Category Archives: cookery skills learnt at school

Rosie’s afternoon tea

Teenagers are notorious for their high boredom threshold and now that were well into the school holidays that threshold is often reached. Unless there is constant entertainment, or a posse of friends about, they seem to go into a mope crying “im bored” like all they’ve done all summer is sit on their own doing nothing.  I begin to feel old as I wonder about the youth of today. Whatever happened to self entertainment and the pursuit of solitary activities like book reading, diary writing, drawing, cooking, sewing? Maybe I am just old!!

Rosie's tea

Actually, my teen is beginning to rediscover the joy gained from at least some of these things. She has become a bit of a bookworm lately and has started writing a journal (although claims she would only be truly inspired if she lived in the eclectic surroundings of London!!). She also enjoys a bit of cooking, as long as it is to her specification. Today in search of a bit of excitement she insisted she make everyone a proper afternoon tea. I wasn’t going to argue.

I like to think that her sudden longing for the perfect afternoon tea harks back to her younger days, where hoards of teddy bears sat around cups and plates enjoying their imaginary goodies. The tea she made tea today was a more adult affair with a careful attention to detail. Perfect vintage in every respect…cups and saucers, steaming tea-pot, delicate milk jug and delicious home-made scones served with my strawberry and red currant jam and loads of clotted cream.

She set the table, arranged the chairs taking great care that the crockery matched and then told me firmly to sit and eat. I didn’t take much persuasion. It was a lovely intimate girly moment of decadence as we polished off three scones each and took some time to chat and giggle over her grumpy little brother who refused to join us.

I love these moments, so rare at her age that I relish each one. I only wish she was so good at tidying up afterwards!!

Rosie’s scone recipe:

250g plain organic unbleached flour

50g butter

1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon cream of tartar, 1 teaspoon caster sugar and a pinch of salt.

Enough milk to make a soft dough.

Sieve flour into a bowl and rub in the butter. Add remaining ingredients and enough milk to make a soft dough. Roll out to a thickness of about 1 inch. Cut into small rounds. It should make about 12 scones. Bake in a hot oven gas mark 7, 220 degrees for about 10 minutes or until nicely browned on top. Serve with lashings of jam and cream (clotted preferably).

 

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The famous ‘Tipsy Laird’ trifle and my Britains Best Dish experience

Tipsy Laird

Although I’ve mentioned it in passing I haven’t actually written about my experiences on this years Britain’s Best Dish. Now that I’m able to, I though I’d just let you know how it all came about.

I’d never watched the show before (I don’t watch TV at all really) so didn’t know much about it. I started doing a bit of research when in November, completely out of the blue, I received an email from Matt Tiller, an ITV researcher, asking if I had considered submitting a recipe for my dish for the new series.

I spent about a week thinking about it and discussing it with family and eventualy decided that the worst that could happen would be that they weren’t interested in me. So after some thought about what would be the perfect British dish, I sent them two recipes that I’d created myself for supper club, and that I knew had gone down well; a main course of Welsh Black beef and wild mushroom pudding with mashed potato and leeks and stir fried spring greens and my second choice recipe, the ‘Tipsy Laird’ trifle (click here for the recipe).

A week or two later I received another email inviting me to audition. I made both dishes, which I then had to try to get to Manchester in one piece. (I should have been in the Cardiff auditions but Manchester was closer). The main course looked slightly worse for wear but the trifle did very well and it was that dish that appeared to catch the eye of the producers. The day was great fun, slightly frantic and it was lovely to meet other enthusiastic cooks, a couple of whom I saw on the show later on.

I returned home to await their decision. They said they would tell us by the end of the week and when I didn’t hear anything I presumed I hadn’t been picked. On Monday morning I received the call to say I was on. I was extremely excited, didn’t know what to expect, but couldn’t wait!

Filming began on the 4th March, so off I trekked to London, expenses paid, on what turned out to be the beginning of a mini-adventure. Cooking in front of so many cameras was so nerve-wracking! My hands consistently shook, I couldn’t separate my eggs, and we had to listen to the judges discussing us!! It was a 12 hour day and by the time the results were due to be announced I was so exhausted I felt quite faint. I was over the moon when they chose me and getting the vote from Michelin starred chefs and critics meant everything to me!

A week and a half later I was back off to film the final. This time I was less nervous about the cameras and more nervous about living up to my last effort. I was more relaxed, a bit blase and then screwed up my custard in my panic…it didn’t set, I hadn’t cooked it out for long enough. I knew I’d screwed it up and thought I’d blown it. I didn’t think there was any chance I’d get chosen. When the (rather tasty himself)  Ed Baines, John Burton Race and Jilly Goolden gave me the unanimous vote again (as well as a very welcome £500) I was so keyed up I just cried! Idiot.

The national finals at Hackney Catering College brought the seven winners from all the regions together. There was more waiting round. I was tired, unwell and I’d lost my voice. Not a good start. I’d been in bed with flu for three days, only recovering sufficiently to have a small birthday celebration on Saturday, before heading off to London on the Sunday. I ate Vocalzone throat sweets all morning and they only brought my voice back enough for me to croak.

I found the experience tense and frustrating. I couldn’t talk without my throat and larynx hurting, I had John and Ed breathing down my neck the whole time watching me make my custard…which was FAR worse than the cameras and I had no sense of smell or taste. I didn’t taste my fruit, which was obviously a lot tarter than the previous two batches and even though Ed had assured me that there was nothing wrong with my custard, it was obviously not good enough for John!

My recipe barely changed throughout the programme….I left out the orange zest on the judges advice Ed asked me “what’s the zest for?”  “Err, to make it look pretty” I replied. “Fuck pretty” he said “if it’s not there for a reason, get rid of it” so I did. I replaced it with some roughly chopped candied peel. I also added another egg yolk to the custard and cut down the milk from 500ml to 400ml. I think with the benefit of hindsight I would also add a teaspoon of cornflour as well, just to increase the thickness and aid setting.

From the beginning I wondered how far I would get with a humble trifle. There isn’t much you can do to improve its appearance and all of its pleasures are hidden beneath that top layer of cream. When Sarah Kemp and Conor McClean went through I was disappointed, but not at all surprised. Their dishes looked fantastic and of course Conor went on to win it.  I had a feeling my journey was coming to an end and I was ready for it to do so. I’m proud of how well I did and of winning for Wales. When I sat and watched the final, not knowing who had won the whole thing I cried buckets again…Conor is a very talented lad at the beginning of his career and I’m glad he got the title.

Would I do it again? Well, you never know….

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‘Making do’ cuisine

Although the supper club is about extravagant, experimental, top quality food that has taken time and effort to prepare, generally my cooking falls into the ‘making do’ bracket. This week having found myself totally skint and having to feed a variety of extra mouths, I had to resort to budget cooking.

Fortunes in this house have, like most families I guess, peaked and troughed over the years. Since going freelance i’ve hit a bit of an all time low. In accordance with this ebb and flow I have become a mistress of ‘making do’. I’ve almost turned it into an art form. So armed with a budget of £50 and 7 days worth of meals to plan for anything between 5 and 7 people I embarked on my mission.

I’ve been thinking that perhaps I should teach others to do this…basically, I receive an veg box once a week (£10)…I guess thats cheating because that’s paid for up front, so my £50 was on top of that. My quick, half term, healthy budget menu consisted of

Lamb meat balls in tomato sauce, with spaghetti and green salad

This is a seriously easy dish to make. Take one thick slice of bread and cut the crusts off. Pull it to pieces and place in a bowl with a couple of tablespoons of milk. After about 10 mins mix in 500g lamb mince with your hands. Add a crushed clove of garlic, some Italian herbs (Marjoram, Oregano) and a bit of finely chopped parsley. Mix together more and then add a beaten egg. Shape into small balls. Fry in a drop of olive oil until browned then add a time of chopped tomatoes, another crushed clove of garlic, a sprinkle of oregano, a tablespoon of tomato puree and about 150ml of chicken stock. Simmer for about 20mins or so, until the sauce has thickened. Serve with spaghetti or tagliatelle sprinkled with Parmesan cheese (or in our case Pecorino, which I like to call poor mans Parmesan).  It’s lovely!!!!

Vichyssoise (but eaten hot, the kids won’t entertain the idea of cold soup)…home-made bread

Macaroni and cheese of course!! But tarted up with some seriously strong cheddar (Snowdonia Black Bomber) and some salad and chutney on the side

Broccoli and cheddar cheese tart with baked potato and grated carrot salad and a big dollop of mayo

Minestrone soup and bread

Minestrone is great as you can pretty much put what you want in it. I usually fry an onion gently, then add chopped carrots, leek, celery and sweat until soft but not browned. Then I add either curly Kale, or green cabbage (about 150g or so), a few skinned chopped tomatoes, a bouquet garni, maybe some tinned Cannellini beans (i’ve even used a tin of baked beans in emergency), tablespoon or two of tomato puree, and about three pints of water or vege stock if you want it slightly richer, 50g or so of soup pasta (or whatever pasta you want) and a handful of finely chopped parsley.  Simmer til the veg and pasta is cooked, check the seasoning and again serve with Parmesan.

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Big pot of minestrone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sausage and bacon toad (made with grain mustard in the batter mix) with mash and veg

Cauliflower cheese and salad (for the kids) while we had Risotto with sage, squash and pancetta

For sweet treats we had Apple crumble that lasted two days with a bit of whipped cream, a chocolate loaf cake and home-made Welsh cakes.

All of these things made great dinners, but would also make great quick, cheap, healthy and hearty lunches, feed kids without arguments (well mine anyway) and most take less than an hour to prepare and cook from scratch.

I reckon they should still be teaching these things in schools. That’s the place where I developed the skills that made me able to ‘make do’ . Independent living skills, budgeting skills, basic cooking skills, nutrition and so on. These are now abilities that are being lost to whole generations of kids.

Denise

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