Monday, 30 May 2016

Stoke Newington Literary Festival


Next weekend, 3-5 June, Stoke Newington comes alive with writers and all manner of creative types for the seventh Stoke Newington Literary festival. If you’re the hungry or thirsty sort, which of course you are, do come to any and all of the events I’m helping to run in St. Paul’s West Hackney

We kick off with A Taste of Honey on Saturday, with Hattie Ellis, Hannah Rhodes and Paul Webb, then Sabrina Ghayour joins us to talk about her delicious new book Sirocco, the follow up to her smash hit bestseller, Persiana.  We round off Saturday afternoon with chocolate brought to us by Cocoa Runners and philosopher Julian Baggini. 

On Sunday, Rachel McCormack hosts her popular Gastro Salon, with cocktail queen Kay Plunkett-Hogge, Hackney food writer Yasmin Khan and local resident and former Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ed Balls, and then on Sunday afternoon Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer join us to talk about running their deliciously successful restaurant, Honey & Co.

Do come! It would be wonderful to see you.


A Taste of Honey.
Saturday 4th June, 11:00 - £6.00
Have you ever thought about becoming a bee keeper? Fancy having your own hives or simply mad about honey? Then join us as we talk all things honey with Hattie Ellis, author of Spoonfuls of Honey, Hannah Rhodes, founder of Hiver Beer, and urban beekeeper Paul Webb.



Fabulous Flavours from the East with Sabrina Ghayour Saturday 4th June, 15:00 - £6.00
Join Sabrina Ghayour, the award-winning author of the bestselling Persiana, as she talks food, cooking and her eagerly anticipated new book Sirocco. Discover what fuels Sabrina’s passion for food, the inspiration behind her new book and the key ingredients that are always in her shopping basket. There will be samples of one of the dishes from the book.


Saturday 4th June, 17:00 - £6.00
Philosopher Julian Baggini’s essay, an epilogue to the acclaimed The Virtues of the Table, extends his thoughts on our relationship with food to cover one of the greatest food groups of all, chocolate. The essay was exclusively written for Cocoa Runners, a chocolate club who are passionate about the chocolate they source and how it is produced. Both Julian and the Cocoa Runners team will be joining us for chocolate, discussions on chocolate, and more chocolate.

Chocolate will be provided...



Sunday 5th June, 13:00 - £6.00
Host Rachel McCormack (BBC Radio 4’s Kitchen Cabinet) talks to former model booker, cocktail queen and food writer Kay Plunkett-Hogge (Heat: Cooking With Chillies), Hackney-based author Yasmin Khan (The Saffron Tales) and former Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and self-confessed foodie Ed Balls (Sport Relief Bake Off) about road trips. They dish up stories of the best – and worst – food they’ve eaten whilst travelling.



Sunday 5th June, 15:00 - £6.00
Since it first opened its doors in 2012, Honey & Co has attracted an intensely loyal following who pack the tiny restaurant every day. At the heart of this success are owners Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer – partners in business and life. Join them as they talk about how they got started, what inspires them in the kitchen, and how they navigate a delicious path in work and life. 
There will be samples of cake from their baking book.




The full Literary Festival programme can be found here, or downloaded in pdf format here.

Monday, 21 March 2016

A little birdy told me

@Lickedspoon on Twitter
Hard at work, on that Twitter


Today, Twitter is 10 years old. To celebrate I’m baking the little birdy a cake. Not really. But I have such affection for the real-time microblogging site, I feel like I should mark the occasion in some way. Perhaps during Anniversary Monday I will attempt to speak only in sentences of 140 characters or fewer, like this one, as a special tribute?

I love Twitter. This seems this is an increasingly unfashionable point of view. If you listen to various media reports (and my dad), you’d think that to tap into Twitter is to ensure the wrath of the mighty - or at least the sweaty, typing away in dusty, unaired bedrooms, possibly in their pants – will fall upon your head. 

That’s certainly true for some. If you are famous, especially famous while female, have an opinion, or have made a mistake, said something strong or perhaps a bit silly, friendly interaction can be drowned out by an avalanche of grimness, bile, appalling spelling and unresolved mummy issues.

But for the rest of us, it’s still possible for Twitter to open up the world in a rather wonderful way. As a journalist working from home, the only thing I miss about office life is the cosy, helpful, sometimes scandalous chat each day. 

My cat is a very poor substitute. Dixie has few opinions on the Real Housewives of New York. She cares not if a certain chef does or doesn’t have a gastric band, or whether the roadworks at Old Street roundabout will be completed in our lifetimes. She doesn’t know if the Sugar Tax will make any difference, who might win the Man Booker Prize, the possibility of Spurs ending the season higher than Arsenal in the League, or which mascara is absolutely, positively waterproof. 

Twitter can be like the most useful and friendly drinks party, one where no one cares that you haven’t brushed your hair or changed out of yesterday’s ancient top. My Twitter pals provide me with a constantly evolving list of books, plays and exhibitions I must fit into my life, advise me on how to prune my roses or what malevolent creature is eating my gooseberries (sawfly), where to find a new dog groomer or a person brave enough to come and clean my oven. If I want to discover why that helicopter has been hovering over my house for two hours, Twitter’s the first place I turn. And wherever I am in the world, I use Twitter to find out where to stay or to eat from people who live there. It’s like TripAdvisor without the latent psychopathy.

At its best, Twitter has the power to bring out people’s fundamental need to be kind. On many occasions, it has figuratively and literally helped me with my shopping. I even got a book deal out of it, when a gardening writer I know only from Twitter put me in touch with her publisher who was looking for someone who could write about both cooking and gardening. So thank you for that, @alexmitchelleg

I’m fascinated by the way it demonstrates human complexity. I love how Irish novelist Marian Keyes, (@MarianKeyes) follows her traditional greeting of ‘Lads!’ with everything from nail varnish, to Strictly, Irish Tayto crisps, her Mammy and unflinching honesty about her depression. That actor Sam West (@exitthelemming) tweets beautifully about birds and nature, that Ian Martin (@IanMartin), Emmy-award winning writer on Veep and The Thick of It, is so knowledgeable about architecture. 

In a world which seems increasingly to want to pigeon hole people, to allow them only to be one thing - often not of their own choosing - it’s a useful reminder that you can be interested in Syria and lipstick, Beowulf and Happy Valley, restaurants and kayaking. 

It’s wrong to assume that all keen tweeters are eschewing the real world for a cosy or combative virtual one. For me, the opposite is true. I flip through my diary and see that half a dozen or so of the people I’m seeing this week are some of those I first met in communications limited to 140 characters. Now we sometimes talk for hours, share stories, laughs, drinks and problems, give each other career tips and romantic advice. Just like proper friends because we have become proper friends. 

For me, communicating with people I would never have got to know in a life before Twitter, has been unequivocally life enhancing. It’s egalitarian and fun, the easiest way to find your faraway tribe, wherever you are and whoever you are. Whether you’re interested in rare breed sheep or mediaeval manuscripts, or just want someone to listen along to #TheArchers with, you just have to find the right @s for you. And for that, we all owe a friendly debt to the little blue bird.

I tweet as @lickedspoon. Come and help me procrastinate.

PEOPLE WHO ARE SURPRISINGLY GOOD AT TWITTER

Kathy Burke @KathyBurke Upliftingly sweary and funny. Passionate supporter of the NHS. Kind and consistent retweeter of lost people and dogs. 

Carrie Fischer @carrieffisher I want whatever she and her French bulldog Gary are having. Gives great emoticon.

Cher @Cher Hard to know what she’s going on about sometimes, but you wouldn’t want to miss it. You know when she’s awake. Loves capital letters.

Reverend Richard Coles @RevRichardColes Presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live, former Communard, priest of the parish of Finedon. Follow him for his wry look at the world and excellent pictures of dachshunds. 

Joanne Harris @Joannechocolat Award-winning author of Chocolat and many other novels, short stories and cookbooks. Generous with advice to writers; admirably, patiently ruthless with sexists and any other form of bigot. 

Jeremy Lee @JLQuoVadis Lively tweets from the charismatic chef at London’s Quo Vadis; part food, part flowers, part flirt. Generous and heartwarming stuff with edge of wickedness.

Gary Linekar @garylinekar Come for the football, stay for the Piers Morgan put downs and self-deprecating funnies.

Alison Moyet @AlisonMoyet Engaging, chatty, funny and kind. Essentially you want her to be your best pal in a total FanGirl way.

Nigella @Nigella Warm, informative and responsive to her followers, unlike some. Good on recipe tips and pointers to the latest cookbooks. 

Richard Osman @richardosman The co-presenter of quiz show Pointless, or ‘You know, that guy from that thing,’ as his Twitter biography would have it. Prolific, funny and generous.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

In praise of The Pauper’s Cookbook


I often tell people that I can cook because my mother couldn’t, or wouldn’t. She was far more interested in studying, writing, teaching and taking us to museums and bookshops, on walks along the riverbank in Durham and, importantly, instilling in my brother and me a love of whiling away afternoons in cafés. All of these are very important life skills.

But she did sometimes cook more than the usual, hasty beans on toast or egg and chips, and when she did, it was from Jocasta Innes’s The Pauper’s Cookbook.

I was just writing something about 70s food, which made me pick up my old, yellowing copy for the first time in years. Flipping through it, I can see it through my mother’s young eyes and understand why it must have been so appealing.

This book is about as far away from the 70s housewife world of perfect garnishes and dainty hors d’oeuvres as it’s possible to get. It’s crammed with recipes for the hurried, harried and skint. It has a let’s-get-on-with-it tone and a spirit of adventure, with recipes such as brandade of tuna fish, tortilla, and Suleiman’s Pilaff (bits of leftover cooked lamb, mixed with garlic, patna rice, tinned tomatoes and ‘a pinch of thyme or rosemary’ – the ‘pinch’ makes me think that the assumption is they’re inevitably dried, not fresh).

Welcome to the 70s, so many beans, so much brown earthenware.

I love the cover photograph, with its earthenware dish which would look quite at home in many of today’s faux-rustic East London restaurants. I love the trickle of burnt-on sauce from the pork and beans, and I love, love, love the blurb on the back cover:

‘So leave it to the affluent to court indigestion at the Waldorf-Ritz: here’s how to live it up in your own squalid tenement without recourse to poaching, rustling, guddling, scrumping or shop-lifting.’ How could you possibly resist? And now I need to go and find out what the hell ‘guddling’ is.


French onion soup


I wanted to make something from the book without having to run out to the shops (too cold, too lazy), so my eyes fell on Jocasta’s recipe for French onion soup. Her recipe was much simpler than the one I create here. Its ingredients are 1 quart basic stock, 4 large or 6 small onions, knob of butter, 1/4lb grated Cheddar, 4 slices toast, salt and pepper. But with my Twenty-First-Century fancy London ways, I have at my disposal wine and brandy, Gruyère cheese and an end of slightly stale baguette. But it is absolutely in the spirit of Jocasta, if not to the letter.

SERVES 4-6

80g butter
4 large yellow or white onions, about 1kg prepared weight, halved and thinly sliced
100ml white wine
1 litre beef stock
1 tbsp brandy
About ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
4-6 slices of baguette, about 1cm thick
100g Gruyère cheese, grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Warm the butter over a medium heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan
 or casserole. When it stops foaming, add the onions and a good pinch of salt.  Fry gently, stirring often, until they are just beginning to turn golden - they shouldn’t caramelise at all. This could take at least 30 minutes, up to 45 minutes.

The raw sliced onions…
...transform into these soft, golden ones.
 
Pour in the wine and stir again for a couple of minutes until almost completely evaporated. Next add the stock and some salt and pepper and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Grate in the nutmeg, pour in the brandy and season with more salt and pepper if necessary. 

Heat up the grill.

Ladle the soup into heatproof bowls. Place a slice of bread on top and scatter the cheese over the top. Grill until golden and bubbling. Serve immediately. 

I love the way Gruyère melts into delicious stringiness.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Something for the weekend


Weekend breakfasts, specifically Saturday morning breakfasts, are among my favourite of all meals. I love the easy, freewheeling slide into the pleasure of the weekend, slummocking about in pyjamas, spreading out the newspapers, flipping through a stack of new magazines with a wad of Post-Its, catching up on favourite telly. 

Séan usually makes the breakfast at weekends (A Very Good Thing), so it was in a rare burst of Saturday morning activity that I whisked together these pancakes. I had some roasted squash left over from dinner the night before and the slightly charred edges added a caramelised note to the end result which I liked, but you could certainly use simply steamed or lightly roasted and mashed veg. You could also mash and freeze small amounts of leftover roast squash so you have the essential ingredient ready to go should the mood strike. I used buckwheat flour but just use plain flour if that’s what you have to hand.

I served the pancakes with Toulouse sausages, fried eggs, a bit of fried sage and a splodge of apple sauce, but they would be great with anything of the things you like to fuel you through the weekend. Apart from baked beans. Please don’t do that.


Squash and sage pancakes

Makes 8-10 pancakes

300g cooked pumpkin or squash, mashed
150g buckwheat flour
5-6 sage leaves, finely shredded
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp nutmeg
260ml buttermilk
4 tbsp melted butter, cooled 
1 egg and 1 egg yolk

Some oil for frying

Mix together the first seven ingredients in a bowl until well blended. Make a well in the middle. Whisk together the remaining three ingredients in a jug. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the pumpkin mixture, stirring as you go until just combined.

Warm a splash of oil into a non-stick frying pan and warm over a medium-high heat. Spoon small ladelfuls of the batter into the frying pan – you will probably need to do this in batches. Cook each pancake for about 3-4 minutes per side, until golden and cooked through. Keep the first batch warm while you cook the rest of the mixture.

Serve immediately, with eggs, sausages, bacon, whatever you like for breakfast.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

A plain walnut cake

When we came back from our trip to France two weeks ago, along with the copper kugelhopf tins, bottles of olive oil and plaits of pink garlic, I stuffed into my luggage a plastic bag filled with walnuts – a gift from the man at the brocante from whom I’d bought the cake tins. 

They’ve been sitting in a bowl in the kitchen ever since, a nutcracker poised hopefully on top. I’ve made the odd crack-and-grab raid, snatching one or two as I walk past, or nibbled a few after dinner with some cheese. But I have been longing to make a cake. Not a classic coffee and walnut cake - though I love that - but a very simple thing. I wanted a low, plain cake, one that would allow the creamy lusciousness of the fresh walnuts to shine – at least enough to make the shelling of them worth it.

So on Saturday, I sat in my kitchen, rhythmically shelling 500g or so of walnuts, sending shards of shell onto high shelves and skittering across the floor, much to the excitement of the cat. As I cracked, and picked and extracted the meat from the nuts, I watched the news from Paris on the television. 

I have loved France, the fantasy of it and the complicated reality of it, ever since I first visited Paris with my school when I was 10. I sit here typing and deleting, typing and deleting, finding it impossible to convey my deep affection for a country which has helped form me almost as much as the one that birthed me. What Ian McEwen had to say here expresses it. And this much-shared segment from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight on HBO... well, I was just cheering my head off at this.
‘If you are in a war of culture and lifestyle with France, good fucking luck. Go ahead. Bring your bankrupt ideology. They’ll bring Jean Paul Sartre, Edith Piaf, fine wine, Gauloise cigarettes, Camus, Camembert, madeleines, macarons, Marcel Proust and the fucking croquembouche.’ 

For the cake:
I took my inspiration from this recipe from the very useful site of the French food magazine Marmiton. I love it. I hope you do too. I tried serving it in several ways. With poached quince and quince ice cream after Sunday lunch, with cream and then with thick Turkish yoghurt, but really it's best with nothing at all, just by itself, with perhaps a glass of sweet wine or rum to sip along with it.

100g unsalted butter, softened, plus a little more for greasing the tin
160g shelled walnuts, from about 500g whole nuts if you’re shelling them yourself
140g caster sugar or vanilla sugar
40g plain flour
½ tsp flaky sea salt
3 eggs
2 tbsps rum

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan/Gas 4.Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a loose-bottomed 21cm cake tin. Line the base with parchment and butter the parchment.

Reserve 8-10 perfect walnut halves to finish the cake – if you like, leave them off if you think this is just far too much adornment. Put the rest of the walnuts into a food processor and pulse until most of the mixture is quite fine (you still want a few small chunks in it). Tip a third of the sugar into the processor and pulse once to blend. It should have the texture of slightly gritty sand. Of course, you can chop the nuts finely on a chopping board with a large knife if you like.

Beat together the butter and remaining sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the walnut mixture, then add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the rum then gently fold in the flour and salt until just combined.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and arrange the walnut halves on top. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. It should be lightly golden on the surface but don’t overbake it – you want it to remain soft in the middle. 

Place the tin on a rack and leave the cake to cool completely before removing it. It keeps quite well for a few days in an airtight container.
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