Thursday, 28 March 2013

Turkish eggs




I  have been worrying a bit recently that the book of this blog, The Bad Cook (which is out TODAY, purchasable here)*, is going to be a disappointment.

This hadn't crossed my mind until very recently - until recently I had always flicked through it sniggering to myself and going "This is great!!! Definitely worth £1.99." But now I'm not so sure.

"Does it represent value to my readers?" I think as I sit with a cookbook on my lap, staring out of the window and trying not to pick at my cuticles because it drives my husband nuts.

So I have decided today to alert you to a recipe, which I would pay someone £1.99 to tell me about, which will assuage my feelings of fraudulence.

It is for a turkish eggs thing that Peter Gordon does at his restaurant brasserie cafe thing Les Providores in Marylebone High Street. It is NOT in fusion (sic), which is his cookbook, so I had to source the recipe off a New Zealand website, convert all the measurements, try it out and photograph it.

I'm sure that's worth £1.99.

So these turkish eggs are poached eggs with yoghurt and a chilli butter. I understand if you think that yoghurt and eggs together sounds gross but I promise it isn't. This is an incredibly delicious, almost addictive taste and it is very easy to put together for a light supper for you and someone you love. Or just for you alone.

Do not worry if you aren't brilliant at poaching eggs - I am absolutely hopeless and mine came out just about okay.

So here we go - turkish eggs for 2

2 eggs - the fresher they are, the easier they will be to poach
200g greek yoghurt
1 tbsp olive oil
large pinch of chilli flakes
70g butter
some chopped parsley if you have it

NB - you will notice that there is no salt specified in this recipe. It is not an accident. You can, of course, add as much salt and pepper as you think this needs but personally, I think the lack of salt, the slight blandness, is a really important aspect to this - I don't think the flavours need it. But you must do whatever you like.


1 In a bowl whisk together the yoghurt and olive oil. It is this whisking and whipping of the yoghurt that makes it so delicious, in my view. You CAN add here a small scraping of crushed garlic, but I don't think it's neccessary.

2 In a small pan melt the butter gently until it takes on a very pale brown colour - this takes about 10 mins over a low heat. Don't be tempted to razz it hot otherwise it will burn. Once it looks to you like it has taken on some colour, add the chilli flakes and swirl around in the butter. Put to one side.

3 Now poach your eggs in some simmering water for 3-4 mins. If you add 100ml white vinegar to the water it should in theory help the process.

4 To assemble, divide the yoghurt between two bowls, then drop an egg on top, pour over the chilli butter and scatter with parsley.

We ate this with toasted sourdough, as they do in Les Providores, but I think this would also be terrific with any sort of flatbread or pitta.


* for Amazon refuseniks the book is also available from other sources:

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/bad-cook/id580194993?mt=11

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Bad-Cook-ebook/dp/B00ALKTWYY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363857002&sr=8-1&keywords=esther+walker+bad+cook

Google: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Esther_Walker_Bad_Cook?id=wGTySqj1u-wC&feature=search_result#?t=W251bGwsMSwxLDEsImJvb2std0dUeVNxajF1LXdDIl0.


THANK you if you bought it. You don't have to read it, I promise I won't corner you and ask you what you thought next time I see you.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Spicy Thai crab cakes



Last night, I came the closest to crying that I have in months. I'm not much of a crier these days - what's to cry about, really? - so I was quite surprised when I felt those little pinpricks behind my eyes.

It was about 6.30pm and was sitting on the stairs just down from the the floor of our house that we share with Kitty. My husband was trying to get Kitty in the bath and she was having a little tantrum. "Neaoooo!!! Neeaaoooo!! WanttogetOUT wanttogetDOWN!" She was red-faced, weeping, voice hesitant and hiccuping from trying to talk while crying. She was exhausted and I felt sorry for her - since dropping her big lunchtime nap and replacing it with ad hoc little morning catnaps, Kitty's mood come bathtime is unpredictable. She can either have slept too much or too little or too late during the day, meaning she is either full of beans and impossible to bathe, or overtired - and impossible to bathe. 

It's such a boring story. Scratch the surface of any household with children and they'll have some similar problem. Anyway, I say impossible to bathe, what I mean is that sometimes we all enjoy bathtime and sometimes we do not. She is still always in bed by about 7.15pm - when she actually goes to sleep is up to her and not my problem. 

But last night it was hard to be sanguine. Just as I thought that life was tedious enough, fate decided to hand my ass to me by giving me one of those gluey headcolds that means you can't hear, or think, or see for about a week. The day had been long and tedious, with Kitty watching far too much telly and being left to run riot all over the house, dropping food and spilling drinks, while I quietly despaired. 

And although it's not forever - soon it will be Spring! Soon I won't be pregnant! - days like that - when I lose my grip completely and Kitty eats junk and watches TV all day - leave me depressed as hell. On top of my general gestational insomnia, I've now also got to deal with my cold keeping me up at night, so the days are sharp-edged, bad and bleak enough, without feeling sad that I have totally neglected my child. It's not her fault I'm ill, or that I'm pregnant. She is 2 and the law of cliches has decided that she is going to be a little jerk for an indeterminate number of coming months (years?) She is just doing what toddlers do. Like cats catch mice. 

I considered all this and did what any sensible woman would do and nearly cried for a few seconds. Then I got up and went downstairs to make some spicy Thai crabcakes. 

I don't use tinned stuff much, reasoning that it's better to get things fresh, but making fish cakes or crab cakes from tinned produce is a thing that I hear it's okay to do. I got the idea for these crabcakes from a recipe book but I have altered the recipe so much here that I don't think I'll bother crediting the cook.

These must be shallow-fried, so they are not really suitable for entertaining, as I always think frying things in company doesn't work - it makes a smell and creates an unmellow atmosphere - plus you have to be at the stove, tending and poking your batches, rather than gossiping and pouring drinks. These are better done as a treat dinner for you and someone else. Or just you. If you are feeling very organised you can make them in the morning, leave them in the fridge and then fry off in time for dinner.

They were very nice, I think. My sense of smell and taste has done a bunk. My husband said they were delicious, but he may have just been heading off another tantrum. 

Thai crab cakes
Makes about eight

2 tins crab meat -- I used John West, from Waitrose
1 small bunch coriander
1 red chilli, sloppily de-seeded
2 spring onions, roughly chopped
1 tsp fish sauce, if you have it
1 large pinch salt
1 stick lemongrass, cut into three (if you have it)
1 thumb-sized piece ginger, peeled and chopped into 3
1 small clove garlic - if you LIKE, I didn't
two large handfuls medium matzoh meal (or the equivalent breadcrumbs)
1 egg

1 Drain the crab meat in a sieve and break up with your fingertips

2 Put everything else except the matzoh and the egg in a whizzer and whizz

3 Combine everything in a bowl, stirring in the egg and the matzoh

4 Shape the mixture into flat patties, about 4-5cm across

5 Fry off in a shallow pool of ground nut oil until golden brown

We ate these wrapped in lettuce leaves and dipped in Encona sweet chilli sauce. My husband said "Just cry, let it all out." And I said "No. No way." Then we watched Friday Night Lights and both blubbed a little bit - because sometimes real life just doesn't deserve your tears. 

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Macho salad



A thing that surprised me after I got married is that people treat you differently when you've got a husband. I don't know if it's the same for men and I can't quite put my finger on it, but I suppose the closest word that springs to mind is respect: you get more respect.

I didn't realise that I wasn't being treated with respect until suddenly I was getting some. Even though Giles and I were living together - even after he was my fiance, it wasn't the same as saying "my husband." Once you say to someone "my husband" something in their manner shifts. It is as imperceptible as any kind of prejudice, but it is there.

I had thought that our recent two rounds of building work were so trouble-free because I was better with builders, more honest and upfront and less apologetic. But I think the fact was that I had a husband. Not a boyfriend, not a live-in lover, but a husband. God only knows why it makes a difference, and maybe it doesn't make a difference to everyone, but it made a difference to me. It's so sad and fucked up, it says such awful things about us, as people - but I think it really might be the case that if you are married, everyone just backs off.

And I exploit it, shamelessly. "Oh" I hoot grandly but politely down the phone to anyone who's asking for anything "my husband makes all the decisions like that. I'm afraid I simply couldn't possibly talk to you any more about it or all the cotton wool in my head will catch fire from the friction of my three braincells rubbing together."

It's a terrific laugh.

Having children is more complicated when it comes to respect. Day to day, as A MUM, you get no respect at all. You're just a nuisance with your fucking buggy and whining, pissing, shitting, puking baby/toddler. You're in a shit mood. You very occasionally forget to say thanks when someone holds open a door because you're in the middle of a Technicolor daydream about murdering the bus driver who was a bit mean to you just now, and you then form the basis of that person's lifelong prejudice against mothers. "I once held open a door for this woman with a buggy," they will say at dinner parties, "and she didn't EVEN say thank you. I don't know what's wrong with women once they've had kids. It's like they think they're so special."

It's also tricky between women who do have children and women who don't. You can connect, and get on and laugh at each other's jokes. But there's a gap there. When you are with another mother, you can get out a packet of chocolate buttons and aggressively bribe your child with them. You can stick Peppa Pig on for 2 hours so that you can sit down and bitch hard and in peace about someone else's new kitchen extension. You can shriek "Christ another poo? What the hell is wrong with you?" to your child. You can get ever so slightly tearful because child #2 just nodded off for 20 mins in the buggy on the way home and so won't do it's lunchtime nap today.

You can do all that without suspecting that the child-free woman is sitting there, looking at your walls covered in scribble, or floor studded with Play Doh and ancient peas going: "Fucking hell, get me out of here," or "Fucking hell if I had kids I wouldn't do it like this." Even if she is not thinking that, she might be and that causes the faintest of discomforts, like someone, not far away, playing clusters of wrong notes together on a piano.

Another mother, even if her parenting methods are completely and totally anathema to yours, will rarely, unless she is a total monster, judge you too badly for it. I mean, she will judge you, because that's what we all do - we're either starry-eyed with admiration ("her house is so tidy, she is so organised") or we judge ("I don't know how she can live like that.") But it's done so internally, quietly and subtly that no-one will notice, not even for a millisecond. The most powerful and detectable thought other mothers have is usually: "Whatever works for you, man." And that is, in its own way, a sort of respect.

But society, in general, likes MOTHERS, when they are not in the way, or moaning on about being tired, or expecting anyone to admire their revolting, dim children. If you've got children, somewhere, then that's a good thing. And the more you have the more people defer to you on everything. I mean, up to four children. Five or more children and people assume you have some sort of addiction.

The greatest thrill I get these days is when I am out in town without Kitty, looking extremely pregnant and I come across someone who assumes it is my first child. It might be someone with a baby, or a toddler, or just a random person who wants to acknowledge that I am up the duff (which is fine). "You all ready then?" they'll say. Or the mother will say "you've got all this to look forward to." And then I smile sweetly and say "It's my second". It is the female equivalent of pushing up a shirtsleeve to reveal a tattoo on the forearm that reads "légion étrangère". Maybe it's because I have a horror of being vulnerable, being patronised, of being weak, which could probably do with another six weeks with therapy. Or maybe, deep down, we all just want a bit of respect. 

Food needs respect, too. And a thing that rarely gets any is salad. We have started eating in this house for dinner a thing I have named Macho Salad. I may have got this phrase from somewhere else, but I don't know where. But anyway, macho salad is what it is. And what it is is a salad that will do for an entire dinner, that a man would not be ashamed to be seen eating. 

It consists of assorted leaves, meat or fish, some sort of thick dressing (probably made partly with mayonnaise, or blue cheese) a good scattering of firm beans - like soya beans, maybe some shards of parmesan? Nuts and seeds (sunflower is good), avocado? Chopped or quartered egg? And of course a scattering over the top of croutons, for crunch. 

Last night I made one that consisted of 3 chicken thighs roasted for 45 mins (the fourth was eaten by Kitty for her tea) and chopped, a bag of mixed leaves plus dainty strips of beetroot, cucumber, a dressing of mayonnaise, olive oil, lemon, vinegar and a lot of salt, avocado, soya beans, croutons and sunflower seeds. 



We ate it while watching Friday Night Lights, feeling very butch. But then we ruined it by having an alcohol-free beer apiece. Because you've got to draw the line somewhere. 

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Stuffed rolled pork loin



I woke up feeling terribly gloomy yesterday morning. I felt awful and depressed and really unable to get out of bed in a way that I haven't since I had morning sickness, what feels like several hundred years ago at the start of this wretched pregnancy.

My morale up until now has been based on doing the following:

1 Not counting down the days left. I stubbornly refuse to think or talk about how pregnant I am. I just say "It's due in May" and pretend to myself it is at least three weeks later in the year than it is. I have been 7 months' pregnant for at least 6 weeks. Otherwise you are like a prisoner, trapped in your huge, ungainly body marking time until your parole date. You may as well just scratch lines onto the kitchen wall with a fruit knife and be done with it.

2 Reading anything to do with fashion, clothes and weight loss obsessively and every so often suddenly spending a fortune on a pointless accessory. Once I am no longer pregnant I will go back to slopping about in bootcut jeans and grandad shirts - but for now the image of a slim and fashionable me stops me from lying down on the floor and screaming "I don't want to do this anymore!!!!!!"

I am so obsessed at the moment with clothes and accessories that I'm like an horrific pastiche of what people fear a Western woman is: just a goggle-eyed grasping lunatic, who actually believes that putting together a correctly fashionable outfit is an achievement, or sourcing a pair of absolutely au courant neon striped gym shoes for Spring/Summer constitutes "work". I went on a special trip to Selfridges to pick out a ruinously expensive charm necklace for my husband to buy me, according to the fashion for a husband to reward a wife with a present after she has had a baby. I cannot stop thinking about this necklace because when I have it, you see, my life will change for the better.

It's as if I unconsciously believe that the right clothes and accessories will make all this go away. My back won't hurt, my facial bloating will subside, I will be able to sleep, I will be able to bend down, my varicose veins will disappear. If I am dressed correctly the first few horrendous weeks of leaking bosoms and traumatised knicker-area, followed backbreaking months of still being overweight and creaky while hauling around a glassy-eyed newborn, stopping Kitty from killing it/herself/me, won't be so bad.

Ha! Haaaa haaa haaaaaaaaaaa.

Then I come away from the iPad or the laptop, having found myself almost buying a pair of shoes with cat faces on them for £500, (because they might be the shoes that change my life for the better, you see), and I feel guilty and sick.

3 Doing stuff with Kitty, no matter how much of a hassle it is. I allow indoor play and general telly-and-biscuit wallowing in the afternoons, but in the morning, I try to go out.

But I think I have hit a wall. I can't do anything anymore. I have to leave stuff scattered all over the floor for someone else to pick up because I can't. You will think: "That's fine, you're pregnant, enjoy not having to pick stuff up off the floor!!" but I don't like it. I don't like having to rely on other people. I don't like having to be helped up out of chairs, (my husband responds by trying to pick me up under the armpits, like a cat). And I don't like having to say to my husband, when he comes downstairs from having put Kitty to bed, "Sorry but can you put away those Megabloks?"

No matter how awful I feel I'd always rather do that sort of thing myself and enjoy the warm glow of martyrdom. Occasionally when I am on my hands and knees clearing up some awful spill to rival Exxon Valdez, usually also involving broken glass, I feel so sorry for myself that it's actually quite fun. But now I really just can't do any of it. I honestly think one wrong move and something will snap, or get squashed, or fall out, or tear.

And there's two months to go. TWO MONTHS!! And it won't stop fucking snowing. I don't know why I'm even bothering to despair. My own raging voice floats about my ears, getting fainter and fainter, further and further away like a tiny person trapped under some floorboards, far away and you think you can hear a voice and say "Can you hear that?" and everyone shakes their head and says "no". That's how futile my complaining is.

Just to make myself feel worse I decided to make one of What Katie Ate's recipes, torn jealously and resentfully out of The Times Magazine two weeks ago. I don't hate Katie Ate, but she did make me feel grossly inadequate for most of a weekend. But then, that's what weekend papers do - they make you feel a bit shit about your life, whether your are pregnant and miserable or not.

Anyway, so I made this stuffed pork loin thing as a kind of penance to atone for my sins of pride and envy, sloth and too much online shopping.

And it was terrific! Although overcooked and slightly shoe-like. But that is not Katie's fault as her cooking times specified were for a larger joint of pork than mine and I, like most English people am too sccaaarrrred of underdone pork to be bold about reducing the cooking times.

The really wonderful thing about this was the amazing stuffing - really, really delicious and magical.  Give this a go just for that.




2kg pork loin

For the stuffing
250g dried apricots
100g pistachios, shelled
2 apples, grated
50g butter, melted
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
chopped parsley, sage and thyme
salt and pepper
two handfuls of sourdough breadcrumbs (we happen to always have sourdough bread in the house but if you don't, I'm sure any old breadcrumbs would be fine).

1 Chop the onion and garlic and cook very gently for about ten minutes until just softening - don't let them take any colour at all and don't worry about them being raw because you're going to cook the shit out of them later. Take the pan off the heat and set to one side.

2 Chop up the apricot and pistachio reasonably small and put in a bowl. Then grate over the apple, throw in the herbs and the breadcrumbs, scrape in the onion and garlic, pour over the melted butter, season with a good pinch of salt and four or five turns of the pepper grinder and give it a good stir.

3 Unwrap your pork loin. If you can't see how in the hell you are going to get loads of stuffing in and then tie it back up again, you can always fillet off a bit of the underside of the joint with a sharp knife and put aside for another project (does that make sense?)

4 Flip the pork over skin-side up: if it has not already been scored, then score all over in a diamond pattern. Then rub with a lot of squashed sea salt.

5 Turn the loin back over and press in the stuffing. Roll up and tie as neatly as you can. The stuffing will inevitably clatter out of both ends, but just press it back in as best you can. I cooked my joint on its end, to stop the stuffing falling out and to get an even cook of crackling round the side but if you have a larger, long joint you won't be able to do this.

6 Put in the oven at 240C or top whack for 30 mins, then turn down the temp to 180C and cook for another hour. If you want to bake some apples alongside this for a kind of self-preparing apple sauce, put some small eating apples (naturally sweet so you don't have to faff about adding sugar to cooking apples) 30mins before the end of the cooking time.

This is hell to slice as the stuffing splurges out everywhere - you need a REALLY sharp knife, but it was very delicious.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Lamingtons




These are amazing! Lamingtons, they are called, and they are squares of plain sponge sandwiched together with raspberry jam, covered in chocolate and dipped in DESSICATED COCONUT. I mean how much more could you ask for??

Lamingtons were invented in Australia and I have never seen or heard of them before I came across them in Edd Kimber's very useful book Say It With Cake. I cooed over them yesterday with my mother, who has borrowed the book because she has to make 50 "finger food puddings" ?? WTF? for a Distressed Gentlefolk's Memorial Fundraising Curry Buffet (or something) and needed ideas, stat.

Anyway, I left the book with my mother but this afternoon on a whim, thought I would make them.

They are quite straightforward and I made them reasonably successfully with absolutely no recipe at all, having not photocopied Kimber's recipe before I handed over the book to mumsie.

There are proper recipes you can get for these, Edd Kimber has one in his book, obviously, and Dan Lepard has one on the Guardian website, which I will not reprint here because he once got in touch with one of my readers (who has her own cooking blog - who doesn't?) and asked her to take down a recipe of his that she had reprinted there. And the Lord knows I've got enough trouble without being sat on by Dan Lepard and his beard.

So this is my recipe, but it really is MY recipe, literally made up - it is entirely inauthentic so please don't all start telling me that these are not real Lamingtons because I don't really care and they worked for me.

For the sponge
110g butter
110g sugar
110g self-raising flour
2 eggs

For the chocolate dip
75g milk cooking chocolate
75g dark cooking chocolate
I used Menier cooking chocolate from Waitrose

200g bag dessicated coconut

Some raspberry jam, not much - probably 3 tbs in total

Preheat your oven to 170C, grease and line a small shallow baking sheet - mine was about 30cm by 23 cm. If you don't have one you could use a square cake tin with a loose base.

You may have your own way of making a basic sponge mix, in which case do that. I do this:

1 cut up the butter and put it in a bowl with the sugar. Stick this in your preheating oven for 2 minutes then cream together (snore... so boring) however you usually do this. I do it with a hand whisk.

2 Now whisk in the eggs, one at a time.

3 Now fold in the flour with a metal spoon until it has all mixed in; turn out into your tin/baking sheet and smooth the top as best you can, although it will even itself out in the oven so don't worry too much about it being perfect.

4 Bake for 10 minutes then take out and leave to cool.

5 Break up the chocolate and put it in a heatproof bowl over a pan of water and put it on your smallest burner turned to the lowest heat and let it sit there and melt for 20 minutes. Once it has melted, set it aside to cool for a bit.

6 Now turn your flat sponge out onto a board and peel off the greaseproof paper. Cut with a sharp knife into even squares the best way you can see how. I didn't want mine to be especially big and once they are covered in chocolate and then coconut they seem even bigger, so don't be afraid to make them quite dainty, like about 3cm x 3cm.

7 Make little square sponge sandwiches by spreading some jam on one square and topping it with another sponge square. Then you assemble the lamington by dipping it all over in chocolate, then pressing into dessicated coconut and then leaving on a cooling rack to dry.

You can do this the best way you can see how - if there's one thing I know for sure, it's that my readers are far more ingenious at working out how to do these things than I am - but if I have one suggestion, it is not to tip all your coconut out onto a plate at once.

Dipping the squares in chocolate is a terrifically messy busines and what you don't want is to spread chocolate all over your entire plateful of coconut because what you want is the brilliant white of the coconut against the dark brown of the chocolate - not brown-flecked coconut against brown chocolate.

Wipe your plate of chocolate smears inbetween dipping sessions if neccessary.

For each lamington, shake out some coconut onto a plate, and then turn and shake, turn and shake, until it is covered, then remove to a cooling rack.

Then stuff them ALL in your face, growling and drooling like Fantastic Mr Fox.

I don't know why my photos are coming out so blue at the moment