JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Friday, October 30, 2009

High fructose corn syrup: A recipe for hypertension

Confirming what we already know: anything with corn syrup is likely to be bad for us. That's most manufactured food then ... from Coca Cola right through to basic bread. Not just type 2 diabetes, but also high blood pressure.

High fructose corn syrup: A recipe for hypertension

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sticky ginger loaf

It's hard to believe that a simple two-egg cake could be so full of flavours and richness. I've been wanting to make gingerbread for ages, but have lost my cousin Rosemary's recipe - it's her signature piece. Sadly, she's too ancient to bake these days, and wasn't too sure about the recipe when I asked her a few weeks ago. So, time to try something new.

This one's from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's new book, Every Day, and it's good. Really good. Is-two-slices-enough?-good. Even if you think you don't like ginger, or black treacle. AND it keeps well.

Sticky ginger loaf

75g butter
150g dark muscovado sugar
150g black treacle
150g golden syrup
75g rum
2 medium eggs
225g self-raising flour
1 tsp mixed spice
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
75g preserved ginger, chopped

Prepare a large bread tin. Heat the oven to 180C.

Melt the butter, sugar, treacle and syrup. Add the rum and beaten eggs. Sift in the flour and spices. Beat until smooth, then add the chopped ginger. Pour into the tin and bake for 50 minutes. Leave in the tin to cool.

If you like, you can brush the cold cake with a little syrup from the preserve jar.

PS Another time, I'd put in more preserved ginger. And I'd be happy to substitute the rum for ginger wine. It's just that I've got a bottle of rum no-one drinks that was old when my mother--in-law gave it to me, half empty, nearly 25 years ago.

PPS This would be good for cricket teas: one would be enough to make half slices for both teams. Great for a cold day at the start of the season.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Best and worst cereals

This post is really for my children, who insist on eating salted/sugared packet cereals at breakfast.

Here are links to research originated at Yale: a list of the 10 most nutritionally empty commercial cereals, the 10 best manufactured cereals, and the 10 cereals most marketed to children. Some of the names are slightly different in the UK, but they're still recognisable.

Last night there was a programme I didn't see about the lack of value - both nutritional and financial - in manufactured cereals. I would provide a link to 4 on Demand, but Channel Four is showing the programme again in the early hours of Friday morning, so here's a link to the programme website: Dispatches, What's in Your Breakfast?

Better stick to porridge.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Keith Floyd's Lapin aux pruneaux (Sauté of wild rabbit with prunes and Armagnac)

Okay, so this is homage to Keith Floyd. Actually, it's straightforward French regional cooking, but when I think of Floyd, I think of fish and France. Whatever, it was utterly delicious.

In the 70s, my husband, an unlikely restaurateur, came back from Harvard Business School and started what he hoped would be a small chain of American hamburger joints (in the days when hamburger was, in Britain, synonymous with Wimpy, as that's all there was). Right around the corner from his restaurant at 2 The Mall, Clifton (there used to be peurile jokes on the fascia, viz, to them all, omnibus) was a wildly successful student dive run by a wildly flamboyant cook called Keith. The kitchen was more or less two rings at the back, there was plenty of cheap food and loads of booze. Keith was running his restaurant for the cooking and the craic, and not making much money. So he sold the restaurant to a couple who thought that they could do better: they'd clean it up, enlarge the kitchen, squeeze a few more tables into the basement ... and the crowd moved on, and it closed down.

In the 80s, newly married, I saw those first episodes of Floyd on Fish when they were broadcast in the West country, before he went national. Our telly was a tiny black and white affair, not very well tuned (I don't suppose we had an aerial on our roof, but our house on the cliff at Totterdown towered above Brunel's elegant curved railway station which must have helped). Despite these visual handicaps, it was easy to see that here was something different - the table set on the deck of that trawler, the huge wine glasses, the enthusiasm, the music, especially the music. You really couldn't imagine, say, Delia, using a theme tune by The Stranglers.

All in all, not difficult to join Julia from A Slice of Cherry Pie and James from Back to the Chopping Board to pay tribute to someone who brought so much fun to the kitchen.

This traditional French way with rabbit is delicious ... and I was very amused to find on the Keith Floyd website that the details are not well worked out - the recipe published there is actually two jammed together, which meant that a certain amount of extemporising was necessary. I stuck with the original title, but I could have gone the other way, ditched the prunes, armagnac and cream in favour of white wine and tomatoes. Next time. Cheers, Keith.

Wild rabbit with prunes and Armagnac

If you don't like rabbit, this is good with chicken. But if you haven't tried rabbit, DO give it a go - so long as it is wild rabbit, not farmed, which has a tendency to taste of fish, whilst being flabby ... none of the virtues. Wild rabbit, on the other hand, has had a good life, is tasty (much tastier than even the priciest chicken), firm, and very very cheap.

  • Rabbit – jointed
  • Stoned prunes
  • Finely diced shallots
  • Finely crushed garlic
  • Diced bacon
  • Peeled small onions or shallots
  • Chicken stock
  • Armagnac or brandy
  • Thyme
  • Oil for frying
  • Flour for dusting
  • Salt/pepper
  • Butter for frying
  • Parsley
  • Butter
  • Double cream
You might like little round onions for this, in which case peel them. Otherwise chop a large onion and sweat it in a little oil with the diced bacon. When they're nearly done, add a little chopped garlic. Do this in a heavy-based casserole. Meanwhile, dust the rabbit joints with seasoned flour (you could put a little mustard powder in for extra depth of flavour), and brown them in butter and oil in a frying pan. When they are done, add Armagnac to the pan - if you are Keith, you flame it; if you are me, you can't get the liquor to light (but it doesn't really matter). Chuck all this into the casserole, with prunes (soaked, if necessary) and chopped thyme. Pour in a little chicken stock. (Would it be boasting to say that I used grouse stock? I thought it was a suitably flamboyant touch, in view of my failure with the flambéing.)

Simmer for 40 minutes. When it's done, add a splash of cream. Mmm

Related posts

Prune and armagnac tart

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Deborah Madison's sorrel and lentil soup

This is the early-morning view from my kitchen window .. not surprising that we're no longer eating much salad, and that I'm thinking of braising vegetables and making soups.

I'd never heard of the American food writer Deborah Madison until my sister (who is now an American) gave me Local Flavours, a celebration of farmers' markets. Even then, I didn't twig that it's a vegetarian book (I'm still not sure whether DM herself is a veggie). Whatever, she's got serious style.

Two links, the first to Deborah Madison's potluck dinner - the best tableware, Julia Child boeuf bourgignon, fabulous bread, pears poached in wine and gilded with gold leaf, a grape galette, good wine ... and then, as if all that wasn't enough, with half an hour to go, DM thought she'd make an amuse-bouche of sorrel and lentil soup, which is the second link (although the quick I'm-doing-this-at-the-last-minute method is probably the one to go for, assuming you have a pressure cooker, which I no longer do).

Local Flavours is a good read, although I've never followed any of the recipes, because it's all in imperial measurements and cups, which is tricky for a European metric cook. I am, however, seriously tempted by the braised root veg with black lentils and red wine sauce ... it's one of those dishes that takes most of the day, although not much input from the cook. And now that I look at the detail, there's not a cup in sight. No excuses, then.

If you're not sure what sorrel is, here's a link to a post I wrote a couple of years ago about growing and cooking with sorrel

Friday, October 16, 2009

Digestive biscuits

Cricket club committee meeting last night. Three-hour marathon (yes, I know you'd think 22 people just turn up for a game of cricket, but, believe me, a lot goes on that most of the 22 haven't begun to get to grips with). I took homemade digestives and someone asked for the recipe. It's from Hugh FW's new book, Every Day, and it's the first thing I've tried.

Two things: the instructions say to chill the paste before rolling out, but it's much more malleable when it's warm, so I think I'd leave this step out another time, perhaps chilling it after cutting the biscuits. ALSO it's best to make fairly small biscuits, as they are very short and crumbly.

These are good on their own (with a cup of tea) or with cheese. But I think I'd make half the quantity another time, this is a lot of digestives.

Digestive biscuits

250g wholemeal flour
250g butter cut into cubes
250g medium oatmeal
110g soft brown sugar
pinch of salt
2 tsp baking powder
about 1 tbsp milk

Pulse the flour and butter to breadcrumbs, then add all the other dry ingredients. Add the milk drop by drop, you really only want as much as will bring the paste together. Press it into a disc (perhaps put it into the fridge for half an hour), and roll out thin. You'll need to dust it with flour, as it's very sticky. Cut into small rounds.

Put on a baking sheet (they can go close together because they don't spread at all) and bake for around 10 minutes at 180C. You should check them after about 7-8 minutes, as they burn fast, and will be ready much sooner if they are thin. Cool on a wire rack.

They're good, but the oatcakes I made the other day are cheaper, simpler to make, and don't have so much fat. Although I suppose they'd improve by being dipped in a little chocolate.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Roast grouse with bread sauce

Last week, looking at the butcher's display, I realised I have never cooked grouse. Now, it will be hard to resist ... delicious, an easy treat ... but, of course, ruinously expensive. Cheaper than a restaurant, and much much nicer - I've been off restaurants for years*, really. It began, I think, when I saw Gordon Ramsay making something on telly with a slice of processed "bread" from a plastic bag. How do you earn Michelin stars if you don't know anything about bread? The prejudice was confirmed at the gastropub where my daughter worked all last year - fabulous food, except that it was all always thoroughly oversalted.

Buying two young grouse was the easy part. How to cook them? I thought Lady Maclean's Cookbook would be a good place to start, but she and her upper crust Highland friends all assumed you knew how to roast a grouse, and were full of suggestions for what to do when you'd got fed up and wanted a change: grouse salad, anyone? perhaps a little devilled grouse? So I read everything Hugh FW wrote in Meat, and then followed the cooking (but not preparation) instructions given by Norman Tebbit in his wonderful new The Game Cook.

Of course, if you're eating game birds, then you've got to have bread sauce, which is a doddle providing you have proper white bread on hand. You just peel a shallot or two (or an onion), put it in some milk with a couple of cloves and some bay leaves, heat it up a little and leave it to steep. You do this early in the day. When it's nearly dinner time, you strain the milk and chuck in your white breadcrumbs, let them expand, then check the seasoning. Another of those things which is not much more difficult than the processed equivalent, yet 100x better.

As for the grouse, it roasts quickly with a minimum of fuss. I cooked ours during the first half of the England match, and we ate it at half time - well, actually, we missed a bit of the second half. And when the match was over, we had a little cheese with the last of the oatcakes I made the other day.

Roast grouse

one grouse per person
one apple per grouse
streaky bacon
a slice of good white bread per bird
paté de foie gras (in the absence of grouse livers)
wine and stock for the gravy

Heat the oven to 190C.

Cut the apples and put them into the grouse. Cover the birds with streaky bacon (stretch it first on the back of your knife; it will crisp quicker). Roast on a rack in a tin, if possible. After 20-25 minutes, take off the bacon, then return the birds to the oven for 10 minutes to brown. Let them stand for 10 minutes before eating.

While they are standing, fry the bread in hot oil, and spread with the foie gras or fried grouse livers (we were not lucky enough to get any giblets with our birds). At the same time, make gravy with some fortified wine and good stock - I used some homemade trotter gear, which makes everything it touches silky smooth and flavoursome.

Serve with redcurrant jelly, watercress or steamed cabbage, and some little roasted potatoes. On hot plates. Make sure to save the bones for stock. That's today's task.

*I'll make an exception for Leon, where the food is always exactly what you want, and Pizza Express, Alfred's favourite; both serving proper food at decent prices. But that's lunch, not dinner. Actually, I'm not really that bah humbug, I enjoy a meal out as much as the next cook. It's just that I think we mostly do rather better at home. And definitely last night.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Last night I made oatcakes. Easy peasy. Delicious. Far cheaper to bake at home (also no plastics or other wrapping). I'm ashamed it's taken me so long, and that the impetus was laziness: it was easier to make them than to go out and buy some.


250g rolled oats
a pinch of bicarb
a pinch of salt
1 tbsp butter
very hot water

Begin by making oatmeal from the rolled oats; blitz them in a food processor until they are coarse or fine crumbs, depending on the texture you are aiming for in the finished biscuits.

Tip them into a big bowl. Add the salt and bicarb, then stir in the melted butter (you could use olive oil). Add the water very slowly - you want as little as possible, just enough to make the oats stick together. I'd be surprised if I used more than 100ml.

Gather the oats up into a ball, then roll them out as thin as you can. Either stamp them into little rounds, or make traditional farls* by cutting a large circle into six.

Put the cakes onto a baking sheet and bake in a hot oven (200c) for 15-20 minutes. Watch them carefully towards the end; you want them just beginning to turn brown at the edges. I baked mine in the wood oven; the temperature was rising from 180 to 210 while they were in, and they took 18 minutes. I suspect they are pretty forgiving.

* I've just discovered that farl comes from Viking for 1/4, but these days farls of oatcake and shortbread are cut into six rather than four.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Potato and mushroom gratin

Here's an interesting twist to breathe new life into an old favourite ... a little white wine in a milky potato gratin. Gives the sweetness of the milk a sophisticated twist. Nigella's idea, unsurprisingly. Here's my version:

Potato and mushroom gratin

1kg thinly sliced floury potatoes
500 ml milk
100 ml white wine
a large handful of dried mushrooms
garlic, butter and oil

Turn the oven on to 200C.

Soak the mushrooms in a little boiling water. Put the sliced potatoes, milk and wine in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Melt a little butter with some oil in a frying pan. Finely chop a couple of cloves of garlic and add them to the pan. Drain the mushrooms (you can add the water to the potatoes if you like) and mix into the garlicky buttery oily mess. Keep on a very gentle heat for a few minutes, stopping before the garlic browns. Mix the mushrooms in with the potatoes, turn everything out into an oiled gratin dish and bake in a hot oven for 45-60 minutes.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Easy almond ring cake

This cake is based on one of Nigella's cheating recipes, using shop-bought marzipan as one of the main ingredients. I started by making the marzipan, which probably added about two minutes to the total time spent in the kitchen.

I'm taking it to give my hostess (and best friend) when we go out to dinner this evening, but I really made it to comfort myself with familiar kitchen rituals after a couple of pretty grim weeks. And it's worked.

Damp almond ring cake

250g softened butter
250g softened marzipan
150g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
6 duck eggs
150g self-raising flour

Preheat the oven to 170C. Blitz the butter, marzipan and sugar. When they are smoothly mixed, add the vanilla essence, and then the eggs, one by one. Mix in the flour. Pour into a buttered 25cm ring mould. Bake for 40-50 minutes.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Bread sculpture on the 4th plinth

This has to be the best hour on the fourth plinth this summer ... an Anthony Gormley sculpture made of BREAD, which everyone ate in St James's Park when time was up. Fabulous!

PS these are my favourite pictures of the Angel of the North

Thursday, October 08, 2009


We've been lighting the occasional fire for a couple of weeks, but it's only in the last two days that we've kept the stove in overnight. Those wisps of smoke are a welcoming sight on the way back from a cold early morning trip to the station ... a warm kitchen (our house has no central heating), a hearth ready to bake.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Spiced peaches (or prunes)

I recently made this delicious preserve with peaches ... I'm posting it now so that I don't forget, and because it can also be made with prunes for a winter alternative. It's from Picnics for Motorists published by Hilda Leyel in 1936.

We ate something pretty similar with ham at my goddaughter's wonderful 21st birthday party in Somerset at midsummer.

Spiced peaches

6-7 peaches (500g soaked prunes)
200g soft brown sugar
250 ml water
75 ml red wine vinegar
a stick of cinnamon
six cloves
four allspice
two blades of mace
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Cook everything together gently. When the fruit is tender, strain it into sterilized jars using a slotted spoon. Boil the syrup for 4-5 minutes until it has thickened slightly. Pour over the fruit. Seal and label the jars.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Blue Orpingtons

We went to the ploughing match yesterday, where it was the old-fashioned ploughing that caught our attention:

We met friends, we tried on waxed jackets and sturdy boots, Lucius bought a pair of telescopic loppers. And I bought two blue Orpington hens in the poultry auction. They are very nervous at the moment, and only come out when it's raining. I'll post better pictures when they've settled down. (I fear I'm going to turn into the poultry equivalnt of a mad cat blogger.)

Related links:

First outing for our buff Orpington chicks

Sunday, October 04, 2009

St John caraway seed cake

I wish I could blog the eggy buttery smell in my kitchen since I took this cake out of the oven. Here's the recipe, so you can make it yourself - one to have and one to share. It's Fergus Henderson; this version once appeared in the Telegraph cookery section, and is not quite the same as the seed cake in Beyond Nose to Tail.

St John caraway seed cake

250g butter
250g caster sugar
5 eggs
350g self-raising flour
2 tsp caraway seeds
120-150ml milk

Preheat the oven to 170C. Line two loaf tins with paper (I use ready-made liners, which saves a lot of Blue Peter project work).

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and beat until smooth. Sift in the flour, add the caraway seeds and stir until everything is well mixed and the seeds evenly distributed. Then add milk. In this recipe, FH says add "a splash", but this doesn't make the required pouring consistency for the batter. The recipe in Beyond Nose to Tail Eating has similar proportions and calls for 150ml of milk - more than a splash. You'll have to feel your way. I put in three splashes, probably about 90ml, which was not enough for a dropping consistency, although the finished cake is fine.

Pour the batter into the tins and bake for 40-45 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Open season for pheasant

Today is the first day of the pheasant season. In anticipation of joys to come, I'm reading Norman Tebbit's The Game Cook. There's lots of basic information for people who've never cooked game, but also some new ideas for ways to cook pheasant. It'll be a week or so before there are any pheasant fit to eat, and then I'll be forced to choose: Highland pheasant (with haggis and a slug of whisky), pheasant with beetroot, potato and parsnip (quite a few of my personal favourites in one dish), with red cabbage, with apples and cream? But we'll probably start the season with pheasant and pigs' trotters ... an inspired idea for overcoming the dry leanness of pheasant.

In the mean time, the pheasants that live round here seem to know life's a little trickier today than it was yesterday: it's the first day for months that I haven't seen a single pheasant. I won't see many in the garden or on the roads round here until February. It happens every year, and I always find myself wondering if they have some sort of Jungian collective memory ...