Thursday, 14 May 2015

Size does matter!

Sometimes (just sometimes) you don't want to make a family-sized pudding. I'm not much good at maths, but I know that if there are only two of you at home and you make a pudding that feeds six, one of the two will succumb to temptation. Stephen Hawking would probably put it like this:

6 - 2 = 4 ÷ by 2 = 2 + no self control + plenty more vanilla ice cream in the freezer = T(emptation) x [insert large number of choice] = G = guilt + self-loathing in the morning when you have to lie on the bed to get your jeans done up

Fruit crumble on vintage blue plate with cream
2 ÷ 1 

I had some gooseberries and raspberries in the freezer which I'd cooked briefly with a load of sugar. But they were still tart and unappealing. So I hid them under a duvet of buttery-sugary-oaty crumble and they were transformed. A taste of summer in a warming pudding. With no leftovers!

Crumble for 2

35g butter
45g plain flour
20g sugar (any kind)
25g oats

Pre-heat oven to 180/gas 4. Roughly cut the butter into pieces and whizz it with the flour in a food processor until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and oats and whizz again briefly (or stir in). Tip over fruit of your choice* and bake for about 20-25 minutes until the crumble is lightly browned and the fruit is bubbling up at the edges.

*Best to use cooked fruit as this isn't in the oven for long enough to soften most fruit, though softer berries (strawberries, raspberries and blueberries) would be fine from raw. I'm a great fan of Peach Compote which you can buy in a jar. That makes a lovely crumble with a handful of raspberries thrown in.

Red fruit crumble in blue and white enamel dish

Monday, 13 October 2014

Morning glory

Wake up children!

It's hard for me too, you know... The summer holidays are a distant memory: lazy mornings reading in bed while you ate white bread weighed down with Nutella and peanut butter and chocolate sprinkles. Now you need something sustaining and healthy to boost your brains and power you through the long mornings of letters, numbers and fighting in the playground.

And so we start the healthy-breakfast-bartering. I open with poached eggs, kippers and wholemeal toast; they come back with Coco Pops. After protracted negotiations we agree on granola. Enough sugar to appeal to them, plenty of nuts and fibre to placate me.

My recipe for Ginger Granola stars oats, maple syrup, honey, nuts, dried fruit and little pieces of zingy crystallised ginger to sweeten and surprise. Eat it for breakfast with milk, straight from the jar for a snack, with yogurt for pudding - or give it away in pretty jars.

Ginger granola in pretty jar with gingham lid and ribbon

Ginger Granola

125ml maple syrup (or a combination of runny honey and maple syrup)
25g caster sugar
25ml sunflower oil
half a teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
500g oats (preferably a mixture of jumbo and porridge)
175g mixed seeds
150g pecans
50g whole almonds
150g dried fruit
100g crystallised ginger, chopped finely

Heat the oven to 170/gas 3. Put the first six ingredients in a large bowl and stir together. Then add the oats, seeds, pecans and almonds and use your hands to mix everything really well*. Tip into two roasting tins and spread out evenly. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, stirring once or twice, until it is a light golden brown colour. Let it cool down completely before adding the dried fruit and ginger.

Close up of ginger granola with seeds, nuts, crystallised ginger

* When you've finished mixing, wring your hands like Lady Macbeth, then wash them. The combination of oil and sugar will leave them feeling beautifully soft.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

A bit on the side

What does Sunday lunch mean to you? Steamy windows, expert timing and congealing fat? A lazy booze-fuelled, chat-fest with friends, or a fraught encounter with the family?

The Sunday lunches of my childhood were preceded by a trip to church. Thus spirituality and roast meat have always been inextricably linked in my mind. At first I found mass unintelligible, then I moved on to bored, but my divine interest started to pick up as I became interested in boys and church became a good scouting venue.

There's no need to be slaving over a hot stove on a summer Sunday. Instead, get your meat in the oven when you're having breakfast and give it (and you) time to relax before serving for lunch with cold salady vegetabley dishes - such as crunchy and colourful coleslaw or tastebud-tickling wasabi potato salad. Both recipes serve 4-6.

wasabi potato salad garnished with chives and a chive flower in a blue cup
Wasabi potato salad

Wasabi Potato Salad

500g new potatoes
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
½-1 teaspoon wasabi powder*
6 spring onions, sliced

Mix together the mayo and wasabi powder. Cook the potatoes, allow them to cool a little, then cut into chunks and mix them carefully into the wasabi mayo while they are still warm. Add the spring onions.

*Remember that the flavour and heat of the powdered stuff develops slowly!

close up of coleslaw in a white bowl


Half a small white cabbage (outer leaves and stalk removed), sliced finely
3 or 4 carrots, peeled and grated
8 spring onions, sliced

100g mayonnaise
2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon cider vinegar

Mix together the wet ingredients then add the cabbage, carrot and spring onions and mix some more. I like to add a handful of raisins, though my children spit with disgust if I do.

Carrot and Nut Salad

Another one you can knock up in a few minutes is my Carrot and nut salad. Again, I like it with a handful of raisins thrown in.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Really Welsh Rarebit

March begins with St David's day, celebrated in olden-days England by lynching life-sized effigies of Welshmen and eating special gingerbread biscuits baked in the shape of Welshmen riding goats. My mother has always been suspicious of the Welsh, and for years our family enemy was 'The Red Dragon', a local woman with an extravagant flame-haired updo and a pronounced Welsh accent. Then we moved house and my mother zeroed in on another hapless Celtic sister. This one had OCD, though in the 1980s she was just known as 'mental' - forever polishing her glass table tops and only allowing her 2 children to bring one toy downstairs.

Lured to Wales by the promise of a very cheap holiday soon after leaving home, I was surprised and delighted by its breathtaking views, mountains, sweeping bays, waterfalls and RAF jets blasting down the valleys.

Welsh rarebit is delicious for breakfast, lunch, tea or dinner and the sneaky leek makes it even more Welsh and even more delicious. Make the topping and keep it in the fridge for a couple of days, so it's ready when you are. This is enough for 3 hungry people.

Really Welsh Rarebit

1 leek
30g butter
30g plain flour
150ml beer
1 teaspoon English mustard
2 teaspoons Worcester sauce
1 egg yolk
150g cheese, grated
Chilli jam (optional)

Chop the leek and cook it in a pan with the butter for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add the flour and stir well, gradually adding the beer until you have a thick sauce. Add the remaining ingredients and some black pepper, then stir well over a low heat until everything is combined and the cheese is mostly melted.

Toast bread of your choice (mine is M&S fig and hazelnut bread) on both sides then spread with a little chilli jam and a lot of cheesy mixture. Make sure it goes right up to the edge of the toast or the bread will burn. Grill until puffy and brown.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Bad Romance

Love is a pretty big deal. It's what makes babies and poetry, books and songs. So it deserves its own day of celebration. But it isn't always champagne, hearts and flowers. Whether you're in love, out of love, or suffering the miseries of unrequited love, I hope you won't be getting any of these today.

Love is blind (but likes a good lunch):

Aaah, cute furry animals (that stink and scratch and bite):

'Vinegar Valentines' for those you love to hate:

Or go a step further to creep your Valentine out, and threaten to kill yourself... 

... or give up stalking them

Love makes people do silly things - like having an Argos tattoo on your leg:

The language of love can be inexplicably corny:

and poetic:

But nothing says "I love you" more than shaving your body hair into heart shapes:

Or buying your lover some fancy pants:

And if you thought those were tasteless...

Finally, for your favourite misogynist:


Sunday, 9 February 2014

Sultana and almond slices

Temptation, shame, denial, nudity, lust, obsession... the perfect ingredients for a romantic novel or a rousing Sunday sermon. Just as Adam wished he'd never eaten that apple, I wish I'd never eaten the almond and sultana slice my neighbour gave me. My clothes did not fall off, nor did I feel shame like Adam & Eve, but I knew I had to have more. My neighbour's recipe is a closely guarded secret, so I set off to recreate this little slice of paradise on my own: Soft, yielding almondy sponge strewn with juicy sultanas and a crunchy sugar topping. It's a very superior version of Mr Kipling's Country Slice - and exceedingly easy to make.

Almond and sultana slices piled on a plate
Warning: contains tempting fruit

Sultana and almond slices

200g sultanas
110g butter
110g caster sugar
2 eggs
1½ teaspoons almond essence
110g plain flour
25g self raising flour

Pre-heat oven to 170/gas 4 and grease and line a 20cm square tin. Put the sultanas into a pan with half a mug of water and simmer until the liquid has been absorbed, then set aside to cool*. Cream together the butter and sugar, add the eggs one a time (beating after each addition) and then the almond essence. Tip the flours and sultanas into the bowl and fold them in. Bake for about 40-45 minutes until the sponge is an even golden brown. Cool, remove from tin and sprinkle liberally with caster sugar.

Sultana and almond slices piled up on a vintage plate
Exceedingly good cakes

Time saving tip

* Cool the sultanas quickly: tip onto a plate and spread out into a single layer.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Zingy lemon chicken

The most notable thing about January used to be the January sales and the ads for holidays. Now it's the diets. This Christmas, the weather was so dire that we all had to hibernate and nibble our nuts whilst watching telly programmes about the morbidly obese. These shows revile, shock, inform and (perhaps) titillate, but they also normalise extreme fatness and make anyone under 20 stone feel slightly smug. If you are trying to lose a few pounds without resorting to bariatric surgery, this fresh and zingy ultra-low-fat chicken dish will brighten up the dullest of winter days and revive palates jaded by excessive consumption of Quality Street. Children love it too.

2 lemons and a half lemon with leaves

Zingy lemon chicken

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
3 garlic cloves, crushed
grated zest and juice of 3 lemons*
½ - 1 red chilli, finely sliced*
4 tablespoons clear honey
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 packets of Ainsley Harriott's spicy couscous
A handful of fresh coriander

Mix together all the ingredients (except the chicken) to make a marinade. Pour it over the chicken in a non-metallic ovenproof dish, cover and leave for at least 2-3 hours or overnight in the fridge.

Pre-heat the oven to 200/gas 6 and bake the chicken in the marinade for 35-40 minutes, until the chicken is tender and cooked through.

Add the required amount of boiling water to the couscous, plus a handful of chopped coriander and some of the lemony-garlicky juices from the chicken when it has finished cooking.

Red chilli pepper half chopped on pig shape wooden chopping board
Chop chop

Time-saving tips

*A Microplane grater will make easy work of the lemons.
*Don't de-seed the chilli; simply hold it by the stalk and slice from the other end.