Kobacha squash soup


I made a lasagne the other night. All exactly as you’d expect, but instead of minced beef, I used some roughly diced kobacha squash. Everything else – by the book. The lasagne was fabulous, but there was some of the stewed squash left over. I put it in the fridge – you never know.

Today, staring into the fridge, wondering about lunch, I pulled it out, blitzed it with a whiz-stick, warmed it though and poured it in a bowl. A lick of cream on top and a piece of toast on the side. A perfect lonely lunch.

Nothing spectacular, nothing out of the ordinary – just good honest home cooking.

Donkey Sauce Recipe


Donkey Sauce – it’s been in the news lately. A potent name, certainly memorable. It simply tastes like a nice rustic version of Alioli, that’s lost it’s overly aggressive pungent punch. The garlic is mellowed by roasting, or a quick confit in olive oil as I’ve done here. Use it with almost anything that comes off the grill. Especially good on hamburgers.
Mine is a slightly mellower Euro-zone version of Guy’s. I use wholegrain Dijon mustard, he suggests “regular yellow mustard”, by which he means the mild American stuff, not English.

Make some mayonnaise by beating one egg yolk gently with a whisk as you add a slow drip, drip, drip of good olive oil. Add to this several crushed cloves of soft confit or slow roast garlic, finally season generously with wholegrain mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper.

Here I’ve made a sandwich for lunch with hand cut ham hock, a slice of tongue, some leaves and a slathering of Donkey Sauce.

New York Times review, www.nytimes.com/2012/11/14/dining/reviews/restaurant-review-guys-american-kitchen-bar-in-times-square.html

Guy Fieri’s original Donkey Sauce recipe, www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/guy-fieri/straight-up-with-a-pig-patty-burger-recipe/index.html

Rocky Road crunch bar


I’m always trying to persuade my children that a proper apple crumble or steamed pudding is the thing to have for Sunday lunch. But it falls on deaf ears – when I ask them what they’d like me to cook, they unanimously scream Rocky Road. It’s their current crush. It’ll pass.

It’s a generic well-published recipe, with very few real variations. But, the top-tip I got from the Nigella Lawson recipe is to use rich tea biscuits. Most food writers suggest digestives, which are perfectly fine, but they’re not quite as crunchy and can become a bit too crumbly. I also like cherries in mine, my children do not – so instead of mixing them in, I dot them across one end (my end) before applying the final smothering of chocolate.

100g rich tea biscuits

100g little marshmallows

100g glace cherries

120g unsalted butter

3 tablespoons golden syrup

300g top-quality dark chocolate (aim for 70% cocoa solids)

Drip a little oil into the bottom of a shallow baking tray (mine is 12×8 inches and just 1 inch deep). Then cover with a large piece of cling film. The oil is there to get the cling to stick to the bottom, just a little, so it doesn’t slip about.

In a mixing bowl quickly break up the biscuits; the ideal texture is mostly shards, nothing bigger than a quarter of a biscuit, and not too many crumbs. Add the marshmallows and cherries, and mix it up a bit.

In a small non-stick pan gently melt together the butter, golden syrup and chocolate. Keep stirring it regularly with a plastic spatula. Once that has all melted, pour three quarters of the chocolate over the biscuit rubble and mix thoroughly. At first you’ll think there’s insufficient chocolate, but persevere and keep mixing – it’ll be fine.

Tip the chocolate coated rubble into the baking tray and smooth it down as best you can with the back of the spatula. Now pour the remaining chocolate over the top. Tidy up the top again. Place it, uncovered, in a fridge for a few hours, or overnight.

To serve, simply lift the whole thing out and cut into mean little slices (it is incredibly rich). Dust with a sprinkling of icing sugar or cocoa powder, if you like. Eat it as a cake with a coffee-shop sized cappuccino, or dress it up for pudding with ice cream, or crème fraiche, or perhaps some squirty cream.


Moules Mariniere


This particular batch of mussels was a bit barnacly. They needed cleaning; use the side of your potato peeler, it doesn’t take long. Honor took this photo below, as I was cleaning them.

For four people as a main course you will need two or even three kilos of mussels – a bit less as a starter. I doubt that you’d really want to cook this for more than four; you’d need a really big catering sized pan and a gas burner capable of getting it hot.

Finely chop two medium onions and crush a couple of cloves of garlic. Soften these gently (and completely) over a low heat with plenty of butter. Add just one good glass of dry white wine and bring it up to a ferocious boil with the burner on its highest available heat. Tip the cleaned mussels into the pan and put a tight fitting lid on top. Every minute or so remove the lid and quickly stir the mussels, or give them  a really good tossing-shake. You will find the ones at the bottom cooking more quickly – so mix them up a bit. They should take no more than two or three minutes, but are certainly done when the majority of the shells have opened and you can see the pale orange mussels inside. They will quickly overcook, so err towards speediness.

Using a slotted spoon take the mussels from the pan and dish them up into big deep soup bowls. It may seem a daunting number, but remember, the bit you eat is actually very small.

Now add a scant glass of double cream to the cooking sauce left in the pot. Taste it, and add a little lemon juice, salt and pepper. Keeping the heat on high bring it quickly up to the boil. As quickly as possible, ladle a little of this thin white broth over the mussels, using a sieve if you have a fear of any grit making it onto your plate. Pour the rest into a gravy jug, for pouring and slurping later.

I’d normally look for thick slices of crusty bread cut from one of those handmade, white loaves – but most recently had only soft white baps to hand. They were an amazingly good pairing. Either/or will be necessary for mopping up the soupy sauce at the bottom of the bowl.

Pink Sauce


It’s impossible to imagine eating a pint-of-prawns, or a crab sandwich without pink sauce. Classic cooks will call it Sauce Marie-Rose, and make the mayo from scratch and tit around with the seasonings. Either way, if it’s cold cooked shellfish this sauce is the one to have.

You need a big squeeze or a spoonful of mayonnaise – buy the full-fat version for the best flavour – make the mayo if you must. Add to that a much smaller squeeze of Salad Cream (about 1:4). This is important, it adds a little vinegar-sharpness to the finished sauce. If you don’t want it, you’ll need a few tiny splashes of vinegar or maybe a squeeze of lemon – some people favour Worcestershire sauce and a few drops ofTabasco. Add a half-shot of brandy if you like. Finally, you finish the sauce by stirring in a little slap of ketchup. Just enough to get it pink.

This really is a brilliant little sauce, easy to make and as unpretentious as a prawn cocktail.

When you have Lemons


“When life serves you Lemons, make Lemonade,” they say. Which is fine in the summer, but a completely useless piece of advice on a late autumn day with the weather closing in quicker that the nights.

Sussex Pond Pudding is the answer. Simply one of the best steamed suet puddings, and a little more grown than spotted-dick, or jam roly poly, on account of the whole lemon in the middle. Sooo sophisticated.

There’s a fabulous sauce that rolls out of the otherwise fairly plain suet pastry – it’s lemon, sugar and butter that forms the most gloriously sharp caramel. But be sure to cut it carefully, everyone will want a slice, with their fair share of lemon. As for the pips – some lemons have them, others don’t, there’s just no way of knowing – you’ll just have to wait and see what life has dealt you.

Sussex Pond Pudding, Serves 4-6

175g self raising flour

70g suet - fresh grated beef suet or something like Atora

A dash of milk

70g cold diced butter

70g caster sugar

1 whole lemon

Mix together the flour, suet, a big pinch of salt, and the dash of milk. You will need sufficient milk to form a dough, don’t make it too wet though.

Smear a little butter on the inside of a pudding basin, one that takes about 2 pints is ideal. Then throw a little caster sugar in and swirl it around to stick to the butter. Next get three quarters of the dough into the basin; typically food-writers will instruct you to roll it out, but I find that spooning it in, then persuading it up the sides to form a suet bowl is quite sufficient. Put half the butter, and half the sugar into the suet lined bowl. Roll the lemon back and forth on the worktop, leaning rather heavily on it, to bruise and loosen the juice inside. Now prick the lemon all over – many times – with a skewer or the tip of a sharp pointy knife. Twist the blade a little to open up the holes. Put the lemon in the basin, add the remaining butter and sugar and then finish the assembly with the remaining dough mix.

Cover the pudding with the basin lid (some have them) or a buttered sheet of tin-foil with a box-pleat folded into it (the pudding will expand a little). Conventional wisdom would now have you tie the top in place with a piece of string and knit a little handle from the tail ends. All nonsense. You need only secure the foil lid in place with several run-arounds the outside with a roll of sellotape or masking tape.

The pudding will need to steam for three or four hours. Maintain a gentle panful of steam by using a low heat and a tight fitting lid. Check it occasionally, topping up as necessary.

To serve remove it with oven gloves, cut the foil lid off, and turn it out onto a plate. Then cut into fair sized portions. Custard is the correct accompaniment, and all the better made with custard powder for this.


Quickly pickled Quinces


Ingredients – 400ml cider vinegar, 200g caster sugar, 5 or 6 small quinces and a few juniper berries and black peppercorns if you like them.

In a saucepan, bring the vinegar, sugar, and spices up to a simmer. Peel and core the quinces and cut them vertically into four or six (as you would a pear). Simmer them for at least fifteen minutes, certainly until they just yield to a skewer. Lift the quinces out and pack them neatly into sterilized jars then cover with the vinegar and spices.

Steak and chips with Maite d’Hotel butter.

There’s nothing particularly amazing about a bloke cooking himself a steak and chips as a lonely writer’s Friday lunch. This lunch, though, is all about the butter.

It’s a good steak – ribeye today – cooked in one of those ribbed pans. A minute or two on each side until it’s done as you like it, served with a couple of handfuls of oven chips. In our house, the children favour those “American style chips”, skinny chips we call them.

What peps this up is the butter. I normally make a little tarragon butter and add crushed garlic, shakes of Tabasco, something sharp (lemon or vinegar) and plenty of salt and pepper. But today with the tarragon in the garden having gone a big leggy, I picked a small bunch of curly parsley. A niggling voice in my head said – woah, try something different.

It was one of those rare moments of clarity, I pulled out Larouse. Maitre d’Hotel butter. It’s good to cook something classic every now and then. Find a book, look it up, and stick to the recipe. I’ve so long been doing that tarragon butter thing that I had all but forgotten how fabulously simple this parsley butter is.

I was going to write the recipe for the butter in my own words, but it seemed more appropriate to offer you the original Larouse version, so here it is, verbatim:

BEURRE À LA MAÎTRE D’HÔTEL – Mix ¾ cup (200grams) of fresh butter with 1½ tablespoons of chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon (6 grams) of fine salt, a small pinch of freshly ground pepper and a dash of lemon juice and stir with a spoon until it forms a smooth paste.

Once you’ve made it, wrap it up like a sausage with clingfilm and put it in the fridge to firm up. Whilst you’re cooking the steak, take the butter out of the fridge, unwrap it and cut a decent slice from the middle. Place it on top of the steak. Watch it slowly melt as you eat.

The leftover (there will be plenty from the quantity above!) can be kept in the fridge for a few days. It also freezes remarkably well.

One last quick thing, I suggest you rub your steaks with a wee-splash of dark soy sauce before frying or grilling them. It does great things for the flavour.

Trouble with my Bramley Apple Tree, and a couple of easy recipes

photo: Arthur Turner apples on a tree in my garden.

I like apples, but I love apple trees. As a child I had a favourite climbing tree – it was, of course, a huge apple tree. My sister preferred the pear tree right next to it. We’d scramble up our trees and throw fruit at each other.

As an adult I now just sit around underneath the trees. There’s nothing nicer than a mature apple tree in the garden. Luckily our house has a huge Bramley tree in the garden (it’s no exaggeration to say it was the reason we bought this place). It is bigger than the house, and certainly older. It provides far too many apples. When they’re in season we eat them almost daily, make a years supply of apple sauce, give away as many as we can, and still half the crop falls to the ground.

It’s nice to have such abundance, but variety is also welcome. When we moved here I planted some more trees. Herefordshire Russet, Orleans Reinette, Lords Derby and Lambourne, James Grieve, and Arthur Turner.

The first five are still relatively immature, but the Arthur Turner is a vigorous fast growing tree. After only eight years it is 12ft tall, just as wide, and providing a very good crop. The fruits are huge, a big one can be six inches across.

But all is not well in my little orchard. The Bramley crop this year is awful. The tree looks thin – fewer leaves than normal, the fruit is sparse, small and covered in little black spots. The apples are inedible. Annie was round at her fathers this morning, it seems his Bramley tree is suffering from the exact same thing. I expect they’re both suffering with the odd weather we’ve had this year – it seems more likely that both contracting the same fatal disease at precisely the same time.

So we have, effectively, no crop from one tree (yet still the burden of collecting the hundreds of windfalls for compost). At least I’m happy that the tree isn’t ailing; fingers crossed – it should be okay again next year. Small consolation though when I’m in the Greengrocer’s buying Bramleys again for the first time in ten years.

Apple sauce

Bramley apples cook to a pulp, a smooth puree. They do not keep their shape, as do the Arthur Turner. Apple sauce is a cliché, but why would you buy a jar of the stuff. Even if you have to buy the apples it’ll still be far cheaper, and infinitely better.

Take two Bramley apples – peel, quarter and core them. Cut them into little chunks. Put them in a small saucepan with no more than a splash of water, and two teaspoons of sugar. (This will make a sauce that is considerably less sweet than the commercial product, which is, I think, a good thing.) Set it to gently simmer for fifteen or twenty minutes until the apples have cooked down to a puree. Remember to stir it occasionally, to prevent it from sticking.

Hot apple sauce is just as good as cold with pork chops or sausages or a Sunday roast.

If you are lucky enough to have any left over, it will keep in the fridge for a few days. It’s worth noting that if you want apple sauce for a year, then it must be much sweeter and cooked more like a marmalade or jam to avoid spoilage.

Apple fool

Combine equal quantities of cold homemade apple sauce and gently whipped cream. Once the apples and cream have become one, spoon it carefully into delicate wine glasses.  Unbelievably good for something so simple.

Cinnamon Toast

Unquestionably, the coffee shop chains have popularised cinnamon. It’s in the muffins, on the pastries, sprinkled on the top of my cappuccino and I could even get a shot of cinnamon syrup (I think). It’s the grown up spice that subjugates the sugar, it convinces me that I’ve overcome my sweet-tooth… really, it’s okay to have a cinnamon something – it won’t affect my middle-aged spread. It’s a delusion.

The easiest way I can get a fix at home is to make cinnamon toast. Some food-writers will go on about this being comfort food from their childhood, the indulgent parent offering them a treat when they got home from school, or how it was the punctuation on a rainy afternoon – a few minutes in the kitchen standing next to mother’s apron. Cinnamon toast didn’t feature in my childhood, I came to it late in life. I’m making up for lost time.

To make one piece of cinnamon toast, toast a slice of white bread. Spread it with a little unsalted butter, then as that melts, sprinkle over half a teaspoon of caster sugar. Then finally – and from an unlikely height, so as to avoid clumping – sprinkle on a little ground cinnamon. All in all, barely more effort than toast and marmalade.

Some people apparently like to flash their toast under a hot grill to brulee the sugar a little. Give it a go, see if you like it.

The only other way I make cinnamon toast is to cream a little soft butter with caster sugar and then add the cinnamon. This gives you a slightly beige butter to spread on your toast. It is very much quicker if you’re treating the whole family.

The final word goes to the toast – if you like plain toast for this then great, so do I. If however, for a weekend breakfast, you’re fond of eggy bread or pain perdu, then you’ll find this topping infinitely more agreeable than a slap of ketchup on the side of your plate.

Oh, and I’ve bowed to pressure and will be adding more photos as I write. Hope you like them.