Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Those brownies in full

So Becky B finally coughed up her recipe for her wheat-free brownies. And I only had to let down her tyres three or four times and beam a couple of incriminating snapshots through her living room window from my portable slide projector.

These brownies really are absolutely amazing - much better than my easy brownies I posted a while ago. They hit you right between the eyes, half-cake, half-fudge... but not half-fat unfortunately. EIGHT eggs! You might want to call an ambulance before you tuck in.

Anyway here we go - this is just copied and pasted from Becky B's email, (you can tell because there's no swearing), so none of the mistakes are mine THANK GOD, for fucking once.

Wheat Free Chocolate Brownies (makes 16)

295g luxury belgian plain chocolate
200g ground almonds
200g unsalted butter (diced)
350g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 large eggs
100g walnut pieces (optional)

1 Preheat oven to 180 C
2 Break choc into chunks into large heatproof bowl & add butter
3 Melt choc mixture over pan of water
4 Remove from heat and add sugar, almonds, walnuts & vanilla
5 Separate eggs & beat yolks before adding them to choc mixture
6 Beat egg whites until they form soft peaks
7 Gradually fold egg whites into choc mixture
8 Pour mixture into a lined 20cm x 30cm swiss roll tin (depth of 5cm)
9 Bake for about 1 hour on middle shelf until cake is reasonably firm, risen & cracked on top
10 Cool in tin
11 Turn out of tin, trim off all edges (as no-one likes them!) and cut into 16
Coming soon: the lemon cupcakes. I've turned off the water supply to her house and ordered 18 pizzas in her name from Dominos, so she should cave in any minute now.

Monday, 28 June 2010

World cup party

Every so often my husband and I will have a competition to see who was the more friendless and freakish teenager, who had the least loyal friends and the worst summers, who felt loneliest and most outsiderish and who is subsequently the more damaged and weird as an adult.

I always win. My husband might have been brooding and shy and crazy about comics, living in Cricklewood - but at least he was sporty. "You were on the cricket team!" I counter. "And weren't you on the football team as well? Give me a freaking break. Your parents had a house in the South of France! They bought you a car! Try being a ginger protestant called Esther living in the middle of Hampstead Garden Suburb with no car and no sporting prowess whatsoever."

Here, he almost always admits defeat. And, as an adult, he shows again and again what a sociable fellow he clearly really is, making new friends and hosting parties at the drop of a hat, whereas I am sometimes nervous of calling my own mother because I reckon she's probably got stuff on and doesn't really have time to talk to me. My husband's phone bill is regularly £200. Mine is £37.50, almost on the nose, pretty much every month.

Anyway, so my husband thought it would be jolly to host a World Cup party this weekend and rounded up about15 people at short notice to celebrate England being beaten 4-1 by Germany - although he obviously didn't know this defeat in advance, or he'd have put a bigger bet on.

He was mostly excited about barbequing the shit out of everything and I directed him towards "jamie at home" (sic), which is concerned mostly with cooking stuff over coals.

He did a fantastic butterflied leg of lamb, in the most astonishingly marvellous barbeque sauce ever, which goes like this:

1 heaped tsp cumin seeds
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
5 cloves
salt and pepper
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 bunch fresh rosemary
zest and juice of one orange
1 bulb garlic, broken into cloves and peeled
4 heaped tsps paprika
150ml ketchup
8tbsp olive oil
10 bay leaves
6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

This looks like a lot of ingredients but most of them are pretty commonplace. I think he missed out the fennel seeds, but it was great anyway. He shoved it in the oven at 180C for 1 hour and then finished it off on the barbeque (but I think if he was going to do it again he'd do it in the oven for slightly less long).

He also did some chicken, which I brined for him. Brining chicken for a barbeque is a great way to get a lot of flavour into the chicken and also keep it from turning into a gritty husk on the grill. For a brine you need:

1 large pot of water
5 bay leaves
1 bulb of garlic, cut acrosss the equator
1 small bunch thyme
1 small bunch parsley
8 tbsp salt
10 or so black peppercorns
4 lemons, halved

Put all this together in the pot and heat until the salt has dissolved. Leave to cool completely and then drop in your chicken for 12 hours. After that time, rinse and pat dry if using immediately. I recommend using a tea towel if you're drying them off and then whack the towel in the washing machine, because kitchen paper just sticks and turns into spitballs.

Giles cooked all this on the barbeque for about 25 minutes.

The "ironic" Union Jack singlet did not win us the match - and it DOESN'T make him an NF loony, ok?

As well as all that, we had a potato salad, made with a half-mayo, half-yoghurt dressing - he added some torn up bits of sorrel, which worked really well but you could also use mint, or nothing at all - and some chopped shallot. Although on reflection, he thinks he ought to have used chopped spring onions. There was also a tomato salad, made in the usual way.

On top of this magnificent feast, Becky B - she of the gift of the Global knives, brought these round:

Which were absolutely out of this world. I haven't emailed her for the recipe yet because I've been too busy sinking the leftovers with a nice cold glass of milk. Nnnnhhh.

Then I had to run off because I had a date with a young man:

Also known as Edward, nephew #3. I've got high hopes for training him up to make me gin and tonics when his motor skills improve so I've got to start grooming him now. Nephews #1 and #2 and nieces #1 and #2 just don't seem interested.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Lucian Freud ate my polo

This is a bit off-subject but it's my blog, yeah?

So, a few weeks ago my friend Ed, who does something in the army with horses, invited me to lunch. I met him at university, where he was the life and soul of the party. Often more than one party at a time. Then he baffled everyone by going into the army. Like John Cusack in Grosse Pointe Blank.

"There will be interesting people there," promised Ed.

"Great," I said. "Whatever. Did you say lunch?"

I love horses. And I really love a soldier - how can you not? All that subsidised health care... mm... great skills with an iron... irresistable. But most of all I love a lunch that I haven't had to cook myself.

Off I trotted on one of the hottest days of the year down to Knightsbridge, in my favourite new dress. A five year-old recently asked me if it was my "nightie". So that gives you a picture.

I arrived at Hyde Park Barracks and wasn't even frisked, damnit (I suppose it's not neccessary when you're wearing a nightie) but was led up some creaky stairs to where about 15 large men, including Ed, were standing around in thick uniforms, perspiring manfully and nursing pale fizzy drinks. And there, on the edges of the throng, was LUCIAN FUCKING FREUD (not in uniform). Well, I didn't really know what to say. Or do. So I just said "Hullo!" and shook his hand and started talking to not one but two people who had left or were about to leave the army to become barristers. It seems to be a trend.

A rumour flew round the room that Lucien Freud had exclaimed to a cavalryman called Peter: "I love your hips," and then put out his hands to describe the broadness of the beam. "Oh fucking hell," said someone. "Can you imagine a portrait of Peter in the nude?"

Here's why I worry about the troops in Afghanistan: as we were about to sit down to lunch, it turned out that only some of us had place cards. So finding out where we were supposed to sit was tricky. It was a bit like a round in a very, very posh Krypton Factor. We all scratched our heads and then some bright spark went out to track down the seating plan. Three Captains of the British Army, I think all of whom had seen active service really quite recently, bent over it, turning it this way and that, navigating by Lucian Freud, who had found his seat, and saying "So you must be there... or is that the other end? Oh no wait, it's upside down."

But we all sat in the right places in the end.

Lunch was an absolutely delicious bit of roast lamb with superb pomme mousselline and green beans. (Obviously I'm saying it was nice. I don't want a helicopter gunship to swoop into view and flatten my house).

Then we went to see the horses. Giant animals the size of elephants who all wanted to snog me because I had Polos. I told them I was married but they didn't care. I hid my terror by shrieking "It's going to EAT ME!"

A guy wearing shiny spurs and a pair of wicked trousers with a red stripe down the side said: "Those are crack for horses."

"Have one," I said to Lucian Freud, who was standing next to a mint-frenzied horse. I put a Polo in his steady palm, which had a small mark of white paint on one side, and he zonked it straight into his mouth. And then he laughed.

Punishment biscuits

Every morning for breakfast I have a bowl of what we call in our house "punishment museli". I'm assuming I don't have to explain what this is, but perhaps for my overseas readers, "punishment museli" is a collection of dusty rolled oats, nuts, seeds and clumps of raisins. No added sugar. Semi-skimmed milk. Washed down with tea - also no added sugar.

I used to eat Shreddies for breakfast, or toast with marmalade, or Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. I even at school once, when I was in too much of a serious hurry even for cereal, had an eclair. But then my dentist said: "Okay you're getting to the age when your teeth are going to start falling out. Stop eating so much sugar." And instead of ignoring him and going straight out to buy a Mars bar to eat on the way home, like a latter-day Adrian Mole, I took it all in.

"Shit," I thought. "I don't want my teeth to fall out." And so I stopped having sugar in my tea (worse than giving up smoking) and started on the punishment museli. Bastard dentist. This is not my current handsome bastard dentist, but a previous bastard dentist. Less handsome but still able to freak me right out, like a bastard.

But the punishment museli thing has kind of grown on me. And I've started noticing that if you are looking for something to snack on, it's almost impossible to buy anything that isn't rammed with sugar. I'm on the move quite a lot at the moment - not for any interesting reason - and often find myself adrift in London town and starving, but unable to locate anything to eat that isn't a packet of salt and vinegar crisps, a McDonald's cheeseburger or a Curly Whirly.

So I thought I'd give some oat bar snack things, that I saw in Nigella Express, a whirl. I'm in two minds about these things. They're not especially indulgent but they do, actually, do a pretty excellent job of providing a portable, minimum-sugar, punishment snack.

If you're not really into punishment foods, there is also a way of making these more edible and less like something you'd find in an emergency supply tin in a bothy half-way up Ben Nevis.

Punishment biscuits (called something like Rise-And-Shine Bars in Nigella Express)

250g rolled oats
75g dessicated coconut
8 dried apricots, chopped
1 large handful raisins
1 large handful hazelnuts, chopped
1 small tin condensed milk

1 Turn on the oven to 130C
2 Warm the can of condensed milk in a pan
3 Combine all the other ingedients in a bowl and then add to the milk and stir
4 Turn out into a greased, loose-bottomed square tin (or round, it's only aesthetics. For my US readers, this is a springform tin)
5 Bake for 1 hour
6 Eat, grimly.

If you want to change these from punishment to merely a light rap across the knuckles, add to the milk 2 tablespoons of golden syrup and a knob of butter and melt together before adding the oat mixture.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Menu fail

The thing I enjoy most in restaurants is when they spell things wrong on the menu to hilarious effect (not depressing - eg "herbal tea's".)

This weekend I spotted "smocked salmon" and "asparagus mouse".

If you spot any such marvels, please send them to me, or post them below.

Henry's house

It's been one disaster after another in my kitchen over the last few days.

First of all, I tried to cook chips thinking, how hard can it possibly be?

My mother, who was brought up in a vacuum of electricity and the English language in a woodier bit of Wales, always talks, misty-eyed, about how her mother used to cook chips in freshly-rendered dripping in a black pot suspended over a fire in their earthen-floor kitchen. (Before casting some light spells over the nearby wildlife.) And the hostess of a great restaurant we found on Santorini, where they made the most fantastic chips (like the best fish n chip chips you've ever had), claimed that they were so easy peasy - you just chop up the potato and fry it: fool!

But they are both doing that thing where you tell everyone that you've done no work for the exam and then completely fucking ace it, leaving everyone else to spazz it up because they believed you when you said you'd just been sitting about picking your nose for 3 straight weeks. My grandmother, I can only assume, cooked these miraculous chips from frozen and the Santorinian hostess is a similar FRAUD.

So the chips didn't work. So I tried a burger. I've got a thing about home-made burgers, in that they're always too fussy and too thick. A burger is just a sandwich and the meat element of it doesn't need to be two inches thick. So I did a thing where I patted the burger meat out really really thin and then grilled it and stuck it in a floury white bun with nothing but finely chopped shallot, gherkin, mayo, mustard and ketchup. And it was a total fail. It just massively sucked.

Then, finally, I had success making some loaded potato skins. I cooked two baking potatos for 1 hour at 200C, then scooped out the insides and smeared the skins with a mixture of:

creme fraiche
chopped spring onions
salt & pepper

and shoved them back in the oven at 180C for 20 minutes, while I watched a leftover episode of The Mentalist on the V+.

But come ON! Loaded potato skins?!? What kind of cooking is that? Cooking for five year olds? I despaired.

The only thing for it was to invade Henry's house.  Henry is my friend who is a chef. The most successful things I've ever cooked have always been stolen off him. He is a friend of my husband's and of my brother-in-law's AND (this is so weird) is married to my first boss, Jemima.

So we invaded yesterday for a barbeque, where Henry did squid in this amazing sauce:

Here's why I was never much of a reporter: I was too shy to quiz Henry really hard about the sauce the squid was in. I only fathomed that it was made from:

grilled red peppers
grilled chillis
coriander seeds
coriander leaves

all pulverised in a food processor.

I've never successfully grilled and skinned a red pepper. Henry said something about grilling them until they're black and then leaving them in a plastic bag for a bit and then skinning them. This may very well make loads of sense to someone out there. The full recipe will be available in the new Leon Cookbook, which is out in September, which I am very excited about.

Then we had cakes from Violet Cakes because Claire, who runs Violet Cakes, lives near Henry and every weekend offloads all the stuff she hasn't sold on him, including this amazing rice flour banana bread, which we had with caramel sauce.

This picture is out of focus because my  husband doesn't understand my camera.

More cakes from Violet Cakes

Caramel sauce is really easy to make:

For 10

1 Put 250g sugar in a saucepan with 4tbsp water and put over a medium heat until dissolved
2 Turn up the heat and let the sugar bubble for 4-5 mins until it has turned thick and sticky
3 Remove from the heat and stir in 50g butter and about 140ml double cream

Anyway we ate all that and messed around in the garden for a bit:

My nephew and I discussing Chris Huhne's affair and organic shop-bought baby food vs homemade

My  husband's feet and my brother-in-law's feet. But which is which?

Henry and Jemima have a really nice garden

And then when the various children around started to go absolutely mental and screamy, we went home.

And for dinner I made fish fingers and peas.
Fuck's sake.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

There now follows a party political broadcast from the Monster Raving Loony Party

Apart from a guess-the-weight competition for a jar of jellybeans when I was 10 years old I have never won anything. Literally - nothing. Not one thing.

And I certainly have never even been considered for even, like, two seconds for any kind of industry award.

Here's where you come in. No, I'm not going to hit you up for cash: it's worse than that.

The Observer Food Monthly has a new Blogger section in their awards this year. I am never going to win it in a billion years, even if you all vote 18 times under different names from hacked IP addresses. But I badly, badly, BADLY want to be on some top 1000 longlist somewhere so that I can print it out and show it to my grandchildren so that I'm not just that funny cat lady who smells like soup.

I have already voted for myself. If you feel so inclined to waste your vote on me, (consider it a protest vote -I am the Monster Raving Loony Party of food bloggers), you can vote here. Apologies for the slightly torturous process.

Egg poaching in the past tense

Someone who is as ill as me as often as I am, should not write a blog about food. It means that every six weeks there is a dramatic hiatus in service, while I lie quietly in a dark room with a damp flannel across my forehead breathing deeply through my nostrils.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I'm still ill and am not eating anything more complex than white and golden carbohydrates. For example, today I'm planning to eat some boiled eggs with white bread toast, then a fish finger sandwich and then later, maybe, one or two slices of a very plain pizza.

But if my desultory stint in newspapers, from 2004-2008, has taught me anything, it's that when it comes to writing, you can be there without actually being there.

You know around Christmas time, or around the August bank holidays, when you go out and spend £1 on your paper and it's filled with even more nonsensical shite than usual - a 6,000-word book extract about life in Soviet Russia/My Celibate Year/top ten tips for changing your career - ? It's because there's no-one at the paper. They've all gone home. The office is empty, except for the work experience girl whose name no-one can remember, who wasn't told that she didn't have to come in.

What they did in the week leading up to the holiday was to rummage around in the back of their computers and draw out, between thumb and forefinger, all the crap they commissioned on a whim during the year, which turned out to be too long, or boring, or too similar to something the Magazine ran the previous week, to use - and then they run it, switch off their computers and go badger-baiting, or whatever it is that commissioning editors do for fun when they're not telling me that my idea isn't "quite right". (Only kidding! Commissioning editors are the best!!!)

And this is relevant because this is exactly the stunt I am about to pull on you today and probably for a few more days, while my interest in most food remains a zero.

So here we go:

I discovered the other day the secret to poaching eggs. I am unable to poach eggs (see "Egg Poaching for Dummies" for more) and believed that the talent lay in some kind of chef-school magic. But it turns out, despite my protestations, that the eggs really do just have to be fresh - so fresh they're still almost warm.

My husband is filming a TV series at the moment about self-sufficiency and there are a lot of hens around the joint. And hens lay eggs. And they're put in a cardboard carton and brought back to my house, where I boil them and eat them with white bread toast.

But the other day, my husband decided to give egg-poaching a crack. Into gently boiling water, he carefully cracked an egg. And rather than just going "spoink" and gunging everywhere, it sort of folded in on itself and cooked in a neat little bundle for 4 minutes, at which point it was fished out and scoffed with brown bread toast and a lot of salt and pepper.

At least you didn't have to pay £1.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Chicken and rice

In July 1999 I was poisoned by a VSO. I think his name was Gary and he visited the campsite I was living on in Namibia, made banana fritters for us all and nearly killed everyone.

I was in Namibia with Raleigh International, trying to ignore the fact that it was my Gap year, but I didn't have anyone to travel round the world with. Nobody wanted to travel round the world with me because I don't smoke pot and need to go to bed at 11pm. So I went on Raleigh, with a whole lot of other people who also didn't smoke pot and needed to go to bed at 11pm.

It was pretty nice.

Here we all are:

I'm in the back row, blue sarong, second from the right. The guy on the far right in the white t-shirt was fresh out of a tour of duty in Bosnia. He had a huge scar on his leg and the rumour was that he'd been caught in a landmine blast and had to have a skin graft. He was the toughest bastard I've ever met and yet brought his own pillow to camp. "Any fool can be uncomfortable," he said, as we stared at this grotesque thing of personal luxury. Needless to say, we all thought he was pretty hot.

Washing your hands was a big deal on Raleigh. Almost the first thing we did wherever we set up camp was to fashion a hand-washing station out of a stick, some string, a bottle and some lightly bleached water. There was a lot of peer pressure around it; if you didn't have the industrial stench of bleach around you, you were a potential Patient Zero.

Gary had no such bourgeois ideas about cleanliness. We all noticed that he wasn't washing his hands as much as we were, but we were too excited about our banana fritters (having been living off porridge and sardines for the last 6 weeks) to care.

I'm not sure what it was exactly in the end that Gary rubbed all over our fritters - someone suggested the name of an illness but I couldn't quite hear it over the sound of retching and groaning. I didn't even have whatever it was that badly, just 48 hours of the most crippling stomach cramps and nausea known to man, which would make unanaesthatised dentistry seem like a trip to the movies. Paul Gibbon, back home a warehouse manager from Leeds (front from third from right), lost about a stone in four days. I don't think you need details, only know this: projectile vomiting is not a made-up thing.

Since then, my stomach has never been quite the same. After I came back I would have bizarre and humiliating intestinal reactions to:

Anything roasted
Anything fried
Anything rich

And so for what seemed like forever, but in reality was only about two years, I ate nothing but Special K for breakfast and chicken with rice at all other times. To this day I put my chronic heartburn down to that stinking Gary and his filthy hands - a curse on his eyes for all his days!!! - even though I know full well that I've inherited my chronic heartburn from my dad.

It's not so bad anymore, a mere 11 years later. But the last couple of days, out of the blue, I've been feeling sick as a dog. I've got the old "giardiasis list", which is when you walk slightly bent over at an angle, because if you straighten up you feel so much worse. It ought to feel all romantic, like I'm some a Victorian explorer returning from adventures in Africa with recurring malaria and a permanent tan-line, but in reality it's just a bit shit.

At lunchtime yesterday, because if you don't eat it's downhill all the way, I reached for my old bad-tummy staple, chicken and rice.

I was lucky enough to have some chicken stock hanging around in the freezer and a new kind of rice I happened upon in Waitrose - Thai sticky rice, by Thai taste, which I've been meaning to try out for ages. I simmered everything together for 12 minutes with half a stick of lemongrass, 1 thick slice of fresh ginger, 1 large whole clove of garlic and one whole small Thai chilli. When it's cooked you fish out the lumps of spice to leave just the rice in broth. The Thai rice transformed the stock into a silky, comforting soup and the spices fragranced the whole thing without actually being allowed to mess about with my guts.

Now if you'll excuse me, there's a voodoo doll I have to go and stick pins into. It's called Gary.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Carrot, apple, cucumber, mint and ginger juice

I was at a party the other day with an Israeli model. We weren't there together, she arrived with someone else. But from the moment she walked in I knew that my evening was kind of ruined.

I'm not one of those tedious frauds who claims to suffer from low self-esteem. In fact at times I think I might suffer from a surfeit of self-esteem; but my cup rarely brimmeth over with it when I'm sitting next to an Israeli model.

Girls like that, with their long spindly limbs and butterscotch skin and almond-shaped eyes, make me really aware of my teeth, which are a mangled disaster, and my cheeks, which are always a tiny bit red close to the jawline - like a farmer's son. Suddenly everything disappears and all there is in my world is my wonky dentistry and giant ruddy face, with my ginger fringe pecking at my eyes, making me look like a gymkhana pony in need of some serious hogging.

But I tried to concentrate, because the Israeli model was nice, despite giving me the same old shit about how she was teased at school for being so tall and "geeky". Then she started talking about how much she loves her juicer. "When I was pregnant I juiced everything and drank it, beets and spinach. I mean, I had to hold my nose to drink it but it's so good for you."

I stared at her, as she held her tiny, tanned nose with her long, tanned fingers in demonstration. I hugged to myself her confession of five minutes' previously, that she couldn't drive. I might not be a six-foot, 9 stone Israeli model who drinks beetroots but I can drive a fucking car. I resolved to take up bulimia as soon as I got home but then realised that that would do nothing about my teeth or cheeks.

We gave the Israeli model and her husband a lift home after the party. My husband was so relieved that he had decided to take his BMW out that evening (a car I forced him to buy a while ago so that people wouldn't think that I was his mid-life crisis). "I don't think she would have known what the Fiesta was," he said.

Then we made fun of the juicer thing for a while, purely because we don't own one and felt threatened. "It's the national food of Israel," said my husband. "There are juice bars on every corner." I've always been suspicious of people into juicing. They're such fanatics. I mean, I'll drink a £4.95 juice in some wholesome cafe if I'm not in the mood for a Coca-Cola, or gin, but I don't feel zealous about it. I don't slum the juice around my mouth, vaguely chewing on the bits and going "Nnnnnnhhh" like some creep child sucking up to its parents and stitching up its siblings by loudly enjoying some broccoli.

"I suppose if you're a nation of almond-eyed models, your national food kind of has to be juiced beetroots," I said, pressing the tips of  fingers against my solar plexus as I felt the onset of some wicked heartburn.

The next morning I went straight out and spent £200 on a Magimix Le Duo Plus XL centrifugal juicer. There are models that you can purchase for less than £200, but don't expect them to be Israeli.

Carrot, apple, cucumber mint and ginger juice.

Makes  1/2 a pint

2 apples, rinsed and quartered
2 small carrots, rinsed and thirded
1/4 cucumber, rinsed and quartered
1cm sq fresh root ginger
2 large mint leaves
2 ice cubes

1. Turn on your juicer
2. Juice your stuff in a jug with the ice cubes in it

3. Try to ignore the fact that it looks like something you'd find at the bottom of a pond

4. Close your eyes and think of the Holy Land
5. Drink

Friday, 11 June 2010

Bento Part 2; soba noodle salad and terikayi chicken

So, I'm trying to get my head round this bento box thing. There are, as you have pointed out in your millions (okay, in your tens) an awful lot of specialist bento websites, run mostly by shy but dedicated Japanophiles.

Looking at them, and thinking about them in general, it's hard to know whether a bento box is more an issue of style rather than cookery. 

I hesitate to say this, for fear of being ritually disembowelled the next time I go to Atari-Ya, but is this just a lunchbox? Isn't having a bento box just a sophisticated way of taking your lunch into work - traditionally a slightly hippy thing to do, practised by non-smoking, pacifist super-polite types, who are usually also the Union representative and cycle everywhere?

I suspect it is, because a bento makes that stereotype redundant. Because Japanese stuff is cooooooool. Unscrewing this bright pink, tactile cylinder from Aladdin (available here) complete with removable compartment, and second screw-on, screw-off tier, is a million miles away from unpacking a couple of cheese-and-pickles on brown from a Lock N Lock.

For example, how much cooler was Molly Ringwald than Emilio Estevez in The Breakfast Club when when she unloaded her sleek little bento box for lunch, while he unwrapped eight peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a carton of milk and a huge banana?

The bento is stylish. No question. But what do you put in it? It's been a while since I worked in an office but what I remember mostly about it was that a) you don't want to make your lunch first thing in the morning when you could be asleep, having paranoid dreams about being late for exams and b) you don't want to make your lunch the night before when you could be knocking back a lot of cheap white wine in front of Mary, Queen of Shops. Or asleep, having paranoid dreams about being late for exams.

But there doesn't seem much that will do a bento justice that doesn't require a bit of effort. For example, the arrangement above is a buckwheat soba noodle salad in one compartment with a pile of teriyaki chicken next to it. But it took me a while to make and it required a fair amount of ingredients, which I would not be arsed to shop for, if I had a lunchbreak.

So I've really badly failed my brief to make something easy or something that can be made in large batches. I guess you could make this in a large batch but do you want to eat the same thing two days in a row? Maybe you do if it's nice enough.

Just for laughs, this is how to make the soba noodle salad. All ingredients are available from Waitrose.

1/3 packet buckwheat soba noodles
1 handful coriander, chopped
1/2 chilli, chopped
1/2 spring onion, chopped
1/2 carrot, julienned
a sprinkling of sesame seeds
2 broccoli florets, quartered
1 tbsp sesame oil

juice of 1/2 a lime
splash of mirin (do I need to explain that this is rice vinegar?)
a sprinkling of sugar

1 Boil the soba noodles for 8 minutes and then rinse to remove the brown scummy stuff. Put in a mixing bowl and pour over the sesame oil immediately because what buckwheat soba noodles really love to do is stick to each other and then turn to cardboard.
2 Boil the broccoli for 4 minutes and run under cold water
3 Put everything in the mixing bowl and shift round a bit
4 Combine the lime juice, mirin and sugar and sprinkle over. I tried to find a small bottle that could hold the dressing separately but couldn't get one small enough. One of those little soy fish that comes with a Pret Sushi box would be perfect.

The teriyaki chicken went like this

1 Chop up some chicken brest or thighs into approximately 1in square pieces. Put in a bowl and shake over some bottled teriyaki sauce. Leave for a few minutes. (Normally I wouldn't recommend using some crapola bottled sauce, full of E numbers and shite, but I'm not about to make teriyaki sauce - although I'm sure one of you knows how.)

2 Fry the chicken pieces very hot and fast in groundnut oil.

It was all very tasty but would I cook it all at 9pm for my lunch the next day? Not a chance.

Back to the drawing board.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Bento Part 1

I'm not dead, I've just  been working very hard on a post about Bento Boxes. What happened was that I was in the middle of a peaceful reverie the other day when a text message came through from my sister, The Hamburgler.

It said: "On recipe rifle, can you come up with a series of yummy lunches that are either quick to make or can be made in large batches and i can take into work?  I'm eating ham sandwiches every day because mum doesn't understand how lunch at work is the only thing to look forward to all day and if it's shit it makes you want to cry."

And because I don't want my sister to cry. So I thought I'd investigate.

I was milling purposefully through Brent Cross shopping centre today, in search of a suitable bento box (really quite hard to find in a mainstream place like BC) and thinking about the contents when I got another text message.


My sister, you see, was born in 1988. She is a child of Sky Plus and Facebook and isn't inclined to wait long for things.

Anyway, I was very nice, which was unusual. I said that I was having to do some research.

Which I am.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Lemon Surpise Pudding

The saddest day of my parents' lives was the day that I dropped out of Westminster School's Oxbridge preparation classes. I didn't really understand what was going on and I wasn't sure if I wanted three more years of not understanding what was going on. But my parents were very depressed about it: out of four daughters, they had only managed to hammer one measly one, my eldest sister, into the city of dreaming spires. And even then she got in second time around and had the temerity to neither marry a Duke nor get a First. And she read physics the square, beaky wonk.

I like to tell myself that it's not that I was too stupid to go to Oxford, it's that I was too lazy. But the fact is that I was too stupid AND too lazy. I got into Westminster to do my A Levels somehow - clerical error? - and when I was there I had to work all the time to keep up. And I mean all the time. I know for a fact that my friend Izzy used to go to the pub after school every day for a minimum of three hours - including Saturdays - and she got straight As and "Excellent" in red pen on all her homework. I sometimes woke up early before school to work a bit harder and I only got 2As and a B. Teachers would quite often say "How are you?" to me. It's tragic really.

Mostly for my parents, because my Dad was an academic and a tutor at Balliol, which is where young Communist PPE students go to wake up at 5am, perform 80 star jumps in the quad while reciting the Greek alphabet backwards, before departing for the library for the rest of the day for some light recreational long division. They can do this because they have plenty of free time, having written all of the current term's essays in the previous vac.

(I ought to point out that my father isn't a Communist anymore, although he remains an expert on Karl Marx. His book, "Karl Marx: His Theory and Its Context" is the only book you'll ever need to read on the subject. Some might say the only book you'll ever need full stop.) Thus, my academic dimness was an unprecedented blow.

It was also tragic for my mother, because it meant that I definitely wasn't going to marry a Duke - although marrying someone who is occasionally on telly runs a close second I think. Imagine Mrs Bennett from Pride and Prejudice in a pair of pink Crocs and you've got my mother.

So my point is that despite this avalanche of parental disappointment, I really try not to be bitter and chippy about NOT ONLY having fallen at the first Oxford hurdle, but then going on to spazz up my degree at Bristol University.

(Of the two people who did worse than me in my graduating year, one got glandular fever half way through the second year and only turned in 60% of her essays and the other went completely fucking mad before finals and was sectioned by the Bristol Royal Infirmary.)

But I have to admit that whenever I am able to do something better than someone who went to Oxford, a little piece of me rejoices. My husband went to Oxford and got a First - despite speaking almost exclusively in swear words, refusing to shave and dressing like a slobby graphic designer - and whenever I outsmart him, I internally give myself a little high-five.

For example: does he know all the words to 'Holiday' by Dizzee Rascal? No. Do I? Yes. *high five*

Can he do the whole talky-bit from the A-Team's opening credits in a convincing American accent? No. Can I? Yes. *high five*

And so it is with this Lemon Surprise Pudding.

An old friend emailed me, challenging me to make it as it had not worked out for her. Normally I don't make lemon puddings because I was traumatised by one as a child. But, you see, my friend went to Oxford - and the opportunity to DBTSWWTO (Do Better Than Someone Who Went To Oxford) was irresistable. Especially as she said that she would "weep" if it worked out first time for me. Oxford people: very competitive, you see.

I also ought to point out that I am a massive shitbag because I promised that if it did work out first time for me I wouldn't tell anyone. But it turns out that I LIED!!!!!! Redbrickers: prone to lying and gloating.

So the idea with a Lemon Surprise Pudding is that you have a sort of fluffy spongy top that you cut through to reveal a pool of lemon sauce. That's the surprise. I was expecting to have to source Semtex from somewhere, but cooking just isn't that exciting.

The things that can go wrong with this are:

a) You end up with a vaguely wet scrambled-eggy mess, which means your oven is on too high. This is quite common with modern ovens - I know that mine sets fire to pretty much anything I try to cook, so I often crank the temperature knob down half a centimetre if I'm cooking something sensitive.

b) You get the light meringue-y sponge bit on top but a thick lemon curd at the bottom rather than a lemon sauce. This is still very delicious, but not quite echt. This happens because you haven't used the right pie dish. For this recipe, you need to use a DEEP 1.5litre basin, not a shallow basin. It really does make a difference.

So here we go:

50g butter
110g caster sugar
rind and juice of 2 lemons
2 eggs, separated
50g sifted SELF-RAISING flour (might burn me once - won't let you burn me twice)
150ml milk

1 Pre-heat the oven to 180C OR if you have a very hot mega turbo fan oven, to about 175-170C and butter your 1.5pint/850ml deep baking dish

2 Beat the butter, sugar and lemon rind together until it's all combined. It won't go light and fluffy because there's too much sugar in it

3 Beat in the egg yolks a little at a time - perhaps a teaspoon each go.

4 Fold in the flour and alternate with the milk and the lemon juice - about a tablespoon each every go. The mixture will curdle and go gross - don't worry.

5 Whisk the egg whites to the soft peak stage and then fold in.

6 Bake in the MIDDLE of the oven for 40 mins.

If only school had been this easy.

Inside/outside living. But mostly inside

One of the results of losing all perspective in John Lewis while doing my wedding gift list the other day, is that now I have two of everything; one slightly less nice than the other one. But still, I have got two of most things - some things which you don't even really need one of. And yet, I haven't got a kettle, because it broke two days ago and I've been having too much fun boiling water in an egg pan for tea to go and get a new one.

Not really. Just too lazy. They don't sell kettles in Waitrose; at least, not in my Waitrose.

We've managed to only end up with one barbeque though and it's sitting outside, pristine and unused because by the time I've got home from the shops with barbequing supplies, it's raining so hard that the neighbours' cats are sailing little boats across the patio.

And so it was on Saturday. I bought a large rack of spare ribs by chance from the Farmer's Market in the hope that at some point this week we would have a sunny evening and barbeque them up. But no. So last night I decided to do them in the oven instead, to at least try out an easy-looking barbeque sauce I found in The River Cottage Meat Book.

It was brilliant and went like this:

2-3 large garlic cloves
1 level teaspoon salt
1 tbsp English mustard
2 tbsp soft brown sugar
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp soy sauce
ground pepper
2-3 tbsp of vinegar

1 Combine everything except the vinegar in a bowl. I was unable to do this without making a giant mess but you might be able to be tidier. Add the vinegar last, stirring in between 2 and 3 tablespoons of it until you get an emulsified sauce

2 Spread over your rack of spare ribs. Leave to marinate for as long as you can, turning and re-spreading if you're in that kind of mood. An hour's fine - all day is even better

3 Cook on the barbeque for 10-15 minutes or in the oven for 20 minutes at 210C

To go with it, I made some sweet potato wedges with a lime and lemongrass creme fraiche dipping sauce, a recipe from Plenty, Ottolenghi's new book (brilliant but entirely vegetarian... I mean, not that that's a problem or anything!!!!! You probably already knew that - but I didn't because Ottlenghi: The Cookbook, wasn't.)

For the wedges

Cut your sweet potatoes into 8 segments (people eat about 1/2 a sweet potato each as a side) and lay on a lightly greased baking sheet. Sprinkle over salt and dab with more oil of your choice (either olive or ground nut) and bake at 210C for 25 mins

For the dipping sauce

Combine a few tablespoons of creme fraiche with the juice and rind of 1 lime, a pinch of salt and 1 very finely-chopped small stick of lemongrass. Although this was nice, it was a bit pudding-y and next time I'm going to do it with yoghurt

I ALSO, because I was a bit hyperactive yesterday, made a rice salad, out of Ottolenghi: The Cookbook.

This is how I did it, which is not faithful to the exact recipe, but it was really nice:
(for 2)

40g quinoa
40g camarge or red rice
A handful of shelled pistachios
1 small onion, chopped
zest and juice of half a large orange
salt and pepper
about five dried apricots, chopped
2 tsp lemon juice

1 Put the grains on to boil for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, toast your pistachios on a baking sheet in the oven at 200C for 8 minutes. I know this sounds like a stupid hassle but it's worth doing as they don't taste of much otherwise. Fry the chopped onion very gently for about 10 minutes.

2 Once the grains, nuts and onions are cooked, combine everything a bowl and serve; you may find you need to add quite a lot of salt. You're supposed to wait until this gets down to room temperature but mine was sort of warm. It was still nice.

I've only just now realised, looking at the photos, that I made an entirely brown and orange supper. Christ... there's always something.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

A nice thing to do with rhubarb

So by now it's possible that you have a lump of Delia Smith's Quick Flaky Pastry in your fridge and you're, like: "I can't eat any more sausage rolls."

If that's the case, you might like to take advantage of there being rhubarb around at the moment and making one of these pastry rhubarb thingies.

It's as easy as it looks and it is nicked off Nigel Slater's Simple Suppers - in the episode where he wanders into his garden and yonks out of the ground a hundredweight of rhubarb, like that's how he goes shoppping for stuff.

Anyway. Roll out a square of pastry and cut the rhubarb into lengths. Arrange in a row along the pastry and cover generously with sugar.

You could also brush it with butter if you wanted. Put in the oven at about 200 for 25 minutes and serve with creme fraiche I suppose. I floured my baking sheet before baking the pastry because I am neurotic about things sticking to the bottom.

You can variagate this thing however you like: I think next time I might mush my rhubarb up a bit in a pan with some sugar and a splash of water, to make a rough compote, then spread that on the pastry and then bake it, just because rhubarb all in a row like this can be a bit stringy.

p.s. As you can see - my camera is working again!!!! It's a miracle and all thanks to advice passed on to me through Facebook and Twitter. Who said the internet was shit?!

Monday, 7 June 2010

Sweetcorn fritters

My husband has a mania for our garden at the moment. It started after we got married, when he decided that in order for him to be a good husband he ought to plunge headlong into actual husbandry and create for me a large herb garden to facilitate my cooking. "You can take pictures of it," he said, hefting his spade into a neglected border, "and post it on your blog."

I have so far resisted putting up pictures of my new herb garden on here because until I had one, I DESPISED anyone who did. Nigel Slater's Simple Suppers made me gibber with fury every time he drifted into his giant garden to pick a huge handful of mint out of a charming terracotta pot or drag some rhubarb out of a raised bed, or pluck an entire roast dinner from his Ottolenghi plant.

"Who has that?" I would scream at the telly. "Who has that in London? Fuck off, fuck off. We all have to go to Waitrose for our chervil you smug bastard." But I would keep watching, because Nigel is God. (Although his piece on making a pork pie in the Guardian Magazine the other week wasn't nearly as excellent or instructive as my post on the matter - see "a pork pie for Giles" for reference and you can email me with questions. Eat that, Nige.)

Anyway what was I saying? Yes, herbs. Okay so I have a herb garden now. I am now one of those insufferable people who says things like "Oh daaaaarling just pick some rosemary, mint, parsley, coriander, sage, bay, thyme (lemon and normal) and chervil from your garden to make a herb rub and it will make your roast chicken simply divviiiiiiiiiiine." Only I don't say things like that because then I'd have to shoot myself.

Or not shoot myself because I don't have a gun. I'd have to do something awful with one of the really excellently sharp Global knives I got as a wedding present from Becky B (one of my occasional readers. She is quite shy but an excellent cook).

Doing up the garden has nearly killed my husband. He jammed his thumb by mistake onto a raggedy nail, which sprung a copious and bloody leak for about two days. The other night he was bitten on the ankle by some unidentified creature and it all swelled up and went gross. (What bites one in an English garden? A spider?) And then, in reaching for a spade he trod backwards onto a pot and then stumbled into another one and thrashed around like that for a while, bellowing like a bull being branded, before collapsing onto the steps, his face a tragedy mask. What with all that and various other incidents, he looks like he's been recently mown down by forty stampeding horses.

I am trying not to bang on about my new herb garden, but I thought I ought to explain why there might be an abundance of multiple herb-bundles of things in recipes in the future. Until the snails get it all, of course, and then the frost finishes off what weedy stumps remain. In which instance I'll be grumbling about the lack of interesting herbs in Sainsbury's Locals once more.

Sweetcorn fritters inspired by The Riverford Farm Cookbook. No picture because my stupid camera is on the blink and I can't tell you how depressed I am about it.

1 can sweetcorn
65g plain flour
1 egg
1/2 tsp sugar
About 60ml milk
1 handful of coriander
1 large chilli, chopped (seeds in if you're a heat freak)
1/4 red onion OR 1 shallot, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp baking powder
salt and pepper
1 lime
1 tbsp creme fraiche - if you have it, don't worry if you went all the way to the shops for sweetcorn and came back without creme fraiche

1 Put the sweetcorn, chilli, a few strips of lime zest, salt and pepper, onion and coriander into a blender and PULSE, rather than whizz, until everything is sort of bashed up a bit, but not pureed. This is because if you leave the sweetcorn kernals whole, they're not as easy to manipulate into a fritter. There are a lot of people who are going to disagree with me about this.

2 Make up the batter by sieving the flour, baking powder, a good pinch of salt and a few twists of pepper and sugar into a bowl. Then crack in the egg and half-mix it into the flour. Add milk splash by splash until you've got a thick batter and then blob in the creme fraiche. Not so thick that a spoon leaves a permanent streak if you pull it through the mixture, but not so it's like soup either.

3 Add the sweetcorn mixture, give it all a stir and then cook as you would a thick pancake - they take about 2-3 minutes either side. My advice is to make one tester pancake and then adjust the seasoning based on that. You may find that you want to chuck in a lot more lime zest, coriander, salt or whatever into the mixture. Sweetcorn is quite an overpowering flavour and you may need to beat it to death with bit of extra chilli.

Saturday, 5 June 2010


A lot of cooks will, in a bid to be folksy and relaxed, express horror at the thought of making your own pastry - particularly puff pastry. "There's a lot of wonderful pre-made pastry you can get from shops," they always say. "Just make sure it all-butter and you're quids in."

Well, no. I say NO. If you are going to make something that requires puff pastry (sausage rolls, a savoury pie) you might as well  make it yourself if you're not going to just go to Greggs and buy some sausage rolls or a savoury pie.

What these cooks are thinking is that you're going to make puff pastry in that fiddlesome crazy way, where you individually sort of layer very thin bits of pastry together, half-glued here and there with an egg wash. It takes about six years to do and goes wrong all the time. So yeah - don't do that.

But DO do Delia Smith's, now very famous, Quick Flaky Pastry, which is not, I admit, the dictionary definition of puff pastry, but it does the job extremely well. You have probably seen Delia do this on telly, or read about it in one of her cookbooks. But I am here to tell you that it's just brilliant and that you ought to give it a crack one day.

So here is the recipe - although Delia is so evangelical about it that if you wait long enough she'll probably come and shout it through your letterbox.

225g plain flour
175 butter
pinch of salt

1 The way this recipe works is that you grate frozen butter into flour. I don't know why it works but it does. So how you do this is really up to you. I always have frozen butter in my freezer because I am an insane hoarder and hate running out of things. But if you are normal, get any old pack of butter and measure out 175g, then wrap it in foil and put it in the freezer for at least an hour.

2 Sieve out the flour and sprinkle over your pinch of salt. Then retrieve the frozen butter from the freezer. Unwrap it so that there is a bit of foil left on the end for you to clutch onto while you grate the other end into the flour. Grating frozen butter into flour is not nice at all, it really isn't. It's like your fingers are going to fall off and it's very hard work. And from time to time you worry that your fingers are so numb that you might accidentally grate them and not feel it. But keep at it, like the trooper you are, because it's worth it. The grating gets easier as the butter melts towards the end. But do not be tempted to do this with warmer butter to make it easier - the butter must be frozen little curls of fat, not long strips like you're grating cheddar cheese.

3 So once that's all gone and you're looking at your hand like "Speak to me....!" distribute the butter round the flour with a knife until it's all coated. Now add water, small sloosh by small sloosh, until you get a dough. If you want to be really smart about this, used iced water.

4 Bring the dough together, but don't mess it around too much with your hands because, as well all know, dough doesn't like getting warm, then chuck it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

And there's your dough! I used this last New Year to make a really fantastic chicken and ham pie and yesterday made a lot of sausage rolls to take on a picnic.

So, here is the dough just before it goes in the fridge. Note the bits of butter distributed around the flour - it's supposed to look like that, not all smooth and even and glossy like bread dough.

This is how I made my sausage rolls. You just get a lot of high-quality sausages and slice open the skins to retrieve the sausage meat. You may find a better way to construct your sausage roll than this but this way worked fine.

Just remember that you MUST seal your sides of pastry with egg wash. Milk or water won't do. Also brush a bit of your egg wash onto the top of the rolls before they go in the oven (220 for 25 minutes).

I would also recommend either greasing or flouring your baking sheet before you lay the rolls out, otherwise they will probably stick to the sheet and you'll have to yank them off and that will put you in an incredibly bad mood.

Friday, 4 June 2010

What exactly IS espresso powder?

Best question of the week comes from Erin, who asked me to explain espresso powder, which I used in the coffee and walnut cake below.

Espresso powder is not coffee grounds, but like instant, freeze-dried coffee - Nescafe, Gold Blend or whatever - but it's only for making espresso. YOU CAN GET IT IN WAITROSE but you have to look quite hard. The tin I've got was, I think, the only kind they sell in WR, it's called Percol Espresso and you can find it in amongst all the other instant coffee stuff.

(Sorry no photo but my camera keeps flashing an "ERR" sign at me and refusing to take pictures.)

Alternatively, if you have any kind of espresso machine, you can make up any quantity of espresso needed in a recipe (usually a cake, but Nigella does some wacky Breakfast Banana Smoothie thing that requires it aswell) using your machine.

We have an espresso machine but as you've all guessed, it's sitting in the cupboard under the counter top occupying the space left by the deep-fat fryer (cellar).

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Coffee and walnut cake

I am the world's most prolific hander-out of unsolicited advice. All you need to do is ring me and reply to my "How are you" with "Oh, I'm okay, coming down with a bit of a cold," and I'm off:

"Oh you must buy First Defence immediately," I will say. "It works retroactively, so just take it whenever - it shortens the life of your cold, you know. Alternatively a raspberry leaf on your head. Hot water and honey. Lemon. My advice is to take a few days off work. Go to bed as soon as you feel that tickle in the back of your throat, shut the curtains and sleep for 24 hours. It's a miracle cure. My advice is to put your out of office on your email and then you can relax and get better. Paracetamol every 4 hours. Time it - put on an alarm. Every four hours. Honestly, it's a miracle cure. Anyway do all of that and you'll be better. Ring me in the morning. Nice talking to you, bye."

And it's not just health. Buying or selling houses ("Oh don't wait for the market to do anything, buy when you need to and sell when you need to. People who try to play the market always get shafted."), boyfriends, ("If he's not dropping hints about marriage after 18 months, move on"), families, ("Oh, you can only have the relationship with your mother that you can have. Don't idealise it and you'll never be disappointed.") diets, pets, make-up, skincare, haircare - I've got a fucking answer for everything and force it on everyone, unasked.

I'm trying not to, I swear to God. I wrote a thing the other month for a magazine about friendship and read a lot of stuff about how to be a good friend and how to be a good listener. And one of the top tips for being a good friend was to not hand out unsolicited advice. The other top tips, if you're interested are:

- Don't interrupt
- Don't garnish your friends' story with a story about something similar that happened to you
- Don't go "mm hmmm" all the time
- Don't finish people's sentences

I do ALL of these things, ALL the time. It's a miracle I have any friends at all. Oh wait, I DON'T.

I don't know why I have to hand out advice all the time, I should really not - mostly aswell because I'm almost always wrong. And it doesn't come from a place of love, it comes from a place of meddling.

For example, I have to restrain myself from going round to my sister-in-law's house with a bottle of Aveeno and some 8-hour cream for her boyfriends hands, which are very cracked from doing a lot of gardening. (I dispensed this miracle cure recipe last weekend but I can tell it has not been acted on.)

And the temptation to ring up some friends of mine who are swapping their large-ish flat for a miniscule flat in London and a house in the countryside (they've got two children! Who aren't going to get any SMALLER) in order to give them a jolly good lecture is, at times, overpowering.

The only thing I can console myself with is that I know that I do it and I know that it's bad. I am trying to do a thing where I only hand out advice if someone specifically says "What do you think?" Then I take a deep breath and talk non-stop for 1 hour. But no-one ever says that. No-one cares what you think they should do. They just want you to nod and smile and say "Oh, I am so sympathetic," and then tell a joke.

Which brings me to coffee and walnut cake. I was feeling a bit scatty today while I was making it and I used plain flour instead of self-raising flour. But rather than throwing the bowl against the wall and storming out into the garden to kick over some flower pots and then starting all over again, I sprinkled over the mixture 1 tsp of baking powder. And the cake came out better than, I think, any cake I've ever made.

So there we are: if you ever use plain flour instead of self-raising flour by mistake, sprinkle over 1 tsp of baking powder. Just don't ring me up and say you're not feeling well.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittinstall's coffee and walnut cake, interpreted by me

Makes one small loaf - 7in x 4in

2 eggs (weigh these and then use the same amount of flour, sugar and butter. Mine weighed 119g.)
119g flour
119g butter
119g sugar
0.5 tsp vanilla essence
1tsp baking powder
50g walnuts, roughly chopped
1 tbsp espresso powder dissolved in .75 tbsp hot water

1 Beat the butter until it's creamy and then beat in the sugar until pale and fluffy.

 2 Then beat in one egg at a time. Mine curdled to buggery but it didn't make any difference to the end result. You can in theory add one tablespoon of flour after each egg to stop it from doing this

2 Fold in the flour. Stare at the recipe and then stare at your flour packet and scream "FUCK!!" then reach for some

3 Baking powder. Add 1 tsp, sieved so there are no lumps and mix in. Add the vanilla essence, coffee and walnuts

4 Pour into your cake tin and then bake at 180C for 30-35 mins or until the top is firm.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Mexican pork belly

I wish this was something that I'd come up with, but in fact this episode of Recipe Rifle comes to you from the letter E, the numbers 5 and 7 and James Ramsden, the food blogger and ACTUAL TRAINED COOK  who contacted me keen to do a recipe swapsie. I gave him a recipe for a baked potato and he didn't laugh!! I don't know what to make of that. Find him at www.jamesramsden.wordpress.com

Anyway, here is his extremely exciting-looking pork belly thing that I would make if only I knew how one skins a hazelnut.

Take it away Jim:

Mexican pork belly with coriander and hazelnut salsa

The problem with the cheap cuts - beef shin, lamb shoulder, pork belly - is that they are imbued with a sense of winter. These gastropub staples seem good only for slow-cooked and sticky stews, broodingly dark braises, and melting roasts. Give a cook any one of these cheap cuts and their reflex will be to start prepping a mirepoix, setting the oven to 170C and scratching around for the half-drunk bottle of last night's plonk.

It's unsurprising that this is the case. These cuts are fatty, and in winter we want - we need - fat. By summer we've had just about enough of rich food and root veg and we yearn for grub that pings and hums with herbs and citrus and chilli. But this shouldn't mean these cuts are redundant all of a sudden. Lamb shoulder, diced and marinated with yoghurt, cumin, chilli, mint, garlic and lemon makes perfect kebabs for barbecuing. Ox cheek, braised sympathetically in bourbon and shredded with herbs and spices becomes a breast-beatingly epic filling for enchiladas.

This pork belly is a crowd pleaser in the way that watching Jordan get mauled by a panda would be a crowd pleaser. Aside from the skinning and boning of the belly (which you could ask the butcher to do) it requires little effort on your part. I did it for 20 people which a whole belly (6-7kg) will serve easily. If going the whole hog then up the cooking time to 3 hours.

Serves 4

1.5 kg piece of pork belly, skin and ribs removed
A bunch of coriander, finely chopped
Zest of half a lime
Zest of half a lemon
Olive oil and pepper

For the salsa

A bunch of coriander
Juice of a lime
A red chilli
1 clove garlic
A small handful of skinned hazelnuts
Olive oil, salt, pepper

Mix together the coriander, lime and lemon zests and olive oil. Rub over the pork belly, season with pepper, and leave overnight.

To make the salsa/pesto, blend the coriander, lime juice, chilli and hazelnuts until smooth, pouring in olive oil as you go until you've got the right consistency. Season with salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate until needed.

Remove the pork from the fridge a good hour before cooking and preheat the oven to 180C. Season generously with sea salt and roast the pork for 1 1/2 to 2 hours and rest for 20 minutes. Alternatively roast for 1 1/2 hours before finishing on the barbecue for 30 minutes. Serve with the salsa and a salad.