An ordinary week

I wouldn’t want you to think that the life of a rural food writer is all restaurant openings, lunches with publishers, freebies from artisan suppliers and exotically complex four-star meals three times a day. Would you believe that absolutely none of that has happened to me this week? I know.

Saturday was a lovely day, completely given over to preparing for, throwing, and tidying up after our youngest child’s birthday party. It was endless rounds of sandwiches, little chipolata sausages and a couple of hundred tiny sausage rolls. Obviously, iced party rings, chocolate fingers and those lovely pink wafer biscuits too. The requested sandwiches were the Nigella-style marmite sandwiches; you smear the marmite into the butter creating a smooth beige homogenised paste. I don’t know why but they really do taste better that way. The sausage rolls have no secret magic touch to them, they’re just good sausage meat from the local butchers, and all-butter puff pastry from the supermarket chill-cabinet. Plenty of egg wash and a hot oven. The full recipe will be in my next book. The final few remaining leftover sausage rolls where re-heated for a tired dinnertime snack, Annie and I sat exhausted and merely dipped them straight into a nearly finished jar of wholegrain Dijon mustard. Just sufficient.

Sunday Lunch, and unusually we didn’t have my father in law here. I suggested we go out for lunch. One of the local Indian restaurants had been highly recommended by a friend. They do a buffet Sunday lunch, so I thought we’d take the children. The food was lovely, and just as you’d expect – all the Friday night favourites were there. The problem was, I have become so used to cooking a roast for Sunday lunch that even an excellent chicken tikka just seems wrong, at that time of the week. The life-long weekly metronomic expectations of gravy and roast potatoes can’t be stopped by one splendid buffet.

Purple sprouting broccoli has reappeared in the veg box. The first night I just pulled the really big green leaves off and threw them into some leftover thick vegetable soup. It had been left alone, gathering flavour in the fridge for a couple of days. I served it with some excellent bread, just toasted and rubbed with raw garlic.

Annie asked if I could please use the rest of the purple sprouting broccoli in one of her favourite pasta sauces. It gets quickly boiled until it’s on the soft side of tender, and then chopped and added to almost too much garlic and a dried chilli that have been gently sweating in good olive oil. The broccoli then continues to cook in the garlic and oil as you put some spaghetti on the boil. When everything is nearly ready just add a few anchovies to the broccoli and a splash of the pasta water. Drain the pasta, add to the sauce (by now almost a mush), check for seasoning and serve on warm plates. No parmesan is needed – instead grate some very stale bread over the top or make coarse breadcrumbs and swirl a little more of the good olive oil over and around the food.

My truly terrible discovery this week (and I almost kept this to myself – oh, the shame of it) is that crumbled up Oreo cookies are even nicer than crumbled up Bourbon biscuits when thrown on top of vanilla ice-cream. Just a dash of fresh cream helps lightens everything, or more traditionally go with a couple of splurts from a chocolate-gloop squeezy-bottle.

Sandwiches, sausage rolls, curry for lunch, vegetable soup, broccoli and pasta and the dubious delights of cookies and ice-cream. All in all, a very ordinary week.

Catillac Pears in Eve’s pudding

Pear sponge pudding

I was lucky enough to get hold of a couple of monstrously big cooking pears this week. The variety was Catillac – also known sometimes as Pound Pears. Each pear can weigh a pound, I weighed the heavier of the two – 1lb 1oz. Amazing.

They’re cooking pears, and like the Royal Worcester variety cannot be eaten raw. If you don’t have cooking pears, use any of the commonly available eating varieties – just skip past the poaching bit, and get straight on with the baking.

This is really a variation on Eve’s pudding. As you might guess from the name, that version has apples in it.

Serves four, maybe six
For poaching the pears – One big Catillac pear, or two or three smaller eaters. A tablespoon of sugar.
For the sponge – 100g butter, 50g caster sugar, 2 eggs, Vanilla (either the scraping from a pod or a little splash of vanilla extract), 100g self-raising flour.

Start by peeling and quartering the pears. Remove the cores and trim the ends. Cut each piece in half lengthwise (this gives you eight big pieces in total). Then put them in a saucepan with just enough water to cover. Add the sugar and gently poach until just tender when prodded with a skewer. Drain and allow the pears to go cold.

Meanwhile make the sponge topping by creaming the butter and sugar until pale, then mix in the eggs one at a time. Stir in the vanilla, then fold in the flour.

Use a favourite pudding dish, ideally one that will take the pears slices comfortably in a single layer. Lay the pear pieces in the bottom of the dish and cover with the sponge topping.

Bake in a medium-hot oven for about thirty minutes or until the top possesses a gentle golden glow and the sponge is firm in the middle. Perhaps sprinkle a little extra caster sugar on top. Serve warm, not hot, with custard.

Variation: I made this recently in a cake tin, then turned it out and let it go cold. I dusted the top with icing sugar and served it with whipped cream.

Roast Squash on Pasta

The squash that Phil delivered last week became a pasta sauce. It was a Crown Prince variety, green skinned, and with deep orange flesh. For two of us, I used half the squash. The other half was devoured by the children, just plain roast in wedges with some sausages and mash.

Halve the squash and remove the seeds with a spoon. You could peel the squash now, or leave it until the pieces have cooked. Either / or, you choose. Put the pieces on a roasting tray with plenty of unpeeled garlic cloves and half a dozen Thyme twigs. A quick glug of olive oil will stop anything from sticking too badly. Roast in a hot oven until the squash has softened and the garlic smells ready.

If you haven’t previously peeled the squash, do it now. I used a spoon – it’s not the least bit difficult. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook your favourite pasta. The other night we had spaghetti – a big flatter shape would also hold this sauce well. Put the squash pieces in a bowl, and squeeze the garlic out of the skins. Rub the thyme leaves from the stalks. Try hard not to break up the squash any more than you need to, this will all happen as you start dressing the pasta. I mixed a little crème fraiche into the garlic and then folded that into the squash. Taste, season, perhaps a squeeze of lemon, maybe a shake ofTabasco.

When the pasta is ready return it to the pan with a splash of cooking water and the sauce, fold carefully together to try and avoid mashing the delicate squash.

 Serve it up on some warm plates, with a quick swish of olive oil over the top. Perhaps some grated parmesan too. I happen to think that crumbled amoretti biscuits are perfect on top of this. Try it, it’s a revelation. But beware they go soft very quickly, so you may want to be a bit precious about it and serve the crumbled biscuits separately at the table. Just add enough to your plate for a few mouthfuls at a time. It’s a bit affected and on the borderline of being a chore, but it really is worth it.

New blogs on Fridays from now on

It’s regular updates from now on.

A friend who knows about these things has persuaded me that regular updates are the best way forward for this site.

Whilst I’m spending much of my time now cooking, testing, eating and writing recipes for my next book, that isn’t going to cover the more ordinary everyday food that we all eat. Now, the vast majority of the vegetables my family eat come from Phil Mizen (known to my children only as Saladman – pronounced as a super-hero like Superman or Spiderman). And I’m expecting that the majority of my blogging, and especially the recipes will reflect the weekly bounty that he brings to our door every Friday.

This week, we have a magnificent squash (crown prince variety), a tight head of January cabbage, along with the usual winter roots of beets, carrots, parsnips, potatoes with muddy onions and fat bulbs of garlic making up the rest. He had the decency to look a little apologetic for a particularly big bag of sprouts – no matter my son loves them.

So have a look next Friday to see what I’ve done with this lot, and with luck other interesting things will be happening too.

Phil Mizen is at and on twitter under the same name.

Cookbooks vs youtube

A friend came round just after Christmas with his wife and children – a chance to tidy up the last of the turkey, exchange little presents, that sort of thing. We got chatting about food, and he told me about how just recently his sixteen year old son had wanted some custard of an evening – apparently he is quite a fan of Bird’s Custard Powder (who isn’t). They had run out, and the shops were all closed, so he decided to make it himself, from eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla. Now I have to admit I thought this was turning into one of those stories, that goes “so we pulled out your book Five Fat Hens, read through the recipe and cooked the best custard ever.” I assure you all food-writers live for such moments.

“So,” he continued “we just went into the kitchen with his iphone, looked up a recipe-demo for custard on YouTube and got on with it.” I tried not to let my bottom lip start trembling, I may have just got away with it, just. I’m not sure. I asked the son if it had been better than Bird’s?

“Yes it was,” but he thought it “quite a hassle”. Would he make it again?

“Yes.” Now he’d done it once he knew the recipe right? “Well, err, no – but no problem – I’ll just look it up on YouTube next time I need it.”

And that is the problem. If I read something in a book, then it gets stuck in my mind – I don’t know how, but it does. If I see it on the television, YouTube, telephone, whatever, then I don’t really remember it. It is no more a long-term memory than the recipes I saw some telly-chef knocking-up last year.

Books; they’re good to learn stuff from.

New Year – New Blog

My new year’s resolutions:
Don’t keep putting things off (like starting this blog).
Cook everything that The Saladman brings (he delivers a weekly veg-box every Friday).
Other than that, it’s just the usual guff about restraint, compassion, helpfulness and other such niceties.

At the end of last year my publisher, Anne at Grub Street, cajoled and persuaded me to take up twittering. I honestly believe that the contract for my second book landing on my doormat shortly after my first twitterings was an unrelated matter – purely coincidental timing. Anyway, it turns out I didn’t need to be afraid of twitter, and I even enjoy it, on most occasions. Twitter is quite a busy forum for foodwriters so I’m feeling right at home there. I’ll get a link and a feed to my twitterings up on this site as soon as I can figure out the techie stuff.

The other person in my professional life is Juliet. We’ve started a little fledgling TV production company together. She wants me to “blog and build a web-presence”. I’ll have to look that up. Our plan is simply to make some brilliant TV shows. Inevitably these’ll have an emphasis on food, and there’s already a couple of things in the “pre-production” stage. I will be in some of the shows. It’s very exciting. We’re also taking a micro-crew to Budapest at the end of January to film some showreel footage and do some rehearsals. I expect bits of that will get posted on here in time.

Whilst food writing is necessarily autobiographical (how can I possibly write about food and recipes if I haven’t experienced, cooked and eaten it all myself first), I’m not terribly comfortable writing about myself in a broader sense. So by way of an introduction, here is the blurb from the back of my first book Five Fat Hens, I haven’t changed a word, which explains the slightly out of place (on a blog) use of third person narrative:

Tim Halket was born in Bromsgrove in 1967. Aged ten his family moved to Cambridge. He left school at sixteen with few formal qualifications and worked for a while as a draughtsman. He met his future wife, Annie, on his seventeenth birthday. In his early twenties he opened an art gallery in Cambridge, later enrolling at the Architectural Association to study Architecture. He has spent his recent years as a full-time house-husband and fits his writing in around his children’s needs. Throughout his life food has remained a constant comfort and he continues to write about food, whether it is for his local parish magazine or his next book. Any spare time is spent with his family and friends or trying to keep his old sportscars on the road. He lives in Suffolk with his wife and three children. He cooks for them everyday.

So plenty to do, and it will get done eventually. Recipes, food issues, video clips and general ramblings – all regularly updated. So please keep coming back, or sign up for automatic notifications (just as soon as I’ve figured that bit out).