A week of holiday, away at Center Parcs means not much cooking. I brought a stack of ready meals (Charlie Bigham), and supplemented by my mother-in-law, we’ve brought enough food to last the week in our little lodge.
The amusements here are relatively basic if you’re 18 months old, but fortunately, at this age, you don’t need much to amuse you. Some time in the swimming pool, a few walks and the novelty of riding in a cycle trailer are all very diverting. And a mere three DVDs, plus a stack of books and a teddy bear are enough to occupy the dark and rainy hours.
Before we went away, we had our final all-comers Sunday lunch of the year. As we were catering for a gluten-free guest, I made two small modifications – using rice and potato flour to thicken a slow-cooker beef shin stew, and making a pavlova rather than a tart or cake for dessert – pretty undetectable modifications. The pavlova in particular was a great choice – a Nigella recipe for a dark chocolate, chewy meringue, topped only with whipped cream and raspberries. My daughter just wanted to pick the raspberries off the top, and demanded that someone else remove the cream from them. Sometimes I’m not sure that we are related.
- Slow-cooker beef shin stew – I flitted between recipes for this, but eventually based it on the beef shin recipe in Slow Cooked, with some Boeuf Bourguignon twists: I substituted the beer with a mixture of red wine and beef stock. And after it had cooked overnight, I strained out the meat and vegetables, and reduced the sauce with a bit of potato flour to thicken it further. I added this back to the meat, along with some sautéed mushrooms, some browned pancetta, and a few sautéed shallots. This then had another hour in the oven just before it was served.
- Hasselback potato gratin from Serious Eats – I couldn’t quite bring myself to make the full cheese-and-cream version, so mixed cream and milk to coat the potatoes, then added the remains of the beef stock to the bottom of the dish before baking. It probably could have used some extra butter on top to make the tops properly crispy, but was pretty good nonetheless, and much easier than the traditional version of layering.
- Chocolate raspberry pavlova – from Nigella’s ‘Forever Summer‘
- Dark Banana ginger bread – using up the browning bananas before we left on holiday. This is an old Dan Lepard recipe, super-simple to make, but with a good flavour. I added the zest of a clementine and a teaspoon of mixed spice as well.
Without a recipe:
- Pasta with tomatoes, with bolognese
- Various ready meals: Charlie Bigham fish pie, chicken and mushroom pies, lasagne. Donated sausage casserole and cottage pie (thanks, Chris!)
- Cheese and ham quesadillas
I’ve spent much of the week engrossed in Ruth Reichl’s new book, ‘My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life’. Ruth is one of my favourite food writers, but she’s not very well known in the UK. She was a restaurant critic for the LA Times and New York Times, then editor of iconic American food magazine ‘Gourmet’ until it was shut down by Conde Nast in 20xx. This book is about the year after she lost her job, and the healing power of getting into the kitchen. Much like Nigel Slater’s recent books, it’s organised into seasons, and has a story with each recipe of what she was doing at the time. I’ve already bookmarked a stack of recipes to make, including Venetian pork (little pieces of sticky pork ribs), her basic chilli, diva grilled cheese, gingered applesauce cake with caramel glaze and Big New York cheesecake.
- Thank-you for calling the Butterball hotline – essential reading for Thanksgiving, and for those who remember the West Wing episode that this featured in
- It’s the time of year for gift guides: the Telegraph has the best websites to order Christmas food online; Food52 and Bon Appetit have American gift guides.
- My sites of choice for Christmas would be:
- Sous Chef – lots of lovely imported things like panettone, as well as gifts for cooking with
- Chococo – these handmade chocolates often come out well in reviews and have lovely looking packaging
- Konditor and Cook – fine mince pies and excellent cakes
- The Spicery – lovely supplies of spices and recipe kits
And if none of that is your thing, Sali Hughes has her beauty gift guide out too.