The Ultimate Chocolate Cake and an Extraordinary Book.

Kate Atkinson. Life After Life. Cooking the books.

Kate Atkinson. Life After Life. Cooking the books.

My small girl was born half-strangled, the umbilical cord wrapped four times around her neck. Unlike the birth days of my other children, it’s not a memory I like to revisit. What-ifs crowded so closely against reality that I can’t think about what happened without also re-living the nightmare of what nearly happened. My small girl was born on…

Click here to read more.

Soup and a good book.

I have forsworn cake for lent. It’s not that I am worried about my eventual entry through the gates of heaven (though it could be a tight squeeze) but that I am concerned with the close-fitting nature of my jeans.

I have tried re-introducing the family to salads but the family was having none of it. They complained vociferously and informed me that it’s still too chilly for cold dinners. They have a point. It is surely the season for soup.

Aztec Soup

For my March edition of Cooking the Books, I have devised the ultimate soup recipe. It was almost too easy this time. The book, Umami by Laia Jufresa, practically spelled out the recipe to me. It all came together like some sort of literary magic.

 Find the review and the recipe for Aztec soup here.

Today is World Book Day. Small Girl is very excited about finally qualifying for a free book voucher and I’m happy to have an excuse for a bookshop outing. The books look great this year. Take a look at the list on WorldBookDay.com. I won’t be able to resist the Famous Five stories and I suspect Small Girl will want the one about underpants.The gallery of World Book Day doodles by well known illustrators is also well worth a look.

I like lists. I am a maker of lists and a dedicated ticker of lists. Best of all the lists, of course, are book lists and there are some fantastic book lists out there. If the internet had been invented just for the book lists it would have been worth it. These are some of my favourites:
The Agnes Reading List. I’m blowing my own trumpet here since I compiled this list of books for teenage girls. My all-time most loved books are on this list.
The Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge. Rory Gilmore is one extremely well-read young (and fictional, by the way) lady. These are all the books she reads or mentions over the seven seasons of The Gilmore Girls. You can tick the books you’ve read on this VERY good list (SO satisfying, I’m at 64 of the 339 books).
The Guardian’s list of 100 best novels ever written in English is a SERIOUS list, developed over two years by Robert McCrum. It’s compiled in chronological order. I’ve read 25 which is hardly very impressive.
The 100 Best Children’s Books from Time.com is a thing of beauty. I could flick through this quite contentedly all day long.
The 25 greatest cookbooks of all time is calling to me. So much temptation. The only one of these I own is Moro. My birthday is coming up soon…hello, family…can you hear me? Hint, hint, etc.
My favourite cookbooks are listed here.
Barack Obama’s Reading List: The 79 books recommended by a very bookish president during his time in office.
J.K Rowling’s Reading List: The books which have most influenced the world’s most successful author.

If you don’t find what you’re looking for in any of those lists you could take a glance through the books I’ve read since starting this blog in May 2015.
I hope you find a book you love today.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

To the one I love…

nigella Lawson, tessellating hearts.

There are days when I am convinced that Nigella Lawson was put on Earth to make me fat.

Negella Lawson, custard cream hearts.

Or happy. Let’s face it: the woman is a genius.

nigella Lawson, tessellating hearts.

Hearts tessellate, who knew?

Nigella Lawson, custard cream hearts.

Feast is one of my favourite cookbooks. It reads like a lesson in loving life, revelling in it.

Nigella Lawson, custard cream

Feast lives on my eye-level shelf for ease of access when an occasion needs to be celebrated, a success savoured, a sorrow consoled, a date marked.

Nigella Lawson Custard Cream Hearts

Happy St. Valentine’s Day to you all and, most especially, to the one I love.

Truly. Madly, deeply. To my Valentine.

The recipe for Nigella’s  Custard Cream Hearts is here.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Cooking the Books while Elizabeth is Missing.

Tete a tete narcissus, table-top daffodils.

Elizabeth is Missing.That’s a great title, isn’t it? What a hook? You can’t help wondering who Elizabeth is and what’s happened to her.

Emma Healey‘s beautifully crafted book broke my heart a little bit, as all good books should.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey.

Maud is 82 and confused. Sometimes she can’t quite recall what the machine for heating bread, you know, making it brown, is called. Sometimes she’s not certain who that young woman in the kitchen is. And why are there six cups of cold tea lined up on the hall table?

There is one thing of which Maud is absolutely certain; Elizabeth is missing. Elizabeth is not at home and her nasty son is acting suspiciously. The problem is that nobody will listen to Maud anymore. They won’t believe her and it’s very difficult to solve a mystery when the clues, a powder compact and a hair comb, don’t make sense and, furthermore, she can’t quite remember who it is she’s searching for. She has to rummage in her pockets to find the note she wrote to remind herself. Who was it that’s missing? Oh yes, that’s right, Elizabeth.

Oh Lord, this was heart-wrenching. To be honest, I wasn’t too concerned about Elizabeth. I guessed that she was either dead or grand. It was Maud’s loss that squeezed my guts – her loss of memory, loss of dignity and loss of identity.

If I were to cook a dish to represent this book, it could only be tea and toast as that’s about all Maud is up to.

Elizabeth is Missing is an intriguing and satisfying but, ultimately, terrifying read.

Notice how dark this photo is? It was snowing outside the window, just inches from the cup, when I took it. Perfect weather for tea and toast. My job has a lot of perks.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Speaking of which, I have exciting news for you. Well, it’s exciting for me but you’re welcome to come along for the ride.

As you know, I have been reviewing books for Bookwitty for a while now. I love it SO much. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, my dream job. I can’t believe my luck. Now, it gets even better because they have trusted me with a regular slot, combining my two favourite things in the world: books and food. You might almost call it a column although I’m wary of recalling my Carrie Bradshaw aspirations.

Every month I will write about a book and include a recipe that bears some relationship to that book. It might be a dish that was cooked in the book or it might be a representation of my own devising. I’m SO excited about this as I have already LOVED writing this type of blog post.

Remember A God In Ruins and a Far Breton.? People should eat more Far Breton. It’s great for readers due to the absence of crumbs! I also loved doing The Improbability Of Love On First Dates. That was an ideal book and an ideal recipe for Valentine’s Day if any of you are thinking that far ahead.

My Prue Leith review with a recipe for Mozzarella in Carozza  was the spark for the whole column idea. In December, I cooked some honey-soaked Greek cookies . For diet-conscious January I suggest puffy chouquettes as featured in Muriel Barbery’s Gourmet Rhapsody. These light-as-air morsels could hardly be considered a sin.

Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery

Plans are afoot to have something naughty prepared in time for Valentine’s Day. Here’s a sneak (and, again, snow-lit) preview. I started re-reading this book last night. I’ve noted on the first page that I read it for the first time, as a barely legal 19-year-old in 1991. It still has the power to make my heart race. I must be still alive then.

Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos

I feel that my brain has been packed away in wadding for the past two decades while I have been raising children. Slowly but surely now, it is coming out of hibernation. This, this blog, the book reviews and the interaction with you, feels to me like a small miracle and I am very grateful.

Tete a tete narcissus, table-top daffodils.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Best, Easy, Gluten-Free, Hassle-free, Make-Ahead Frozen Christmas Meringue.

frozen meringue cake

Consider this my gift to you this Christmas.

This frozen meringue cake hardly even merits the title of recipe and yet it has become the chameleon-like stalwart of my repertoire. It is easy child’s play to make. Everybody likes devours it. It can be made to feed any number of guests, young or old, transformed from cake to pudding simply by using a different container and flavours can be varied from season to season as the mood takes you.(You might remember the blackcurrant version, here.)

The only essentials are meringues and whipped cream. Beyond these two, the ingredients are open to creative interpretation. I might have added almonds but for an almond-allergic guest on my list. Walnuts would work. Marrons glacés would be delicious. Mixed citrus peel would be delightfully Sicilian.

I am luck enough to be the proud and fortunate mother of a Teenage Daughter who is happy to avoid studying for her exams by making meringues for me. TD always uses this recipe. Given the week that’s in it, feel free to use shop-bought meringues. They will be grand.

cranberry sauce

I usually find time to make my own cranberry sauce for Christmas and generally make too much (especially since we don’t have turkey) so this recipe puts it to good use.

making cranberry sauce

Homemade cranberry sauce is the work of mere minutes (7, to be exact) and certain to put you in the holiday mood but, again, the to-do lists are lengthy at this time of year so shop-bought will be absolutely fine. I use this recipe.

Ingredients for Christmas Frozen Meringue Pudding:

10 meringues, broken into chunks
250mls fresh cream, whipped
50g hazelnuts, toasted in a dry pan and chopped
1/2 tin of dulce de leche (or caramel sauce)
1/2 jar of cranberry sauce.

To decorate: 100 g melted dark chocolate
To decorate to excess: several Cadbury’s Crunchie (honeycomb) bars and a drizzle of cranberry sauce.
To decorate tastefully: sorry, you’ll have to come up with that one yourself, I’m all out.

Method:

Line a Christmas pudding bowl, or a 20cm cake tin, or individual freezer-proof cups with cling-film.

Scatter the broken meringues into the whipped cream. Dollop the sauces on top. Sprinkle in the nuts. Mix all the ingredients together.

making frozen meringue cake

Press firmly (to eliminate air gaps) into the lined container and freeze overnight.

That is it! Could anything be easier?

Ah, but wait…

…now, my big pudding is safely tucked away in the freezer for Christmas Eve but I made a special itty-bitty pudding just for you. This is just to say thanks, for being out there, listening to me, praising, advising and encouraging me, and keeping me company.

frozen meringue cake

Isn’t that just grand, turned out on to a sparkly plate and de-frocked of it’s cling film.

But wait…surely a lighted candle is called for on this, the second-shortest day of the year, when I want my blogland friends to know how much I appreciate them all, each and every one, and I’m certain a drizzle of dark chocolate could only make it better.

frozen meringue cake

Wait, wait, wait…I have a great idea (famous last words at Christmas)…

…let’s raid the kids’ selection boxes and find a Cadbury’s Crunchie. Then, let’s take a rolling pin and, thinking of that %^&&*^$ who stole the world’s last parking space at the supermarket, smash that Crunchie to smithereens. Ah, yes, that felt good. Are you still there? Have ye all given me up as a mad raving looney?

frozen meringue cake

Wait… last time, I promise,

…a drizzle of cranberry sauce just because I love the colour:

frozen meringue cake

Being serious, these few days leading up to Christmas are always hectic but also somehow the best part. A few goodies like this one stowed away in the freezer can be a genuine mental bulwark against panic.

My best mental health advice, however, is to keep a rolling pin and a large stack of Cadbury’s Crunchies to hand throughout the season.

We are down to the final stretch my friends, the year turns tomorrow and we can raise our heads and face the finishing line. Let’s cheer each other over the line.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Relish, Reindeer and Melomakaronas.

Christmas Preparations.

Hah! Say that with your mouth full of cookies.

The sky is hanging about 12 feet above the ground. It’s not raining, exactly, but the finest mist is dangling there in the most exasperating fashion. It feels like a slight weight, a downwards pressure on the shoulders and the spirits.

I am feeling tired, perhaps under-caffeinated (more on that anon) and in dire need of cake.

If you fancy a delicious morsel pop over for a look at my melomakarona recipe and review of The Little Christmas Kitchen. I worked hard to make this a good recipe and it really is.

melomakaronasMelomakaronas are delicious Greek cookies, soaked in a spiced honey syrup and traditionally eaten at Christmas. We devoured (I say we because I don’t want to admit that I ate so very many) dozens of them as I was testing this recipe. The book, The Little Christmas Kitchen by Jenny Oliver was also a real treat. I didn’t expect it to have much bite but it caught me by surprise and really hit a nerve. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for holiday reading.

I went all out, hell for leather, on the Christmas preparations last week. The only problem is that there is almost no light at all so I have very little photographic evidence of my efforts. Here is one candle-lit photo which pretty much encapsulates my week:

Christmas Preparations.

Rudolf was the high-light. Isn’t he adorable? He is my very first crocheted toy and I am more than a little enamoured.If you are tempted, you can find the pattern here. He may get stuck with the name Rudolf Gilmore as I made him while watching The Gilmore Girls with my daughters. Anyone else watch it? It was terrible. Less said the better.

I realised in panic, as I opened my last jar of rhubarb chutney, that I was in imminent danger of having NO CHUTNEY FOR CHRISTMAS! Action stations were assumed, my most humongous pot was excavated from the dreaded corner cupboard and filled to the brim with the stuff of toasted cheese sandwich fantasies. We call it fakeymaloe relish, it’s not so far off the real McCoy and you can find my not-so-secret recipe here.

Chutney crisis averted, I moved on to emergency mitten replacement for the Small Girl. If these look like exactly the same mittens I made last year it’s because they are, but one size bigger. I used the same ball of cheap yarn that refuses to come to an end regardless of how many Barbie dresses and babydoll blankets I make from it. The Small Girl is content because they match every other pink thing in her life and I won’t be heartbroken when she inevitably loses one of them (never both). Just looking back at last year’s mittens I was reminded of this post which I must try to bear in mind as I strive to resist strangling my Teenage Son in the run up to his Christmas exams.

So, we were going well (errant teenagers aside) with the reindeer and the mittens and the twelve jars of chutney and then…disaster struck…my beloved Burleigh mug took a nose dive off the arm of my chair, bounced a couple of times and skidded out the door to the hall where it spun around dramatically before striking a tragic handle-less pose.

It has been carrying a chip on its rear end for months now but that didn’t bother me. This mug is a champion, a hero amongst mugs. It can hold thirty percent more than the average mug which is just exactly how much more coffee you feel you need when you reach the bottom of an average mug. This ergonomically-shaped mug also keeps coffee hot for a good forty minutes which is exactly how long you need to drink a thirty percent longer cup of coffee. Also, it’s very pretty. And my favourite colour. Sob.

I was quite prepared to live with a handle-less-chipped-but-otherwise-perfect mug but when Husband attempted to fill it he discovered a fatal injury. Scroll back up to the photo and see if you can spot it.

‘Yes, you can still use your mug,’ he assured me, ‘but only if you are willing to approach it sideways on and never have more than an inch of coffee at a time.’

The family have little pity. They are all greatly relieved that I, as opposed to anyone else, broke my own mug.

Since then, I have achieved nothing. Zilch. Nada.

I have sliced the top off my left index finger bringing a halt to all yarny activity.

I have thrice stepped in dog poo and some incontinent, foul fowl has taken a shine to the windscreen and bonnet of my car.

The laundry basket has complained to the laundry basket union about over-time and over-crowding.

I ordered pizza for Sunday dinner.

There is every chance that my Husband is writing to Santa as we speak requesting a proper, functional housewife as his old one appears to have broken down.

Here…the man said it:

 

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook.

Yule Log. From Jamie Oliver's Christmas Cookbook.

I was humming and hawing about buying Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook pretty much from the moment I heard of its existence. This is my fix, my drug of choice.

Jamie does such luscious books and I have, wait while I go count, seven, oh dear, I can hardly believe that myself, seven of his books already and I hardly ever cook from them but they are soooo nice, so lovely and so pretty and sort of wholesome looking…

…but none of them a Christmas Cookbook, not that I need a Christmas Cookbook since we eat the same dinner every year (chicken liver pâté, forerib of beef, Christmas pudding and baked Alaska) but it would make me happy and maybe prevent my stabbing somebody which is often on the cards come Christmas…

…I definitely don’t need it but it would be a treat and I do need a treat. So?

‘We wants it. We needs it. Must have the precious.’

I made little deals with myself:

If I buy Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook I won’t buy any Christmas magazines.
I’ll buy Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook and maybe just one magazine but I won’t get my hair done until December.
I’ll buy Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook and one magazine that has something useful in it but I need to get my hair done because my resemblance to Mrs Malfoy is gone beyond a joke but, I know, I won’t order any ridiculously extravagant Christmas food from the M&S catalogue (the book, by the way, costs roughly the same as a jar of pâté).

On I went, striking bargains with myself, all the while knowing I was going to buy the bloomin’ book and kind of enjoying the bitter-sweet torment of waiting for exactly the right moment. I do this all the time. I am that annoying person who can put a bar of chocolate in a drawer and think about it for three weeks before eating it. It drives the Husband crazy. I’m not so good at resisting cheese toasties but then, who would want a three week old cheese toastie?

Anyway, I was near the point of saying;

‘d’you know what, I’ll live without Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook. I shall instead embrace the spirit of the season and buy the RHS book of Herbs for Gourmet Gardeners which I have seen Husband drooling over.’

Then suddenly, like a Christmas miracle, I was offered the opportunity to review Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook for Bookwitty.com and I grabbed that chance like a woman possessed. Click here to read on…

Manhattan. Jamie Oliver's Christmas Cookbook.

 

[PS. A little aside: I don’t get paid for referring you to Bookwitty.com. In this case, given that Bookwitty offers free postage worldwide, I think they are offering Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook at the best price around. However, depending where you live, you might want to check how long it will take to arrive.]

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.