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

Saturday, November 28, 2009


I'd forgotten, til I made it in front of an audience of about 200 at the NEC on Thursday, how easy it is to make custard. If you use a double boiler, which takes longer, you don't have to stand and stir continuously.

As custard is the unctuous basis of many a good pud - trifle (which is what I'm making today), ice creams - it's worth taking a little trouble. And not much point in using cornflour: eggs will thicken the custard without the kind of help food manufacturers resort to.

Here, I'm following Fergus Henderson's recipe (from Nose to Tail 2), which has too much sugar for my taste - I'd halve it, unless it was going to be the basis of an ice.

The main problem with making your own custard is the amount of washing up it generates, even if you double up. A couple of saucepans, endless bowls, wooden spoons - and now I'm reminded why so many sieves hang in my kitchen.


450ml milk (you could use cream if you wanted)
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla essence
85g sugar

Heat the milk and vanilla essence. Beat the eggs and sugar and strain into a large bowl. When the milk is almost at boiling point, strain it into the egg mixture, stirring vigorously to prevent the mixture from curdling. Now put the bowl over a pan of boiling water. At this point, you can let it alone to a considerable extent; it will need only the occasional whisk.

When it's as thick as you'd like, cool it by pouring it into a bowl.

Friday, November 27, 2009

V easy trifle

Masterclass with Thomasina Miers yesterday. Lovely thrown together prune and armangac layers. Making it again for dinner tomorrow, so more detail soon. Fun at BBC food show.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

My larder

Narrow shelves in a cool corridor ... see everything at a glance.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Alice Waters' Brussels sprouts

I love this new take on Brussels sprouts ... Alice Waters' new recipe in time for Thanksgiving. We don't just save sprouts for Xmas eating, so I'll be giving it a try in the next few days.

Monday, November 23, 2009

CWF's report, Eating the Planet?

As usual, commonsense from Joanna Blythman, this time on the meat vs vegetarian argument.

The absurd last-century idea that eating limitless piles of cheap, low-grade meat and dairy was some sort of democratic entitlement needs to be looked upon as an aberration in world history. We have to reverse the meat-and-two veg expectations of the last half-century. A correction is long overdue. Eating lower down the food chain and making the bulk of our diets more herbivorous and plant-centric is definitely where it’s at.
The full article appeared in The Herald last week. Here's a link to the Compassion in World Farming report Eating the Planet? There's a 20-page summary, as well as the 134-page full monty.

Time to up the meat-free days here ... but there's nothing harder than changing old habits.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wholemeal apple & almond cake

Delicious, with a hint of cinnamon. Eat warm from the oven as pud, or cold for breakfast/elevenses. Much nicer than the appley-cinnamony pastry I had in Selfridge's yesterday. There's a strong taste of almonds, even though they're cut 50:50 with flour (so economical).

It's from Hugh FW's new book, Every Day; he made it with pears on his show last week (you may need to be in the UK for this link to work).

Apple and almond cake

150g butter
125g caster sugar
2 eggs
75g wholemeal self-raising flour
75g ground almonds

for the apples

4-5 eating apples
25g butter
1 heaped tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

20cm springform cake tin
pre-heat the oven to 170C

Peel and core the apples, cut them into wedges and fry gently in the butter and sugar. When they are nearly tender, add the cinnamon and take off the heat.

Beat the butter and sugar together; add the eggs, then the flour, then the almonds. Scrape into the tin, smooth over, arrange the apples on top, spoon over the juices from the frying pan.

Bake for 40-45 minutes (until a skewer comes out clean). Leave for a while before unclipping the tin (although this is probably going to fall apart anyway).

* I made it on the spur of the moment to use up some apples that had been sitting around for a few days; there were six, not quite too many.
* I had only 140g butter in total; the apples were fine in 10g, and the cake was fine with 130g. So no need for the full 175g.
* My cake is a little stodgy ("but good stodgy", said Amy) because I used plain wholemeal and forget to put in baking powder.
* The apples sit nicely on top of this cake, but when HFW made it with pears, they sank down almost to the bottom.

Related posts

Apple tart - Alfred once ate half of this at one go
Hugh FW's wonderful ginger cake
Easy almond ring cake - another pudding-y cake, better served with a little fruit

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kerry LowLow cheese, a review

Have you seen the ad where the mouse escapes from hundreds of traps protecting a slice of cheese on toast? Well, Kerry, the makers of LowLow, sent me some to try.

As the name suggests, it's low fat cheese; all they say is that it's made with semi-skimmed milk. I'm not a great fan of diet foods: in general I'd rather buy proper food. We don't eat much cheese, so when we do, I like it to be really good - brie made with unpastereurised milk, perhaps, Stichelton, or a piece of Mary Quickes' cheddar. So this was a departure for us.

It wasn't as bad as we feared. We all thought it was too waxy to be much good for eating, but pretty good and strong for cooking. Eleanor, who has more experience of low-fat cheeses, said that it was the best she'd tasted. I found it hard to get past the waxiness, but it's certainly flavourful, and so good for cooking.

We grated it into baked potatoes; good. We used it to brown the bechamel topping on a meaty lasagne; good. Last night I put the last of it into a white sauce (together with a little Philadelphia left from a boys' midnight feast) for cauliflower cheese - seriously rich and creamy.

Would I buy it again? Probably, although I wish I knew a little more about how they make it, and why it's got that waxiness I associate with poor quality mousetrap (unfortunate association of ideas in the ad!). But it melts well, makes a creamy well-flavoured sauce, with a little less calorie guilt.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bread sauce

Partridge for dinner last night. Roasted for 20 minutes at 220C. Could have done with a minute or two more, I think. Slightly disappointing, we both thought, just a little too like chicken to be worth bothering with. But it was red legged partridge, which is not so tasty as the native grey partridge.

I'm posting my method for making bread sauce because Lettice rang up from university last week to ask how to make it, after failing to find it on the blog. The really important thing is to have decent bread. Proper bread, preferably a loaf you made yourself. Anything that comes in a plastic bag will almost certainly not make decent breadcrumbs.

You hear people say they can't be bothered with bread sauce because it doesn't taste of much; I think they've probably only ever had packet bread sauce. For years I didn't bother, which I now rather regret, as it adds good texture to any bird. It's a good way to use up stale bread (important if you make your own, when there's no question of throwing any away), AND it's one of those thrifty dishes that stretches the meat further .... another way to eat less meat &/or save a little money. All the virtues. Especially if you bake a loaf first.

Bread sauce

I do it all by eye. It's very forgiving: if you get it wrong, you can correct it with more milk or breadcrumbs. It's also easy, so long as it's the first thing you prepare; it doesn't require much input from the cook, but it does need time to develop into something worth eating.

You'll need

milk (it doesn't have to be full-fat; I often use skimmed if that's what there is)
good breadcrumbs

Peel an onion or two (I used a couple of shallots yesterday). I generally cut them into chunks and leave them in the finished sauce, but this is not what refined cooks do. Pour milk into a saucepan (say, 5-600ml). Add the onions, a couple of cloves (stick them into the onion if you're going to fish it all out at the end), and grate a little nutmeg into the pan. A bay leaf would be good, too.

Heat the milk, but do not let it boil. Leave to steep for at least half an hour. Then add breadcrumbs (best if they're not blitzed to dust; a few bigger bits add texture). Somewhere between three and five slices is probably about right for up to 600ml of milk; they'll swell up as they absorb the flavoured milk, so leave a little spare milk in the mix. Better to be adding more crumbs at the end than milk, as any liquid you add will dilute the taste.

When you're ready to eat, reheat the sauce, adding more milk or breadcrumbs if necessary. Taste it, too, although you're unlikely to need to salt it, as bread is high in sodium.

Related posts

Roast grouse with bread sauce

Other things to do with stale or leftover bread

Herb stuffing for roast chicken
Grilled trout with rosemary stuffing
Baked scallops
Anchovy toasts

Lots of easy ways to bake your own bread, even though you're busy

Daily bread
Daily bread 2

Six seed rolls
Bread knots - another simple way to make beautiful and delicious rolls, using this dough, or your default dough

Yeast starter for bread - and the bread
make your own sourdough starter

No-knead bread the famous NY Times recipe
Speeded-up no-knead bread and a different take on it

Yoghurt bread fabulous, easy, TRY IT
Quick oat loaf
Spelt bread - it's getting easier to buy this highly-flavoured flour

Anti-oxidant tea bread - I made this for my husband for a pre-surgery boost - delicious, too!

Yeast conversion - fresh/dried/quick

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Little cheesy biscuits

These are seriously more-ish, so I've made them very small to avoid over-doing it. The recipe appears in various guises in virtually every recipe book that has a chapter on party food. I'm making them tonight for a community party on Saturday evening; there won't be another opportunity to make my plate of nibbles. These also have the advantage of being quick and easy.

You'll need equal quantities of:

  • strong cheese
  • white flour
  • butter (at room temperature)
plus a little cayenne pepper, and whatever you decide to decorate the biscuits with ... fennel seeds, chopped pistachio nuts, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, etc etc

I used 100g each of cheese, flour and butter, and used a mixture of parmesan and cheddar. Put all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until a ball is formed. Roll the dough into a sausage and refridgerate for at least half an hour (you don't need to wrap it unless you're making this well ahead).

Slice the sausage to about the thickness of a £1 coin and place on a non-stick baking sheet (no need to grease). They don't spread much, so can be quite close. Decorate (or not). I used a few fennel seeds. Another time I might roll the whole sausage in poppy seeds before slicing.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for about 10 minutes. (My fan oven was set at 175C and they took 12 minutes.)

Cool on a rack. These can be made a couple of days ahead and put in an airtight box.

Supreme de poulet aux morilles

Last night's dinner was supreme de poulet aux morilles. Except that it wasn't, because there were "only" porcini in the larder. And although I was notionally following the recipe in Raymond Blanc's A Taste of My Life, I don't think he'd have given me the keys to a restaurant, because I couldn't help but disobey some of his orders.

The recipes in A Taste of My Life are fully explained; on top of that there are notes giving details of the science, the art, the prejudices of cheffing. Enough to intrigue.

Well, this was good, but we both agreed the sauce would have been better poured over a little pork. Lucius thought it should become part of my standard repertoire. That good. Also pretty simple, shorn of some of M Blanc's strictures.

I did, however, follow this guidance (given again and again): I like to boil wine before adding it to the dish. It intensifies the desirable flavours and removes the alcohol, which can leave an unpleasant flavour in the mouth. If you over-reduce the wine, however, you will lose the freshness and acidity.

Chicken breast with porcini & manzanilla sauce

30g dried porcini, soaked in 150g hot water
4 chicken breasts
a little butter
120g button mushrooms
120ml manzanilla, reduced a little
double cream (RB says 400ml, but I didn't use even half that)

Soak the mushrooms for as long as you can. RB says at least six hours for morels, but porcini rehydrate in less than half an hour. At the same time, bring the sherry to the boil in a small pan, and keep on the heat for a couple of minutes.

Brown the chicken on both sides in the butter - RB says two minutes each side. Put the meat onto a plate while you make the sauce in the same pan. Add the sliced fresh mushrooms and the drained porcini. After a few minutes, add the soaking water and the manzanilla, stir, then add the cream. Put the chicken breasts into the pan, cover and cook. RB says that 180g breasts will take six minutes; although I didn't weigh the chicken, I found this timing spot on.

Plate the chicken, then reduce the sauce a little further.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Trina's beetroot burgers

I'm not sure why I chose the beetroot burgers. It wasn't as if there were beetroots rotting at the bottom of my veg box; I had to go out specially to buy them.

And then I didn't have the courage of my convictions: I felt embarrassed at serving beetroot burgers, and it's taken me so long to write about it that I've forgotten what else was on the plate.

But they were delicious. Really delicious. Both of us ate more. Something to add to the collection of good things to eat on a vegetarian night.

The recipe comes from The Nordic Diet by Trina Hahnemann, a riposte to the prevailing notion that only Italian/Mediterranean food is healthy - loads of seasonal dishes for northern Europeans to eat well through the winter without air-freighting summer foods from the southern hemisphere. (Also interesting summer dishes, but that's for another season.)

So, slow-growing grains - oats, rye, barley, spelt - mingle with cold water fish such as mackerel, herring, haddock; and an entirely new take on the kinds of vegetables schools once made a point of overcooking and then forcing down the throats of reluctant pupils. (At my primary school, we weren't allowed to leave the table until we'd eaten everything: I never went to lessons on Friday afternoon, because I couldn't manage the slice of Edam; my friend DD was done down by beetroot on Wednesdays; and Elsie McA never went to school at all in the afternoons.) Also modern ideas for cooking game which I'll be exploring.

Beetroot burgers
for 2

300g grated raw beetroot
50g oatmeal
2 small eggs (or 1 large egg)
1 shallott, finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped dill
1 tbsp chopped parsley
a little oil for frying

Mix the ingredients in a large bowl and set aside for an hour.

Heat the oven to 180C.

Squeeze together flat cakes of the mixture (or make one big cake, that's certainly what I'll do next time). Fry on both sides until golden, then transfer to an ovenproof dish and bake for 20 minutes.

Trina serves this with a barley salad (cooked grains mixed with chopped celery and parsley dressed with vinaigrette). I think we had boiled potato and a green salad.

The Nordic Diet by Trina Hahnemann is due out in January, £12.99. Published by Quadrille Books, to whom thanks for the advance copy.

Related posts

Beetroot salad

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Oatcakes 2

These are the oatcakes I've been making recently; crunchier, shorter than the ones I posted the other day. I'm about to make them with a little parmesan grated into the mix, so that we can eat them before dinner (actually, it will be with a glass of wine in the interval of Turandot at the cinema).

300g oatmeal (just blitz some porridge oats if you don't have oatmeal)
seeds - I generally use sunflower, and there are more every time I make these
75ml olive oil
a pinch of salt
black pepper

Mix everything together, gather it into a ball, then roll out as thin as you can. Mine are always notable for being uneven, which means you choose thick or thin to go with your cheese. Cut them into shapes. You can keep on gathering up the mixture until it's all shaped.

Bake at 180C for 15 minutes on each side. Cool on a rack.

Related links

The clear message from these previous posts is that oatcakes are far far nicer if you don't use any water.

Oatcakes I made years ago and then forgot about

Dahlias for 2010

This is Sarah Raven's list of new dahlias to look out for next season; I've torn the page out of today's Telegraph, but I'd rather the paper was in the bin and the information somewhere I can be sure of finding it.

Blacks, crimsons and deep reds

D4 - a decorative group, small black dahlia which has not yet been named
Karma Choc - waterlily, 2-3ft, Winchester Growers had it at Chelsea
Tamburo - semi-cactus, half the size of Chat Noir
Tahoma Moonshot - orchid, star-shaped (note to self: not as beautiful as the red star-shaped dahlia in the fruit cage which came from Ayletts)
Spartacus - large-flowered decorative, a little like Thomas Edison
McAllisters Pride - cactus, gold heart and crimson red petals

Purples and magenta

Purple Haze - decorative
Jocondo - giant decorative

Pinks and corals

Classic Rosamunde - classic group, semi-double, looks like a Japanese anemone. SR says it was covered in bees when she saw it at de Boschhoeve (note to self, my favourite of the dahlias illustrated)
Sugar Diamond - cactus, smokey antiqu pink, SR says would be good mixed with a bright pink eg Geerlings Jubilee
Juliet - single, similar to Magenta Star which you can only get at the moment as a rooted cutting (and which did well here last year). Pretty, single flowers which contrast with black foliage


Happy Halloween - decorative. Robust, floriferous, "the perfect orange dahlia"
Olympic Fire - bishop. Similar to Bishop of Oxford, but better - dk foliage contrasts with semi-double burnt orange flowers (there's a photo, and it's a must-have for next year)
City of Rotterdam - cactus. Compact, 20" Covered in spiky orange "sea urchin" flowers. Good for pots
Scura - topmix. V small, flowers the size of a £2 coin. Graceful, elegant, good in a pot.

Some of these are in a Telegraph special offer as rooted cuttings. Otherwise in spring from Sarah Raven and from Winchester Growers, the national collection holder just outside Penzance.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Mincemeat with quince instead of apples

Five huge quince from the Italian deli: time for a serious look through the recipe books for some ideas. My grandmother Buzz made quince jam every year, and her manuscript book - parts of which date back to the 19th century - is still my best source of inspiration on all things quince. Their scent takes me back to her kitchen in Oxford, to the enamelled kitchen table where she taught me how to bake.

Two have gone into the Christmas mincemeat instead of apple; one's flavouring some cheap brandy; the last two are going to be membrillo by the end of the day, and the peelings will be boiled up into a syrup*. When all that's done, I'm going straight back to the deli for some more, before the fleeting season ends. (And, no, I'm not going to tell you the name of the deli, in case you get there first. Sorry.)

I don't make many individual mince pies (too fiddly, wrong ratio of pastry to mincemeat), but a standard December pud here is an open mincemeat tart, sometimes using filo pastry, sometimes lovely egg-rich flaky. I've often bought the best mincemeat I could find, and added a little orange zest and a drizzle of brandy. Not this year. Easy peasy, you just need time for all that chopping. And a big sharp knife.

Mincemeat with quince ... or what Nigella calls quincemeat

for 3-4 big jars

Peel, core and chunk 1kg quince - that's two huge shop-bought ones, but would probably be six or seven of the smaller ones I grow in the garden (when I can get a crop). Toss them in a little almond oil (or melted butter?) and bake in a low oven for up to an hour until they're soft.

Meanwhile, chop 850g of mixed dried fruit - I used big fat muscat raisins, golden sultanas, a few Turkish apricots and a box of Italian crystalised lemon and lime peels. Put these in a large bowl with 250g muscovado sugar, 4 teaspoons of the best mixed spice you can find (I used The Spice Shop's Christmas mixture, which is FABULOUS all year round), and 100ml of spirit. Brandy would be the usual thing here, but I've got some home made eau de vie de coing, aka quince vodka & so I used that. Add 250g shredded suet (I forgot to ask the butcher, so I used a box of Atora; don't use the vegetable sort, it's the margarine of suets).

When the quince is both tender and cool, chop it finely and add to the bowl. Mix well and bottle. Leave at least a couple of weeks to let the flavours develop.

When it's time to make mince pies, I'll add a little grated orange zest, and perhaps some more spirit.

PS don't throw away the peelings, they will scent a *syrup made with equal quantities of water and caster sugar boiled down to half its volume. If I was really thrifty, I'd do this with orange peelings, too (there are never any lemon peels here, as I always find some use for the zest). For glazes, to sweeten tea, etc etc.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Pepper honey

Who would have thought that pepper boiled up with a little sugar, water and lemon juice could be so delicious or so useful? 20 minutes to make my latest larder must-have. And that's including time to find a jar for it.

This concoction has 101 uses: lunch was a slice of gorgonzola drizzled with this peppery nectar; the pork I'm cooking for dinner will be glazed with it. Kate Hill, whose recipe this was, says it's good stirred into mint tea - so that's this afternoon sorted.

Pepper honey

Put two handsful of peppercorns into a pan with 200cl of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes. Strain and set aside the peppers. Add 500g sugar to the water, also the juice and zest of a lemon. Bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes. Add the peppercorns and simmer for a further five minutes. Taste and bottle.

Related posts

Valvona and Crolla's gorgonzola with honey

Nigella's sticky pears with gorgonzola

Other larder recipes to make now

Spiced apricot and orange chutney
Quince liqueur
Chilli jam - I'm afraid this is such a staple in this house that I make it at any time of year if I've used up the summer batches
Preserved lemons
Christmas chutney
Home-made vanilla extract
Sticky sloe vodka - there's just time, if you can find sloes before the birds