Thursday, November 23, 2006

Stir- up Sunday

This Sunday is Stir-up Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent in the Christian calendar. It is traditionally the day on which Christmas puddings are made, everyone giving the pudding a stir and making a wish.

The Christmas puds I remember from my childhood looked positively lacquered and sliced into sinister wedges of tarmac. The fruit was slickly dark; raisins, sultanas and dreadful little currants. There was a hot slap of flavourless alcohol mellowed with a good dollop of custard and the exhilarating danger of breaking a tooth on a sixpence. Thank god we only had it once a year.

Being a very modern family, at some point, in the Sixties I think, we decided that Christmas pud was for squares and it was superseded by something altogether lighter. Raspberry Pavlova was a favourite for a number of years.

Sometime in the seventies a vegetarian friend made a vegetarian pud, and it was delicious and memorable. And after that there were famous puddings from Fortnum & Mason’s, during our Designer Label years, and from M&S, during our Classic Supermarket years.

This year I realised, with some shame, that I had never actually made my own Christmas Pudding. Reading the recipes from the previous four decades I notice how currants have now gone completely out of favour (hurrah) and in their stead have come figs and dates and cranberries. The amount of stodge – flour, breadcrumbs, suet – has steadily reduced and vegetarian suet has made an appearance. Lighter, fruitier flavours have replaced the liquorice water taste of the past. Reading the new recipes I found myself salivating at the thought of a slice, maybe just a small slice, of homemade Christmas pud. Maybe some real brandy butter to go with it, maybe some clotted cream, just a little…

Most of what goes into a Christmas pudding is actually sitting around at the back of the cupboard – I had to purchase very little in the end. I think the experimentation is endless, various fruits, some suet, some flour, some alcohol.

These quantities are enough for one big pudding in a 3 pint basin, or two medium puddings in 1½ pint basins.

175g (6oz) sultanas
175g (6oz) raisins
100g (3½oz) ready-to-eat prunes, chopped
100g (3½oz) dates, chopped
75g (3oz) candied peel, chopped
4 pieces preserved ginger in syrup, chopped
150ml (5fl oz) amontillado sherry
125g (4½ oz) self-raising flour
125g (4½ oz) fresh white breadcrumbs
150g (5oz) shredded suet
150g (5oz) light brown muscovado sugar
1 x 100g pack blanched almonds, chopped
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp each ground cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg
Finely grated zest and juice of one orange
3 large eggs, well beaten
Little extra sherry or milk
Little soft butter, for greasing.
Pudding basins, baking parchment, kitchen foil, string

Put sultanas, raisins, prunes, dates, peel and ginger into a large bowl, add sherry, mix all together gently with your hands and leave overnight.

Next day, add remaining ingredients down to and including orange zest but not juice.
Mix, add juice and eggs and stir well, adding more sherry or milk to make an easy dropping consistency.
Stir pudding and make a wish.
Butter the basins and line base of each with a circle of parchment.
Spoon in mixture almost to top.

Cover with another big circle of parchment, then with kitchen foil pleated in the middle to allow for expansion.

Tie string securely round top of basin and make a handle for ease of lifting.

Steam in saucepan of just boiling water covered with foil for 4 hrs (5 hrs if one big pudding). Water should come half way up sides of basins. Add more boiling water from kettle if necessary. Do not let puddings boil dry.

Cool. Redo coverings with clean parchment and foil. Store in cool dark place.

To reheat, steam as before for another 3 – 3 ½ hours.

To serve, turn out on to warmed, heatproof plate. Flame with 2-3 tbsp warmed brandy per pudding.

This recipe is adapted from one in Sainsbury's Magazine November 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006


My mother tells a story of a friend of hers who offered to a young guest an oatcake topped with a portion of cheese. The cheese was consumed and the oatcake returned with the words

“That was very nice. And here’s yer wee bit of board back.”

I seem to eat a lot of oatcakes. They come wrapped up in little portable packets and they’re good for you. They should be incredibly easy to make too. But my previous attempts have been only partly successful. I think this is because the recipes I chose included flour in the ingredients. The more I thought about it the more I was inclined to discard the flour completely – along with the other alien ingredients I found in some recipes (what on earth is brown sugar doing in an oatcake recipe?).

There’s a good Health Food shop near me, small and insignificant, but it keeps a great range. From them I can buy three grades of oatmeal, fine, medium and coarse. I decided to try a combination of the three. I also decided to include some butter for flavour, along with lard, for shortness.

I’m really pleased with the result, and this is, more or less, what I’m going to be making from now on. They are crisp, with a good, slightly savoury, flavour.


250g oatmeal – a combination of coarse (1/3), medium (1/2), and a little fine (to fill in the gaps!)

Large pinch salt

¼ tsp baking powder

½ tbsp butter, melted with

½ tbsp lard

200ml recently boiled (ie hot) water in a jug

More fine oatmeal for dusting work surface


Preheat oven to 200ºC

Put dry ingredients in a bowl and stir to incorporate

Make a well and add butter/lard

Add enough of the hot water to make a stiff dough

Dust work surface with fine oatmeal

Roll out as thin as possible

Cut into rounds, or triangles

Bake on an ungreased baking sheet for about 15 minutes, until the edges are just turning brown. Do not let them cook until they are browning in the middle – they will taste overdone.

Cool on a wire rack.

If you can’t get the three different grades of oatmeal, use what you can get, or try some porridge oats (not instant). Just don’t use flour!

Sunday, November 19, 2006



Family cooking in four countries




To launch his first cookbook - Jake Tilson, artist,
designer and author, will spend a day

roving around his favorite culinary spots in

Manhattan. Join him for coffee, pancakes

or a beer somewhere on his route.

Jake plans to be sitting in his favorite booth

in Tribeca eating breakfast number one


33 Leonard Street, New York NY 10013
at West Broadway


A little while later he'll be tempted by kielbasa
in the East Village



144 2nd Avenue, New York NY 10003
at 9th Street


Then a bowl of soup on the East Side


1411 Third Avenue, New York NY 10028
between 80th and 81st Street


In the afternoon Jake will be eating cannoli in
the Garment District



488 Ninth Avenue, New York NY 10018
between 37th & 38th Street


By early evening he'll head towards a bar

nicknamed The Shark Bar for a Schaefer's from the tap
or a Bloody Mary


48 Spring Street, New York NY 10012
at the corner of Mulberry Street


Come and meet Jake at any
of these locations, see his cookbook and

have a chat.

Best wishes


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Wonderful loaf No 2

Just a postscript really, to all the loafposts. I tried it again today, using 2 cups of strong plain flour and 1 cup of coarse wholemeal.

Due to unforeseen circumstances the first rising was nearly 24 hrs, but the dough did not seem to come to any harm. The second rising was 2 hrs, but the dough was quite cold to start with and I think I should have given it longer.

But no harm done, and a very good loaf emerged from the casserole dish. The crust is not so thin as with the white flour, but crunchy and cracking even so.

Definitely the way forward.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Wonderful loaf!

On November 8 2006 the New York Times published a piece by Mark Bittman entitled The Secret of Great Bread: Let Time Do the Work. Within 24 hours the news had flashed around the blogosphere – a new loaf had been born.

Bittman’s piece – which I would have known nothing about as I don’t get the New York Times, had it not been for the wonderful Lindy at Toast – describes a breadmaking innovation that is nothing short of revolutionary for home bread bakers. Invented by Jim Lahey, of the Sullivan St Bakery in Manhattan, it consists of a very loose dough, containing a tiny amount of yeast, which is fermented over a period of twelve to eighteen hours, and then given another rising of two hours. Importantly, it is not kneaded at all in the first place, the ingredients are just incorporated together into a claggy stickiness. The yeast does all the work overnight. Then the dough is slapped about a couple of times and put to rise again.

Then comes the truly clever part.

Half an hour before you intend to bake, you put the oven on to heat to 220ºC. Into the oven goes a casserole with a lid, cast iron, Pyrex, ceramic or something heavy. When the bread is ready to bake you tip the dough (well, you practically pour it actually) into the dish, cover with the lid, and cook for half an hour. The dish acts as a little oven inside a bigger oven; the heat injects a whoosh into the dough; the lid stops it from drying out too soon. After half an hour you take the lid off and finish off the bread for another fifteen or twenty minutes.

It works! By god it works. With a minimum of effort you end up with a loaf with a creamy, holey crumb and a crackling crust.

I felt that my original dough was not quite claggy enough, so I did add a little more water. I think this is because I was a little cavalier with my cup measuring – maybe you should measure cups of flour level and mine were a bit heaped. And flour can be a bit capricious in its water absorbing capacity.

I worried a lot about whether I should smear a bit of oil around the hot dish, but in the end I didn’t, because it didn’t say anywhere I should. The loaf did not stick.

When it flipped out of the dish it was as light as a feather. It is wonderful to eat, will make great toast, and I simply cannot believe how easy it was. As someone has already said, listen up Le Creuset!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Gadget du jour

This little magic wand came from IKEA, cost less than £3, and is quite amazing. It works on two AA batteries in the handle, has a simple on/off switch, and packs quite a mighty whiz. Worth making a decent cup of hot chocolate for.

Luxury hot chocolate

3/4 cup milk (skimmed is fine)

3 big squares dark chocolate

1 tbsp cocoa

2 tsp sugar (or to taste)

1 tsp vanilla extract

Melt all together in a small saucepan, or in the microwave in a pyrex jug

If you use a saucepan, transfer contents to a jug, or a mug

Whiz with gadget

Enjoy. Mmmmmmm

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

On days like these…

Fog. Fog up the lanes and through the trees. Fog in the whiffling of the cows, fog muffling the sound of the bin men, fog dripping from the bushes and the gutters. Fog in the dips in the road, in the dazzle of car headlights, floating over the thin sun and drifting through the fields. Fog. In the diamonds of the grass and the sheen of the pavement, in the shudder of old shoulders and the shiver of bare bellies.

On days like these what we need is something rib-sticking to eat. Something easy and slow and succulent. Something to put in the oven and forget.

Slow Roasted Pork Belly

Nothing could be easier, or tastier.

You need about 1 kg of pork belly, skin scored

Preheat the oven to 160ºC

Dash 1 tbsp of oil into a roasting dish

Slice a couple of onions in half and put them, cut side down, in the dish, to act as a trivet for the meat.

Rub the pork belly skin with a little oil and sprinkle with salt.

Place pork on top of onions

Put some boiling water in the roasting dish to stop everything drying out

Roast slowly for three hours or more, checking from time to time to make sure the dish does not dry out.

Serve with baked potatoes and roast parsnips, which can also be done in the oven, and apple sauce.

The onions caramelise, the gravy makes itself (just skim off the fat at the last minute), the fat renders off and makes wonderful crackling, and you hardly need to stir from your place in front of the fire reading Bleak House, by Charles Dickens.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Harlequins (and Butternuts and Gems) for Fireworks Night

These are all squash, or squashes, (is the plural of squash squash or squashes?). My friend had a bunch of them sitting on her wall, catching the afternoon rays of the autumn sun. All of them are great to eat and I had a Harlequin squash. A good excuse to use my favourite new thing, my beanpot cazuela, brought back from Catalonia with care for its handmade fragility. And a good excuse to use the wild boar sausages from the market in Wells. It seems that wild boar are now roaming all over Somerset, having a fine old time, and eventually becoming excellent sausages. Mine came from Barrow Boar near Yeovil.

Steep 3 handfuls dried mixed beans overnight.

Preheat oven to 200ºC

½ Harlequin squash

Olive oil, sea salt

Line baking dish with tinfoil and dash in 1 tbsp oil

Cut squash into 3 pieces and remove seeds

Roll in oil and sprinkle with salt

Bake for about ½ hr until cooked through

Remove skin and dice flesh

Turn oven down to 180ºC

Into the beanpot go

Drained, steeped beans

1 tin chopped tomatoes, reduced in a frying pan with

2 tsp dried oregano, ground black pepper (no salt at this point)

Boiling water or stock to cover

Put pot in the oven for about 1 hr

4 wild boar sausages

1 tsp olive oil

Brown sausages in frying pan and add to bean pot

Add diced squash

Cook for a further hour, or until beans are tender.

Test for seasoning and add salt if necessary.

Good with a baked potato, a Catherine Wheel or a Roman Candle

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