Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Yorkshire Pride

Seasonal and regional produce is always a joy to find. Here in Yorkshire we are blessed with some of the best you can get. Wensleydale cheese, the eponymous Yorkshire pudding (the successful making of which has evaded me for 20 years, but I am an incomer) liquorice from Pontefract and the glorious Spring forced rhubarb. This has just been granted Protected Designation of Origin, the equivalent of DOC or AOC in Italy and France and is only the 41st food item from the UK to achieve this protection. There is a rhubarb festival every year in Wakefield and you can take trips around the darkened sheds where the rhubarb is forced. Rumour has it you hear creaking as the stems force their way out of the ground it grows so quickly.

Pies, crumbles and streusal cake are all delicious made with rhubarb, but my favourite way to serve it is to poach gently with a little sugar and orange juice and serve with creme fraiche (flavouring that with stem ginger is very good) It sparkles like a jewel, bright pink in the bowl just as it glowed in the candlelight of the growing sheds.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Happy Birthday Girl Child

Today is my daughter's nineteenth birthday, my baby is 19 ! That sneaked up on me when I wasn't looking, for heaven's sake, it's over 6 years since I was allowed to buy clothes for her.

19 years ago I was in the District Hospital watching snow fall and listening to new Mums saying goodbye to their soldier husbands who were going off to the Gulf War. Some of the women had been induced so the father would have the chance to see his child before he shipped out. It added an extra level of emotion to what is already an intense atmosphere. We wandered corridors smiling vaguely as we passed each other and despatching partners to the poorly supplied hospital newsagent for something to eat, hoping for anything other than Gummi Bears or Snickers.

She was born at 10.40pm that night and I got my piece of toast and cup of tea as a reward before going back to the ward. It may not have been very celebratory but I count that as her very first birthday cake. Since then there have been the usual constructions, (butterflies, Spot the dog and Peter Rabbit) and cop-outs ( M&S chocolate flake cake) but now she has started to bake I feel duty bound to make something for her, although I am slightly apprehensive as she can make Victoria sponges that are lighter than air.

I decided to go for Blondies, (Brownies made with white chocolate) as she is my little blonde sweetie (and I really didn't feel like making a cake shaped like the US of A or a Green Card.)
Recipe from Nigella's "Domestic Goddess", so I did flick my hair and suck my fingers a lot for added authenticity.

Sometimes a drink is just too wet...

Palmiers, dainty little morsels of puff pastry rolled around anchovies, parma ham or a strong cheese. Or in my case ungainly lumps of pastry. When I put these on the baking sheet they looked perfectly presentable but in the oven they just kept on growing (and growing). My dexterity was obviously lacking but they still tasted good and in the absence of olives or Marmite cashews a very good way of ensuring my gin and tonic wasn't too wet.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

I can see clearly now...

Once, years ago, I clarified beef stock. (to make consomme for a dinner party, I was therefore showing off - it was the 80's) and although it was a real pain in the neck, the contrast between the opaque liquid I started with and the jewel like clarity of the end result was astonishing.

To clarify stock you need to whisk egg whites and crushed egg shells into the liquid as you slowly bring it to the boil. A weird quatermass forms when the egg begins to poach but don't worry, whatever it looks like, it won't climb out of the pan after you, provided as soon as the stock is boiling and all the sediment is whooshing around, you turn the heat down so it just simmers gently for 30 - 45 minutes. As the froth of egg whites cooks it becomes a filter taking up all the particles in the stock, so when you finally strain everything through muslin (washed without fabric conditioner - oops) you are rewarded with a sparkling clear broth.

I used my clarified chicken stock to make the tortellini, fennel and shredded chicken soup from this month's Waitrose magazine. Unforunately there are so many ingredients you can't really see how clear it was, but the whole thing did look very pretty.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Mamma Mia !

They enjoyed the lasagna

Cake and more cake

The picture above is banana bread with chunks of Green and Blacks plain chocolate, it's an adaptation of a Katie Stewart recipe that is a real family favourite and works every time. The almond and orange cake (below) is called "Pride of Andalucia", and is from a book I bought in Sainsbury's called "Sweet Dreams" by Jocelyn Dimbleby. It was the first recipe book I bought after I got married and has been well used since then, as the chocolately smears on the cover show. (I'm not the tidiest of cooks)

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Food is not just fuel

I was a late starter in the kitchen, I never cooked when I was a child, my mother guarded her territory jealously and whilst at boarding school the food was so abysmal it was difficult to maintain enthusiasm for any meal. It was not until I left home for art college that I discovered the pleasure that preparing meals and feeding others could bring.
At first I knew nothing and Campbells tinned meatballs on spaghetti figured large, then I was given this

This was Delia, pre Delia, a wonderful, very basic cookery book, easy enough to encourage a beginner but there were also recipes that gave you the chance to test your new skills. I discovered so much, how you could vent frustration by kneading bread, save money by making seasonal meals, boost your ego by having a souffle rise. It was a whole new world and I loved it.

Then came marriage when I found (after the traditional pre-wedding diet) all the stories of wedlock widening were true. When we had the children disillusion began to bite. (unlike them). A food loving mum had produced 2 picky children. As babies they had eaten everything but once they were toddlers they opted for the right to be individuals. We never actually re-enacted "Spring and Port Wine" with people glaring at an unloved herring, but it got close. One ate pasta, the other rice, crusts on, crusts off, no mince, what ? No mince ? No wonder I despaired. Cooking became fuel not fun, the same favourites being recycled with momentous regularity. Tedium very occasionally leavened with the chance to truffle through my cookery books when friends came for a meal.

Now I have time to cook, to experiment, to taste and I am so happy. I know that sometimes it will go wrong, I will forget a vital ingredient, turn the oven to the wrong temperature or make something so unspeakably awful we can't bring ourselves to eat it, but I am going to have fun trying.