Thursday, 28 November 2013

Thanksgiving recipe: apple pie in a paper bag

Apple Pie in a Paper Bag recipe pic: Kerstin Rodgers/

I've done meals 'on a stick' where every course including drinks was on a some kind of skewer. I've cooked a themed supper called 'It's a wrap' where every course was wrapped in something, vine leaves, paper, rice paper. Next Year, I will do a supper club called 'Bagged up' or ' The Sack Race' or something equally hilarious where every course will be in a bag of some sort.
The technical term for this in posh cookery is 'en papillote', French for cooking wrapped-up -food-butterfly-style, often used for fish wrapped in paper or foil. Cooking in a bag in the oven is a fail-safe way of baking fish, for the wrapper protects it from drying out. You can add herbs or slices of citrus, or coconut cream, ginger and chillies to the fish and the wrapping will intensify the juices. I've also made spaghetti in a bag known as al cartoccio, which again steams the pasta and retains the flavours.
For this Thanksgiving, not something we British celebrate, but an enjoyable family holiday with some great classic dishes nonetheless, I've created a dessert in a bag. The paper bag protects the pie from burning on top: the result was flaky pastry, cidery apples with just the right hint of sour, and a crumbly sweet topping. Serve with whipped cream.

Use any strong brown paper bag. I re-used a Riverford Organics one!

Apple Pie in a Paper Bag recipe pic: Kerstin Rodgers/

Apple Pie in a Paper Bag recipe

Serves: 6 to 8

A 25 cm/10 inch enamel bowl or pie dish
1 paper bag, large enough to fit the pie dish in

200g plain flour
pinch salt
50g butter
50g Trex
2-3 tsp of water
Icing sugar

1. 5 kilos of apples, peeled, cored and quartered
100g soft light brown sugar
2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg or freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
a pinch of sea salt

100g of soft light brown sugar
100g of plain flour
100g of unsalted butter
1 tbsp ground cinnamon

Make the pastry by combining the ingredients until they form a not too sticky clump. Wrap in cling film and leave to rest for half an hour. Then, on a work surface sprinkled with icing sugar, roll out the pastry to a thickness of 5mm, using your pie dish as a template. Cut it out 3 or 4 centimetres wider than the dish. Prepare your pie dish by greasing it with butter then lay the pastry over the pie dish, pressing the pastry into the sides. Trim around the top.

Preheat your oven to 190ºc

Prepare the apples then combine in a bowl with the sugar, flour and spices. Add the apple mixture to the pastry lined pie dish and squeeze over the lemon juice.

Mix the ingredients of the topping together by rubbing the butter sugar and flour together until it ressembles breadcrumbs. Sprinkle over the top of the pie. Add more cinnamon if you wish.

Bake in the bag for 30 minutes.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Food and drink in Alentejo, Portugal

alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover

alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Starshine over Alentejo
A 'dark skies' area, the comet Ison can be seen from the clear skies of the Alentejo, high-tailing it past Venus. Alentejo is not where most tourists head when they go to Portugal; the bright coast of the Algarve or the windy hills of Lisbon, humming with Fado, tends to be the ticket. But for the food lover, Alentejo, south of Lisbon, inland, is the destination.
alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
I'm on a press trip with the usual flotsam and jetsam crew of bloggers catching some winter rays. We arrived last night and our guide explained how to recognise Manueline architecture, pointed out a carob tree, and took us to a pasteleria in Beja that makes Portuguese custard tarts with cream (most use milk) as well as other historic recipes developed by frustrated nuns forced into convents.* 

The desserts and pastries tend to be similar: egg yolk is a strong theme ingredient-wise. I'm shocked to discover the baker throws away the whites, around 1, 500 each day. I'm half-minded to set up a meringue shop next to her. Can't bear waste. The Portuguese aren't fans of meringues, she explains. The nuns used the egg whites to starch their habits, and in wine making. 

The waiter at the monastery hotel restaurant where we stay, asks me if I want brinjal to eat. 
Brinjal? Is that aubergine? 
The hindi word for Brinjal sounds the same in the Alentejo dialect 'beringela'. You can see the Portuguese influence around the globe, still throbbing faintly after all these centuries. 

Portugal's peak, in monetary terms and as a world power, was in the 15th and 16th centuries and things have sorta gone downhill from there. The Portuguese kings sponsored exploratory trips around the world, they discovered India, Macao, Brazil, Angola, and were the earliest trading partners with Japan. The Portuguese had the best ships, the smartest navigators, the choiciest trade routes. Portugal, the most westerly country in Europe, down the coast from Finisterre (the end of the world) looked out over the vast Atlantic Ocean every single day, wondering, dreaming, planning, calculating. The ships brought back wealth: spices, gold, silver, new plants, new animals. This nautical culture is celebrated in the details in the Manueline buildings; ropes carved from stone, bas reliefs of knots and astrolabs, compasses, constellations and stars.

Portugal is an older nation than Spain which was divided into mini-countries (Castilla, Galicia, Leon, Catalunia, Valencia) and was not unified with one language. Some say it still isn't. Near the long Spanish/Portugese border, the Spanish speak a blended dialect. The Portugese language remains frustratingly difficult to decipher, even for a Spanish speaker, a running cord of szzzsh sounds, more Slavic than Latin.

Today Portugal is one of the poorest countries in Europe, while her younger richer fatter sister, Brazil, part of the BRIC set (Brazil, Russia, India, China) is booming. And within Portugal, Alentejo is a poor, dry region, with high unemployment. Which is possibly a good thing because nobody has had the money to fuck it up. 

The tourist will find shiny white cobbled villages with dashes of duck blue and butter yellow paint, castles teetering on hilltops, monasteries and nunneries, connected by tunnels, with babies bones turning to dust underneath, converted to cathedral-sized hotels. The houses are tiled on the outside, like ornate bathrooms, turned inside out. 

Today we visited Joana Roque and her daughters, who run a home bakery, a faggoty-flamed fire in her wood burning convex oven. She makes 40 sourdough loaves a day. She used to make thousands per week, but the local Portuguese prefer to buy bread from a supermarket. Fools. The bread is baked in front of us, a slow bake of one hour, I ask the temperature of the oven. She shrugs. Who knows? It works.

When it is shovelled out of the oven on a worn wooden peel, she cuts it into hunks, pours olive oil and brown sugar over it. The heat of the bread melts the sugar, while the olive oil knocks back the sweetness. It is divine. To be repeated at home.

Her daughter plucks pomegranates from the tree in the back yard, chickens squawk, bitter oranges tumble from branches, the sun streams through the beaded curtain. Joana rests her feet, her rosy swollen ankles in need of a rest. At 76, baking is very physical. Visit her house in Vidigueira.
home bakery, alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Joana and her daughter kneading and preparing the bread
home bakery, alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Baking the bread in the oven in her living room.
home bakery, alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Joana Roque's home bakery. This man is frustrated because she hasn't got the special book to write a receipt for the bread he has bought. In Portugal if you are caught driving between cities without a bit of paper to prove that you paid tax on your purchase, you can be fined. Even for a micro-business like this.
home bakery, alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Bread, sugar and olive oil

Olive oil is good for you. Astronauts drink it before going on a flight because it is helpful against radioactivity.We do an olive oil tasting in Moura. How you do it is this: a small amount is poured into a dark glass and a glass saucer is placed on top. You must not judge olive oil by the colour. Unlike wine, olive oil does not age. The newer the better. You warm the dark blue glass in your palms, so that the oil will soften and release odour. Remove the glass saucer. Take a big sniff. What do you get? Is there fruit? Is there spice? Is there mould? Then you taste, sucking it through your teeth. We taste three. Olive oil tastings have a maximum of 6 or 7 in a session. Wine tasters can do 40 different wines right off the bat. We feel the differing levels of greenness, of pepper hitting the throat, we are alert for any signs of rancid. Most farmers don't know how to taste, explains our guide. It's only recently that olive oil has become good, before it suffered from fermentation, but people are used to a 'fusty' taste. The difference between olive oil, virgin olive oil and extra virgin is that extra virgin must be without fault. Not a hint of fermentation. Extra virgin means very young. 

olive oil tasting. , alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmiteloverolive oil tasting. , alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
The olive oil tasting at Moura, where they have an olive oil museum.
olive oil tasting. , alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Olive oil tasting at Herdade do Esporao
Alentejo has become fashionable with people from Lisbon as a weekend retreat. In the last decade it has turned over the land to growing wine; small bespoke vinyards using Port grapes blended with more traditional varieties. The whites I have tasted are bright and minerally, the reds are weighty, with blackberry notes and liquorice and mint.

An artificial lake was built in 2002, making Alentejo fertile and wine production has increased. I spoke to the winemaker & owner of Herdade do Sobrosa, Felipe Teixera Pinto (a Julio Iglesias lookalike but even more handsome) about his wines. Portuguese wines sell well in Brazil and more recently to Angola, he told me. We are selling also to China, but they want French wines, the Chinese think in terms of brand not taste.

You can't buy any other nationality wines in France, I mentioned.

It's the same here, we don't buy French wines in Portugal, shrugged Felipe. We don't sell that many in the UK, the taxes are so high.

I heard this from several wine makers in the Alentejo region. So much for European solidarity, successive UK governments use wine, because it's nice, and because they want to punish and deprive us of anything nice in our lives, as a excuse to skin us. A good bottle of Portuguese wine, costing perhaps 5 euros, would cost more than £20 in the UK.

vineyard,, alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
, alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
The romantic Herdade do Sobroso
, alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Watching mass on the TV while tasting wines at Encostas de Estremoz.

Three things I've noticed about the Alentejo region:

1) They don't put locks on toilet doors

2) They don't put salt and pepper on the table.

3) They really love ornate lampshades and lamps.

Sunvil holidays sponsored this trip, they specialise in selecting unique places to stay. The herdade do Sobroso, just outside Vidigueira (herdade means 'homestead') was one of my favourites, roomy fireplaces, candlelit bathtubs, family style meals, Penny Royal (a popular herb in the region) liqueurs by the chimney. Cosy intimate luxury.
 alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Piri piri peppers on pegs. The Piri piri chilli pepper has had an interesting journey, from American to Portugal and then to Africa. This is the chilli they use in Nandos sauces.
convento do espinheiro,, alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 Another grand hotel, Convento Do Espinheiro, an ex monastery near Evora, they even have their own private church
Monsaraz cafe, alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 A cafe at the hill-top village of Monsaraz
castle,  alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 Another hill top castle which we visited at sunset. We could see Spain from there.
cheese,, alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 Sheep and goat's cheese are more common than cows cheese, due to lack of pasture
 , alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
A curtained doorway in Monsaraz
kitchen,, alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Portuguese kitchen, women chefs. They made this sweet pepper dish with garlic which was so delicious
Evora,, alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 In Evora, the roman temple was filled in during the 14th century. It's now been restored. Evora stems from the latin for 'Yew' tree, as is York in the UK.
sheepskin slippers , alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 Sheepskin slippers are cheap, I got a pair for 14 euros. These will be my 'computer' shoes this winter.
monsaraz, , alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
 The cobbled village of Monsaraz
 , alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Wild asparagus for sale
dead birds. , alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Birds on a wire
Giant pumpkins , alentejo, pic: Kerstin Rodgers/msmarmitelover
Squash wintering on a wall

If you want to visit the Alentejo region, check out these sites:
Sunvil Discovery (, Alentejo Promotion Office ( and TAP Portugal (

*We always think that it was the ultimate punishment 'Get thee to a nunnery'. But some women joined nunneries because it was the only way they could be independent, run their own lives and not get married. It's true however that many families who couldn't afford to spend a fortune on their daughter's dowries, found it was cheaper to place them in a nunnery, although they still had to contribute money to the church for their keep.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Persimmon fruit recipes

I got sent a box of Spanish Persimmon of the Hachiya type recently. In Israel they are called Sharon fruit but Persimmon sounds far more exotic and romantic, stemming from an American Native Indian word. As girl's names go, I prefer Persimmon to Sharon. They are very pretty fruit with an intensely sweet soft flesh. Technically they are a berry. You must wait until they are ripe to eat them otherwise they could cause a bezoar, a kind of woody hard mass in your stomach, if you eat too many regularly. One of the remedies for this is drinking lots of Cocoa cola which shrinks them.
I had a good old play:

  • I baked them with spices
  • I roasted slices 
  • I paired them with breakfast cereal
  • I poached some 
  • I ate some raw, cut in half and scooped out the flesh as if it were a boiled egg
  • I ate some with the skin on
  • I combined them with a coconut tapioca pudding 

 Lazy arse breakfast muesli with warm persimmon.
It is a rule that making your own muesli is always going to be better than shop-bought. But sometimes I cannot even be bothered to properly make muesli. So I just eat the ingredients raw! Still tastes good.

1 Persimmon, cooked in spices such as star anise, grated nutmeg, ground cloves with
a drool of honey
A scoop of porridge oats
A handful of nuts
A glug of Milk
a dollop of Yoghurt
a pinch of ground cinnamon

Cut up the persimmon into chunks. Place in a saucepan with a star anise, a few scrapings of nutmeg, a pinch of ground cloves and a tablespoon of honey. Simmer until warm.
Take a bowl and scoop in your cereal stuff, whatever you've got around, porridge oats, ends of cereals such as rice crispies, cornflakes, all bran.
Add any nuts you like, almonds and hazelnuts are great.
Pour in some milk, a dollop of yoghurt.
Add the warm Persimmon.
Sprinkle some ground cinnamon.

Roast Persimmons with coconut tapioca pudding

Tapioca is a love or hate food, probably because of school dinners. It is a starch. It just says that on the packet. It isn't a form of pasta, like semolina, but from the cassava root. It has virtually no nutritional value whatsoever. I like the pearl like texture of tapioca pudding but you may not. 

To make the tapioca:
400ml of boiling water
300g of tapioca pearls
1 can (400ml) of coconut milk
100g of caster sugar
a pinch of salt

To roast the persimmons:
100g of palm sugar
100ml of boiling water
4 persimmons cut in half
3 star anise
a thumb of ginger, grated finely
a stick of cinnamon

Tapioca method:
Put the water into a saucepan and bring to a boil. (Actually I always use an electric kettle to boil water). Then add the tapioca pearls. Cook for five minutes, constantly stirring, then add the can of coconut milk, the sugar and the salt. Cook on a low heat for another ten minutes. Keep stirring, it sticks easily. When the pearls are translucent, they are cooked.

Put the palm sugar and water in a saucepan, heating until the sugar melts, to make a 1:1 syrup
Cut the persimmons in half or in slices and place in a baking tin. Add the star anise, ginger, cinnamon . Add the syrup and roast in a hot oven for ten to fifteen minutes.

To serve:
With the tapioca still warm, or it can be served cold, portion it out into glasses, cups or small bowls, adding half a persimmon or a slice on top of the tapioca. You can add some more shavings of palm sugar on top. 

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Where are the female chefs?

In July this year I made a short speech at the YBF's or Young British Foodies awards for which I was one of the judges for the most innovative chef. I pleaded for women to enter: 'Where are you?' I asked. During the two years in which I have been judge in my category, all of the entrants were male, white, aged between 20 and 35.
In October The Observer Food Monthly awards celebrated their tenth anniversary. They did a special issue on the top ten chefs of the decade. There was one woman, in second place, Nigella Lawson, who, strictly speaking, isn't a chef but a very influential cook and food writer. 
In the World's 50 best Restaurant awards, there are no female chefs in the top 50. In fact, such is the paucity of females, they are obliged to have a 'World's Best Female Chef' award, whose restaurant is never in the top 50. This year it was Nadia Santini of Dal Pescatore in Italy, whose restaurant listed at number 74. So the world's best female chef is worse than the 73 male chefs above her? This is the best we can do?
The November 18th issue of Time magazine has the cover story 'Gods of Food: meet the people who influence how you eat' with a list of 13 chefs, the lineage of protégés they have sprouted and not one woman.
Chef Amanda Cohen who runs the highly reputed New York vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy has written a riposte in in which she scornfully rips apart the Time magazine defence that a female chef is a recent phenomenon, that women are not entrepreneurial, and that women 'really need someone — if not men, themselves actually — to sort of take care of each other'. The editor of Time magazine, a fellow named Howard Chua-Eoan, has defended his article saying that the media doesn't have to advocate for anything, that if women chefs don't kick up a fuss about this, don't have strong enough networks to promote themselves, then it isn't the media's responsibility to report on it.

So what are we going to do about this?

It's a fact that full-time female professional chefs are still few. Reasons why include:

  • the classic career arc which peaks around 35 which coincides when women have already exited or scaled down their hours in the workplace in order to have children. 
  • particularly long hours in kitchens, leaving little time to raise children.
  • ageism in the media applied to middle-aged 'returners'. Especially a media that values looks and youth in women above all else.
  • women have less money than men, attract less investment for business projects such as heading their own restaurants. 
But do not include:
  • women simply can't cook as well as men at high level.
  • women are less creative than men.
  • women don't work as hard as men. 
  • women are physically weaker than men, can't carry heavy pots, work long hours. Women have a different kind of physical strength, but do well on endurance.
  • have poorer palates. (In fact the opposite is true, for women have a better sense of smell)
What is a chef?

Nigella Lawson isn't a chef but a cook. Most women are cooks but not 'chefs'. 99.9% of the world's dinners are cooked by women. I'm never sure whether to call myself a chef, because I don't run a traditional restaurant, (although I've run lengthy and large budget pop-up restaurant projects) however I do everything in the last two points below, as well as cooking the food. Often when I've run big projects, I do feel intimidated by the male chefs I've hired. Confidence is an ongoing issue.
  • Is a chef someone that has a traditional restaurant?
  • Is a chef someone who cooks for the paying public?
  • Is a chef someone who has responsibility for ordering, constructing menus, organising the entirety of the meal while a cook is someone who just cooks?
If women tend to be cooks rather than chefs, it's no surprise that they don't make the cheffing/restaurant lists. Cooking, the traditional domain of women, has had a similar trajectory to midwifery. The minute an occupation becomes professional, something you can earn money for, men take over.

Is the media a help or a hindrance?

 'It's really only the press who seem to feel that having a restaurant and a vagina is some kind of bizarre dual ownership situation.' Amanda Cohen.
Print media tend to only only feature female chefs/cooks who are on TV or who look good in fashion spreads (which amounts to the same thing). All media does this, but it's a shame that women's magazines in particular do not show more female solidarity. Very few women's magazines feature women over 35 unless they are already celebrities. The amount of times that women's mags have got in touch with me for a feature, only to say no when they discover I'm over 40. The women that run these publications are, I assume, under pressure from advertisers to only feature certain types of women. It's a vicious circle. 

Do women like to compete?

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” Julia Child
Women are less socialised to compete. Men are far more comfortable with it, entering, having a go and shrugging it off if they lose. So in the YBFs awards, maybe women chefs simply aren't entering the competition? We are socialised to enable others. There are exceptions in public life like broadcaster Janet Street-Porter and writer Jeanette Winterton who will say upfront without any false modesty 'I'm really good at what I do' but when we hear them say it, it is still quite shocking. 
Several headmistresses of high ranking girl's schools have commented on the feminine reluctance to compete, and to boast about their achievements. We act like appeasers: we smile more than men, we aren't comfortable with being disliked. Men want to impress while women want to please.

Do women chefs promote themselves sufficiently?

Is the editor of Time magazine correct when he says that women don't help themselves, don't agitate for prominence and status, don't network in the same way as the chefs boys club?

Women undervalue themselves, both financially and status-wise. This will take time to change. 
It's a truism that high status careers are associated with men. The minute that women do them, the job is less valued. 

Finally who really influences what we eat? 

Is it Michelin-starred chefs?  (who are the whale hosts to the restaurant industry barnacles such as restaurant critics and PR's) Is it food media such as TV chefs/food writers/columnists/cookbook authors/bloggers? Or is it more basic, we eat what supermarkets, their suppliers, the price of food provides? What is the starting point?

Top award winning chefs are a bit like couture houses: they come up with some avant-garde ideas that are hard to achieve at home. You often need specialist equipment to make their dishes. Eventually, the price of the specialist equipment drops, the award winning chef writes a home cooking version of their innovative recipe or technique and finally it filters through to the home. So this is a trickle down scenario. 
But is the average housewife, who cooks dinner for her family, influenced by these alpha male chefs? Sure, perhaps eventually but somewhat remotely. She would be more influenced by world markets, the weather, what the country she lives in produces, availability, transport, traditional and regional recipes, in terms of what she will put in her shopping basket. Most of all, the food that we end up eating is a balance between tastiness, ease of preparation, energy and price. 

This whole discussion reminds me of the anguished articles in the music press in the 70s 'can women play rock?'. Of course they can. But maybe it won't be rock that gets them the hits. No one thinks nowadays that women cannot be successful in music. (Although the way they do this is very different from men, see whole Miley Cyrus debacle). Female influence in the food world will eventually emerge and be recognised by the media but they will do it in their way, which may or may not be in the macho restaurant industry. 

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Guy Fawkes supper club/recipe for chocolate and toffee apples

It did stop raining, enough to have a bonfire, but we ate indoors anyway. I lit the fire under the candlelit mantelpiece and served mulled wine in enamel cups to my guests as they came in, shaking umbrellas and unfurling scarves.
Mulled wine
Roast tomato soup
Cheese fondue
Pink fir potatoes (from Riverford Organics) baked on a bed of sea salt.
Green salad with mustard vinaigrette and Golden linseeds, pumpkins seed.
Pickles (cornichons, silverskin onions)
Cubed sourdough bread
Toffee and chocolate apples
Roasted chestnuts
3 large cakes that I had tested for my forthcoming Secret Tea book (due next spring)
Wines provided by Hardys
A crisp fruity white to go with the cheese fondue
A weighty spicy red to match the roast tomato soup. 

Conversation ranged from internet dating to why posh people now run the music business. One American lady said she dumped a guy for not being ambitious enough.
 "He wrote lists and never ticked anything off. I want a guy with goals, five year plans" she elaborated.
 So American. Can you imagine a British woman demanding this quality in a man with such clear-eyed precision? We also discussed how Americans date differently from the British.
"British men think that you are 'together' by the third date" said the American lady. "Americans date much more casually. At one point I had six people I was seeing at the same time."
She explained further "You never sleep with them until the third date, that's the rule. And you keep dating other people until a moment when you both have 'the conversation' where you reveal your feelings for the other person and hopefully they reciprocate."
"So if there's this rule, then if you don't sleep with a guy by the third date, he must know you aren't that into him?" I ask. "How do you manage that?"
"It's a skill, sure. You just check out early. You meet early for drinks say and then make your excuses and leave."
I think this sounds exhausting. I'm a person who will sleep with someone on the first date if I like them. I have no game plan, no strategy. I guess that is why I'm single. I have no discipline. I dive in, losing myself, indulging my romantic fantasies. This American lady should give pep talks in schools to all puberty age girls entitled 'How to choose a worthwhile boyfriend'.
You want a potential partner to be like a good toffee apple: so often my experience of toffee apples is this: a vast floury-textured apple with no crunch, no flavour, encased in a thin shell of red shiny cooked sugar. Once you've nibbled around the edges you have to munch your way through the tasteless insides. Most of the time you can't be bothered so you throw it away.
Last night, I made toffee apples with tiny shiny crisp red wicked witch apples delivered that day by Riverford Organics. The apple was amply covered by thick golden caramel toffee and two types of chocolate. There was a good apple to covering ratio. And very importantly, the apple inside was just as delightful to the palate as the outside.

Toffee/Chocolate Apple Recipe:

6 inch Sticks for the toffee apples (I used wooden batons I bought at Hobbycraft and then sawed them in half)
Heat proof silicon mat or silicon paper.

8 to 10 Apples (good crunchy small ones like Spartan from Kent)

400g sugar
100ml water
1 tbsp of vinegar

100g of dark chocolate
50g white chocolate

Wash the apples in hot water to remove any dirt/grease/wax. Plunge the sticks into the core via the stem. The core is also known as the ovary of the apple. Eew.
Make the caramel by putting all the ingredients into a heavy bottomed saucepan and boiling until it reaches 140cº. (Buy that sugar thermometer!) Remove from the heat and put it on a heat-proof mat next to the apples.
Then holding the apple carefully by the end of the stick, dip it into the caramel and twist the apple so it is entirely covered.
Place each toffee covered apple onto the silicon mat/paper to set.
Then microwave both chocolates separately in 30 second bursts until melted. (Be careful not to scorch the chocolate by going for too long). Or melt in a bain-marie.
Dip the apple at an angle into the dark chocolate.
Once this is set, flick the white chocolate over the apple with a fork.
Let this set. (If your kitchen is warm, put them into the fridge).
Then cover the sticks with a pretty ribbon by winding it down the stick and looping the end underneath one of the loops of ribbon. Serve.
Also makes a nice present.

Long time readers of this blog will know that I was a political activist for a decade before starting my supper club. This morning I was wondering whether I should have been at the Million Mask March last night.
Russell Brand was photographed attending while wearing the V is for Vendetta 'Guy Fawkes' mask which has become linked with Anonymous. I wish Russell Brand would get off his arse and actually do something but I do agree with him. Voting is pointless. It's the only power we have within our current version of democracy. But I have no one to vote for. Nobody.
I could never vote Tory but I've always felt that the best conservative is somebody very pragmatic, not swayed by idealism. Since Thatcher, the Conservative party is run by idealists. One of the worst things they have done is to nationalise natural monopolies which is a) unpatriotic b) impractical. We have sold our water to the French. And now nuclear power to the Chinese? Who has the time or inclination to spend their time shopping around private energy companies, looking for the best deal?
I'm old enough to remember the three day week. I agree that the Unions had gotten out of hand. But this is madness. There must have been a better solution.
I struggle to vote Labour because, while the Conservatives want nothing to be run by the government, Labour wants everything to be run by the government.
But both parties treat the poor and disadvantaged as if they are stupid.
I voted Liberal Democrat in the last election, Labour were tired, Gordon Brown was a lame duck and my local LibDem councillors are very good, very efficient plus I come from a LibDem family. I disagree with them on Europe but didn't know who else to vote for. But in the next election, I will not vote for a party that has enabled the Tories to continue, without an electoral mandate, on their rampage of destruction on all that is good within British society; or for a party who reneged on their manifesto pledges. Two more years of this crappy government and then what? Something's got to change. Time for a British 'Arab spring'?

What are the options for change?
a) Violent revolution: I'm beginning to think the unthinkable, that violence is the answer, it's the only way to get the establishment to listen. Peaceful demonstrations certainly aren't working. We saw that with Iraq.
b) Consumer power. This would require self-disciplined mass action. Don't buy from corporations that don't pay tax, or a living wage. Don't click on the Daily Mail. Go off-grid for energy.
c) Cyber activism/terrorism. This is why I support Wikileaks and Anonymous. Julian Assange may be a dick with women but he's directly challenging the establishment, along with Edward Snowden. Look how Snowden has changed the conversation. The man is a hero.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Recipe for cheese fondue, the perfect supper club dish

cheese fondue recipe

Somehow cheese fondue has become associated with the 1970s, coinciding perhaps with the first mass-market skiing holidays when British tourists discovered the dish. Every wedding list contains a cheese fondue set, most car boot sales have one lurking underneath a table. It's true we don't use our fondue sets often, neglected, they gather dust at the back of the kitchen cupboard. But I refute allegations of naffness. Cheese fondue is delicious, luxurious, warming, festive and the ultimate sharing dish. And as such it is the perfect supper club entrée, you cannot ignore your fellow guests when fighting over the longed for crunchy bits at the bottom, once the yellow alcoholic buttery liquid has reduced. It's a fight with fondue forks...en garde!

Once you've wiped the fondue pot with half a clove of garlic, you add the liquid: the alcohol. A good white wine is neccessary. They say kirsch is optional but cheese fondue does benefit from the slight bitter taste of cherry stones. 
Then the grated cheese: classic fondue cheeses are emmental and gruyere, nutty, stringy cheeses from the Alpine area of France and from Switzerland. You can also use Fontina, Reblochon, Tomme. 
Finally the thickener, so the cheese and alcohol do not swim around ignoring each other, like oil and water. You need something to bond them together. There seems to be two main approaches to thickening cheese fondue: with cornflour or with bread.
You must take care to cook down the cornflour to remove the raw taste. Bread must be sourdough or at the very least stale. Chorleywood style processed bread is not acceptable. I like to fusion it up a bit with the accompaniments to raclette, and add small potatoes for dipping, plus pickles.
Tradition has it that whoever loses their cube of bread in a cheese fondue must buy a bottle of white wine. The great thing about this dish is that because of the fattiness, you can drink more than usual.
Patricia Michelson, owner of La Fromagerie and all round cheese expert suggests in The Cheese Room, doing an English version with a third each of Cheddar, Cheshire and Wensleydale. 

For six


1 clove garlic, halved

One bottle of white wine (from Savoie if possible)

600g emmental cheese grated

400g gruyère cheese grated

1 tsp cornflour

1 tbsp kirsch (optional)

Freshly ground black pepper

cubed bread pieces, for dipping

Silverskin onions

Cocktail gherkins/cornichons

Small potatoes, baked on salt

Rub the inside of the fondue pot with the halves of garlic.

Add the wine to the pot and heat until bubbling. Lower the heat and gradually stir in the cheeses until melted, stirring all the time.

If using kirsch, blend with the cornflour, otherwise use water. Add to the cheese mixture and cook gently until the mixture is smooth - don't let it boil or it will burn.

Using the fondue forks, dip the bread cubes into the cheese, twist the fork to maximise the cheese load and transfer it to your mouth.

Accompany with a walnut oil dressed green salad, the pickles.

I would also suggest baking tiny potatoes on a bed of sea salt for half an hour. Lovely dipping material too!

Don't you just love these 70s English pottery soup bowls that I picked up last week at a local charity shop?
cheese fondue recipe

Friday, 1 November 2013

Labneh cheese in oil recipe

This is easy and cheap and good. You'll need a pot of thick yoghurt, preferably Greek or Lebanese. Some lemon zest, pink peppercorns and sea salt. A hook or a tap. Some cheese cloth or a thin tea towel. A jam jar. Some olive oil.

Stir the zest, the peppercorns and salt into a pot of dense white yoghurt. Taste.

Lay out your square of cheese cloth and empty the yoghurt into the centre.

Tie two knots, tying them from opposite corners and hang the yoghurt 'bag' onto your kitchen sink tap or a hook with a bowl underneath.
Leave overnight or longer if you want it drier. If you collect the liquid that has dripped into the bowl, this is whey, you can use it in bread or to feed plants.

Take a jam jar and sterilise it by washing it in hot water then baking the jar on a medium oven for 15 minutes. Or put it through the dishwasher on a hot wash.

Then fill the jar halfway with olive oil.

Take the labneh cheese and roll it into golf ball size rounds and place them into the olive oil filled jar. Make sure the balls are covered with oil when you have filled the jar.
This can be eaten meze style such as pitta bread, fresh vegetables such as carrot strips, radishes, spring onions, hummus, baba ghanoush, tabouleh. Accompany with  fresh herbs such as parsley, mint, coriander, winter savoury gathered together on a plate. Pick up the herbs, ram them into flat bread with a ball of labneh smeared. Scatter some more salt and pepper, or another squeeze of lemon. Try it with salted sour grapes which you can buy in Middle Eastern shops.
What is cheese but a way to preserve milk? This lasts a month in the fridge.