Thursday, December 30, 2010


I was sternly reminded at the Christmas table this year that overfeeding Blue Tits can make for a particularly lazy mating season. Too much pecking at the bird-feeder could result in a reduction in the number of spring-born chicks. I wonder what point they were trying to get across...

Had this person been hinting at something other than the welfare of birds, they were clearly unaware of the large and unforgiving note that reads MAKE NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION in my next year's diary.

But let's be realistic. However loud the call of abstinence from our stomachs between Christmas and New Year, from the warm dent in the sofa we cherish the days left until any solid deals are made. I know not one person who starts trimming down pre-12am on January 1st, and even then it bottles down to a strict diet of Bloody Marys.

I hail the wonderful Diana Henry, then, for her final-binge New Year's pud because January, and not a moment before, is when this tit's giving up...


following Diana Henry's New Year Entertaining recipes in Boxing Day's Stella. p. 41.
Serves 8

14 pitted prunes
100ml Armagnac/ brandy
200g plain chocolate, broken into chunks
110g unsalted butter
3 large eggs, separated
135g soft light-brown sugar
35g plain flour
75g freshly ground walnuts (ground almonds work just as well)
icing sugar for dusting

the cream
300ml whipping or double cream
2 1/2 tbsp icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp Armagnac

Roughly chop the prunes, and put them in a small pan, covering with the Armagnac or brandy. Heat to the boil, and reduce to a simmer for about 10 minutes. Set the prunes aside to plump up for a couple of hours.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/ 375°F/gas mark 5. Put the chocolate and the butter into a heat-proof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water. Heat until melted. Leave to cool a little.

Beat the egg yolks until pale and fluffy.

Sift the flour with the salt, add the walnuts and fold into the beaten yolks, followed by the chocolate and butter mixture. Now stir in the prunes and their soaking liquid.

Beat the egg whites until they form firm peaks. Using a large metal spoon fold 2 tbsps of the beaten whites into the mixture to loosen it, then fold in the rest. Scrape the batter into a 20cm (8in) buttered and base-lined loose-bottomed cake tin.

Place in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. If the cake feels firm on top and the sides have shrunken away from the tin slightly, it will be ready. The skewer-test doesn't work due to the cake's gooey centre. Leave the cake in the tin to cool completely. When cooled, remove onto a plate.

Whip the cream until it holds shape, then beat slowly while adding the sugar, vanilla and Armagnac. It shouldn't be too sloppy but sit in gentle folds.

Dust the cake with icing sugar or cocoa powder and serve the cream on the side.

A top-of-the-pecking-order cake.

Monday, December 20, 2010


We all make a furious attempt to get present-buying over with quickly and have a few days of uncluttered peace before stuffed turkeys and drunk grannies get the better of us. But with Christmas parties and yuletide drinks ahoy, the precious 'thought that counts' gets scooped up in the constant hangover.

So here's a last minute solution for curing the lingering aches, pleasing the old farts, and saving a bit of shrapnel for the figgy pudding.


80g caster sugar
1 egg
150g salted butter, chopped into small cubes
75g self raising flour
100g ground almonds
60g walnuts, roughly chopped
40g raisins
(1/2 tsp honey optional)

100g white chocolate (preferably G&B's delicious Vanilla White Chocolate)

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 4. Line a baking tray or two with baking parchment.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the butter, sugar and egg until smooth. Fold in the flour and ground almonds, followed by the walnuts, raisins and honey. make sure the nuts and raisins are spread evenly through the mixture.

With a teaspoon, scoop equal portions of the cookie mix onto the baking trays, sitting them about 1 cm apart. Put into the pre-heated oven and bake for 8-10 minutes or until they begin to brown at the edges.

Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of boiling water. Do not sit the bowl in the water but rest over. The steam will gently soften the chocolate. When melted, take off the heat and begin to dip half of each cookie in the chocolate. Leave to cool in the fridge for 5 minutes so that the chocolate stiffens onto the biscuit. Try one.

Take about 10 cookies per person and place carefully in a see-through container. I used old plastic pint glasses but jam jars or soup pots look great too. Cut a large square of brightly coloured tissue-paper or cloth and place over the lid of the container. Finally, tie the cloth in place with a piece of string or ribbon and cut off any excess material.

In 30 minutes you'll have yourself a gift worthy of the whole present list and a halo hovering over that throbbing head.

Monday, December 6, 2010


"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."


"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.

Drizzled with hot tabasco, a little chew and down the gullet in one gulp. This poem used to make me, like the Walrus, weep for the poor helpless oysters of Alice in Wonderland, but after my first shelled'n yesterday, I can only see reason in the actions of the hungry Carpenter. 'Cut us another slice' he says - how could you not?

I'm a seagirl, me, but have waited years for the opportunity of tasting an oyster to come about. It used to confuse me, the hype of oysters. What could be so out of this world about shifting down a green, spineless, globule of wetness? I must profess though, whether or not swayed by the raves of others, the two I had were incredibly special.

My habit for an oyster, I fear, will become an expensive one, but I see it only right that I make it my mission to have at least one plate a year of the wobbly slurps to make up for the decades swallowed without.

For those oyster fanciers of you, please lead me in the right direction so I can 'begin to feed' like the Walrus and the Carpenter...The best you've had, the ones to avoid and the ways to serve. And for pennies sake, those of best value.


Friday, December 3, 2010


Eat it all year round. My basil and garlic pesto.


50 basil leaves: de-stemmed; washed; dried
1 large garlic clove, chopped
60g parmesan/pecorino, chopped
15g pine nuts
large pinch salt
50ml extra virgin olive oil

Blend all the dry ingredients in a food processor or a hand-held whizzer. When mixed, stir in the olive oil a little at a time. Serve with fresh tortelloni, drizzle on hot soup or spread on warm foccaccia. TA DA!