Sunday, 6 November 2011


I should say, I'm not doing it. I feel I'd be setting myself up for failure, though kudos to those who do, like Hannah here, who might kill for this if she ever sees it...

(Hannah is beautiful, for reference, see here, even if she is dressed as a zombie.)

I had half a mind earlier this week to try and write a blog post every day or similar, but I decided that was probably too much. I wrote an epic 2,750 word email yesterday, and today I read much less of a book about investment. I did get to eat this brilliant cinnamon bun though. The Nordic Bakery is brilliant...

Before all of that, and nearly too late - I made possibly my all time favourite thing to make...

...mincemeat. I love Christmas cooking. And soon, I will make stollen.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

A Zombie Tea Party

Courtesy of Graham
I love being a host.  It's so satisfying to put a group of people in a room and and watch them talk.  I love feeding them, and talking to them, and introducing them to one another.  I love being the catalyst, the centre of the web.  It's what I loved about producing theatre - being the facilitator, creating the space and conditions for other people to do things, which in turn makes something larger than the sum of its parts.  It's what is fun about being a civil servant, in a way, and why I want to run a food businesss - the creation of conditions for good things to happen.

We got it right with this party - all the time we spent sending invitations designed to make people laugh, ratchetting up enthusiasm, making cake, well and truly paid off.

The house was full, everyone talked, the pumpkins were carved, the skulls were decorated,  games were played.  People met new people.

Another one of Graham's. (They're mine...)
 Great evening.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Getting up at 5.30 on your birthday, or How To Make Croissants...

We all know I love to bake.  I would be a whole lot fatter without my work colleagues to help.  There are certain traditional times when everyone brings in something edible into the office: birthdays, and when they come back from holidays.  I add in 'whenever I feel like baking' to that list...and that's often.  So when I get to one of the times when everyone brings things in, I'm on my mettle to produce something a bit I spent 3 days making croissants for my birthday.

It began on Friday night, when I mixed sourdough leaven and yeast poolish (batters made of flour, water and wild or cultured yeast).

Leaven - sourdough batter, made with equal parts water and 00 flour and a spoonful of my sourdough culture. Poolish is
identical, but switch a tiny amount of commercial yeast for the culture. I have no idea why it should be called poolish....
It finished as the sun came up on my birthday.  In fact. this is what before dawn on your birthday looks like if it's mid October and you live in London:

Monday 17th October, about 7.20am.

Croissants are a bit of a faff, even for somebody who really doesn't think that 24 hours is too long to wait for a loaf of bread.  You make something a bit like a baguette dough (so that's very soft and very white)...

Dough bulk rising.

and you roll it out, plonk a slab of butter in the middle and wrap it up like a parcel...

Laminating croissant dough with butter: and roll and fold and roll and fold and roll and fold and...
...and you roll it and fold it twice every half hour, for 3 hours, until, eventually, you're allowed to shape them.

Aren't they cute? I was aiming for mini ones, but they baked up to suitable breakfast size...

It was Sunday evening by this stage - I could probably have got to this point 24 hours earlier but I wanted to make sure I could bake them on Monday morning, because who wants a day old croissant?  I was going out with my friends to have brunch on Sunday, too, so it's a good job the dough is pretty forgiving - you can put it in the freezer and things to slow it down.  Next time I make them though I want to do what they tell me about when I bake them, because I'm hopeful that will just perfect the texture.

On Monday morning, they looked like this:

All glazed up.
And they baked beautifully.  Everybody thought I was mad, but *I* was the one who spent a whole hour on the bus with the heady smell of fresh croissants warm on my lap instead of stinky London morning commuters.

I'm not going to try and write out the recipe, it would take too much explanation.  Tom and I have a new Bible -

It's really excellent, if you're into this kind of thing.  Lots of detail, lots of explanation, lots of wonderful photos.  I think the croissant recipe would probably total about 20 pages, but it's hard to count and certainly not that hard to do.  This is the second time I've made this recipe and they really did come out well.  I am beginning to think I might make a few changes next time, because I'm not getting just the texture I want, but I need more time for that - and a lot of people to eat them...

There are a few more photos here.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Sunday Afternoon.

I bought a coat - a spy coat.  Trench coat.  Double-breasted, mid length, mac.  Inspector Gadget, or flasher chic if you forget the trilby.  They're everywhere right now.  I've been looking for one  for a while, and my housemate handed me a 30% off, one day only, voucher for Gap he didn't think he would be using.  I went to get out of the house, and because I thought they'd probably have something.  I found the coat.  It was grey rather than the traditional camel colour I really wanted - which was a bit of an issue as a friend has a similar item.  Anyway.  I put it on.  It fitted pretty well and I liked the longish length it had going.  I took an iPhone picture in the mirror to send to  Tom for Opinions.  I wandered around the shop for a while clutching the coat and waiting for an answer. After 10 minutes I had exhausted the shop and decided just to buy the coat. 30% is a good deal, and  it's just on today, and it IS the kind of coat I've been looking for, and I don't spend THAT much time with the friend.  As I leave, I get a text.  'Out with Jenn, we both agree the coat is only so-so.'  I turn  around and go back into the shop. I know I will never wear the coat. I tell the cashier that a friend has just told me she owns the exact same coat, because saying 'my boyfriend doesn't really like it' sounds  even more dumb.  He gives me an odd look, but returns it for me...7 whole minutes after he sold  it to me.

I text Tom the story.  His response: I love you.  I tell him that he's the only person on earth who would...

What To Do With Monster.

I went on holiday for a month.  It was hot and sunny in the south of France, and damp and English in London.  My garden has become a jungle, and everything is a size bigger than it should be.

There are mushrooms three inches across under the birch trees and clearly the homes of gnomes, a bright yellow pumpkin as big as my head which looks like a roc's egg, runner beans 18 inches long and fat with big purple beans, where the snails haven't got them - and under the parasol leaves near the front of the vegetable patch I found Monster.

Monster is a courgette.  Monster weighs 1.5kg, or 3.5lb in old money.  Monster is practically as long as my arm.  My dad told me not to take him on a train because he might get classed as an offensive weapon.  Who could possibly be offended by Monster?!

His eating demanded ceremony and attention.  I didn't think he was going to get cooked at all, my week is so busy.  Today my curry date (third in a week, but all delicious) cancelled a little to my relief.  I will see the friend next week for idli and dosai, and we will be both be relaxed and ready.  All the way home on the bus I pondered.   I googled and thought and risked antagonising the motion sickness and the smelly man with ear hair who sat beside me for a while.

Monster: roasted with lemon and rosemary; stuffed with crispy sausagemeat, chilli and pear.

I knew there was going to be sausage, but it took a Nigel Slater recipe, obviously, to tell me that I wanted it to be *crispy*.  The rest is my idea...

Marrow with crispy sausage and pear
Serves 2 very hungry people, or 3 with a salad
1 large courgette, or several smaller ones, weighing about 1kg in total after trimming.
Rosemary sprigs (about six 2 inch ones)
1 lemon
olive oil
8 butcher's sausages, around 400g
1 hard conference pear
1 tbsp coarsely chopped parsley
1 small red chilli
3 cloves garlic
Sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220℃.  Cut the courgette into 3 inch lengths, and then in half vertically.  With a spoon, scrape out the spongy inner flesh (and add to your compost to feed to next year's Monster).  In a large bowl, toss the pieces with a couple of spoonsful of oil, the zest of the lemon, plenty of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Place the pieces skin side up in a heavy roasting tin or casserole dish and tuck rosemary sprigs all around and inside.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until beginning to colour, then flip the pieces over.  It will probably take 40 minutes all told, it's done when a fork goes all the way through easily but don't overdo it.

Meanwhile, chop the chilli and garlic finely.  Strip the sausagemeat out of the skins.  Heat a spoonful of oil in a cast iron pan until shimmering and crumble the meat into it - you may need two pans, or to do this in batches.  If you crowd the pan the meat will steam and not go crispy.  Try not to disturb it too much until it has begun to caramelise.  Get it nice and brown, adding the garlic and chilli for the final 5 minutes.  As it fries, chop the pear into quarters, core and slice each quarter into pieces half a centimetre thick.  Remove the meat to a dish and keep warm.  In the same pan, fry the pear until it takes a little colour, then add the juice of half the lemon and let it evaporate.  Add plenty of salt and pepper, and return the sausage to the pan to combine.  Stir in the parsley.  Taste for seasoning.

When the marrow is cooked, discard the rosemary and serve with the meat.