Rocky Road with the children

I don’t really do baking. Strange how, when the rest of the food-writing world is embracing their inner Mary Berry, I turn my back on it all. I can bake, obviously, it’s just that I don’t really enjoy it.

My elder daughter has been doing some after school cookery lessons this term. Of course, they can’t do actual cooking, so it’s focused on measuring and mixing and then bringing the cold doughy lump, or biscuits on a baking tray home to be baked that evening. Fair enough, I try to reason. Although the matter makes me furious – I’m not going to get into the politics and problems of teaching cooking at school. Cooking is now something we must teach children our at home, just like table manners.

The rocky road that she made at school was good, but I thought the biscuits had been over crushed, and she left the cherries out (“but daddy, I don’t like cherries”), so I had a go at making some myself. It is surprisingly nice, but a bit in-your-face sweet with all those marshmallows and cherries in there. Following that success, I made some tiffin, much the same idea, melted chocolate with butter and golden syrup, and biscuits for crunch, but this time partnered with finely chopped dried figs and toasted hazelnuts. To make tiffin just follow the melting and biscuit bits given below and then simply add as many figs and hazelnuts as you care for. You won’t go wrong.

If you where to have a Miss Marple style afternoon tea, you might feel a tad silly serving up rocky road, with all its obvious American sweetness. But, a little piece of tiffin with tea following a small cucumber sandwich, would be spot on.

125g unsalted butter
250g good dark chocolate – the 70% cocoa-solids stuff
3 tbsp golden syrup
250g digestive biscuits
100g small marshmallows
200g glace cherries

Warm the butter, syrup and broken chocolate in a non stick pan gently over a low heat. I’ve found that once you’re using golden syrup and butter you can almost throw caution to the wind and abandon the double boiler. My daughter told me they used a microwave at school – I didn’t understand what she was talking about.

Whilst that is melting put a few spots of oil into a 10×8 inch baking tray. Spread that around and then cover with cling film. The oil will simply keep the cling film in place.

Break the biscuits up in a bowl. It is important not to crush the biscuits, you don’t want crumbs. Pour about three quarters of the melted chocolate into the biscuits and stir gently to combine. Add the marshmallows and the cherries, stir again. Tip all this into the cling lined baking tray and smooth down with a spatula. Finally pour the remaining chocolate over the top and again, try to smooth it down.

It will need a couple of hours in the fridge, before being turned out, cling film removed, and cut into little pieces with a big sharp knife. I think two or three bites per piece.

Soif, Battersea Rise

Yesterday I had lunch with my publisher, Anne Dolamore, and my producer, Juliet Baird. We went to Soif, on Battersea Rise in South London.

We ordered three starters to share. Lardo was as you’d expect; many little slithers of salted back fat, laid out on a marble board. They were less salty than you’d normally find, and completely without any of those herbs on the surface that easily overpower the delicate cured-fat. Rillette was a starter sized for two people. It was expertly made but at the restaurant end of the swing-o-meter. I prefer my rillettes a little more homely, slightly rough round the edges, a bit more rustic. Anne’s a regular and had previously eaten the pork terrine. She recommended it. Apparently it used to be presented in its entirety for you to help yourself to as much as you wanted. There was the briefest moment of disappointment when it arrived as a perfectly generous single portion. They’d correctly guessed our appetites.

I had a pork chop for my main course – when was the last time you saw one on a restaurant menu? It was served with one of those thin oily green herb sauces spotted over the top, the chicest pork chop I’ve ever seen. It was cooked only just on the pink side of normal – that takes some skill to get right. Anne ate the black pudding and squid – back on the menu by popular demand. A big thick slice of soft boudin style sausage with grilled rectangles of squid and a few tentacles sitting on top. It was well sourced and perfectly cooked. But like its upmarket cousin –  black pudding and scallops –  I’m never certain that this combination achieves more than the sum of its parts.  Juliet had a “perfectly good” braised beef and red cabbage.

I alone had a pud, which I happily shared with the others – a beautifully made slice of caramel mouse, that cleverly avoided being too sweet. Anne had a little piece of cheese, Juliet an espresso. 

With one glass of red it was eighty quid. Anne and I lingered awhile, ordering a couple more coffees, which generously came on the house.

Soif, 27 Battersea Rise, London SW11  0207 223 1112

An appetite for Goulash

Just got back yesterday from a couple of nights inBudapest. What a place!

I went to shoot a little film about Goulash, trying to find the essence of the dish, to find out how they cook it. It often happens that an English-language cookbook version of a meal will be wildly different from any authentic local version. And I certainly found this to be true. Without giving anything away, I promise you that the six bowls I was filmed eating, were significantly different. Similar, obviously, but clearly different to varying degrees.

I had three different bowls of Goulash in the morning – breakfast, elevenses and ten-twenty-fives, all upstairs at the Central Market. There’s a row of little food stalls all selling simple, brilliant, inexpensive food. You take your bowl of soup and sit perched at a bar on a stool overlooking the market. Lunch was goulash in a tiny neighbourhood restaurant, crowded with local pensioners getting an inexpensive hot meal, or working-men eating huge platefuls of stewed meat, cabbage and potatoes. Tea-time, and I was the scruffy odd-one-out eating goulash in The New York Café; an utterly extravagant froth of renaissance and baroque gilded plasterwork with marble columns and floors. Cherubs frolicked across the ceiling as I ate. Dinner was Goulash at the director’s favouriteBudapesthangout – The Calgary Bar. It’s a tiny place, the walls crammed with objects and curios. Viky, the owner, former model and reputed beauty-queen, had made the goulash herself. Just as we were about to start filming, a piano player she had arranged walked in. Completely unexpected by us, and straight out of a casting director’s dream, he played everything we asked for – from Hungarian Folk to Tom Jones. It’s just that kind of place.

I haven’t got a recipe for goulash yet. I went with the intention of trying out as many as I could in one day. Seeing what I could learn from them, glean some little special details, taste them, and form an opinion. Looking back now, they all had something to teach me. That’s how good food-writing starts, I hope. I’ll begin cooking and writing early next week, assuming I have the appetite for another bowlful by then.