Monday, 24 December 2012

Recipe Rifle's Christmas message

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 14 December 2012

Cheat's mayonnaise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finish with a rakish dash of paprika.


Friday, 7 December 2012

How not to look like a fat frump when pregnant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, 6 December 2012

Onion and gruyere tartquiche

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onion and gruyere quiche
make about 8 picnic-sized pieces

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

Preheat your oven to 180C

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

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

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

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

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

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