Very Nice Recipe

February 20, 2009

Well here we are again. At least, here I am, and you are too, hopefully. In fact I’ve sat here 10 minutes and I still don’t know how to begin. Which is new to me.

I do have a recipe to share, no problems there. But how to present it so that you realise its true deliciousness? How not to put you off at the very first hurdle?

Its the name I’m worried about. I fear it will bring back memories from childhood of something pale and soggy, watery even, to be shunted to the side of the plate when nobody’s looking and hidden under a lettuce leaf.

So maybe I’ll write about something completely different. How ab0ut Nightime in London. Did you know that it isn’t the ever-present roar of traffic that keeps me awake at night? It isn’t the wail of police sirens every two minutes or the raucous laughter of urban youth.

It’s animals.

Actually the grunts and shrieks are positively blood-curdling. I thought someone was dying last night. The same mad cry over and over for about 10 minutes. And y0u know what it was? Foxes, mating.

London is completely overrun with them. And that’s not to mention the owl with his torpedo of a hoot and the little unknown animals who rustle through the undergrowth and squeal incessantly.

Maybe they’re about to be eaten.

Which reminds me, in a rather unpleasant and unvegetarian way, that I’m actually here to tell you a recipe.

Oh alright then, here goes. It’s Cauliflower Cheese.

There, I’ve done it. You still here? If you bear with me, I’ll try and explain why this version is nothing like the insipid morass you ate all those years ago.

For a start it doesn’t have cauliflower in it, but broccoli and potatoes. (And it could have slices of celeriac in it, was going to in fact, but I couldn’t find any in the local shops).

Secondly it’s not bland, but rich and tangy in a mature-cheddar kind of way.

And it’s simple. Just lightly cooked vegetables inundated with a creamy cheesy sauce, topped with more cheese and breadcrumbs and bunged in the oven for 25 minutes.

In fact the only possible stumbling block, as far as I can foresee, is the calorie count. There sure is a load of cream in here! Then again, you don’t get a meal this rich, sticky and crisp on the top and warmly¬† succulent in the middle, without adding a millimetre or so to your waistline.

Broccoli and Potato Gratin
for 4

500g potatoes, scrubbed and cut into chunks
250g broccoli florets
50g butter
50g plain flour
400ml milk
150ml cream
150g grated cheddar – or Parmesan
25g oats

Set the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4.

Parboil the potatoes for 5 minutes, add the broccoli and simmer until just cooked: 8-10 more minutes. Drain well.

In a medium saucepan melt the butter, stir in the flour and heat for a minute. Then, ever so slowly, add in the milk, little by little to avoid any lumps. Gradually bring to the boil, by which time the sauce will have thickened. Mix in the cream, half the cheese and some salt.

Half the sauce goes into a 2 litre oven dish, dollop in the vegetables and pour the rest of the sauce over the top. Scatter on the remaining cheese and the breadcrumbs and cook for 25 minutes, or until the top of the gratin is golden-brown.



Snow and Sandwiches

February 2, 2009

Snow coming down on London, all night and all day. On the grey warehouses and chrome-and-glass sky-scrapers and the narrow streets around Liverpool Street Station, on the curry houses of Brick Lane and the Turkish shops towards Stoke Newington with their exhaust infused racks of tired vegetables. Snow on the posh town houses with their white columns and steps, snow on the deer of Clissold Park. Snow on our lawn and six inches of snow on the patio table. Snow on the garden Buddha top-hat-tall.


Everything has ground to a halt. It’s so quiet out there too, only a few kids chucking snowballs. The cars are still in their tarpaulins of snow. No buses, no taxis. Apart from the Victoria Line, the Underground is shut. All London is at home, watching re-runs of Kojak and afternoon chat shows. We are in a calm bubble outside of normal time and life.

Today I did a lot of watching snow. And I ate something really good. OK, it was just a sandwich. You might say that was just like a rushed office lunch at your desk. But you would be wrong.

This sandwich was different. Not fancy, just very good, in a tangy, rich, creamy way, to be consumed meditatively and alone when nestled in your favourite armchair.

Crusty white bread. Butter. Mango chutney. Fat slices of succulent Brie.  And then the crowning glory. Completely wrong I suppose but very right. Crisps. Yes crisps, in the sandwich. Crunched up slightly as you slap on the top wedge of white. Thick-cut Cheshire Cheese and Chutney Kettle Chips to be exact.

Actually any old crisps would be good. But the Brie must be oozingly ripe.