Monthly Archives: November 2013

The art of frothy milk, and how to make the simplest hot chocolate

What is the point of cold weather if you can’t have a reviving hot chocolate when you get in? Your fingers so unfeeling with cold you get a thrill just undoing your coat, as if you were being jollied by an attractive stranger.

When you stand in the hot chocolate aisle at the supermarket, as I never do, you will see that there are dozens of potions and powders with which to make your hot chocolate.

And you don’t need any of them.

Sure, chocolate ganache hot chocolate is the richest, most luxurious hot chocolate you could hope to have (and you MUST try it). But unless you have a stash in the fridge ready made, you’re stuffed.

No matter! Cos all you need is a small cup of milk, about 100ml tops, and two squares of chocolate. One 70% cocoa and one milk. If you have cream in the fridge, use this as well as milk (so say, 50ml cream, 50ml of milk). This gives you the perfect mix of chocolate and sugar to dairy. I believe a small, pokey, punchy hot chocolate is better than a large, diluted one that can only render a weak, milky half-slap. Put the squares in the cup, put in microwave on high for 1m 20 seconds. Take out and whisk with an aerolatte if you have one or a fork or a whisk or you know, something suitable. Then drink. I make this every day for my children, in the winter, when they come home from school (aren’t I nice?).  Although, if you’re like me, you will also top it with some milk froth schiuma which I make in my electric Dualit milk frother, which makes the best milk froth this side of a £10K commercial cappuccino machine.

1459210_10151840880983721_402930639_nThis is a cappuccino made using the Dualit electric milk frother.


Best panettone and chocolate mulled wine

I wasn’t much of a fan of panettone, growing up, despite my father coming from a region where the panettone is famous. All those raisins and candied fruit. I much preferred pandoro (‘bread of gold’) which was, to me, like panettone but without any of the bits in and you’d dust it with glorious vanilla sugar as soon as it was out of the box.

It didn’t help that the panettone you can usually buy in this country – at least until it seemed fairly recently – was pretty grim. Heavy and dry. Mine used to stay on the top of the fridge, in their cardboard box, going stale until such time as I had an idea to resuscitate them in a panettone bread and butter pudding.

This seems sacrilegious now. A few years ago, my parents got given a proper panettone. They gave it to me and I almost put it on the top of the fridge, in time honoured fashion. But something made me open it. I’m going to use words like ‘billowy’ now, so prepare yourselves because this panettone was indeed billowy. Soft, fresh….billowy. It tasted delicious and, as I remember, we ate it in one sitting. I subsequently discovered it was a very expensive panettone and it showed.

At Christmas, I usually make my Colomba in the shape of panettone. It’s not the same thing (proper panettone needs to be hung up side down when made and takes three days from start to finish) but it’s good enough. Last Christmas however, I heard, through one of my editors, Kate, at the Guardian about a panettone taste test she was doing. On her recommendation I bought the Nudo one. It was superb. Not cheap though at £15 a kilo (I’ve realised you need to spend about that much for a panettone to be any good). This year, in a fit of organisation, I went to order one on 1st November. Sold out. This annoyed me beyond explanation.

So I went to the number two one last year, Valentina and bought two. I decided to open it last weekend. Partly because I didn’t want to be disappointed if it wasn’t very good, partly because I am greedy and partly because I have decided to spread out the joys of Christmas fayre this year starting in, cough cough, late November. Anyway. It’s fantastic: everything you want a panettone to be. Really fresh, really light, tasty, glorious. You could easily eat one in a single sitting. The service was amazing and I thoroughly recommend you buy one. My children loved it too, and the sell by date is April 2014. Not that it will get that far.

It’s £12.95 for 750g and you can buy it mail order (the p&p is a bit steep at £5.95 so double up with some friends if you can) or if you can, visit one of the stores, there are five, but not sure all sell the panettone so check before going.

[Just to avoid any doubt, I paid full price for the panettone, no freebies.]

The pic above is my first slice, served with a glass of my chocolate mulled wine. Which, if you haven’t tried yet, I thoroughly recommend you, also, do.

A very good shepherd’s pie for when the weather’s bad.

I cut this out of the Independent magazine last year. It’s called Bill’s Shepherd’s Pie, but I’m afraid I know no more than that. It seems a convoluted way of making a shepherd’s pie, but you need to trust me when I tell you that it’s very very good. Leftovers seem even better, of course. And the whole thing freezes beautifully for resuscitation just when you need it.

It doesn’t have a mash topping – gasp – but chunky potatoes on top. Try it. I don’t make shepherd’s pie any other way now.

It apparently serves four, but this really depends on the size of the lamb shanks. I find it generally serves at least six, with left overs.

2 tablespoons of olive oil, plus a little extra

1 large carrot, chopped up into the usual sized pieces

1 onion, same

2 celery stalks chopped up fine

3 tablespoons of plain flour

200ml of dry white wine, or vermouth, or low alcohol cider (these latter two are what I also sometimes use)

500ml chicken stock, I use a cube

4 lambshanks – or 3 if particularly large (my lambshanks were £3 for each pretty large one, from the butcher, supermarkets are much more expensive)

4 sprigs of thyme

800g Maris Piper or other floury potato, these you need to have peeled and cut into chunks that are, you know, chunk sized

A handful of parsley leaves, chopped up

The zest of 1 unwaxed lemon

2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped

Now, this is what you do.

You preheat the oven to 160C. You heat the oil in a large casserole dish – with a lid which you’ll need later – that can go in the oven. Into this large casserole dish you add the chopped up carrot, onion and celery and season with salt and pepper (be aware the stock cube may also be salty). Cook until soft, about seven minutes. Now add the flour and stir around and cook for a minute or two. Now you add the wine/vermouth/low alcohol cider, stock, shanks and thyme and bring it to the boil.

No, you don’t have to brown the shanks first.

Now cover the casserole and put the whole lot in the oven for two hours *, until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. Take it out, put it to one side for a moment, and turn the oven up to 200C.

*set a timer for about twenty minutes before times up, and put the potatoes into salted, boiling water for 20 minutes, until very tender. Drain then return them to the pan and add half each of the parsley, lemon zest and garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir in a glug of olive oil, breaking up the potatoes a bit as you go. You want to rough them up a bit in an ‘Eastenders” way, not obliterate them entirely.

Lift the lamb shanks from the casserole dish, trying hard not to think of them as baby sheep’s legs. Let them cool so you can handle and then take the meat from the bones (if the meat didn’t fall off when you lifted the bone up) and break the meat up into bite sized chunks with your hands. Return the chunks to the casserole it cooked in and now stir in the remaining parsley, garlic and lemon zest and simmer for five minutes or more until the sauce has reduced (you may need to do it for longer than five minutes). Now spoon the whole meat-sauce lot either into individual dishes, or into a suitable oven proof dish. Top with the roughed up potato chunks and bake for 20 minutes in that 200C oven until you get lovely golden bits.

Eat with some fortifying green veg and serve with my chocolate sponge and chocolate custard recipe which is coming next week.

Apologies for the picture. It’s not easy taking one that looks really good, but don’t let it put you off. At least my pics aren’t as bad as Martha Stewart’s photos of what she’s eating.