Sunday, March 31, 2013

Avocado & Cream Cheese

When you feel the need for some healthy stuff on toast, try this for freshness and verve. Although it’s not exactly low-calorie, the cream cheese doesn’t have to be too thick and the avocado is full of good fats. Contrast the softness of these two with crunchy, toasted sourdough bread and biting snippets of jalape├▒os. Add a fresh note with basil or coriander leaves. I need a little salt and pepper too.

With another week of unseasonably cold weather in prospect, this classic combination delivers on cheesy comfort, chilli heat and a just hint of summer from the fresh, bright herbs.

We live in hope...

Friday, March 1, 2013

Poached Egg

What a treat! Harry’s mum kindly brought us half a dozen newly-laid eggs on Wednesday - two days ago. That colour isn’t made up: five brown and just one this extraordinary blue-green. So it’s my duty to poach this beauty.

There are many ways to poach eggs, it seems to me, and even more ways to worry about getting it wrong. Whirlpools, ice baths and poaching liquids are all frequently discussed in my cookery books. Since I’m usually hungrier than all that, I cheat and do mine in the microwave. Oh, be off with your collective gasp of horror. Instead, buy one of these and never look back.

Put a teaspoon of water into the bottom of each dish, gently break the egg on top and just pierce the yolk with the tip of a sharp knife. Our (ancient) microwave needs about 1 minute - plus or minus 10 seconds - at 500W to do two eggs. I start with 50 seconds. It takes longer to make the toast. But I can do the long way round too, which I suppose is only proper given the circumstances.

Put a shallow pan over a very low heat and fill with boiling water from the kettle. Add a drop or two of wine vinegar. Put the toast on. Drop the egg ever so gently into the barely simmering water. (Put it in a cup and slide it in if you have a tendency to shake.) While the egg cooks, grab a sheet of kitchen roll and fold into four. After a couple of minutes, when the egg white has come together but the yolk is still soft, scoop it out with a slotted spoon and rest the underside of the spoon on the kitchen towel a moment to absorb the excess water. Place lovingly on a slice of hot buttered toast and season to taste. And if you’re not a purist, be my guest and top the lot off with grated cheese.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Mushrooms On Sourdough

Steak and mushrooms were the two things my father showed me how to cook. He was also a dab hand at lobster thermidor, crema catalan and mashed potatoes with butter, eggs and onions. Slimming it ain’t. The key to bringing out the flavour of mushrooms, according to my dad, is speed. Find a saucepan with a lid. Set it on the heat and throw in a generous knob of butter. When it’s sizzling hot and even a little nutty, add the mushrooms, chopped or otherwise, bang on the lid and give them a good shake close over the heat for a couple of minutes. They should be done! Season with salt and pepper. It's failsafe for mushrooms on toast, omelettes or next to the bacon in an all-day breakfast.

In my version of events there are three kinds of fresh mushrooms: king oyster, oyster and chanterelle. Use a kitchen towel or soft brush to remove any dirt. Don’t wash them or they’ll steam and go soggy. Chop them up if you like but leave the small ones whole. These fellows ended up on toasted sourdough which added its signature tang to the meaty mushrooms. No need to butter the toast if you’ve been generous in the cooking. Pretty them up with parsley and’s a classic!

Monday, January 28, 2013


Snappily translated for the UK market (no ‘z’s here), “The Original Caramelised Biscuit Spread” is available for Speculoos addicts in Hampshire.

Frankly, it’s a disaster. I had been clean for over a year and my husband had never succumbed. Now, just ten days after noticing the familiar red and white packaging on a floor-level shelf in our local supermarket, I am once more in its thrall and he’s a goner. Biscuity, spicy and generally winter-good, it’s completely irresistible once the jar is opened.

Here we have lightly toasted raisin and hazelnut bread, baked for the purpose. But really, just slap your Speculoos on anything and get it over with. Then you can work on not buying it the next time. (My tip for these situations is trolley scooting: push hard, lean over the handle and let your feet leave the ground. Trust me, the fear that you’ll capsize will wholly divert your attention from any products you pass. Don’t wear a cape though, else you’ll look silly.) 

Only ten days
Still, the bread is safe enough. Here’s my breadmaker list of ingredients. It goes on a 4-hour basic white programme. I added cinnammon, nutmeg and a pinch of cloves to the flour. 

Raisin & Hazelnut Bread
¾ tsp dried yeast
300g strong white flour
100g strong wholemeal flour
1 tsp sugar
15g butter
1½ tbsp milk powder
1 tsp salt
1 medium egg
310ml water
50g chopped hazelnuts
75g raisins

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sardines & Pickles

Tinned sardines always remind me of a poem from A Book of Milliganimals by Spike Milligan. 

A baby Sardine
Saw her first submarine:
She was scared and watched through a peephole.

‘Oh, come, come, come,’
Said the Sardine’s mum,
‘It’s only a tinful of people.’

Aged nine, this formed the basis of my appreciation of poetry for some years to follow. Plus I loved his illustrations. Spike was (and still is) an institution. The epitaph on his gravestone, written in Gaelic, famously reads “I told you I was ill...”.  And since we’re doing food, here’s a sandwich sketch from a 1982 TV show. If you don’t think it’s funny, I’m sorry, I can’t help you. 

Here’s what you need: 100ml cider or wine vinegar, 2 tspns sugar, grind of salt, a juniper berry, a few peppercorns, a dried chilli, a bay leaf, fresh dill, a banana shallot (├ęchalion), tinned sardines in oil, brown bread

Make the pickle 30 minutes or more before you prepare the sardines. Put the vinegar, sugar, salt and all the spices except the dill in a small pan, bring to the boil, then turn off the heat. Finely slice the shallot into rings, arrange in a dish and pour over the vinegar mix. Chop the dill, keeping some pretty shoots for garnish, and add to the pickle. Leave to cool.

Slice the bread quite thickly and toast on both sides. Use a fork to lift the sardines out of the oil and arrange on the toast. Mash them a bit so they stay on. Spoon over some pickled shallots and sprinkle with some of the vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with dill shoots if you’re feeling pretty.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Fancy Cheese?

We’re expecting snow and that means comfort food. Cheese on toast is comfort food royalty when it’s made right. In this case, a thick slice of toasted breadmaker granary reclining under a soft quilt of cheese and egg.

Simpler and quicker than Welsh Rarebit, this recipe doesn’t need a roux. Plus there’s a surprise: not just cheese but cheese and onion; not just any old food royalty, but the king and queen of flavour combinations. It doesn’t get more comforting than this.

Here’s what you need: a thick slice from a large granary loaf, some strong cheddar (say 30g), a medium egg, Dijon mustard (a teaspoon), single cream (about a tablespoon), a spring onion.

Heat the grill. Sorry but a toaster won’t do. Separate the egg. Grate the cheese finely and add it to the yolk. Add the mustard and a grind of black pepper. Mix well, then loosen it a tad with some cream. You need a soft mix but not a slop. Chop the spring onion finely. Set the bread under the grill to toast normally on one side and only lightly on the other. Meanwhile, whisk the egg white until stiff. Make sure your grill is adjusted to take the height of your toast and topping. (I forgot and there was a toast crash). 

Now work fast. Gently fold the white into the yolk mix. Sprinkle the spring onion over the lightly toasted side of the bread then pile on the cheese mix, spreading it right to the edges. Get the lot under the grill and keep watch until it's puffed up and browned on the top - a few minutes. Serve with more pepper, a dash of Worcestershire Sauce and a mug of tea.

Cook’s note: some of you might like to add a scrape of Marmite to the toast right before the spring onion. I can’t see why not. Everyone knows cheese and Marmite are also not-so-distant royal cousins.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Mushrooms & Cranberries

This combination popped into my head as I peered into the fridge looking for ideas. It seemed a bit dodgy until I checked Google and discovered a vast universe of cranberry and mushroom recipes. Here’s mine.

Fresh cranberries are technically out of season so unless you have some left over from December buy frozen. Don’t use the dried fellows. This cooks in a jiffy and needs the berry juice. Use meaty mushrooms with a deep flavour.

I found some portabellini mushrooms - a novelty buy in Waitrose. They are smaller and more manageable than their sibling portabellos. Not long ago in the supermarket, I overheard a man calling them ‘cow pats’ to his kids. When I raised an eyebrow, he explained the logic: you find them in fields and they look like, well, you know... Fair enough.

Today’s toast is brioche. A calculated risk, but the theory was its sweetness would counteract the sharpness of the cranberries.

Here’s what you need: meaty field mushrooms, about the same weight of fresh cranberries (ie fewer cranberries than mushrooms), a sliver of garlic, a leaf of sage, a splash of port, a pinch of sugar, a little single cream, butter for frying, slices of brioche for toasting.

Finely chop the garlic and sage. Roughly chop the mushrooms. Heat the butter until foaming and add the garlic and sage, and then the mushrooms. As the mushrooms absorb the butter and the pan dries, add a splash of port and the cranberries. Let it bubble and reduce until all the cranberries have burst. Put your toast on.* Taste before adding a pinch of sugar to balance the acid cranberries. Add the cream to create a generous coating of sauce. Warm through, season and pile onto toasted brioche. Finish with chopped parsley.

*Don’t forget to turn your toaster down! Delicate brioche catches easily because of the sugar. I know because I burnt the first two slices. Doh.