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:


XXX

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 heaven 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.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Beef stew and dumplings

Pesky guests landing themselves on you this Christmas? The holy grail of entertaining at any time of year is a dish which tastes good, is reliable, and which can be made in advance. This rich and tasty beef stew ticks all those boxes, and just needs a green vegetable to go with it (and maybe some mashed potatoes to soak up the gravy). What's more, it's one of those elusive dishes which is equally well received by adults and children.

Whip it out with a "Here's one I prepared earlier" flourish: Make the stew and leave it to cool, or freeze it. The dumplings can be made several hours in advance and kept in the fridge (but for best results allow them to come to room temperature before cooking), or made as needed - they only take a few minutes. Heat the stew slowly on the stove, dropping in the dumplings when it starts to boil. Cover with a lid and cook for 20-30 minutes. Alternatively, prepare the stew on the hob, then tip it into a slow cooker and leave for about 5-6 hours on a low setting, throwing in the dumplings half an hour or so before you are ready to eat.



Beef stew and dumplings - serves 6


2 onions, chopped
1 kg casserole beef
2 tablespoons plain flour
1 x 500ml can Stella Artois
2 beef Oxo cubes
1 large leek, chopped
5 carrots, chopped

75g Atora vegetable suet
150g self raising flour

Pre-heat oven to 150/gas 2. Fry the onions in a splosh of olive oil in a cast iron casserole dish. Remove them when they are translucent and sweet. Add a bit more oil, turn the heat up and brown the steak in a couple of batches. Reduce the heat to medium and return the onions to the pan with the meat, sprinkle over the flour and stir well, slowly adding the beer. Crumble in the Oxo cubes, then add 250ml cold water and the leek and carrots. Season. Stir well and bring to the boil, then cover with a lid and transfer to the oven for a couple of hours.

To make the dumplings: Put the suet and flour in a bowl together, season generously and add 6 tablespoons cold water. Mix well to form a sticky dough and shape it into 12 balls. Place these on top of the casserole and return to the oven for another 20-30 minutes.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Eat your freezer

We're all hiding something - a few pounds under a baggy jumper, an indiscriminate purchase from a partner, or a freezer-full of frostbitten bogofs and leftovers. Now that freezers never seem to need defrosting, there is no reason to confront their contents - but there is a very simple law of science that says you cannot keep putting more in if you don't take some out. So with the C-word (Christmas, of course) in mind, I am putting myself into reverse-hoarder gear and eating the freezer. I urge you to do the same; if not to make some room for all the festive goodies you will be making in advance of the big day, then simply to save money.



Yesterday I took out some very frosty home-made tomato pasta sauce, half a rustic loaf, a bag of chicken stock, 2 M&S vegetarian Kievs, some poached apricots and some ham. So what did I make with this motley selection?

Uncooked pizza with chillii oil and ham

I used the pasta sauce and ham on a pizza with a drizzle of chilli oil, mozzarella and dolcelatte
(dough recipe here);
the rustic loaf became garlic bread, served with carrot soup made with the stock
(chicken stock);
the apricots were pureed with some icing sugar and folded into whipped cream to become a fool
(more on fools);
and the veggie Kievs are for dinner tonight with couscous


Monday, 11 November 2013

Baked apples

I'm sure you share my delight in knowing that the human race has progressed to the point where we have invented the self-cleaning cat litter tray (which automatically activates 7 minutes after kitty leaves the box) and a portable UV disinfecting scanner so you can "protect yourself and your loved ones from harmful micro-organisms found in your home, during travel or in public places".


On the kitchen front, it seems there's an implement for everything. I have tried, tested and thrown away a great deal of them, but one I've hung onto is a melon baller. Originally bought to make Gordon Ramsay's tequila-marinated melon balls, it also makes an excellent apple corer - perfect for this recipe.

Apples, halved and cored, in a baking tin
Fill 'em up


Oaty Baked Apples


4 large-ish apples
60g brown sugar
20g oats
20g plain flour
30g cold butter
¼ teaspoon cinnamon

Pre-heat oven to 180/gas 4. Cut the apples in half and gouge out the cores using a melon baller. Sit the apples (cut side up) in a bun tin. Whizz up the other ingredients in a food processor until they resemble large breadcrumbs then spoon them into the holes and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Serves 4

Two halves of baked apple with vanilla ice cream
Eat 'em up