Greetings. It’s been a while, again. Writing has taken a back seat thanks to some properly busy weekends, a mountain of law work (very little of which I understand, mid-lesson strops have become a regular occurrence), a bizarre shorthand exam featuring a ‘fans tall boat’ that definitely was not actually a ‘fans tall boat’ and therefore I’m fairly sure I’ve failed, and a laptop that’s taken two weeks to update. But I’m back, and I have lots to say.
Rather than one long rambling monologue on a topic you probably have very little interest in (was originally going to do a post about eating in the bath before I realised how mundane a topic that is – some things are nice to eat in the bath (chocolate, mango, toast, cheese on a sturdy cracker) and some things are not (stroganoff, an overfilled burger), no more needs to be said), I’m going to give you a couple of nuggets in the form of rants and recommendations that I’ve accumulated during my three week absence, plus a recipe that someone very kindly requested I put on the blog. So without further or do…
Rant: Shit cookery programmes
I quite like cooking programmes, as you might guess. I’m not a cookery programme snob – I’m happy to watch Tom Kerridge giving questionably healthy recipes for muffins just as I’m happy to watch Nigel lovingly gaze down at his worn cast iron skillet while making a supper for one (always for one – where are his friends?). Obviously, Nigella is a favourite – not for the food, just for the unashamedly saucy closeups of her sucking on a wooden spoon or dolloping a pillowy meringue mix from her KitchenAid bowl balanced on her hips.
But the latest bout of home-style cookery competitions, all on the BBC, has crossed the line between pleasantly mundane (all of Mary Berry’s programmes) and infuriatingly basic (The Big Family Cook Off, or whatever that flop of a series was called where two families were pitched against each other to essentially cook dinner, but three times over in one show). The latest, another blatant attempt to steal back the Bake Off enthusiasts, is ‘Britain’s Best Home Cook’. A pedestrian, bunting-clad version of Masterchef, where average home cooks have to work to impress both chef Dan Doherty of Duck and Waffle, and Mary Berry – akin to cooking dinner to impress both Heston Blumenthal and your spice-hating, raw fish-fearing, mince-loving nan.
I reached my peak anger last night, when a woman who had already proven herself not only to be a very average home cook, but a pretty abysmal home cook, served an entirely raw whole fish without realising because she couldn’t work the oven. In the same episode, the cooks were given a glut of gorgeous variations on squash to invent a dish with, and all but 3 of them made soup. I can hear the army of home cooks sitting on their sofas at home, arms gesticulating at Mary’s beaming face at the thought of not having to chew the majority of the dishes, shouting in unison ‘Britain’s best home cook and you make a bloody soup?!’ We have more cookery programmes than we’ve ever had before on air (to Dad’s dismay, as he tells me every time I switch over to one); surely a bunch of supposedly superior home cooks can come up with something to do with a squash other than boil it and blend it?
I forgot how much I love complaining about things. Best move onto my recommendations before I get onto the fact that Claudia Winkleman is the chosen presenter for the show…
Recommendation: Jude’s Ice Cream
In particular, Jude’s sticky toffee pudding ice cream. At first me and Mum bought a tub because I’d heard Jude’s was good and it was on offer in Sainsbury’s. We cracked it out after dinner, we passed it round, Dad finished the tub in one sitting. Next round, me and Mum attempted to hide the tub in amongst the frozen chicken legs and mince packets. Dad found the tub and finished it in one sitting. Chaos ensued.
Round three. We bought a sticky toffee pudding flavour and a salted caramel; double the volume, a flavour one of us would potentially prefer, a diplomatic approach in our opinion. The salted caramel flavour remains in our freezer, less than a quarter consumed. The sticky toffee pudding flavour, on the other hand, was gone by 11pm.
Round four, and we’ve learnt our lesson. We bought a tub each, I’ve sharpied my name on mine, and am considering marking where I’ve eaten to each night to ensure no one is tempted to dip into my supplies. The message to take away from this – Jude’s sticky toffee pudding flavour ice cream is really good, and currently cheaper than Haagen Dasz in Sainsbury’s. I recommend buying one tub per occupant in the house, plus a pack of sharpies.
I was actually planning on giving a couple more rants/recs, but I got carried away and now your attention is probably waning, so before you go I’ll give you a quick, easy, cheap recipe/base for a dish, inspired by a recipe in Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries III (all time favourite cookbook, could genuinely read it cover to cover). Swap eggs for a couple of chicken thighs, browned in a pan first and plopped on top of the tomato base before it goes in the oven, or fry some halloumi at the end and sit on top. Do what you like with it, but don’t omit the anchovies, even if you’re not a fish fan.
Baked eggs with roasted shallots and tomatoes for two (In the photo: I halved the recipe – apart from the anchovies, which I kept at 4 – and served for one)
2 banana shallots, peeled and halved lengthways
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 red pepper, roughly diced
1/2 aubergine or courgette, diced
600g cherry tomatoes, halved
3 sprigs of thyme
4-5 anchovy fillets (from a tin), finely chopped
1 loaf of your favourite bread (really tangy sourdough for me)
A huge curl of butter
- Preheat the oven to 180C. Heat a large, deep frying pan (one with a metal handle suitable for the oven*) with oil on medium heat. Add the shallots and leave to brown and soften while you prep the rest of the veg. When the shallots are soft and beginning to brown, about five minutes, add the red pepper, aubergine, chopped anchovies and garlic. Fry for a further few minutes until they begin to soften before adding the tomatoes. Add the thyme sprigs, salt and pepper, and toss around to combine.
- Put the frying pan in the oven and bake for 35 minutes, or until the vegetables are bubbling and browning on top. *If you don’t have an oven-proof frying pan, transfer the veg to a small roasting tray or even a cake tin to bake – you want the veg to be on top of each other, not spaced out in the pan. You want it saucy.
- When the vegetables are done, bring them out the oven, make four little wells in the sauce, and crack four eggs into them, before placing back in the oven for a further 4 minutes – or until the whites of the eggs are just about cooked. Meanwhile, slice your bread and toast it.
- Bring your baked eggs out from the oven and set on the table, flanked by your toast and butter. Butter your toast (liberally), puncture your egg yolk, mop up the tomatoey eggy juices, consume.