“Angela lifted the toast on to the table. “I got Antoinette to make anchovy toast for us,” she said. “It looks good, doesn’t it? Take a slice, Anne-Marie.”

Anne-Marie took the top slice. It seemed to have rather a peculiar smell. Anne-Marie looked rather doubtfully at it.

“It’s all right,” said Alison, seeing her look. “Anchovy always smells a bit funny I think.”

She and Anne-Marie took a good bite out of their toast at the same second. The shoe cream tasted abominable.”

This is one of my favourite-ever scenes in Enid Blyton’s St Clare’s boarding school series, which comes after “fun-loving French girl” Antoinette pays out the mean fifth-formers by spreading their toast with shoe polish instead of anchovy paste. To add insult to injury, she then tells Matron of her ‘mistake’ so the three girls end up getting a dose of Matron’s nasty medicine while Antoinette gets cosseted with chocolate by Mam’selle.

I’ve been thinking about this scene a lot recently after discovering what might be one of the loveliest cookbooks I’ve ever come across. It’s The Little Library Cookbook by Australian/Londoner Kate Young and it is utterly perfect. 

 

As the name suggests, Kate’s book is a collection of recipes inspired by books old and new – from roasted pheasant inspired by Danny, Champion of the World, to spaghetti and meatballs inspired by The Godfather. There are lots of recipes from books I know and love (I Capture The Castle, The Goldfinch, Americanah, The Pursuit of Love) and lots from books I’m now desperate to read (How I Live Now, The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, The End of the Affair). Each recipe deftly weaves together a little about the book, a little about Kate’s relationship to it, and a lot about the food. It’s such a good idea – and so beautifully executed – that part of me wants to force-feed Kate shoe polish on toast because I’m so jealous of her cleverness. But mostly, I just want this book to be a roaring success so she writes another one.

In the meantime, here’s my homage to Antoinette’s anchovy paste (a rather more palatable version that won’t send you running to Matron).

Anchovy and black garlic paste

Black garlic gives this its rich, shoe polish-y colour, but you can omit it if you don’t have any.

1 x 50g tin (or 80g jar) anchovies, drained of their oil and chopped

50g softened unsalted butter

2-3 cloves black garlic

2 tsp capers

2 tsp pink peppercorns

Put everything in a small bowl (or, the bowl of a blender, if you’re lazy) and mix together to form a smooth-ish paste. Scrape into a jar (add optional ‘shoe polish’ label for kicks) and store in the fridge. Best served on very thin and crisp hot toast.

If anchovy paste isn’t to your taste, you might like to watch Kate making ‘An Enormous Round Chocolate Cake’, inspired by the one the Trunchbull forces hapless Bruce Bogtrotter to eat in Matilda. I think this is in my future these school holidays…

Four years ago, not long after my mother died, someone I didn’t know very well left a lemon verbena tree on our doorstep. I found this gesture incredibly touching and kind, not least because my parents’ garden had a huge lemon verbena tree and Mum often made tea from the leaves. I’m not sure if I ever properly thanked her – but Kate, if you’re reading this, I often think of that kindness when I walk past the tree.

The tree has thrived, despite my neglect, but I seldom do anything with the leaves except for the occasional cup of tea. Then, while pottering around in the kitchen a week or so ago, I made this syrup and the whole house smelled like lemon verbena. It was gorgeous.

If you’ve got a lemon verbena tree, make this syrup now to get a dose of that intense lemony sherbet flavour in the depths of winter (or scent your house with it in summer). You can use it in drinks (nice with soda, or with very cold vodka as a kind of martini-ish number), or pour it over vanilla ice cream, or use it in this simple and elegant fruit salad (recipe follows). I’m thinking a lemon verbena sorbet could be next…

Lemon Verbena Syrup

1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 packed cup lemon verbena leaves

Put the water and sugar in a small pot and set over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then lower the heat and add the lemon verbena. Let bubble gently for five minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
When the syrup has cooled completely, strain it through a fine sieve into a sterilised bottle or jar. Discard the lemon verbena leaves or use them as a garnish (they will be almost candied). Makes about 1/2 cup.

Simple fruit salad with lemon verbena syrup
2 white-flesh peaches
2 apricots
2 dark-fleshed plums
1 1/2 cups blueberries (or boysenberries)
1/4 cup lemon verbena syrup

Cut all the stonefruit into slim wedges – about eight slices – and put in a bowl. Pour over the syrup and stir gently, then add the berries. This can be done in advance, but I think it’s nicest at room temperature rather than fridge-cold. Serves 4-6.

Want a simple sauce you can use on just about anything? Look no further. This stir-together sauce takes about two minutes to make and enlivens all kinds of dishes. It’s good with cold chicken, as a side sauce for fish or prawns. You can also try it with very cold soft tofu or soft-hard boiled eggs. There’s just one piece of advice: don’t share this sauce recipe with anyone, or you’ll be drowning in it by the time summer ends. It’s THAT good.

Secret spicy sauce

The trick to this is using good quality curry powder. Other than that, there’s not much to it.

1 Tbsp hot curry powder

1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup Greek yoghurt

1/4 cup mayonnaise

salt and pepper

Put the curry powder and lemon juice in a bowl and mix to a paste. Beat in the yoghurt and mayonnaise, then taste for seasoning – it may need a little salt, or a little more lemon juice. Store, covered, in the fridge for up to a week.

Have a great weekend everyone x

It’s funny the things that stick in your head. For example, the sole thing I remember from the Queen’s last visit to New Zealand (don’t ask me when it was, I’m not that much of a royalist) is that she requested pumpkin to be served at a dinner at Huka Lodge.

This always struck me as weird, a bit like when Kate Winslet was found shopping in Pagani in Masterton. Because as much as I love pumpkin, it’s not particularly fancy. Maybe that’s what Queenie likes about it – perhaps she tires of foie gras and roasted grouse and longs to eat roast pumpkin in front of Coronation St. (There’s still no explanation for Kate and Pagani. None.)

In any case, with the long weekend in the Queen’s honour approaching, here’s a recipe for pumpkin that’s fit for royals and commoners alike.

Miso-Roasted-Pumpkin The Kitchenmaid/Lucy Corry

Miso-Roasted Pumpkin
This is a very easy way to make pumpkin more exciting. If you don’t like pumpkin, try stirring this miso butter through hot rice – instant comfort food.

1 kg crown pumpkin, cut into six wedges (leave the skin on)
50g unsalted butter
4 Tbsp white miso paste
cracked pepper

Heat the oven to 200C and line a small roasting dish with foil.
Put the pumpkin on the tray.
Beat the butter and miso together until soft and spreadable, then pat onto the pumpkin. Grind over lots of black pepper and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the pumpkin is cooked and the miso butter has browned.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

You know what gets me about fancy houses in interiors magazines? They never, ever, have anything stuck to their fridges. Oh, sure, there might be some artful magnetic chalkboard,  or a designer decal, but there are never any library book notices, or ‘art’ or torn-out recipes. They are neat, tidy – and soulless.

By contrast, the outside of my fridge is extremely busy (and a direct reflection of the chaos inside). Magnetic newspaper headlines, school notices, drawings, business cards for builders and a motley collection of recipes ripped from newspapers or magazines. I was just about to add another one to the pile last week when I remembered this month’s Random Recipes, which celebrates those torn-out clippings. So instead of consigning the recipe to the fridge door, where it would probably be lost forever, I made it that night instead. I should really do this more often.

Easy Vegan Tofu Mayo Recipe

Tofu Mayonnaise
I knew Aaron Brunet would win Masterchef in 2013 – right from the start he had that look about him. This mayonnaise recipe was from a recent newspaper column he wrote about the pleasures of eating with your hands – in which he endorsed plate-licking. Now, I had a flatmate once who licked her plate after eating and I don’t ever want to see that again, but his recipes are definitely finger-lickin’ good. Aaron uses this mayo in a chicken caesar-ish wrap – I used in our Friday night fishburgers and to lie beneath some hot smoked salmon on crackers. I’ve now lost the clipping somewhere, but this is the recipe from memory (ish). It’s dead easy, good for you and adding some fresh herbs gets rid of any tofu flavour. You should try it.

300g block silken tofu
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp Kikkoman soy sauce
salt and pepper
½ tsp pepper
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Fresh herbs – finely chopped parsley, chives, basil (optional)

Put all ingredients, except the herbs, in a blender and blitz until smooth (I use a stick blender and a jar). Taste for seasoning and sharpness – add more salt or lemon juice as desired. If you’re planning to use it all immediately, add the herbs and blitz again. Otherwise, this keeps in the fridge for a week.