Monday, 13 November 2017

Another gingerbread house

In 1982, my brother, Will, had an au pair called Lotta. She was from Sweden and introduced us to gravadlax and Swedish meatballs. We, in turn, introduced her to marmite, which she could not bear or even comprehend. We put a small jar of it into her stocking and my father filmed the look of horror that crossed her face when she unwrapped it.

The same Christmas, she had made a traditional gingerbread house for us. It had wooden figures, toadstalls and candles. Cotton wool snow. I arrived home from school to be told of this wonder and my mother took me into the dining room to see it. She struck a match to light the candles; the head of the match flew off and hit a collection of Pampas grass that was in a vase behind it and the Pampas grass started blazing. My brother burst into tears; my mother picked up the roaring Pampas grass and carried it through the hall and out of the front door. Crisis averted.

Back in the dining room, standing next to a patch of nicely-browned wallpaper, Lotta was surveying ruefully the remains of her gingerbread house: charred cotton wool snow, singed figures and blackened toadstools...

Hot cross buns

The mistake I used to make was to toast these until brown. In my view, they should be toasted until hot and no more. Then spread thickly with butter. The best hot cross buns I ever encountered - full of fruit - were in Hyderabad, India (one of the largest Moslem centres in India), on a Good Friday.

There is a wonderful episode in Frances Hodgson Burnett's "A Little Princess" where the ravenous heroine, Sara Crewe, discovers a silver sixpence dropped in the gutter, asks at the baker's whether anyone has lost it, then, reassured, buys six currant buns warm from the oven and, finally, gives five of them away to a beggar girl who is "even hungrier" than she, Sara, is.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Chip buttie

My mother introduced me to these in Coventry. I wonder how she discovered them. Our local chippie was at the bottom of Earlsdon Avenue. I do not remember whether we acquired the butties in the shop itself or whether they were made when we got home. At all events, it proved to be a wonderful and curious mixture of fats and carbohydrates: butter, salt, vinegar, bread and chip.

Many years later, I overheard two of my teachers at prep school talking in surprised disgust at the conduct of a visiting teacher from another school - there for a football match presumably - about how he put his chips between bread and butter. I was longing to contribute to this adult conversation by explaining that this was a chip buttie but was frostily excluded.

Sunday, 8 October 2017


A memorable moment in Mr Bean came when he invited some friends for drinks and then realised to his horror that he had no snacks. So he leant out of the window, plucked a few twigs from the tree, dipped them in marmite and then put them in a bowl. The friends left shortly afterwards.

Twiglets are not in fact made from marmite. But they are designed for marmite addicts. And, if uneaten, they last for a very long time.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Crab soup

The first time I ate crab soup was in Deal, round a kitchen table, made by my mother with crabs I had caught off the pier. I would have been under five. Whether my memory of the soup's appearance - pink-orange - and flavour - salty and comforting - is real or a made-up memory I will never know.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Eight courses

Parma ham
Tomato mozzarella and basil
Gnocchi with pesto
Scallops with bacon and cream
Beef, Kangaroo and Ostrich with Gratin Dauphinoise and sugar snaps
Rhubarb and maccaroons
Caramelised oranges with clotted cream

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Stuffed Mushrooms

I recall first eating these shortly before a trip to the theatre. An early evening meal. My younger brother and I had been required to spend the afternoon asleep so as not to be too tired for the evening, and we were in that halfway frame of mind between sleep and full wakefulness. It was winter.

They were large, flat mushrooms. My mother talked about how she had first decided to make them. "Life is too short to stuff a mushrooom" was the quotation at the beginning of Shirley Conran's "Superwoman" - a twentieth century version of Mrs Benton. And the quotation had got my mother thinking. Not along the lines the quotation was suggesting, but "What a good idea to stuff a mushroom". So she did.


As many large flat mushrooms as there are people.
Chopped bacon or lardons.
1 Chopped onion.
1 finely chopped clove of garlic.
Olive oil.
Salt and pepper.

The mushroom stalks should be removed and finely chopped and added to the other ingredients which are the stuffing. The inverted mushroom caps should be stuffed to the brim and beyond with the stuffing ingredients. Bake in the oven until piping hot and oozing. Eat.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Lunch at HMP Holloway

From David Ramsbotham's Prisongate: "Our first stop was the kitchen, where the self-confident catering manager, his white, aertex, trilby hat stuck at a jaunty angle, asked me whether I would like to taste lunch. When I said yes, a generous plate of hot and appetising chicken, covered with gravy and accompanied by roast potatoes and vegetables, was produced. He then asked if I would like to taste the vegetarian alternative, an equally acceptable nut cutlet. The inspection team told me later that the prisoners they saw had lukewarm and unappetising stew."


I recall from when I was young a rhyme that began "Have you ever seen a fly with an eyeglass in its eye?" and which included the line "a plate of kedgeree". I have been unable to find the poem in question but kedgeree goes back a long way in my childhood. It was what we would usually eat for supper on Christmas Eve before the ritual of hanging our stockings. For a few years, after my mother had made a trip to America, the kedgeree was replaced with chowder, until my father realised that the cost of the fish involved was more than the cost of the turkey or the goose the next day: and this was supposed to be an abstemious meal ahead of the gluttony!

Kedgeree can be disappointing. I have had it, stodgy and lukewarm, help yourself from a metal serving dish, at one of those Midnight Breakfasts at an all-night Ball.

That stalwart, Elizabeth David, has a splendid recipe in one of her books, Spices, Salts and Aromatics in the English Kitchen. She calls it "Quick Kedgeree" and, unusually for her, is relatively relaxed about what goes into it. "You can apply the same system", she says, "to prawns, mussels, vegetables, chicken, meat". She has one proviso: "Good-quality rice, either long-grained Basmati or the hard round-grained Italian variety is essential. Soft pudding rice will turn to just that - pudding."


Ingredients are 3 smoked haddock fillets, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 medium onion, 4 heaped tablespoons of rice, a scant teaspoon of curry powder, 2 tablespoons of sultanas or currants, seasoning, 2 hard-boiled eggs, parsley, water; a lemon and chutney.


First pour boiling water over the haddock fillets. Leave them two or three minutes, drain them, peel off the skin and divide the fish into manageable pieces.

Heat the oil in a heavy 10 inch frying or sauté pan. In this fry the sliced onion until pale yellow. Stir in the curry powder. Add the rice (don't wash it). Stir all round together. Add the washed sultanas or currants. Pour in 1 pint of water. Cook steadily, not at a gallop, and uncovered, for 10 minutes. Put in thee haddock. Continue cooking until the liquid is all absorbed and the rice tender - approximately 10 minutes. But keep an eye o it to see it doesn't stick, and stir with a fork, not a spoon which breaks the rice. Taste for seasoning. Salt may or may not be required. Turn on to a hot serving dish. On the top strew the chopped eggs and parsley - and, if you like, a nice big lump of butter. Surround with lemon quarters and serve with mango chutney.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Roast lamb with flagelets and anchovies


Half a shoulder of lamb (about 750 g)
A tin of flageolets (drained)
A tin of anchovies (drained)
A clove of garlic (chopped into pointy chips)
A scattering of dried rosemary
Olive oil

Smear the lamb with olive oil. Then spread the anchovy fillets evenly, top and bottom. Spear the lamb with the point of a knife and insert the garlic chips. Scatter the rosemary on top. Roast for about twenty minutes at about 220 degrees. Then put the tin of flageolets around, but not on top of, the lamb. Cook for another twenty minutes. Eat.

Sunday, 1 January 2017


Guacamole in a tub is not worth eating. Pesto in a jar is not worth eating. Foie gras in a tin is not worth eating.