Monday, February 04, 2008

We have been having a hard time lately. In our idyllic cottage in Devon, we more often have reason to celebrate than to slump around like Eeyores. But that is what we have been doing for the past week - all four of us. One has a cut throat (literally), one has work overload, another of us has unreasonable overtime and the last one of us has toilet troubles.

Plus, it's grey and dreary and we can't go to the beach in the rain. There, I'm done grumbling now. Sometimes it feels good to talk. And there is plenty of the good stuff on its way to brighten things up. Like my birthday (which is very soon indeed, but I won't tell you when, because of ID fraud and things.) (Oh yes, and take this, everyone who mocked me when I left Facebook 'cause of fraud: SOMEONE IN LONDON IS USING A FAKED-UP VERSION OF OUR CAR! With a fake numberplate and all. I know because I have been receiving his parking penalties. Who's laughing now, doubters? Me! Okay, not so much.). My birthday, on which I am hoping to be ridiculously spoilt. Um, then there's Valentine's, and as an unashamed romantic this is just an excuse to festoon the house and pets in red ribbons and paint chocolate on every plate. And guess what else? A birthday trip to Harrods soon, too. Mmmm....

See, there's so much good stuff, when you pause and think on it. In the meantime, in case you are living in a house of Eeyores, here is my recipe for White Chocolate and Pistachio Cookies, oh so buttery and oh so smartly irresistibly i-can't-only-eat-one delicious. You can feed these to anyone you like, no matter how posh they are. Oh but please be careful to just-cook them: they are best pale and tender.

love, a not-so-grumpy-after-all-me.


3oz butter
2oz caster sugar
4oz self-raising flour
2oz white chocolate
1oz pistachios
Vanilla pod (optional)
Cream the butter and sugar as well as you can before your arm starts to hurt. Sift in (or just tip) the flour and stir it with a fork, gently amalgamating. The mixture will look fairly crumbly. Never mind: on a chopping board, set to the chocolate and pistachios, chopping to rough chunks. Add them to the bowl, with the vanilla seeds if you have any. Bring the mixture together gently with your hands: it will start to stick together as your warm hands melt the butter a little. Form into balls - about 12 - and flatten on baking parchment-lined sheets. Bake at 160 degrees for 10 minutes and cool on a wire rack. If you happened to have a tube of gold lustre in the drawer, it would look terribly graceful brushed over the tops when they come out of the oven. Or, just shovel and munch: it doesn't matter much.

Friday, February 01, 2008

In times of trouble I turn to wooden spoons and softened butter. It's not that I want to eat the goodies so much as that I simply want to be cocooned in a warm kitchen, spoon in hand, weighing and beating and cutting chocolate into pretty shards. I wonder why it's so therapeutic? Some days I can barely stir myself to rustle up dinner, but when I get really busy and panic-ridden, I just can't wait to get in the kitchen and make a buttery, floury, chocolately old mess. And leave the dishes.

Top of my list right now is Bill Granger's peanut butter cookies (soft in the middle, with less-than-overpowering peanuttiness). Mind you, everything looks great in his kitchen - the kind of sunny, open space that you could spend a whole lifetime.

Speaking of kitchens, I took some photographs of mine. We had it ripped out and replaced last year - goodbye 1960s electric oven that chooses its own temperature, hello brassy range oven and shiny tiles. Goodbye dirty white walls and red-painted concrete floor (huh?), hello swamp-monster green and flagstone tiles. And it is now officially the best place in the house, so I decided to photograph it. As soon as I get me a PC-camera lead, you can take a look.

One final thing before I go - and it's an English-style Sausage and Bean Hotpot. I know they make sophisticated versions of this in Tuscany, but our Heinz Bean and Frankfurter version is still my favourite. I made it more complicated for myself, by boiling Haricot beans from dry and adding treacle and mustard to get... a taste that is suspiciously like Heinz. Anyway, I don't care, because I know exactly what went into those babies.

The sausage and bean stew would be great on its own, with bread or mash, but I topped with a Lancashire Hotpot crust. This is not for guests. It is, though, perfect for weeknight scoffing with a fork and some ready-sliced bread.

2 cups Haricot Beans, soaked and boiled for about 30 minutes
1 cup Marigold Vegetable Bouillon (made up)
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1tbsp treacle
1tsp wholegrain mustard
0.5tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
Good pinch salt
2 small leeks, shredded
3-4 medium carrots, diced
4 Frankfurter Sausages (the vegetarian kind, which tastes smokey and authentic as well as being low fat!)
Handful peeled potatoes

Boil the frankfurters for 2 minutes and drain.

Smear a large casserole with olive oil and begin to saute the leeks and carrots, gently, without browning. In a blender, whiz the tomatoes, stock, treacle, mustard, vinegar and salt. When the vegetables are soft add the sauce and bring to a gentle simmer. Tip in the beans and cover, then simmer for another 20-30 minutes (until the beans are only JUST cooked). Meanwhile, slice the potatoes into £1-thick pieces, tip into boiling water, and set a timer for 9 minutes.

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Chop roughly, then stir the sausages into the stew along with a good grinding of black pepper. Drain the potato slices and arrange them on the top. Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil, and shove into the oven. Leave for around 20-30 minutes for the potatoes to brown on top.