Hands up, I don’t like Christmas Cake. I don’t apologise. It seems forced, overly fruity, almond pasted, icing sugared overload. It’s not for me. I am partial to a slice of Dundee cake. The problem with that, of course, is that it doesn’t always come up to what you Christmas cake fiends demand. So there is something to find in the middle. I think this is it – it has the fruit, and some alcoholic richness; but it pushes back the icing for a glaze and blanched almonds (so much better than the paste). It being Christmas time, the cake is fed – with the tipple of your choice – so that it keeps moist and tastes wonderful with a great glassful of sherry. Nuts, fruit, eggs, alcohol, and in this cake a little mixed spice and cinnamon (hence not so traditional). Don’t complain, it’s not Dundee cake, I know, it’s a Dundee Christmas Cake.
So sometimes something cold, even at this time of year, can be very rewarding. A dish that has about it something of the Mediterranean with the couscous, dill, olive oil and lemon mix – but that smell and flavour of chunks of smoked salmon just scream out more a summer time plate. I love this, it easily feeds two very well or four with a few side dishes. You can mix it up – add cucumber, other peppers, pitta bread even – but really you don’t need much on the side, this dish pretty much does it all.
There is something wonderful about Chinese chicken curry with rice. I suppose it takes me back to my childhood. Of course I suppose there is nothing authentic about it, but that yellowish creamy sauce, with onions and mushrooms makes it my favourite. You can add what you want to make it vegetarian and substitute the stock for water, personally if I want it veggie I just leave out the chicken. This really is made quicker than waiting for the order to arrive, and it is so simple it can be done after the pub! Feeds two.
Happily locked away in Cornwall, it’s a wine and ‘pick and lick’ menu at lunchtime. For my contribution at the table it needs something easily made (I am on holiday), and great for dipping or holding food that someone else expertly prepares: in this case spicy chicken, dips, sausages and a varied amount of food that tastes great and makes the lunch. So here was my contribution, a classic Middle Eastern flatbread, with a dough spread with homemade za’atar – herbs and sesame seeds. It really is quick to make with a crusty top with soft dough inside. This makes three breads, or break into smaller amounts if you want more individual sizes.
Summer, and in England at least crab comes into its own. I have used it elsewhere on this blog but sometimes with the heat of some chili and silky smooth pasta it can make a lovely, but light dish. If you want to serve it as a starter then add some cream, which makes the whole thing very rich – I think too rich for a main course. Victoria Moore in her terrific book on wine suggests a Burgundian chardonnay or Chablis goes well with this – as ever she is spot on.
Home from the pub, or simply in for the night in front of the television, and sometimes something is needed to add to the moment. For that, here is a quick and very simple garlic bread.
Oh, window cleaners arriving first thing tomorrow and there are no biscuits in the house to go with their pots of tea. The nearest shop is closed, so it’s a rummage through the cupboard to see what can be baked. It is these: quickly put together, moulded, cooled in the fridge and then baked for about 10-15 minutes. A biscuit with a cinnamon and mixed spice flavour. I know they go well with tea – there were none left after the window cleaners finished their last cup. Makes about 12 thick biscuits, or 18 thinner ones.
Saturday morning’s a great time for brunch. Up later than normal, too early to bother with a wait for lunch, but looking for something more substantial to see you through the shopping or the rest of the day until dinner. Sometimes there are left over chips from the fish and chip supper the night before. Never throw them away, they cook up well and with some added chorizo, onion, garlic and a poached egg they make the morning go with a bit of sunshine. Serves two.
So Spring has sprung. Yet the problem is that the weather can be so variable. Yes, I want to move (ok with some resistance) away from the heavier and warming foods of winter, but I am not yet willing to embrace the light dishes of summer; and anyway not everything is in fully in season. So, something must replace the intensity of flavours I am giving up if I am to embrace the change. Here it is. Mackerel. I love this oily fish, the rich, deep flavour, and it needs something equal to its weight and that is a wrapping of thin rashers of smoked bacon with a balanced side-salad as a (not so) welcome nod to the new year. Actually, you could look at this as a deconstructed BLT – but there is a reason why those flavours work so well and why that sandwich is such a hit. Anyway, this is something akin to that, but without the need of bread. It will serve two as good main course, or four as a starter.
Makes about 15
I don’t know what it was that made me want to make these, but it has been a long term plan. I had some delicious croquettes at Fino the then sister restaurant to Barrafina in London: crisp outside, with that delicious melting interior made for a memorable occasion. These can be a larger starter dish, or made well in advance and smaller rounds dropped into hot oil to go with drinks in the evening. The key is to put them them in the fridge to firm up and hold together when being fried. I like to make a simple mix of mustard and mayonnaise as a side dip.