Monday, March 23rd, 2015
The more I try to remember my immediate reaction to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History the more I realise it was pure shock. Ten minutes of being struck dumb followed by “Oh. My. God. I need a drink.” on repeat. Incidentally, the first draft of this post, which I wrote an hour or so after finishing the book, was “Oh. My. God. I need a drink. Oh. My. God. I need a drink. Oh. My. God. I need a drink.” over and over again about 200 times, which Olivia pointed out was at least appropriate for The Secret History‘s subject matter.
It’s hard to know how to describe this book. Traumatic would be one word. Really, really traumatic. Intense would be another. Terrifying, certainly.
Tartt explores the depths of human behaviour in a way most people wouldn’t even begin to contemplate. Six students at the elite Hampden College in Vermont, under the considerable influence of their enigmatic Classics professor, push the boundaries of academia further than even the most dedicated of students would consider rational. This leads to mystery, intrigue, and even murder.
Despite the traumatic roller coaster of emotions it caused I still find myself recommending The Secret History to every other person I meet, which has to mean it was one of the best books I’ve read.
Tuesday, December 9th, 2014
Every year, for as long as I can remember, my Mum has made a ham for Boxing Day. It sits in the fridge for the week before Christmas and I have to exercise enormous self control to stop myself from picking a piece off every time I walk past. We finally get to eat it on Boxing Day in front of the fire, sat in our pyjamas, watching Christmas telly, accompanied by jacket potatoes filled with salty butter; Mum’s chutneys, surely I’m not the only one incapable of saying chutney with out channeling Schmidt form New Girl; more cheese than any human should really be capable of eating; and wine. Lots and lots of wine.
If my mother were the kind of woman to have a catchphrase, it would be “If in doubt, Delia.” She follows this recipe from Delia’s Christmas book, which I’ve paraphrased here. I think the only change she makes is adding even more English mustard, because we really, really love mustard.
1 joint of ham, how much depends on how many people you want to feed; for how long; and how big their appetites are.
Once the ham is home and out of its wrappings it’s put in the utility room sink and covered with water to soak, this lets the salt used for preserving the joint seep out into the water so you don’t end up with something too salty to eat. If you aren’t sure how long you need to soak your ham for ask the butcher you bought it from or have a quick google.
Preheat your oven to 160C (Gas mark 3) and line your rating tin with two sheets of foil, one length ways and one width ways. Take the ham from the sink and put it on the foil. You want to make a little tent for your hame from the foil and cook it for 20mins per pound (450g) of ham. So, if you have a 6lb ham, that’s 2 hours.
Half an hour before the cooking time is up take your ham out of the oven and turn it up to 220C (gas mark 7). Very, very carefully, using a tea towel to protect your hands, unwrap the foil tent and gently peel the skin from the ham. Seriously, be careful to not burn your hands, I can tell you from experience that it really, really hurts and will leave some impressive scars. Leave as much of the fat behind as possible. (Delia explains this bit far better than I ever could.)
Score the fat diagonally, making diamond shapes and then stud each diamond with a clove. Smear the top of the ham with mustard, for a 6lb ham you’ll need around 1 1/2 very heaped tablespoons, but it’s up to your own taste. Sprinkle with an equal amount of soft brown or Demerara sugar are press it into the ham, it’s best to use your hands here.
Pop it back into the oven, uncovered for the last half hour of cooking.
When cooked, it will need at least 45mins of cooling time before serving, or you can let it cool completely before covering and putting in the fridge to wait. After all, who really wants to spend Boxing Day cooking?
What are your Boxing Day Traditions?
Monday, June 23rd, 2014
Last Friday I bought a bag of apricots from the village greengrocer’s for 50p. (Yes, my village still has a greengrocer’s, it’s occasionally like living in Victorian England only there are fewer corsets, though tweed and flat caps remain in earnest.) When I got home and opened the bag, it quickly transpired that the apricots were very close to being over ripe and something had to be done with them sharpish. After a little brainstorming this ‘rustic’ tarte aux abricots was born.
My apricots were so ripe that the poaching stage would have been utterly superfluous, they would have fallen apart. If you don’t make my mistake and buy apricots which are actually ripe, poach them to soften them for about fifteen minutes. You can find a recipe on BBC Good Food here, just follow the first two sentences.
The pastry is a sweet crust recipe my mum has been using for as long as I can remember. It’s the first pastry she taught me to make. If I was very lucky, I’d be allowed to help her make it for her baked chocolate tart, which she made for years whenever my parents hosted dinner parties, which meant I could snaffle pieces (half the roll) and eat them when we were lining the tin. While chocolate tart as been ousted in favour of other puddings, this pastry remains my all time favourite for sweet foods. I use it for every possible pastry based pudding and treat. The recipe makes enough for two tarts, you can line another tin and keep it in the freezer, unbaked, for up to a month.
The crème pâtissière is very loosely based on a Paul Hollywood recipe I found when I was leafing through How to Bake but I found that the original wouldn’t set no matter what I did so I’ve adjusted it significantly.
For one tart, you’ll need:
500g plain flour
100g icing sugar
250g unsalted butter (cut into cubes and put back in the fridge to completely chill again)
100g caster sugar
4 egg yolks
500ml milk (most recipes state full fat milk but I’ve never really found a difference whichever milk I use)
The contents of 2 vanilla pods (good vanilla pods are pretty hard to track down and fairly expensive, I got mine at a market in the Midi-Pyrenees. If you don’t have any use half a teaspoon of vanilla extract and add more to taste.)
You need about 14 apricots cut in half. If you can’t get your hands on any fresh apricots (i.e. if you have a real hankering in the depths of winter) a couple of tins of preserved ones will do just fine.
Start by making your crème pâtissière. Put your sugar, cornflour and egg yolks in a bowl and whisk them together. Pop to one side and bring your milk and vanilla pods to the boil in a heavy bottomed pan. As soon as the milk is boiling remove from the heat and stir about 1/4 into your egg mix. Return this straight to the pan and the heat. Stir until it’s thick and smooth. Immediately remove from the heat and pour into a bowl. Give it a quick stir, if you’re using vanilla extract now’s the time to add it, and leave to one side to cool completely. When pushed for time, I’ve been known to stick the bowl in the fridge, or even the freezer, to speed up the chilling process.
To make you pastry beat together your butter, eggs and sugar and then add in your flour. I tend to use a food processor for this as it’s a bit sticky. Add a splash of milk and form a ball of pastry. Roll into a chunky sausage and leave in the fridge to chill for at least an hour.
Preheat your oven to 180 celcius and grease a loose bottom flan tin. Take your pastry sausage and slice off disks. Press them into the tin, making sure you go about 5mm over the top. Prick the bottom with a fork and blind bake for 15mins, or until the edges start to brown. Take out of the oven and brush with a beaten egg. Put back in the oven until golden brown. Take out and cool completely.
Once cooled, spread your crème pâtissière fairly evenly across the pastry and add the apricot halves in concentric circles, et voilà!
Monday, June 9th, 2014
Sansa Stark (aka the fictional character I will defend beyond all others) loves lemon cakes. By complete coincidence I also love lemon cakes. To be honest I love anything with lemon, even my tea. These light, fluffy bundles of yum are essentially the golden retriever of cake*. Adorable. They are especially good fresh from the oven (cakes not golden retrievers), served with cream and a helping of Game of Thrones, book or TV. They’re also easy as pie to make, basically it’s a fairy cake batter with some lemon thrown into the mix. So, in fact, easier than pie.
For twelve, you need:
3 large, free range eggs
170g unsalted butter (let it come up to room temperature and soften)
170g caster sugar
170g self raising flour
The zest and juice of 2 lemons (keep one of your lemons, you’ll use it later)
Start by preheating your oven to 180c (that universal temperature) and then grease and line your muffin tin. If you’d prefer you can make this as one big cake, a remake of the 70s classic pineapple upsidedown cake if you will. Just remember to cook at 160c and for slightly longer.
Now put your eggs, butter, sugar and flour into a bowl and beat until you have a smooth batter, about 5mins. Then mix in the juice and zest from your lemon. See, told you it was simple.
Mix it well and then leave it to one side while you slice the lemon and add one ring to the bottom of each muffin tin. Pour your batter on top and bake for 20mins. They should be a golden brown when you remove them from the oven. If you aren’t sure, stick a knife in to the middle cake. If it comes out clean they’re done, if not give them a few more minutes.
Now all you have to do is take them out of the tin and peel off the baking paper. Careful though, the sugar in the lemon gets really hot, I managed to burn my finger tips doing this. Smooth, I know.
To serve, place the cake on a plate with the lemon side facing up, and you’re done. Simple as that.
Settle down for a GoT sesh, raise a toast to the Bad Ass that is Sansa Stark and maybe try to finish your food before that scene from last weeks episode. We all know the one I mean. I knew it was coming. It was still gutwrenchingly awful.
*There is a small chance I have spent this evening scrolling through pictures of dogs on Tumblr. A very small chance.
Wednesday, April 16th, 2014
Spring is well and truly here. Bunnies, calves, and lambs are frolicking in the fields surrounding my parent’s house where I’m attempting to knuckle down to some serious revision and essay writing. 8500 words in three weeks, no problem! *whimpers* For me, the best part of Spring is Easter. Chocolate! Easter Egg hunts! Roast Lamb! Christmas Pudding in April! And the best part is the Hot Cross Buns! Smothered in salty butter and jam. Yum.
As with most things in life, sadly, the home made can outdo the supermarket blindfolded. Hot Cross Buns are no exception. These will trump anything you can buy in Sainsbury’s. They’re a Paul Hollywood recipe I found when I was procrastinating rather a lot by taking all of the books from my parents shelves, dusting, and then putting them back on. Positive procrastination, anyone?
I made a couple of adaptations, ie. switching the dried fruit and mixed peel for a bag of raisins and dried orange peel, in the name of avoiding the hell that is the supermarket on any day during the school holidays.
To make twelve, fairly large, Hot Cross Buns you’ll need:
500g stong white bread flour
10g instant yeast
40g unsalted butter
2 medium eggs
120ml milk (warm it up a little)
120ml cool water
130g dried fruit
Zest of two oranges
1 apple, finely chopped
2 tsp ground cinnamon
It sounds like a lot, I know, but it’s so worth it.
Start by putting the flour, yeast, salt and sugar into a bowl. Make sure that the sugar and salt are on a different side from the yeast or your buns won’t rise at all. Add all your milk, the two eggs (beat them a bit first) and half your water. Mix it together a bit, you may want to use a mixer with a dough hook rather than your hands for this, much easier and less messy. Gradually add more water, mixing all the time, until you have a rough dough. You might not need all of the water. Now the kneading starts. Keep going for about ten minutes, working right through the wet, sloppy stage until your dough is smooth and springy, like a baby’s bottom. Pop in in a bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave well alone, somewhere warm for at least an hour.
When your dough is double the size it was before you proved it tip it onto a really well floured surface, we’re talking two or three handfuls here, and add the fruity bits and cinnamon.
Give it a good knead to mix everything in well, I have no shame admitting that I used the mixer for this, and pop it back in the bowl, cover and leave in a warm place for another hour.
When you take it out of the bowl your going to want another good two handfuls of flour. What you should have is something resembling one of the Goblin King’s chins. Attractive, I know.
Fold inwards a few times, until all the air has been knocked out and then roll into a sausage shape.
From this, cut off twelve roughly similar sized chunks and roll each one into something that vaguely resembles a ball and pop them onto a tray covered with a sheet of baking parchment.
Cover them again (with cling film or a plastic bag this time) and leave for ANOTHER hour. As with all good things, hot cross buns take time.
Pop your oven to 220C to preheat and get mixing your paste for the crosses, 75g plain flour and 75ml water. After an hour pipe crosses onto your bun and pop them into the oven for about 20minutes, they might need a little less time, you want golden brown.
Warm 75g of apricot jam and splash or so of water in a pan and paint onto your buns to glaze them.
I suppose the lady like thing to do would be to wait for hot cross buns to cool and then serve them lighlty toasted with a sliver of butter, but er, no.
Dig right in. Smother with jam and butter in artery hardening quantities. It’s far more enjoyable that way, although maybe avoidy doing so in public places…
Saturday, March 8th, 2014
As you’ve probably guessed, I spend a huge amount of time in the library (mostly) nose deep in texts books on long dead writers or obscure points of French grammar. To make Sundays spent buried under text books more bearable I’ve started to make little goodies to keep my friends and me going when, frankly, we’d rather be sipping mimosas and having brunch somewhere without strip lighting. I’ve done croissants, tarts, and cookies but these little cappuccino cupcakes have been the most popular by far.
They’re a basically mini coffee cakes, so ridiculously easy to whip up at a moment’s notice.
To make 12, you’ll need:
225g unsalted butter (leave it out to get really soft, especially if you haven’t got an electric whisk)
175g caster sugar
50g dark brown sugar
225g self raising flour
4 large eggs
1tsp baking powder
1 espresso (or you can disolve 4 heaped tsp of instant coffee in 1 tbsp of boiling water)
For the icing:
75g very soft unsalted butter (just leave the butter on the side when making the cakes)
175g icing sugar
Start off by preheating your oven to 180C (that’s gas mark 6) and creaming together the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy.
Add your eggs and sieve in your flour and baking powder. Now beat everything together until nice and smooth. Gradually add your coffee until it’s all mixed in well. Have a little taste, if you want a stronger flavour now’s the time to add more.
Spoon your batter into your cases and pop into the oven for 15-20 minutes. When done, they should be springy.
Take your cakes out of the tin and leave them on a wire rack to cool completely. If you’re in a hurry pop them next to an open window (obviously only if it isn’t raining!) to cool faster.
To make your icing, the frothy milk part of the cappuccino if you will, beat your butter until it’s creamy and soft. Add your icing sugar and mix well, it really is that simple.
Spoon about a teaspoon full of icing onto each cake and spread it about a bit so it looks like the top of a cappuccino. Add a sprinkling of cocoa powder and you’re done!
If you can exercise enough self restraint the cakes will keep in an airtight container for a few days, as long as excitable housemates don’t get there first!
I’ve given up coffee for Lent, so please enjoy on my behalf!
Saturday, February 22nd, 2014
I suppose technically these sharp and sweet tarts are the main attraction of a light supper but I prefer to chuck a couple in my bag as an ever so slightly healthier alternative to the sticky toffee muffins they sell in the library cafe. They can be made at the weekend and kept in a Tupperware for a few days, long enough to see you through till Wednesday at least.
For twelve, you’ll need:
110g plain white flour
50g unsalted butter (cubed)
1 large red onion
1 tea spoon brown sugar
100g goats cheese
Start by sieving your flour into a mixing bowl and adding your butter. Rub your butter between your finger tips untill it looks like breadcrumbs. If you aren’t sure how to do this, Delia has a step by step guide. Mix your water in a dash at a time, until the mixture has come together in a ball and left the sides of the bowl ‘clean’. Pop you ball in a food bag or wrap in cling film and pop it in the fridge to have a rest for at least an hour.
While you pastry is resting, chop your onion into rings and melt your butter in a frying pan. Add the onions to the pan and give them a good stir. Leave on the lowest possible heat for ten minutes and then and the sugar and give it another stir.
Cover with a lid, if possible, and leave for at least forty five minutes.
When the pastry has finished resting, flour a work surface and rolling pin. If you haven’t got a rolling pin just use an empty wine bottle. Roll your pastry out until its about 5mm thick and cut put twelve circles big enough to fit your muffin tin, I haven’t got any pastry cutters at uni so I use a wine glass for this bit. True story. Pop your pastry circles in the wells of the tin and add a spoonful or so of the onions, which should be gloriously sweet by now. Go on, try some.
Add a little goats cheese and pop into the oven, which should be preheated to 190C/gas mark 5 for between twenty minutes and half an hour. When done, the pastry will be golden brown and the cheese melted.
Now, you can either exercise self control and let the tarts cool down, store them in a box, and wait to eat them. Or you could dig in straight away, adding a little balsamic vinegar, maybe eating off a plate with a fork (we aren’t animals). I know which option I’d choose.
Sunday, February 16th, 2014
Salmon and pesto are two of my favourite foods to combine for an easy supper. They’re both so simple and easy to work with that you’d struggle to go wrong, a huge bonus after a day spent in the library! Add brown rice and peas and you’re on to a winner.
When it comes to making pesto I go by sight and add ingredients a little at a time. As with eye make up, it’s a lot easier to add more than to take it away.
To serve 5 people, including my very hungry Dad and brother, I used:
5 salmon fillets
1 basil plant
About half a bag of pine nuts
Half a block of parmesan
I served it with brown rice and peas.
Start off by preparing your rice, just follow the instructions on the packet.
Next pop your grill on and put the salmon in to start cooking whilst you make your pesto.
Put the leaves of a basil plant into a blender and add a small handful of pine nuts, most of the grated Parmesan and a few glugs (technical term) of olive oil. Give it a good mix and taste, does it need more olive oil? Cheese? It’s up to you how strong you want the flavours. Just be careful not to eat too much at this point. A pesto hangover is a real and painful thing.
Take your salmon out of the grill and carefully spoon the pesto on top of the fillets, a little like this:
Pop back under the grill to finish cooking, until the pesto has darkened, and get on with cooking peas, draining rice etc.
You’ll know you fish is cooked when the pesto is a greenish brown on top.
Sunday, December 29th, 2013
Technically this is a brandy and prune bûche de Noël, I made it before Christmas but then I got so caught up in all the festivities that it completely slipped my mind to post it. Never mind, it’s also fabulous for New Year’s Eve celebrations.
To make one loaf (you’ll get about 12 servings), you need:
1 tin of prunes (get ones without stones in them)
175g plain chocolate
6 large eggs (separated)
175g golden caster sugar
4tbsp cocoa powder
25g icing sugar
Lustredust (Edible glitter! I know! How cool!)
Start off by rinsing all the juice/syrup of your prunes and dry them off with a bit of kitchen roll. Then pop them in a bowl or jam jar with a few slugs of brandy and cover to soak overnight.
Next morning grease and line a Swiss roll tin, melt your chocolate, and separate your eggs. When the chocolate is melted pop it to one side to cool down, you don’t want to mix it with your egg yolks yet as you’ll get a sort of chocolaty scrambled eggs…
Mix your egg yolks and sugar together and beat them until they’re smooth and pale.
When your chocolate is cool mix the two together.
In another bowl, beat your egg whites until they form soft peaks, and then ever so gently mix in your chocolate and egg mix.
Pour the mixture into your tin and bake for about 25 minutes. When it’s done it should be springy if you poke it.
Once it’s cooled down, cover with a damp tea towel and leave for at least two hours.
To make your filling and topping pop your mascarpone, icing sugar, and cocoa powder in a bowl and add a good few slugs of brandy.
Beat it really well, until you have an even colour. Spread half on your filling on what is going to be the inside of your roll and arrange the prunes evenly over it.
Next up is the tricky bit. Very carefully start rolling from one end to the other. This has never been my strength, but logs aren’t exactly perfect so don’t worry too much if yours cracks or goes a bit skewif…
Take the rest of your filling and spread it over your log. Use a fork to make some grooves in the icing.
Use some gold leaf and lustredust to decorate the top. If gold doesn’t take your fancy try something else. Go wild.
Personally, I like mine with a little cream or crème fraîche but it’s quite rich so you can have it with out anything.
Friday, December 13th, 2013
I’ve been writing an essay on the first part of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu for the last week. If you’ve never heard of it, watch this little clip from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, it sums it up about as well as I could (Warning: it’s a little bit rude, 70s humour) Unfortunately, every time I go to type À la recherche du temps perdu I end up typing À la recherche du pain perdu. Clearly, my subconscious is trying to tell me something.
Now, I am very well aware that pain perdu actually translates as toast but for some reason I always think it means bread and butter pudding, which can be very confusing in French restaurants!
I’d been craving some all day so when I left the library this evening I headed down to Waitrose to get some mincemeat for my mince pies and the bits I needed to make bread and butter pudding. Lets face it, bread and custard is the ultimate comfort food. I got back, put on my comfiest pyjamas and some super cozy socks that’d warmed up nicely on the radiator and got cracking.
To serve 6 – 8 people (or just you, I won’t tell), you need:
3/4 of a brioche loaf (normally I’d use a loaf that I’d made but deadlines and the need for comforting food fast meant that this idea went right out the window)
75g dark brown sugar
250g dried mixed fruit
400ml semi skimmed milk
200ml double cream
You’ll also need a medium sized tin, any will do – roasting tin, pasta bake tray, cake tin – or ramekins. I once had it served in a mug which really took the comfort to the next level, just be careful that you use oven safe mugs, not your parent’s wedding china or any heirlooms!
Preheat your oven to gas mark 4/180 degrees and melt you butter.
Then, coat the bottom of each slice of brioche with melted butter and, buttered side down, line the bottom of your tin.
Mix your fruit and sugar together and pour half over the layer of brioche.
Repeat the buttering of the brioche and laying it in the tin for a second time and then add the remaining sugar and fruit. Add a final layer of buttered brioche on top.
Now, beat your eggs and mix them with the milk and cream before pouring it over the brioche and fruit.
Pop it in the oven for around 40 minutes, when it’s done it’ll be golden brown on top and puffed up. Serve it straight away, with lashings of cream.