October 2010


I have to declare an interest, being a DK editor and all, but DK’s Soup Book is pretty great. I’ve had a look at my bank balance and am going to have to subsist on soup and homemade bread for the next few years at this rate.

The maple-roasted carrot and ginger soup is very straightforward, apart from peeling and chopping 2kg of carrots: you just sling them into a roasting tray along with two onions, four garlic cloves, and a hunk of ginger chopped into matchsticks, then mix them up with 2 tbsp sunflower oil and 3 tbsp maple syrup. After roasting them at 220C for 45 minutes–1 hour until tender and stickily golden, they’re blended with 1.5 litres of vegetable stock and served with chopped lovage (or chives if you can’t get lovage, which I couldn’t).

To go with the soup, I’ve made a batch of fougasses: basically a batch of white bread dough cut into interesting shapes (see photo below). I use Richard Bertinet’s basic white bread recipe from Dough (500g white bread flour, 1 tsp dried yeast, 10g salt, and 350ml/g warm water, mixed, kneaded, and rested for an hour), then the fougasses need to bake for around 15 minutes each. You can get six from a batch of dough. I really need to find a new fresh yeast source though, as it makes all the difference and I think the dried yeast I’ve been using has run out of oomph. Either way, you still get the lovely smell of freshly baked bread and a cheap yet slightly impressive soup accompaniment.

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Making your own breakfast cereal might seem insufferably smug, but I’ve just made my first batch of granola and am basking in the autumnal glow of cinnamon-scented toastiness that’s emanating from my kitchen. I don’t know what came over me: one minute I was idly flicking through Nigella’s Feast; the next I was in Mother Earth, splashing my hard-earned cash on organic nuts and seeds.

Nigella’s recipe is pretty straightforward and makes 2.5 litres. All you need to do is mix together rolled oats, almonds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds, along with apple compote (I used Clearspring’s version, which you can buy in 100g tubs), ground cinnamon, ground ginger, a little Maldon salt, sunflower oil, and a lot of sweet things: golden syrup, honey, and light brown sugar. Give it a good mix to coat everything in sticky goodness, then bake it in two large baking tins for anything from 40 minutes to an hour, giving it a stir at regular intervals to toast it evenly. Once it’s all golden, leave it to cool and mix in a load of raisins.

I might live in a studio flat with an overflowing kitchen and a tonne of clutter stashed under the sofa, but knowing that I’ve got a huge Tupperware box full of this in the kitchen makes me feel all wholesome and capable. I’m sure it won’t last.

I’m not much of a biscuit maker – cakes are more my thing – and every time I’ve tried to make cookies and the like they’ve always been a disappointment. Determined to conquer my biscuit demons (if only all demons could be tackled with the application of a hot cup of tea), I decided to have a go at making the custard cream hearts from Nigella’s Feast.

Custard is one of my favourite things in the world, which would explain why I was immediately drawn to this particular recipe – custard powder features both in the biscuit mixture and in the cream filling. The method for the biscuits is very much like that for making pastry and, as with pastry, would have been much easier if I had a large food processor (and the space to store it). As it is, I rubbed the butter into the flour and custard powder by hand; I should also have rubbed in some vegetable shortening at this point, but found it impossible to get hold of any at the weekend – has it fallen out of favour in Islington, perhaps? Anyway, I just replaced it with an equal quantity of butter, and that seemed to work pretty well.

I’d decided to double Nigella’s recipe, which meant an hour of shifting baking sheets around the kitchen as I dealt with three batches of heart-shaped biscuits. This was faff enough, and left me with very little patience for stabbing around the border of each biscuit with a toothpick as Nigella does – they were still very pretty without all that messing around. Actually, she says you should use a ‘corn-on-the-cob’ holder, whatever that may be. It’s not something that lives in my kitchen.

The custard cream filling was one thing I could do in my little food processor, whizzing up custard powder, icing sugar, butter, and a little boiling water (I misread ‘teaspoon’ for ‘tablespoon’ in my haste, but it didn’t seem to matter in the end). Then you just need to pair up the biscuits, sandwich them together, cart them into the office, sit back and wait for the adoration. Good stuff.