Truth compels us to assert our conviction of the superior wholesomeness of bread made in our own homes - Eliza Acton

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Tuesday 30th January


The round-ups of David Lebovitz's Sugar High Friday are a mouth-watering read. I was this close to joining in - to the extent that I had made a tub of Maya Gold sorbet. I would have said something about how delicious that (and every other) member of Green & Black's range is, how darkly and evocatively orangey - like Terry's sophisticated, eco-chic cousin. Unfortunately the challenge of taking a decent photo of what was ultimately a brown lump of ice on a cold, dark morning defeated me. Instead, here's something much more photogenic (Terry's cute, petite, Chinese sister-in-law... stop me now, please): red berry chocolate from Yauatcha.


Monday 22nd January


Waiter, there's something in my stew! Thank you, now that I have your attention... It's a meme, of course, a new one, another one, but signs are good so far for it to be rather a nifty one: Spittoon, Cook Sister! and The Passionate Cook are the steering committee and if anyone can make a success of this sort of thing, they can. This month Andrew at Spittoon is focusing on stew. Being impatient for my honeymoon in Morocco I decided to employ the trusty preserved lemon to make a tangy, tajine-like stew - the lemon hits the perfect sour note against the sweetness of the squash and peas. We had a little domestic dispute as to whether I could cook the lamb on the bone (I had bought a half-shoulder, a lovely cheap cut which is very tender when cooked slowly) and still call it stew, but I reckon if it's in the creuset, it's stew. The meat flakes off the bone when served, after all, so on the plate it's clearly more stew than joint.

Lamb stew with butternut squash

Half-shoulder of lamb (c. 700g)
1 onion, chopped
1 medium butternut squash, chopped
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp ground ginger
c. 1l stock: lamb, chicken or vegetable would all be fine
tin chopped tomatoes
4 chopped preserved lemons (mine are the Belazu brand which come up rather small: you may only need one or two if they are more lemon-sized)
100g frozen peas

Brown the lamb on each side and put on a plate. Fry the onion with oil and salt until softening, then add chilli, ginger and squash. Stir well and cook for a couple of minutes. Put the lamb back in and add stock to cover it completely. Bring to the boil, cover and cook in the oven at GM 4 for two and a half hours. After that time, return to hob, add tomatoes and bring back to the boil. Simmer uncovered for fifteen minutes, unless you feel it needs reducing a little in which case use a more rigourous verb. I wouldn't, because you will then end up with left over broth to which you can add some chickpeas to make soup the next day. Add lemon and peas and simmer for five minutes until peas are thawed. Serve with couscous.


Tuesday 16th January


It's extraordinary where recipes come from. This weekend I achieved the completion of my first new year's resolution: to reorganise the overflowing files of collected recipes that were creating a hazard in the spare room. I have vast numbers of them - don't we all? - torn out of magazines and newspapers over the last six years or so, and I collect new ones far faster than I can file, or indeed cook, the old. But for now they are organised: meat (starters and mains), fish, veg (summer and winter), bread/cakes, desserts, and party food. We'll see how long that lasts. Among the forests' worth of yellowing newsprint and slowly de-glossing mags are one or two of more interesting origin: this curry is adapted from the recipe on the side of a Pret à Manger paper bag.

Chicken and sweet potato curry

For step one:
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
2 cloves garlic
tbs grated fresh ginger
tsp turmeric
2 red chillies, finely chopped
tsp fresh lemon grass paste
2 shallots, finely chopped

For step two:
4 chicken breasts, chopped into two or three pieces each
3 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
5 baby aubergines, quartered

For step three:
200ml coconut cream
tbs fish sauce
3 spring onions, chopped
juice of one lime

Step one: fry the ingredients for a few minutes.

Step two: add chicken pieces and brown; add aubergines. After a few minutes add boiling water to cover. Bring to the boil and simmer for thirty minutes, adding sweet potato after twenty.

Step three: Add coconut cream, fish sauce and lime juice. Serve immediately with chopped spring onion over the top.


Wednesday 10th January


One way of increasing the number of posts around here would be to keep a better record of the times we have people round for lunch or dinner. We do it pretty often, thanks in large part to some beloved friends who never object to me insisting on hosting more than my fair share of our get-togethers. For instance, I started the year as I intend to go on by inviting them round for lunch on New Year's Day and attempting to smother our collective hangover with food. (Sidetracking to say: my hangover (no, not _really_, Mother) was courtesy of a rather nice bottle of 1996 Pauillac that we had saved for a special occasion - which NYE at home alone, eating beef wellington and watching geeky movies, seemed to be. /sidetrack) So lunch was assembled with a small nod to the fact that no-one had had much in the way of breakfast. We started with blini, went on to sausages, and finished with the cheesecake whose remains you see above. I opted for a non-baked cheesecake as I'd used eggs in a side dish for the main course (baked in red peppers with garlic breadcrumbs). This recipe (based on Nigel Slater's) produces a rich but not claggy cake, which is balanced by the orange and ginger to make a very luxurious winter dessert.

Ginger cheesecake

For the base:
120g butter, melted
400g ginger biscuits (the thin Swedish kind are better than ginger nuts), finely crushed

For the filling:
250g mascarpone
75g icing sugar
400ml crème fraîche
zest of one orange
5 balls of stem ginger (the sort that is sold in syrup), chopped
300ml double cream

For the syrup:
juice of one orange
2tbs syrup from the ginger
2 tbs Cointreau
100g caster sugar

Mix the biscuit crumbs into the butter and press into the bottom of a springform tin (22/23cm). There should be enough crumbs to come around the sides as well as covering the base generously. I wouldn't expect to be able to made neat sides, though: it looks lovely with a jagged edge, anyway. Put the tin in the fridge for an hour or so until firm.

Beat the mascarpone with a wooden spoon to slacken it, then add the icing sugar and beat until smooth. Add crème fraîche, ginger and orange zest. Finally whisk cream into soft peaks and fold in. Tip mixture onto biscuit base and chill (another hour at least, or overnight if it suits you). To serve, heat the syrup ingredients together until well, syruppy. Allow to cool before pouring over the cheesecake.


Sunday 7th January

buche de noel macaron

Unless this is your very first visit (welcome!), you hardly need me to tell you what my New Year's Resolutions are. More frequent posting, basically. There is a wedding to arrange, however, and before that a bit of a monster work project, so I warn you now: if it all goes quiet, I haven't fallen off edge of the internet, I'll be back shortly. And that is the last apology/explanation I shall make this year: lapsed blogs may be boring but 'OMG I haven't posted for weeks but I've been sooooooo busy' is more boring still.

A quick recap of Christmas should get the year off to a good start. I would thoroughly recommend the experience if I could only pinpoint what it was that made it so good - Christmas in France seemed like a perfect combination, but then I am a sucker for both... and after the usual UK xmas overhype and an unusually busy few weeks at work I concede that leaving the country (by train and therefore unimpeded by fog) would have seemed like a blessed idea wherever we were going.

I can't, however, think of many ways I'd rather spend Christmas Eve than queuing outside Pierre Hermé. (Not queuing, you say? But they brought us chocolates on silver trays! There's a civilised atmosphere to queues for food that you just don't find in, say, toy shops at that time of year.) My reward was one of the few remaining Carrement de Chocolat Buches de Noel (biscuit moelleux chocolat, crème onctueuse au chocolat, mousse au chocolat, croustillant au chocolat, fines feuilles de chocolat craquant). As if that wasn't decadence enough, I also came away with a small bag of Christmas-special macaroons: chocolate and foie gras. These were deep raspberry red with silver leaf, more beautiful than my photography can adequately convey, and fascinating to eat: the foie gras was not mixed into the chocolate ganache, but sandwiched with it, so that some bites were distinctly more savoury than others. The macaroon itself was not particularly sweet (though I don't think you could make them without a certain amount of sugar) so the overall impression was of richness. In fact because foie gras is nearly almost served with something sweet - from Sauternes to chutney - pairing it with chocolate is strange precisely because the flavours are not miles apart. A very interesting experiment. There was a smashing old lady on Desert Island Discs this morning who used 'salt with chocolate' as a metaphor for discord, but as our respective presents also included marmite-flavoured chocolates and salted caramels, this is clearly the year when salt goes mainstream...