Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Mumsnet

You may often notice and appreciate that I don't have much extra stuff on this blog. There isn't any advertising, flashing lights, signs telling you that I am number #457 on the Urban Spoon index of food bloggery, or links to Ocado, or Amazon, or other people's websites, or hit rate counters or links to my Twitter feed.

I pretend it's for a reason. I pretend that in this hyper digital age of techno-wackery, my blog is purposefully the most lumpen-footed, analogue and luddite. I pretend that I want it to be as limited in usefulness and snazzery as reading something on a piece of paper. Because, of course, I wish I was still at a newspaper but no-one will hire me.

The real reason, of course, is that I don't really know how to do any of that stuff. And I think my ranking on Urban Spoon really IS #457 so why would I want anyone to know that? And no-one wants to advertise on my blog anyway. At least no-one cool. If Krispy Kreme called me up and said "How bout it?" I'd say "Where do I sign, Mistah????!!" But they haven't. And I don't link to other blogs because I'm not really friends with other bloggers and don't read them and anyway they make me depressed because they all have more followers and cooler shit on them than mine.

But then Mumsnet rang me. Actually it wasn't Mumsnet, that would be weird. What would that sound like? Would you pick up the phone and thousands of cross-ish sounding voices all talking in unison would come down the line? Anyway it wasn't that. It was my old boss at The Times, who is now a mega cross-media troubleshooter-type headhunter asking me if I wanted to be part of the new Mumsnet blogger network. Or something called something similar. I don't really understand the details.

"They've got 1.6 million unique users," said Gill.

Fuck! I thought to myself. ONE of those users must work for Krispy Kreme!!!!!!

So I said yeah yeah yeah where do I sign, Mistah? And Gill said "It's not really like that. They won't pay you or anything. But from the 4th July there'll be a link to your blog on Mumset and we'll promote you on Twitter."

And then I stopped fantasising about all the free Krispy Kremes I was going to get out of this and started worrying hard about all those MASSIVELY FUCKING TERRIFYING Mumsnet users all reading my blog and leaving angry yet devastatingly accurate comments using a string of acronyms that would baffle Enigma.

But then I thought "Yes but they are probably your demographic anyway - esp now you've got a baby."
And then I thought "Oh god but they'll find out that I only breastfed for 5 weeks and come round my house with pitchforks."
But then I thought "I don't think they're that bothered about breastfeeding actually. I think it's Gina Ford that's the problem."
And then I thought "Okay well if there's an outside shot of some Krispy Kreme action I'd better do it. And the Mumsnet offices are just round the corner from my house, so if it goes bad, I can go and ring on their doorbell and then run away."

Part of the deal is that I have to carry a sort of Mumsnet insignia, which I've been given permission to hide at the bottom of the page. So, that's what I'll be doing, once I've worked out how. And this is by way of explanation as to what it's doing there.

Coming soon I PROMISE is a very excellent mutton stew by Giles Coren. (Mumsnet enemy #1, I'm told. Let the good times roll.)

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Aubergine stew


 

I spent quite a lot of 2000 and 2001 trying and failing to sleep in cars. Or in fields. Or in tents. Or on a drunkenly-constructed bed made from beanbags. I also spent some of it trying to turf drunks out of my bed, or being turfed out of someone else's bed, across which I was drunkenly splashed.

I went to Bristol University, you see, and everyone just had to have a 21st birthday party. And everyone seemed to live in the countryside. So they'd put up a big tent in their garden and drag some chairs and tables in and serve up dry chicken and fruit mousse and then put on loud disco music and everyone would jiggle about like stupid tossers and then at about 3am everyone had to find somewhere to sleep.

They always ended at sort of 3am, those parties. No-one really took drugs, you see, which I hear is what you need to get you past that 3am stage. Drink will get you so far and then you need help. At Bristol, only weirdos took drugs. Normal people just drank. And drank. And drank.

Anyway, one day I decided that enough was enough. I wasn't going to go to any more parties where I couldn't be guaranteed a bed. I was too old, I reasoned, at 21, to do this any more. It was undiginified and stupid. I wanted a bed in the GOOD part of the house, I would say. Not in the living room or in an obvious first-floor location.

I wanted to know where they were hiding the good shit, the reserved alcove which would be kept sweet and clean and slumbersome - no room that might be stumbled upon by eight drunk engineering undergraduates for an impromtu de-bag and radishing session. And don't you dare put me in with a notorious snorer, you fucker!!! I know your tricks.

It worked. Every single party I went to from then on I got a bed in the inner sanctum boudoir. But I put my foot down too late because there was only one 21st left - and it was mine.

So I've decided to learn from my mistakes and get in early when it comes to aubergines. I've always salted aubergines and it's such a pain in the arse. I've never tried to skip this step because so many people (I'm talking about you, Delia) make out like if you don't do it, the whole world will collapse.

But I had my mind changed the other day by one of my favourite readers, Ian Brice. He scanned in and sent to me the recipe for an aubergine stew, with Mrs Brice's annotations, which clearly indicated that one was not to bother naffing about salting OR peeling the wrectched aubergines. So I decided to put my foot down that very day and henceforth never salt an aubergine again.

And it worked out just fine. I have changed the recipe slightly - it called for red wine, which I didn't have and garlic, which I willfully simply decided I didn't want in it, and I added mozarella on the top, because I'm just fucking crazy like that.

Provencal aubergine stew.
Serves 4 with a salad or bread or something.

3 aubergines
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 large onion
bay leaves, thyme, oregano, rosemary - or any combination of those you can get your hands on
1/2 bottle red or white wine
mozarella - about 2 cheeses
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 tsp sugar

1 Chop the onion and sautee gently in whatever pot you're going to do the whole thing in

2 Chop your aubergines into rounds, then heat up some olive oil to a medium temperature and start frying them off. They drink olive oil, aubergines. So don't worry to much about it, just ladle it on when you think the pan is becoming unacceptably dry. The aubergine rounds will be ready after about 5 minutes each side and they have taken on some colour and have started to collapse slightly.

3 Once the onion is soft-ish (about 10 minutes) throw in whatever herbs you've got and toss around a bit until you start to smell them. (I also at this stage added a chopped courgette and browned it - but you don't have to.) Then pour in a half or a third of a bottle of wine, turn the heat right up and let it bubble almost completely down to just a thin layer of liquid.

4 Add the tomatoes and then the aubergines once they've all been cooked off. Give the whole thing a stir and put on a very low heat for 45 minutes. After that time taste it then sprinkle over 1 large pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon of sugar (which takes the edge off the horrid sourness of tinned tomatoes). Add more salt if you think it needs it.

5 At this stage I layered on slices of mozarella, let them melt and then put the whole thing under the grill to brown. But you don't have to do this.

I actually haven't had any of this yet. I made it for my husband's dinner last night, while I went out and got drunk with my old friend Will. But Giles said it was delicious, and he wouldn't say that if he didn't mean it. I, meanwhile, now have a retro-hangover like it's 2001, with the additional burden of a full day of childcare.

 At least I got the best bed in the house last night. And I didn't have to salt any bloody aubergines.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

No food today

Last night I made a kind of asian duck salad thing with dirty rice (which is rice with onions and peas and bits and bobs in it) but I made the whole thing with brown rice so it was an entirely brown dinner so I didn't take a photo of it.

But the duck worked really well so I will write about it another time.

Meanwhile, I'd like to share with you today an email a reader sent me, which was so funny I just have to post it here for you.

NB the previous sentence was talking about tedious "lifestyle" food TV.

"...who watches that shit ? I know I do, I can’t help myself.

Funky lady bakery telly is ruining my lazy Saturday mornings in bed not to mention the paintwork as I hurl the nearest object at the gogglebox ( remote control, vibrator) I just don’t know any women who have lives like that !? Or the time or inclination to think of recipes to match your mood (Sophie Dahl) what does melancholy even mean ?

I have 3 moods:
I’m fine
I’m fucked off
I’m hungover Pizza and Pinot works for all three.

Maybe the truth is I’m just jealous of their lives. Maybe I want my heart to skip a beat when I walk past a flowering zuchinni plant. This Sunday for instance I spent 3 hours making meringues with gorgeous summer fruits and raspberry coulis. Then I sliced my hand open cutting the meringues …it’s officially the gayest injury ever.

Too scared to go hospital I went to the rough as balls pub across the road, but first with the use of one good hand finished the coulis, put on some lipstick and took the pavlova with me.

Imagine their faces at the tavern… “Hi neighbour! I made you all a delicious pavlova, and check out this flesh wound wrapped in bog roll ! I’ve lost half my hand and I’m going to pass out !”

As it turns out I had access to the best medical advice from the landlord, a builder, a Jamaican barber and a gal who works for the Red Cross ( admittedly in marketing but good enough for me) I don’t doubt that they’ve all seen worse, and the general consensus was I could get away with no stitches. 

My medical team fixed me right up with Germolene, plasters, cheap Red Wine and Johnny Cash on the jukebox. The local Alkies lapped up the Pavlova and told me their life stories…now that’s a cookery show!

Happy Days. Please excuse the punctuation and grammar I’m typing with one hand."


Isn't that tremendous? I feel like I ought to retire. Or she ought to take over Recipe Rifle, in a Dread Pirate Roberts-style reincarnation.

Out.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Spanish omelette




Well you all went perfectly nuts for the vegetarian idea and I was inundated by your favourite vegetarian recipes. I mean... there must have been at least 10!!!!

I haven't cooked any of them yet because I haven't had a chance to go to the shops again for the ingredients - mostly more butternut squash and a large sack of lentils by the looks of things. But such is the life of a duty cook that when the evening rolled around again I had to make supper for my hungry husband with no vegetarian option available.

In times of stress such as these, I like to ask myself "What would Judge Judy do?" But this isn't very helpful in the kitchen because I imagine what Judge Judy would do would be to get a Chinese takeaway. Or have her own personal chef knock up a pizza. (She is worth $90m, Judge Judy. Ninety. Million.)

So instead I asked myself, what would K-Mid do? There was a lot of talk around the royal wedding of what an excellent short order cook the Duchess of Cambridge was at university. Short order cooking, for those of you who don't know, is stuff like macaroni cheese, bacon and eggs and shepherd's pie - simple kitchen suppers. So I asked myself "What would K-Mid do?" and the answer came back to me that she would probably make a spanish omelette.

It so happened that in Waitrose the other day I stumbled across a cooking chorizo by a company called Unearthed, who - if I'm not mistaken - are new to the shelves of Waitrose. And I like to investigate new things in Waitrose. So I had some chorizo and I had a potato and I had some eggs and I had some onions and off I went.

And it was great, as Spanish omelettes always are.

Not meat-free, but I never made any promises. I never signed anything.
Judge Judy would approve.

Spanish omelette for 2 hungry people, or 4 less hungry with a salad

5 eggs
6 Unearthed cooking chorizo sausages, cooked and diced. Or really any chorizo you like
a long sloop of cream if you have it but don't worry if not
1 large onion
butter
olive oil
groundnut oil
1 large baking or waxy potato
some fresh oregano and sage if you have it
salt and pepper
monteray jack or cheddar cheese - this is optional if you think it's a calorie too far

1 Peel and chop your potato and then if you can, steam it for 25 minutes. I really advise the purchase of a steamer, I use mine all the time. It's Le Creuset. I love it. If you don't have one, you can balance a colander over a pan of boiling water and chuck any old lid that fits on top

2 Chop and sautee the onion in a sloop of groundnut oil, a sloop of olive oil and about 25g butter. Do this in a pan big enough to take the entire omelette. It doesn't have to be non-stick because this has got quite a lot of oil in it so shouldn't stick to the bottom too badly. But use a non-stick if you like.

Sprinkle over a large pinch of salt, which stops the onion burning. Don't know why so don't ask - and don't CARE so don't tell me. Throw in the sage and the oregano if using.

3 Cook and dice the chorizo. Incidentally, my husband is something of a tapas and Spanish food enthusiast generally and says that this chorizo is very good. You can either cook it in the oven or in a frying pan. It will leak orange gunk everywhere. I'm sorry about this, but it's just the way with chorizo.

Put on your grill to full bongos.

4 Whisk up the 5 eggs in a separate bowl with cream if using and season cautiously as the chorizo is quite strong.

5 Add the potato and the chorizo to the onion and shift around carefully so's not to mash the potato up too badly. Then pour over the egg mixture and give the whole thing a shake. Turn the heat up to medium and keep an eye on the pan. Little bubbles ought to start coming to the surface after about 4-5 minutes.

When you reckon the bottom's firming up (oh how I wish my bottom would firm back up) grate over some cheese and slide it under your redhot grill for another 3-4 minutes or until you reckon it's done.

Depending on your pan, you may not be able to turn the whole thing out, but you certainly ought to be able to cut triangles directly out of the pan without too much bother.

We ate this with a very crunchy salad, a lot of Tabasco sauce and some beer.




Why are children so keen on The Gruffalo? I read it for the first time this morning and it was okay, but its cult status is baffling. Mog the Forgetful Cat or Six Dinner Sid or The Tiger Who Came To Tea are surely more moving, generally. You will note a strong feline theme. I did call my child Kitty, after all.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Butternut squash pie




I have been the executive decision-maker in this house for some time now.

Famous decisions I have executed executively have been to switch to quilted bog roll, to convert the loft, to stop giving Kitty baby rice and to buy a family diesel estate.

They've all been very successful decisions and riding the crest of this success-wave I have now decided executively that we need to eat less meat in the house.

For one, I don't like buying meat. Since Kitty was born, I haven't been able to eat lamb anymore. First, I've decided that it stinks. And second, I feel like I may as well go up to the nursery and hack one of my child's limbs off as eat a leg of lamb.

Every time I walk down the meat aisle in Waitrose in the back of my mind is the terrible worry that all these animals had a ghastly time, that they died in pain, that I am a monster. This is despite me buying only the most faithfully organic and free-range farm-based meat I can.

But my range of vegetarian cooking - that isn't pasta - is pitiful. I can cook a very good spanakopita but that's it. So recently I have been casting round for interesting vegetarian recipes.

This butternut squash pie is a sort of made-up thing inspired by a pie I saw in the Cranks Bible, which is a vegetarian cookbook, but which I mostly don't find that exciting. It's full of fucking SOUP and you know how much I hate soup. But there is this pie in it. The other ingredients I added because I thought they might be fun. It is also based on the spanakopita principle of using filo pastry as a casing.

I mostly fucking hate butternut squash. It dates back to the time when I was on the Atkins diet and ate it all the time. I grew sick of the sight of it. But once in a while, it's fine, especially when combined with a lot of cheese and spinach and pastry.

This worked very well but it is very rich and I would advise that you eat it with an extremely sharp, cold cucumber or tomato salad. This makes enough for 4-6 people and I used a 25cm flan dish.

So here we go.

Esther's butternut squash pie

1 butternut squash
4 sage leaves
some butter
1 bag baby spinach leaves
1 pack dolcelatte (about 150g)
some olive oil
filo pastry - about 8 sheets
salt and pepper
walnuts
3 eggs
some cream if you have it but don't worry if not

Preheat the oven to 180C

1 Peel and chop your butternut squash and then cook it gently in a frying pan with a lid on for a good hour with the shredded sage leaves in some olive oil. Butternut squash seems so hard and unforgiving that you may doubt that it will cook down in this time, but it will.

2 Meanwhile wash and wilt the spinach in 0.5cm of water for about 5 minutes

3 Lightly toast the walnuts in a dry frying pan and chop

4 When the buttenut squash is mostly soft, combine it with the dolcelatte (torn up by you) the spinach, the walnuts, the eggs and the cream - if using. Sprinkle over a very large pinch of salt and about 10 turns of the pepper grinder.

5 Lay about four sheets of filo pastry in whatever dish or tin you're going to cook this in. Brush olive oil between the sheets so they stick together. Pile in the fillling and then lay more sheets of filo on top. Bung in the oven for 20 minutes.



p.s. if you have any favourite vegetarian recipes that aren't pasta, potato or risotto-based email me: esther.walker@gmail.com or leave a comment.