Like everyone else in the UK I am absolutely desperate for spring to arrive. These grey skies, raw winds, bare trees and frozen crocuses are getting to me. There are two options: buy a lightbox or start adding spring flavours into my food despite the fact the view suggests it is January. One of my favourite fresh light flavours is tarragon. I adore this herb even if I cannot for the life of me get it to grow for me. The slightly liquorice, slightly aniseed taste is probably my favourite fresh herb and bunches of it from the deli are my indulgence. It works beautifully with chicken or fish or eggs, making very versatile.
However there is no finer use for tarragon than Béarnaise sauce. Sharpened with a pucker of vinegar and poured heartily over anything, but preferably steak, I adore the stuff. I made some on Saturday night and was faced with the greatest of middle class dilemmas. Should I reduce the recipe to one egg yolk and run out or go with all three and eat it all week? You can probably guess the answer.
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Last weekend I found myself in the slightly retro experience of finding myself with half a can of evaporated milk needing used up. I haven’t eaten the stuff neat since childhood and even then I never particularly liked the slightly metallic taste. I generally prefer the toffee-ish tones of condensed milk and its sticky sweetness, and as a topping, I always preferred cream, so it seemed for a minute like I’d either be throwing it down the sink or finding out if squirrels like a spot of Carnation.
But then a conversation with the Lovely Scotsman reminded both of us about that peculiarly Scottish delicacy of tablet. Harder than fudge, sweeter than falling in a bag of pure caster sugar after being dipped in syrup and utterly lovely, it seemed like the perfect solution to my evaporated milk* dilemma. I prepared to roll up my sleeves and beat some molten sugar into submission when I espied that you can magic this sweetmeat up the modern way and do it in the microwave making it perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Tablet is usually served simply. Some even suggest that the addition of vanilla extract is too newfangled, but I’m no stickler for tradition so it seemed like a marvellous idea to add a Scandinavian twist and add some crunch to the tablet in the shape of some crushed up Daim bar. I thought the saltiness of it would work here without just copying the salted caramel trend.
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Yesterday was Mother’s Day and in honour of our mum, I rediscovered a childhood treat that I associate with her making for birthdays and special occasions: frothy jelly! Basically a mousse made with jelly and whipped evaporated milk, it was soft creamy love in a bowl especially when layered with regular jelly too and some fruit. I can still picture the bowl that got used to make it as I hovered round, hoping to get a sneaky taste before it hit the table and I had to go and put my best frock on.
Because I no longer get to wear patent leather shoes and velvet party dresses, I’ve updated this classic idea to make it as grown up as I am these days and made my own fruit jelly instead of using a packet one. At this time of year, the brightest splash of colour comes from the beautiful blood oranges that are currently in season and I couldn’t resist harnessing that for a dessert on such a drab grey weekend to make the jelly. I’ve written before that blood oranges and gin make a perfect pair, but this time since it was a special occasion, I decided to make it a Negroni jelly and add red vermouth and Aperol as well. It took the pain out of waiting for the evaporated milk to chill enough to whip to a proper level of fluff…
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I am incapable these days of passing up the opportunity to buy something new to me when I’m food shopping. About the only spontaneity I go for is impulse shopping with groceries. This is one of the perks of shopping locally and seasonally where this style of shopping rarely results in coming home with seventeen sorts of biscuits and a bigger bill, but a bag of economical cooking challenges.This week’s why not moment was when I called in at the fishmongers and saw these plump pink roes.
I’d recently rediscovered the joys of taramasalata which I thought was both delicious and glamourous back in the 80s when it adorned every dip selection going, but as my little girl love of pink things waned, I lost my taste for it despite loving those intensely savoury umami flavours it offers. But a few weeks ago, a dish of it came alongside some pitta bread I’d ordered for a light lunch and I fell in love with it all over again.
These haddock roes aren’t smoked like the tarama (or bottarga) of the Mediterranean but I thought they might have the same creaminess at least. A generous 300g portion set me back £1.50 and it didn’t seem to matter that I had no idea how to cook them. (I really must remember to ask the fishmonger these things in future!) A quick Google suggested poaching them and then blending into a pasta sauce, but I wanted something more reminiscent of the picnic style family lunches of my childhood so I made a pate style dip instead.
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I am very fussy about how I like my bananas. Barely yellow, top tipped with green and a satisfying crack when they open, this means that there is about five minute window when they are at the stage where I can eat them and enjoy them. This means I spend a lot of time realising that the little blighters have gone and ripened on me while I was making a cup of tea or turning my back for just a second. This could be pretty wasteful except that I make really really good banana bread.
Like all banana bread, this is a great way to use up overripe bananas, but unlike many banana bread recipes, it’s as simple and straightfoward as you want it to be. In fact this recipe is so simple that it was the only thing at all I could make at all in my teens when I thought cooking and baking was too difficult and scary to be bothered with. I felt confident to make this recipe because I’d learned it from the mother of the family I au paired for one summer in America who couldn’t cook at all. In between ordering take out food or heating up frozen burritos, she whipped up fresh banana bread for breakfast and I figured if someone who struggled with doing carrot sticks to go with hummus could do it, so could I!
Over the 17 years I’ve been making this recipe, I’ve tweaked it a bit and it’s changed from Boston Banana Bread to Brixton Banana Bread with the addition of some different spices, but it’s still super easy to do. I simply mash up bananas as they ripen and freeze in bags until needed. They defrost by the time you’ve measured everything and it means you don’t chuck black bananas out all the time.
Brixton Banana Bread: makes 1lb loaf
- 300g plain flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon mace
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 2 eggs
- 100ml vegetable oil
- 75g sugar
- 1 tablespoon black treacle
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 mashed bananas
Grease and line a 1lb loaf tin and heat the oven to 180℃. Then put the flour and all the other dry ingredients in a bowl. Put the sugar, oil and all other wet ingredients in another bowl and add in the eggs, beating them until combined. Then pour the wet mix into the dry and add in the bananas, mixing lightly til combined. The batter should be dark, glossy and slightly lumpy. Pour it into the loaf tin and bake for 1 hour or until a skewer comes out clean.
Cool on a rack for as long as you can wait and then have a good thick slice of this with a strong mug of tea. It’s super soft and sticky with a lovely sweet banana flavour and if you don’t devour the whole loaf in one sitting, it keeps really well for several days when wrapped in a tea towel. It also toasts beautifully with a smidge of butter as an excellent breakfast. It’s simplicity itself and I think it’ll probably something you make for years to come to once you’ve tried it!