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.