Category Archives: Children

Bee Wilson’s almond waffles

Last year, just after my father died, I made two “grief purchases”. In that sort of ‘fuck it, you only live once’ way one can be after a loved one dies, I didn’t go through my usual checks and balances of ‘do I need this? Is it worth it? Will it earn its keep in the cupboard/on the work surface’. But I didn’t buy an Aston Martin. I bought a waffle maker.

My eldest has always loved waffles. When we used to walk through Whiteley’s department store, on the way to see my mum and dad, on the ground floor there was (still is) a kinda shop/stall which sells, amongst other things, waffles. These waffles are served crowned with squirty cream, chocolate sauce and….Smarties. [We have a Nestle embargo in our house so the Smarties are a very rare treat.]

So imagine my disappointment – which I tried to contain – when I bought a waffle maker, made waffles and my daughter said she wasn’t that keen on them. Not on my waffles anyway (this has happened many times before and I really should be used to it).

But my waffle maker was a top of the range model and I started to panic slightly, I hid it in the cupboard and there I thought it would stay until this January when the fabulous food writer Bee Wilson wrote a recipe for almond waffles in the Guardian.

I made it, they were delicious and this is how we have made waffles ever since. I need to tell you that once I forgot the eggs and although the waffles that were produced were smaller, they tasted like some sort of amazing waffle/doughnut hybrid which I still think about of a morning when I am making these wondering whether I should accidentally forget the eggs again.

Anyway, I love that they have almonds in them, thus lowering the hit on your blood sugar levels. We have these every week now. You can make the mixture the night before (I throw everything into my food mixer), keep it in the fridge and then they are only marginally more work than toast.

I have altered Bee’s original recipe to include a bit of wholemeal flour (20g to 80g of white, plain), as she says on the original recipe, she has also made them using gluten free flour, entirely successfully. We serve ours with yoghurt and chopped up fruit and the merest lacing of maple syrup.

 

 

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Barbecued baked beans (in the pressure or slow cooker).

I’m not not a fan of baked beans, but I’d never think “ooh I must have some baked beans”. They feature very little in my life other than when my partner decides to have some on toast, from a tin, for lunch, when there is very little else to eat. Then, they are a Godsend.

So the idea of making them only really came to me because I was seduced by a photo of them in the recipe book that came with my Sage Fast Slo Pro (and this is the recipe below, with some adaptions). I am quite shallow.

Sourcing “dried small white beans’ which the recipe called for (I went for cannellini but you can also choose haricot) was really not easy, they were nowhere to be found locally to me (I live in the countryside) so in the end I had to resort to the evils of Amazon. But you will be able to find them in the supermarket, it’s just that mine didn’t sell them…

These are really easy, but bear in mind you will need to reduce the sauce at the end. If you have a pressure/slow cooker that allows you to do this, all you really need to do is stir occasionally – it took about 20 mins on medium heat.

Making things that are easily bought is often a double edged sword and the shop bought can easily out trump the home made. Hummus, for me, comes into this category. I have only once tasted home made that was better than shop bought (that was my friend Sarah who made it whilst we were staying at Sackville House together).

I made these because, seduced by the aforementioned picture, I had bought some dried cannellini beans some weeks before and forgotten about them. Then, when we found ourselves without “a hot meal” as my partner put it one Saturday lunchtime, I looked in the store cupboard and found we had all the ingredients (the original recipe calls for bacon, I have omitted it). It’s super easy to make, I don’t know how you end up with a smokey barbecue flavour, but you do. They are delicious, nutritious and it makes LOADS. We had enough for beans on toast for about ten people. They properly fill you up – which is rare for me. Six hours after eating, I still wasn’t hungry.

My children don’t like baked beans, so I can’t tell you that children will love it as I don’t know – mine certainly ate more than shop bought beans, but only marginally so. My partner who is a life-long baked bean fan, said they were fantastic and gave me a round of applause.

This is what you need

1 onion, sliced

1 tablespoon of olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed

500g small white beans, rinsed and picked over (I’m not sure what for, mine were all fine).

1 litre of water

125ml strong black coffee (I used a big tablespoon of instant espresso powder which I keep for making coffee cakes, dissolved in 125ml of hot water)

250ml passata

110g dark brown sugar (I’m sure you could alter this to use less but this is what the original calls for, I’m sure it still works out at having a lower sugar content than shop bought)

1 tablespoon of English mustard

1 tablespoon of black treacle

half a teaspoon of Tabasco sauce

1 and a half teaspoons of salt

2 tablespoons of white or cider vinegar (for the very end)

What you do

If you have a pressure/slow cooker which allows you to saute, put this function on, heat up the oil then add the onion and cook until soft – about five mins. If yours doesn’t have this function do this bit on the stove top in a frying pan/saucepan.

When soft, add the garlic and cook for a minute.

Now, either add the rest of the ingredients, minus the vinegar to the pot of your pressure/slow cooker, or now tip the onions/garlic into your pressure/slow cooker and then add the rest of the ingredients (minus the vinegar).

Select pressure cook 80kPa, natural steam release and cook for 35 mins (I like my beans really soft, you may prefer to do them for 30 mins) or select slow cooker mode for 10-12 hours on low.

When time is up, add the vinegar and you need to reduce the sauce right down until it’s syrupy – either in the pressure/slow cooker if you have a reduce function or decant into a large sauce pan and do it the traditional way. Mine took 20 mins.

 

 

Steak fajitas with avocado salsa and creme fraiche.

This is a favourite in our house, but there has never yet been a good photo taken of it. This is because we tend to descend on it when it’s made and also it just doesn’t photograph well. So I hope Waitrose will forgive me for nicking one from its site.

This recipe originally came from a Waitrose in-store recipe card and I’ve adapted it slightly as I don’t agree with the way it originally said to cook the peppers (with the steak, which is madness as they need vastly different times) and I’ve omitted the  chilli it originally called for and when I made this last night I omitted the chives as ours were covered in small black bugs – blurgh – and it didn’t do the meal any harm at all.

For four people you need:

for the marinade

About 300-340g of steak – the recipe calls for frying steak, I find this tough and I use bavette steak cut into strips. It’s an underused cut, not too expensive, and delicious but don’t cook for long. It’s also amazing made with venison.

2 cloves of finely chopped garlic

1 teaspoon of dried oregano

The juice of one lime (two needed in total, see later)

1 tablespoon of olive oil

the salsa

1 tablespoons of good olive oil

2 ripe avocados

1 small tomato, chopped

2 tablespoons of chopped chives if you have them, don’t stress if you don’t

Juice of one lime

also:

1 tablespoon of olive oil

3 red, yellow or orange peppers but not green. I’ve totally taken against green peppers

Some flour tortillas – we use two small ones each. It’s never enough

Creme fraiche and grated mozzarella to serve

What you do

I prep this in the morning – cut the steak into strips. Mix the olive oil, lime juice and olive oil in a bowl with the oregano. Put steak into marinade, cover and put in fridge until the evening (or at least ten mins).

When ready to eat:

Cut the peppers into strips and cook in the olive oil on medium heat until soft and slightly charred (about ten minutes).

Whilst that is doing:

Skin and stone avocado and put into bowl and mash with lime juice, olive oil, tomato and chives if using. Set aside.

Call someone to lay the table.

Warm the tortillas in a dry frying pan.

Tip the steak in with the peppers and cook on high for about five mins.

When ready to eat, bring to the table and get everyone to make their own: pile creme fraiche, avocado salsa and steak/peppers onto a tortilla and top with grated cheese.

I don’t bother to do any other veg with this…

 

Enriched dough rolls with chocolate chips (bread machine)

These came about trying to make chocolate chip brioches for my youngest who is obsessed with them. M&S does the best shop bought ones – most leave a really weird taste in your mouth. But we no longer have a local M&S (thanks Stuart Rose)  and anyway, shop bought bread-products are nearly always full of other ingredients I neither recognise nor welcome.

These aren’t strictly speaking brioches – there just isn’t enough butter or eggs to really warrant the name – but they are a lovely little enriched breakfast bread that’s a bit more exciting than bread, but with very little sugar. I promised my youngest I’d make her some brioches, but when the time came, I had very little time and was slightly awed by traditional brioche recipes which involve massaging an entire packet of butter into dough. Plus we were in the middle of jigsaw making and I didn’t want to “splinter off” as my youngest puts it, and start mucking about with dough when she is happy with shop bought. So I looked at my trusty Panasonic bread maker recipe book which is 20 years old; the newer models have actual recipes for brioche bread which I shall attempt anon, and also a special cycle for them which adds half the butter during the cycle. Mine didn’t, but it had a recipe for enriched bread dough. I tweaked it slightly, threw everything save for the chocolate chips into the machine – although I could have put those in too (if you put them in, put them in at the beginning with everything else not in any fancy dispenser drawer as they may melt and get stuck).

It was so easy. Ingredients in bread pan, dough cycle (which is 2hrs 20mins on mine), during which you can do a jigsaw, out, knead in about 80g of chocolate chips, shape into eight rolls – put on baking parchment, cover with cloth, prove in fridge overnight.

In the morning: oven on to 220C, little buns brushed with a bit of milk, baked for 10 mins. Eaten for breakfast. Delicious. I ate three just for testing purposes.

What you need

half a teaspoon of dried yeast (I use Dove’s Farm)

250g strong white bread flour

1 teaspoon of caster sugar

25g butter

1 tablespoon of milk

half a teaspoon of salt

1 egg

85ml water

80g chocolate chips

 

Un tiramisu che ti tirasu

A few years ago, when we fancied making a tiramisu (it means pick me up, or pull me up), I looked at loads of recipes. I was quite shocked (I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to Italian cooking) at the variations. I mean, Nigella, whom I love, had one, in How To Eat, using no coffee or chocolate and meringues instead of sponge fingers. It caused me to  to slam the pages of the book shut in mock horror.

It is the coffee, and the chocolate that is supposed to act as a ‘tiramisu’. Anything else, to my mind, ti spinge giu (pushes you down).

I have hundreds of cookery books, and a world of recipes at my fingers tips, as do you, on the internet. But nothing was really saying Italian tiramisu to me. Then I thought of looking in my Italian cooking bible: The Silver Spoon.

In these days of celebrity cookbooks, stuffed full of photographs, the recipes in this book are easy to overlook: simple, very few pictures and the list of ingredients for each recipe is short. But don’t overlook them because not only is this a fantastic cookery book, the recipes are accomplished – some of them go back fifty years. As you may expect, some of the recipes are as good as they’re ever going to get.

And the tiramisu recipe is no exception. It is one of the few with a photo which I admit helped…I made it and it is the only way we make tiramisu now. It’s simple, anyone can do it (my bambine frequently do) and once made sits in the fridge for a good few days, yielding to your spoon just when you need a…pick me up.

It has no alcohol – so if you feel the need for some after dinner, serve that separately – which means children can easily eat this. Although beware of eating it too late as there’s quite a caffeine punch.

My friend Tamsin doesn’t like coffee, so she doesn’t include it in her tiramisu. Of course I have told her it’s not really a tiramisu, but more of a creamy pudding. Don’t even think of using cocoa powder (other than, maybe, on the very top but I don’t) instead of grated chocolate. The chocolate shavings make this stand out and allow for some bite in what is a wallowy pudding which offers little resistance: you could easily eat aged 98, when all your teeth have fallen out.

And use icing sugar, not caster, which can result in a runny mess.

Here it is:

2 egg whites, 4 egg yolks (freeze the 2 extra egg whites)

150 icing sugar

400g mascarpone

200g sponge fingers

175ml espresso coffee

200g plain chocolate, grated (grating chocolate is one of my least favourite jobs but I do it for this)

What to do:

I make this in a rectangular Pyrex, which also has a handy lid so I can save it for a few days. Mine is about 17cm x 25cm and it makes two layers. But of course you can make it in a different shape so you get more layers, or even make it circular or in individual portions, just break the sponge fingers up to fill the spaces.

It would, I think, easily serve eight people depending on the size of portion.

First you whisk the egg whites until stiff, set them aside for a moment whilst, in a separate bowl you beat the egg yolks with the icing sugar, then you fold/whisk the mascarpone into the egg yolks and sugar and finally, into this you gently fold in the egg whites. This is your creamy bit.

Lay the sponge fingers onto the base of your dish and brush or pour the coffee on top. Because I know mine makes two layers, I pour half the coffee on now. Then spoon on a layer of the cream and sprinkle with the grated chocolate. Repeat this, ending with a layer of mascarpone/sprinkling of chocolate. I usually end up with more chocolate than I need for this, for some reason, so if so just keep it in a jam jar for next time.

It is better the next day, but can be eaten within a few hours of making it and chilling it to allow the ingredients to meet each other, and mingle.

 

 

 

 

The very best tomato sauce for pasta.

In Italy, August is the month of  ‘i pomodori’. Where they make pasta sauce for the whole coming year. The tomatoes are boiled, ‘passati’ (literally ‘passed’ through a sieve), reboiled and bottled. There is a lovely video here which shows you.

Because it’s quite a job, it tends to be done with everyone pitching in. It’s very low-tech (or used to be). Because the raw materials are the sweetest tomatoes the salsa you get (or passata) is incredible.

I never hoped to reproduce that in the UK, but my mother makes a very keen contender in her kitchen, in central London. She has even made it in my kitchen. I have tried to replicate it, I have watched her do it. I have bought the exact same ingredients as her, but it’s never the same.

If I have frozen salsa, and I serve it up on some pasta at a later date, my children can tell, immediately, if it’s ‘Nonna’s salsa’ or mine. They say her secret ingredient is salt, and love. And it’s true I tend to under salt things. For this I didn’t and went large with the salt.

It was a secret shame of mine, that I couldn’t make salsa as good as hers or any of my Italian relatives. Not because there is any shame in it really, but because, well, I cook a lot and you’d think this simple thing would not be beyond me. I tried cooking with plum peeled tinned tomatoes, chopped tomatoes,  fresh tomatoes, roasted tomatoes (this does work very well but is another layer of work), passata, all of the above and added tomato puree to it…but nothing came close. It all tasted too ‘new’ and didn’t have that complex taste, it always had a ridge of acidity, and none of the thickness of my family’s salsa.

“You needa to cooka it for a long time,” my Ma says – to take the acid out of the tomatoes. But whenever I tried I burnt it.

This year, I decided I really needed to step up. My mum and all the female relatives who hold the secret to good salsa are all…getting on.

So this is what I did. It’s so simple I am embarrassed I never tried it before and you will be disappointed there is no real secret recipe. Well there is. The secret is it’s really simple.

Warning, you really need a slow cooker and I think this goes some way to compensate for the fact that you are not using super red, sweet tomatoes from southern Italy. I have this one and it is a wonderful bit of kit which I use regularly and thoroughly recommend.

You take:

A jar of passata, I use Cirio’s Passata Rustica, 680g

One onion

A big pinch of sea salt

A clove or two of garlic if you like, chopped

Some very good olive oil (the better the better) – don’t skimp, this gives the sauce flavour

That’s it. Don’t add water or anything else. You finely chop the onion and fry it in the olive oil. I do this in my slow cooker as it has a saute function. When soft, you add the garlic if using and cook for a minute or so. It is at this point I add the salt but you can add it at any point, even at the very end, but give it a good stir through.

If you can’t saute in your slow cooker, and have been doing this on the stove top in a pan, you now add the onion, garlic and any remaining oil to your slow cooker. Then the passata.

Put down the lid and you cook it in the slow cooker, on low, for hours. At least six but 12 if you can. Then you take it out, cool it, use it all at once or store it in glass jars in the fridge (it keeps for a good few days) or freezer.

You can easily double/triple etc this recipe so you can make a batch up every few weeks and store it in the freezer so you are always good to go. And you will always have super-wonderful home made salsa for your pasta or pizza or whatever.

You can add herbs later but honestly, you just don’t need to. Yesterday I did as above, but cut up some sausages and stuck them in (lightly sauted first but you don’t need to) – you could also put meatballs in. I cooked it overnight for 12 hours and it was superb on pasta for lunch.

 

 

Waffle maker

Some years ago, there was  a rival to Argos and that rival was called Shopper’s World. It was, I think, something to do with Woolworth’s because all the Shopper’s Worlds were in Woolworth stores.

It was from there that my sister and I purchased our first waffle maker as teenagers. We went home, gorged on undercooked waffles, felt sick, cleaned it up and returned it for a refund, figuring we’d never want to eat waffles ever again.

And, largely, I didn’t. Until now.

My eldest always begs me for a waffle when we are in London, where you can get them covered in cream and chocolate sauce and sweets. And I have never been a fan of hot cake – which is what waffles seem to me.

Let me make it clear that I think waffle makers are pretty much up there for unessential gadgets in the kitchen. You can only make one thing with them and they don’t really earn their keep. So it’s pretty stupid, I think, to buy a waffle maker.

So I bought the most expensive one I could find: The Smart Waffle Maker by Sage.

I actually saw this waffle maker a while ago in Selfridges or John Lewis (the only London stores I ever go into) and thought “what nutter would spend THAT MUCH on a waffle maker?” And, it later transpired, that would be me.

I did lots of research, of course. The thing with cheaper waffle makers is that they don’t heat up hot enough to give you really crispy waffles – hence the undercooked waffles of yore which made us feel sick. Also the ones with removable plates – which seem so sensible – can’t heat up hot enough for really crispy waffles because of the way the heating element is placed (or something).

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There are two waffle makers in the Sage range: the No-Mess and the Smart Waffle. Have a look and see which one you think would work best for you. The No-Mess is significantly cheaper, has less features and make different shaped waffles but is, I’ll bet, still a brilliant machine. The Smart does all sorts of fancy pants stuff which you probably will never use.

I haven’t had one single failure in this machine. The moat is brilliant (why why why do all waffle makers not have this??). You can experiment with all sorts of waffles in the safety of your own home: gluten free, wheat free, fun free – if that’s your bag. Me, I just tried to make waffles as healthy as possible whilst still retaining their waffley-ness. (Recipes to follow.)

My eldest has, of course, completely gone off waffles since I bought this. But I can make a batch and freeze them, take one out about ten minutes before I want to eat it and then pop it in the toaster. Thus there are always waffles to eat under piles of yoghurt and berries and a dash of maple syrup. I now eat lots of waffles.

Pros of this machine:

Fool-proof. I think even if you put wallpaper paste in there you’d get amazing waffles.

The moat is brilliant

Wonderfully crisp waffles

Really good (but few) recipes come with the instruction book

Solidly built

It looks great

The non-stick is really non-stick

Cons

Eye-wateringly expensive

You will try to waffle everything for the first week you get it

You will get fat