The man of the house is currently brushing up on his French skills and this means getting me to help him with his homework. Once upon a time, this would have been easy, but the passing of time means my brain doesn’t operate in French as well as it used to (or, indeed, as I imagined it once did). I’ve been feeling quite depressed about this, but am consoling myself with the fact that my menu French is still better than his. And when I looked up the Larousse to get a proper dictionary definition of ‘pate’, I didn’t need another dictionary to explain the answer. So I can’t be too badly off, can I?
Smoked salmon and wasabi pate
For the record, Larousse defines ‘pate’ as ‘preparation de charcuterie de texture tres variable et composee de viandes et d’abats en morceaux ou en pate fine et de differents ingredients’ and you don’t need to know much French to figure out that there are (mercifully) no ‘viandes’ (or ‘abats’ – organs) in a smoked salmon version. But I had to call it something other than ‘a sort of spread-y thing you can have on toast or crackers or on little bits of cucumber like an 80s canape’, didn’t I?
This is inspired by something in Jamie Oliver’s book on British food – he makes something similar with smoked trout and horseradish and serves it with baby Yorkshire puddings. And cor blimey, guv’nor, it is bloomin’ lovely. Or c’est absolument delicieux, as our French friends would say.
150g cream cheese, softened
1/4 – 1 tsp wasabi paste
150g hot smoked salmon
finely grated zest of a lemon, plus its juice
a couple of teaspoons of finely chopped dill or mint
Put the cream cheese, lemon zest and 1/4 teaspoon of wasabi in a small bowl and beat with a fork until smooth. Taste it for hotness – the wasabi should be present, but not overpowering. Keep adding it until you think it’s about right. Flake in the hot smoked salmon and dill or mint. Fold it into the cream cheese, adding a little lemon juice if it seems a bit stiff. Taste again for seasoning – add some salt and freshly cracked black pepper until the balance is right. Scrape into a little bowl and cover, then store in the fridge. Makes enough for six people as a canape, with enough for one lucky person to have on toast the next morning.
Bonne semaine, tout le monde!
Quite apart from the hijinks of Fashion Week (hey, it wasn’t exactly Milan, but you have to take your excitement where you find it in this life), we seem to be on the party circuit at the moment. These are the sorts of parties that involve fairy bread, sausage rolls, cake smothered in pink icing and at least one participant in tears before last orders.
Since we have a birthday party of our own coming up in May, I’m beginning to get quite nervous. It was bad enough last month, trying to keep up with the play when my father-in-law had a bash to mark a significant birthday. I rashly volunteered to make sandwiches, then had to talk my mother-in-law out of them being complicated club affairs involving several fillings and an anxious amount of cutting. “Let’s just have classic chicken and tarragon,” I said airily, before remembering I was in a place where tarragon was harder to come by than gold bars. Instead, I whipped up what I thought was the perfect chicken sandwich while small children ran amok in the kitchen and old ladies waged war in the living room. Here’s how I did it.
The perfect chicken sandwich
This isn’t so much a recipe as a set of general guidelines. To me, a good sandwich has different textures, balanced flavours and good bread.
The cornerstone of these chicken sandwiches is a good mayonnaise – and by that I’m afraid I mean a real one. Trust me, making mayonnaise is easy and much faster than a trip to the shop to buy a jar of Best Foods’ finest. The other trick to good sandwich making, especially for a party situation, is preparation. Get everything ready and set yourself up like a miniature sandwich bar. It’ll be a good skill to have when the revolution comes.
1 batch of homemade mayonnaise, to which you have added 2 Tbsp wholegrain mustard
four handfuls of spinach, finely shredded
1 large cooked chicken breast (poached or roasted), cut into 1cm dice
3/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted and cooled
1 cup green grapes, halved
salt and pepper
12 slices from a loaf of bread – light rye is good
Put the diced chicken breast in a small bowl and fold through 3-4 tablespoons of mayonnaise. It should be lightly coated rather than drowning in the stuff. Toss through the spinach. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Lay six slices of bread on a clean worksurface and spread with mayonnaise. Grind over some black pepper. Cover each with the chicken and spinach mixture, then scatter over the grapes and almonds.
Spread the remaining six slices of bread with mayonnaise and put on top of each sandwich. Press down lightly, then trim off the crusts. Cut each sandwich into elegant fingers and arrange on a plate. Cover with a damp cloth if not serving immediately.
What do you put in your chicken sandwiches?
When I was about 11 or 12 one of my favourite cookbooks was The Australian Women’s Weekly Chinese Cooking Cookbook. I don’t ever remember my mother cooking anything out of it, but we did eat out at Chinese restaurants and I based my whole understanding of the menu at Chopsticks and Hoo Wah on what was on offer in that book.
It was probably quite sophisticated for the time and it had all the information I craved on how to make curly spring onions and deep-fried ice-cream balls. None of which I can remember now, of course, but one image from the book has stayed with me. The star of the dessert section, apart from the aforementioned deep-fried ice-cream, was the chocolate-dipped lychees. Some 25 years later, I have finally made them. And boy, were they worth the wait.
Chocolate ginger lychees
These couldn’t be simpler – or more delicious. The only thing you need to be careful about is draining the lychees really well. Handle them with care – dry them with kitchen paper like you’re handling a baby after a bath – and you’re away. Quantities are slightly approximate because some tins of lychees contain more than others. I’m sure you won’t be too stuck for ideas if you’re left with lychees, ginger or chocolate left over.
As well as being the ultimate trip down memory lane for me, this recipe is also perfect for this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge. The February We Should Cocoa is being hosted by Jen of Blue Kitchen Bakes, who has chosen ginger as the special guest ingredient.
1 x 450g tin lychees in light syrup
20 small nuggets of crystallised ginger
200g good quality dark chocolate, at least 60 per cent cocoa solids
Drain the lychees in a sieve, then dry carefully with kitchen paper. Leave them upside down on more kitchen paper to dry out while you melt the chocolate.
Melt the chocolate over gentle heat – in a double boiler arrangement is probably safest. Line a tray with baking paper.
Insert a piece of ginger into each lychee. Using a fork, a skewer or a dipping spoon, carefully drop each stuffed lychee into the chocolate and roll it around to coat. Remove from the chocolate and place on the lined tray. Repeat until all the lychees are coated.
Put the dipped lychees in the fridge to set firm, then transfer to a lidded container. Store in the fridge. They’re also good straight from the freezer – it’s like having a chocolate-ginger-lychee sorbet. Makes about 18.
Have a great weekend, everyone x
It’s not very cool to like Valentine’s Day, is it? It’s much more acceptable to frown on the ridiculousness of red roses, pink champagne and boxes of chocolates than to admit that you’d happily have any of them turn up at your doorstep.
Speaking as someone who once received a plastic rose for Valentine’s Day, I have a foot in both camps. Yes, I believe romantic gestures – however you define them – shouldn’t be limited to one day a year, but I don’t think that means you should be all Grinch-y about it. Embrace the chance to do something pink and heart-shaped for once. You can always be boring and unromantic tomorrow.
The Small Girl and I made these this morning. The recipe is a more straightforward version of Nigella’s one in How To Eat.We were going to turn them into bunting for when our beloved comes home, but we’ve eaten too many and the holes I made got a bit sticky with icing. Nevermind, love is never having to apologise for not making heart biscuits into bunting.
300g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
pinch of salt
100g butter, diced
100g soft brown sugar
5 Tbsp golden syrup
Heat the oven to 160C and line a tray with baking paper.
Sift the flour, spices, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Rub in the butter (you can do this in a freestanding mixer), then add the sugar. Mix the egg and golden syrup together, then add. Mix with your hands to make a firm dough.
Split it into two discs, wrap one well in clingfilm and put it in the fridge (or wrap it really well and put it in the freezer for up to a month). Roll the other one out between two sheets of clingfilm until it is about 3mm thick and cut out shapes with biscuit cutters.
Place these on the prepared tray and bake for about 12 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool.
When they are cold, ice with glace icing made by mixing 150g icing sugar with 2 Tbsp boiling water and as much food colouring as you can stand. If you fancy something a little harder, check out our MAC makeup-inspired heart below.
May you have a very happy Valentine’s Day and be feted by admirers both well-known and secret,
I don’t know what is wrong with me but all of a sudden I have become the world’s worst maker of meringues.
I’ve made two batches now that have gone from fluffy peaks of snow-white mixture to dull beige piles and I’ve lost my nerve completely.
It might be my oven, which doesn’t do low temperatures very well (surprising, given that the door has taken to falling open of its own accord). Anyway, the good thing about this is that I’ve worked out a really good way to use up my meringue disasters.
Lemon meringue ice cream
Don’t worry – you don’t need to go through the trauma of making a deliberately bad batch of meringues to make this ice cream. In fact, you don’t need to make them at all. But you do need meringues of some sort (I won’t judge you if you buy them) to fold through this tart, marmalade-streaked frozen wonder.
110g icing sugar
140ml (1/2 a cup plus 1 Tbsp) lemon juice
1/3 cup good lemon curd or marmalade
6-8 meringues, crumbled
Put the lemon juice and icing sugar in a large bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the cream and whisk until it forms soft peaks. Fold in the marmalade or lemon curd and crumbled meringues.
Pour into a lidded plastic container and freeze for at least four hours. Let soften for five minutes out of the fridge before serving.
If you want to be really fancy, pour the ice cream into a loaf tin lined with cling film. Top with a layer of marmalade or lemon curd, then a layer of meringues (obviously, you’ll need more of both if you’re doing it this way). Cover loosely with plastic and freeze as above. To serve, lift the whole contraption out of the loaf tin, whisk away the plastic wrap, and transfer to a serving platter.
Have a great weekend, everyone. If you have a fail-safe meringue recipe, especially one designed for temperamental ovens, I’d love to see it…