness as a pigs foot. Wow, there are the toes, I thought as I tucked into its soft skin (ankle end first). The skin was yielding, fatty, the texture good in a way pork fat has never been good before (and probably never will be since). I cut away more of the fat, to reveal tucked inside the foot creamy veal sweetbreads. It was incredibly rich. Dense, warm, meaty, salty. I went through it slowly. If I zone out for a moment I can still just about taste it.  At the time of eating I wouldn’t have said it was the best thing I had ever eaten. It was too alien, too disorienting an object. But now I can’t stop thinking about. It has had a profound impact on my palate.

Pudding was an eggy, sweet pistachio soufflé, mercifully served a good twenty minutes after the main courses. I couldn’t have managed it any quicker. I shared Paul’s cheese, which were better than the soufflé.  Although they were nearly crawling across the plate they were so blue and runny. Not his idea of a good cheese (red Leicester is a bit exotic).

All this was washed down with one bottle of exceptional white wine, and then another, this time of red. I also had an espresso martini to finish up. Bare in mind my mum doesn’t drink, and you can see why the whole thing has started to take on the air of an alternate reality in my memory.

The abundance of wine, the party atmosphere in the room on Monday lunchtime and the vaguely chaotic service added to the feeling of being at a very fancy mad hatters tea party.

At work the next day, I could hardly talk about it. It felt like I’d experienced something other-worldly, as if I’d played at being princess for the day.  Transported to foodie heaven, never quite the same again. (I’ve eaten pigs trotter for God’s sake!)

Let’s start with the worst, and get that over with. On weekends we like to eat breakfast at either Hackney City Farm (top quality sausages) or The Premises (proper greasy fry-up). But we’ve eaten in both of them a lot recently and I wanted to try somewhere new. The Book Club opened last week so I thought that would do.

It was absolutely dire. The worst. And we didn’t even eat the food.

The ambiance was all so Shoreditch, so forced and pretentious. But I was willing to forgive all the edgy décor if the food was good. We ordered freshly squeezed orange juice and the full English. It came to £17.50. The bar lady poured out the orange juice from a carton, which said ‘From Concentrate’ across it. It was the kind of juice you would expect at a Travelodge bar or local football match.

I was furious! £2.75 for Sunpride! Not a good start. We waited 40 minutes for the food. We expected the worst, but we also expected to be fed.  So I complained and we got our money back and left, never to return.

We went to Canteen in Spitalfields and had Bloody Mary’s with bacon, eggs and bubble & squeak. On the menu there’s lots of hype about their pure-bread organic well-educated elite cattle, but the food actually delivers. It’s nice. It’s cheered us up anyway (although that could have been the vodka).

It was to be a day of false starts followed by successful surprises.  Next up: the queue for an exhibition I wanted to see was horrendous, so we ditched the culture in favour of Ice Cream Sundaes at Fortnum & Masons. Oh what fun!  We chose the Beekeeper, which came with three big scoops of ice cream, honey, crystallised ginger and honeycomb pieces. It was a very adult way to enjoy children’s food. We spent the next hour in a dizzy sugar high perusing gentleman’s accessories and food hampers.

Honeycomb, honey, ginger, icecream, a wafer! Heaven in a cut glass crystal bowl? Probably

Honeycomb, honey, ginger, ice-cream, a wafer! Heaven in a cut glass crystal bowl? Probably.

So, food for thought, if I may; tried and tested works.

I must apologise, I have been away for a while. Mostly, I have been eating and drinking in Barcelona. A nice long blog with lovely photos to come all about that, I promise.

In the meanwhile, this post is dedicated to dumplings, booze and my darling friend Sinead.  I love eating with Sinead; together we go to the edge of gluttony and beyond – sod the bill and calories and everything else. Every dish we consume together is thought about, discussed and then wolfed. She was the first person I met who I could fully share my obsessive love of food with – from oysters to mini chicken kievs – we share a passion for that YUM factor. I miss not living on the same corridor as her.

When we decided to meet in Chinatown, I knew I had to take her to Fushia Dunlop’s resturant; Ba Shan.  I was looking for an excuse to go after a delightful dumpling feast there with Paul many months ago.

Sinead and I surpassed ourselves: gobbling down a dizzying array of Chinese small bites and traditional street food. We talked about flavours, we dipped in chilli oil, we downed tsingtao beer, we had a Sichuan pepper-eating contest – I think we drew at 3 in one go each. (For those not acquainted with the Sichuan Pepper; they are devilish little peppercorns that are both hot and cold, numbing your mouth in an addictively painful tingle).

Neither of us cared much for the other people dining, as we giggled, shouted and (accidently) threw food all over the floor. We both finished the meal with a loud, proud burp. I’m sure I remember being told in China that eating nosily and belching were considered good manners – a sign that you enjoyed your meal and a compliment to your host. I think we displayed the best manners Ba Shan has ever seen.

 Here are a few of the dishes we sampled. The photos are terrible I’m afraid;

 

Chinese Burgers

Chinese Burgers; little greasy pockets of slow cooked pork and pickles

Pot-stickers dumplings. Chicken and chive finger shaped finger food.

Pot-stickers dumplings. Chicken and water chesnut stuffed into crispy dumplings; finger shaped finger food.

 

Pork and chive dumpling, with chilli and garlic sauce. Oh, sweet dumpling joy.

Pork and chive dumpling, with chilli and garlic sauce. Oh, sweet dumpling joy.

 

Dan Dan Noodles, and in the background garlicky chilli aubergine with minced pork. Sloppy spicey meaty goodness.

Dan Dan Noodles, and in the background garlicky chilli aubergine with minced pork. Sloppy spicey meaty goodness.

 

As you see with this photographic evidence we really put some food away.  What the photos don’t show is the mini sweet and sour pork ribs, the spicy pickled cucumbers, the deep fried king prawns, the extra round of dumplings and the bright blue jug of cocktails that finished the night.

Everyone I’ve ever loved has loved a plate of mince in its various incarnations. Spaghetti bolognaise, chilli con carne or just mince and mash, learning how to cook mince to perfection has been a personal mission. I think I’m nearly there.

 ‘Mattie’s Mince Mess’ was the only recipe that could interest my brother in cooking when he was a little boy.  Mum and him used stir in all the ingredients together and then she served it with heaps of buttery mash. A perfect dinner for an aspiring rugby player/human tank.

With no disrespect to my brother’s cooking skills (although they are limited to stirring), the recipe is fairly straightforward.

However, for years I’ve been striving for that deep yummyness that my mum’s mix had.  My mince mess never quite that rich tasty moreishness – the kind that made me stand in front of the fridge and eat my mum’s mince mess cold. But last week, I think I cracked it.

Inspired by the dead mouse we found in our kitchen cupboard on Tuesday morning; I’ve called this recipe Mouse’s Mince Mix.  I would never have drunk quite as much red wine (partly meant for the sauce), and therefore been quite as generous with my ingredients and cooking time, if I didn’t have the deeply joyous task of cleaning the cupboards, floor and all the baking utensils the mouse had pooed all over in its death throes.

Not the most appetising image I know, but it worked for this recipe so do try it.

Spaghetti bolognaise

Ingredients (serves 2 for dinner, and left overs, serves 4 normal people for dinner, with garlic bread and salad)

One big onion, finely chopped

3 fat, firm cloves of garlic, chunkily chopped

3 table spoons olive oil

Two carrots, chunkily chopped

1 teaspoon each of whatever dried Italian herbs you have; I used Rosemary, Thyme, Basil, Oregano and Parsley

Salt and Pepper

250g ish low fat beef mince

250g ish low fat pork mince

Big squeeze of tomato puree

Tin of chopped tomatoes

Vegetable stock cube

Big glass of red wine (I used a Cabernet Merlot)

Whole-wheat pasta

 

1.       Heat the oil in a big saucepan on a medium heat, add the onions, garlic and salt and pepper, fry for 10 – 15 minutes, until really the onion is buttery and soft but not changed colour

2.       Add the carrots and fry for a for further 5 – 10 minutes

3.       In a non-stick frying pan heat a little splash of olive oil and put on a medium heat, season the meat with salt and pepper on both sides and then add it to the pan and brown it off gently until you get to stage 6 (about 10 minutes)

4.       Add all the herbs to the onions and carrots and stir around for a couple of minutes

5.       Push all the herby onion and carrot mix to the outside of the pan and add a generous squeeze of the tomato puree (just under a tablespoon) to the middle and fry for a minute or so, then mix it up with everything else

6.       Add the chopped tomatoes and mix, bring to a simmer and create a rich tomato sauce (no juice left), then add the meat and stir it all up

7.       In the tin that the tomatoes were in, add your stock cube and boiling water, stir to dissolve and then watching your fingers because the tin will be hot, add to the mixture.  Simmer and stir until the liquid is nearly gone

8.       Add the wine, and a glug more, and then simmer for an hour (or however long it takes you to deep clean all your bakery items, drink the rest of the wine, clean the floor, sigh dramatically a few times and grate some parmesan.

9.       Good plate licking to be had.

 

Note: a good variation on this mix is a chilli con carne; don’t use carrots (maybe mushrooms instead?) instead of the herbs add a teaspoon each of cinnamon, cumin, coriander and chilli powder. Use two – three fresh red chillies and add at stage 4.  Use a beef stock cube and less wine. Serve with rice and natural yoghurt.

Two sightings so far (one dead, one alive)

Traps have been brought.

After the success of last week’s curry (and by success I mean cheapness relative to taste) I decided to have a go at it again tonight. With no generous donations or huge sponsorship deals as yet, my personal credit crunch is still not showing any green shoots. The ingredients are still store cupboard gatherings. 

I found a packet of fresh king prawns lurking at the back of the freezer, and with the joy of frozen spinach now in my life, this week’s version was slightly more lavish than last week’s veggie offering.  As with everything I seem to make, nothing was really weighed or measured and most ingredients are interchangeable with other bits and bobs. I knew this one was particularly good because we both licked our plates clean. (When I was little and still lived under the watchful eye of my mum, I would have to lick my plate hidden in the kitchen pretending to load the dishwasher. Now I can do it straight after dinner).

Pauper’s Prawn Curry

 

Ingredients

Thumb sized bit of fresh ginger, chopped up

Juice of half a big lemon

2 grinds of salt

Fresh coriander if easily available, roughly chopped

Big glug of vegetable or sunflower oil

One big onion, sliced

2 fresh chillies, finely chopped

Handful of new potatoes chunkily sliced

1 teaspoon each of chilli power (half if you don’t want it too spicy), turmeric, garam masala, cumin and coriander

1 juicy tomato

10p sized squeeze of tomato concentrate

100ml tomato juice

Packet of chopped tomatoes

1 litre fish stock

1 packet raw prawns

5 chunks of frozen or a bag of fresh spinach

Whole grain rice

 

1.      Saving a little bit of the ginger, combine the rest, lemon juice, salt and fresh coriander in a bowl and put to one side

2.      Fry the onion with the little bit of ginger in the oil for five minutes on medium to high heat

3.      Add the chillies, stir

4.      Add the new potatoes, cook for five minutes

5.      Add all the spices and stir and cook on a medium heat for 3 minutes

6.      Put the kettle on

7.      Add the tomato and the tomato juice, stir around a bit for 2-3 minutes

8.      Add the chopped tomatoes, bring to a simmer and let it reduce for 5 minutes

9.      Put the rice on

10.  Add the fish stock

11.  Bubble away, stirring occasionally for 15 -20 minutes (taste a potato to check it’s cooked)

12.  Add the spinach, stir around until unfrozen or cooked

13.  Add the prawns, stir around for 3 minutes

14.  Add the lemon juice mix

15.  Serve with rice and lick your plate clean.

 

I must remember to get a before picture...

I must remember to get a 'before' picture...