Penguin Books for Cooks, Two

DSC_0059Another Monday, which means another installment of Penguin Books For Cooks, and I am particularly enamoured with today’s titles. I have recently bought a few little numbers from Ebay and the like, even though, as I wrote in last week’s post, I feel using the site is cheating a little. Sometimes, if you come across something online that is a really wonderful little bargain, you just have to nab it while you can. But, not so with today’s post, one of which was given to me. The Mary Norwak I don’t have in my collection, but I am lucky enough to have the Patience Gray & Primrose Boyd in my possession- again, like last week, not an Ebay purchase but a gift from our lovely friends the Carpenters (they do know me rather well, don’t they?). I have always admired Plats du Jour or Foreign Food, by Boyd and Gray for years- it’s been in other people’s collections, I’ve leafed through the little paperback on shelves in secondhand bookshops, and it has a visual immediacy which draws one in. You may wonder why I talk about finding books with such love and longing, and then don’t actually buy them myself when I come upon them. Well, can you just imagine? I have such a huge range of interests, I am a person obsessed with so many different things, that if I were to buy every book that took my fancy I would, in fact, be unable to pay the mortgage or buy Barnaby new school shoes. And, as much as I adore books, I do have priorities, thank you very much. Thank heavens for friends like Chip, Helen and Kitty then, who bought me Plats du Jour from a “dusty old bookshop”. I was in raptures receiving it and still am.

So, on that rapturous note, let’s get started, shall we?

Plats du Jour Penguin Books

Plats du Jour or Foreign Food, A Penguin Handbook, by Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd, illustrated by David Gentleman

David Gentleman Plats du Jour

Of course we all adore Elizabeth David, and she is often championed as the sole cook and writer who transformed English middle class eating habits. However, what is oft overlooked is that it was only in the 1960s that David began to become a recognised symbol of this transformation, and in fact Plats du Jour, the handbook written by Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd, was published in 1957- and, here’s the rub: it sold over 50, 000 copies in the first few months after publication. That’s massive- and testament to the huge impact this book had on households at that time- an impact felt, a lot of people believe, before David’s influence. The recipes in Plats du Jour are derived mostly from books and home experiment, are surprisingly detailed, beautifully worded and, particularly with the absence of images, they are hugely evocative. I identified immediately with the writing: unpretentious, and unselfconscious, and brimming with love for ingredients and food. I cannot do with writing which turns in on itself: you know the type, I am sure. Like a person who adopts a tone so far removed from himself it jars and shudders, a writer who convolutes sentences and is a lexical show off- I cannot be doing with this. Say what you mean to say, for God’s sake, and let’s get on with it. In this world of contrived EVERYTHING, let us remember that there’s beauty in honesty and simplicity. I love too, that Plats du Jour was one of Jane Grigson’s favourite books- apparently if ever she saw one in a jumble sale, she bought it as a present for friends (Helen, you’re in good company).

David gentleman plats du jour

Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd met while working on the 1951 Festival of Britain, and David Gentleman, (more about him a little later) who was just finishing his studies, designed the cover and illustrated the book. Patience Gray went on to write Honey from a Weed (1986), a hugely successful publication, and she also (I love this bit) beat thousands of applicants for the job of women’s page editor at The Observer. As Tom Jaine, who wrote her obituary in 2005 said, “To the end, she rampaged against the polluters and destroyers”. She was a culinary hero in years gone by- and one for our times, too.

David Gentleman Plats du Jour

Now, I know I am all about the cooking, but as you know I am all about the illustration & design too. You are probably looking at the front cover of Plats du Jour, and feeling that the illustrations have an immediacy and relevance to them, and you’d be right. David Gentleman, born in 1930, now 86 years of age, trained under John Nash and Edward Bawden. He has illustrated almost everything, from greeting cards, to early Penguins, posters for Transport of London, illustrations for Lawrence Durrell, John Betjeman and EM Forster. He has designed stamps, coins, and daring environmental posters. David Gentleman is the quiet voice of our time: and, in a world obsessed with midcentury design, clean lines and nostalgic homages to woodcuts, Gentleman’s work engages us and holds our attention. What very many of you will be familiar with, however, perhaps without knowing it, are Gentleman’s designs at Charing Cross tube station- he was commissioned in the 1970s to make a 100m mural to commemorate the making of the first Charing Cross. Take a look next time you are there: it shows as a strip cartoon how the medieval workforce built the original cross. Of course, on closer analysis, the engravings, swishing by as the tube speeds through and stops at the station, mirror the lives of our 21st century commuters: a contemporary reflection in an ancient depiction.

The Plain Kitchen penguin books

The Plats du Jour cover delights and comforts: a gathering sits around a table, children, and adults together, and napkins are readied for the enjoyment which is to follow. A cat is cuddled in the arms of a contented woman, and bottles of wine are opened in preparation for conviviality. Of course, we do not quite get to see what this happy gathering will be eating- for of course, it will be the words and depictions inside the book that we will all truly feast on once we open the little Penguin. And, continuing my perhaps overly analytical interpretation, once Plats du Jour has been finished, and the reader has reached the end  of the feast, the platters and plates are almost empty, the wine has been enjoyed, and the cat still curls quietly on a chair, indicative of the literary and culinary journey complete.

David Gentleman Plats du Jour

Plats du Jour has been reprinted, and is available now from Persephone Books: for a mere £12. All images in this post have been photographed by me, from my original copy of the book.

The 5 o clock Cook Book, A Collection of Family Recipes for Tea-Time, Mary Norwak

My mum had a few of the Mary Norwak titles: was it Crockpot Cooking? Or The Farmhouse Kitchen? I cannot remember, and that’s the thing with Norwak: very many of us grew up with her books on our shelves; our mothers  making her reliable and trusted recipes: but we may not be able to remember exactly when and where we discovered her. And I love her for this. Norwak influenced British kitchens in a huge way- but in an understated one. A self taught cook, Norwak described herself as “not a cook who writes but a writer who cooks”. Now, if any of you are familiar with the divine Nigel Slater (who, perhaps more than any other cook, has influenced my way of thinking about life, grief, writing and cooking), Nigel describes himself as a “Cook who writes”. I’d love to know if he had Norwak’s description in mind when he thought of that.

Suet, butter, treacle and cream; apples, brawn, bannocks and baps: this is what Norwak was about. No new fangled foreign Mediterranean ingredients, thank you very much: our great British produce had everything to offer us. Norwak, it may not surprise you to discover, wrote for The Lady  and The Farmers Weekly. Of course, Norwak was also stalwart of the WI: it goes without saying, doesn’t it? She combined a fascination with social history, eating, kitchenalia and British lifestyle, and with her expansive knowledge of cooking and household management, she produced hugely popular domestic titles. If any of you are interested in traditional British cookery- from preserves, to eating in the seasons, to game, to appropriate kitchenalia: give Norwak a whirl. Start with The Farmhouse Kitchen (1975) , move swiftly on to From Garden To Table (1977), and follow that up with The Book of Preserves (1986). It may give you an unfettered, unfussy flavour of her wonderful output.

Back to the title in question. I love this particular cover for a variety of reasons. As a South African, there were rather a few dialectical choices we had to get to grips with when we moved to England, and of course one of them was “tea”. To us, tea was simply a cup of tea and perhaps a slice of cake (if you were lucky)- not an early evening meal. That, to me, has always been supper. Of course, now that we have Barnaby, we often have friends for tea, or he visits friends for a playdate and tea- and, like pronouncing things in an English accent just to make myself understood, I have become accustomed to this word. I still don’t use it myself though, weirdly. I still say lunch for a midday meal, and supper for a later one. And I reckon I always will- but I love this book, for its idea of supper-tea, the steam rising from the teacup which unfurls into a number 5, the hand drawn letters, and their rather elaborate swishes (I love them more, knowing that Norwak was rather a conventional, non-elaborate type). My most favourite thing, however, are the green and cream dusty looking squares, the chequerboard background of the title. Why? Because it reminds me of vinyl kitchen floor tiles, “Marley tiles” as they were known when I was growing up in South Africa, and in the 1970s, along with cork tiles, were considered the height of sophistication. I still think these tiles are a much underrated floor covering: in our search for cool country-chic and magazine-spread kitchens, we have created floors of cold slate and reclaimed flagstones, which are utterly freezing underfoot and unforgiving on a dropped teacup, Arcoroc-bounce or not. A little bit of linoleum wouldn’t go amiss these days, I can tell you that now.

On that warm note, everyone, farewell, and I look forward to next week’s third installment.


Penguin Books For Cooks

Penguin Books the plain kitchen

As promised a few months ago, part of The Plain Kitchen’s posts will also focus on my collection of cookery books, recipe leaflets and pamphlets, and also on all things food ephemera related. I am kicking things off by examining two Penguin paperbacks- in fact, one of them I do own (The Penguin Cookery Book) but the other I sadly don’t have in my collection. I do however have the box set collection of 100 Cookery Postcards from Penguin, a gift from a friend which brings me great joy. I know they are meant to be postcards, but quite frankly I cant bear to scribble all over them and hand them over to Royal Mail, so they have formed the basis for my research into the collection of books- and an exciting little project it has been. The weekly #penguinbooksforcooks post will occur every Monday, and I’ll post updates on Instagram (@justine_wall) too, so you don’t miss them. I hope you enjoy these little forays into our culinary literary past as much as I have enjoyed researching the books. If you’re an Instagram user, why not post your images and Penguin books under the hashtag too? It would be great to see what everyone around the world has in their collections!

American Dishes for English Tables, Ambrose Heath

Of course, you will be familiar with Heath- if not for his food writing, then for the Ravilious and Bawden illustrations and covers which adorn most of his books. If I could amass the entire Ambrose Heath collection I’d be a very happy woman indeed: I adore Heath’s writing, more for his tone and no nonsense approach than anything else. In Open Sesame, 1979, he wrote “The super-snob is the gastronomic snob. One of his greatest affections is to despise tinned food”, and of course, Heath is right. A good tin of tuna is possibly one of modern life’s greatest inventions, sardines are even better, and tinned artichokes, as I have mentioned before, are far superior to those nasty rancid oiled ones in jars sold for an astronomic mark-up, and don’t even get me started on the wonders of tinned tomatoes. My grocery cupboard always has a large selection of tins in it, from the pedestrian to the rather peculiar- and I am very wary of any cook who feigns great distaste at the use of tins. I believe these sorts of people to be attempting to be something they are not: that, or they are just telling great big fibs.

Back to Heath: this particular little Penguin was published in 1939 and illustrated by James Arnold. Heath was a prolific food writer: particularly in the 1930s and during the Second World War He always championed “good food”- and British ingredients, but despaired that many British households had forgotten proper cooking skills. During the war years, Heath advised the population on how to make generally inadequate food supplies meet demands. Even though Heath played a huge advisory part in the wartime years, he actually isn’t that well remembered or as revered as he should have been. His work spans so much: he was a journalist, and wrote and translated over 100 works on food, including The Good Cook in Wartime, The Country Life Cookery Book, and, of course, Good Dishes From Tinned Foods.

James Arnold, unlike Ravilious and Bawden, did not enjoy great fame. He illustrated posters for London Transport (1950) and had his The Farm Wagons of England and Wales published in 1969: beautiful, bucolic interpretations of England’s green and pleasant land. I love the cover of American Dishes for English Tables, and this is what attracted me to this particular Penguin from the postcard collection: I love the Pop-Art aspect of it, even though of course it was designed way, way before the Pop Art movement. I love the hand drawn immediacy of the flag- the non-uniform stars in particular. And, I love the central title: the linked parentheses, which almost double up as slight comic-book speech bubbles, and remind me, in turn, of my beloved Roy Rogers Annuals. I am sure James Arnold did not think of this at all when he designed the cover- I am notorious for looking too deeply into things, but it’s how I like to think of it.

I don’t have this one in my collection: I know there are some out there, but I like to “come across” books, as it gives me great pleasure to do so. Sometimes, of course, I will buy online from Abebooks or Ebay, but rather infrequently it must be said. A charity shop find, or a gift from a friend always holds far greater meaning for me.

The Penguin Cookery Book, Bee Nilson

The Penguin Cookery Book Bee Nilson

Now, this is one I do have in my collection: given to me by our dear friends the Carpenters. It was first published in 1952, and my edition is the 1954 edition. Bee Nilson writes, “This is a general cookery book designed for the busy woman who wants to serve good food, but who has only a limited time to spend in the kitchen”. The word “housewife” is, of course, also used in the introduction, as it was in most cookbooks of this time.

Bee Nilson was born and educated in New Zealand, came to England in 1935 and settled in London. During the war she was with the Ministry of Food and compiled their ABC of Cookery. She felt that her interest in the good food of other countries was due to her husband who travelled throughout Europe on business, and collected many of the foreign recipes and ideas in her book.

Of course, many of the recipes in the book are simply ideas: for Beetroot and Mint Salad, Nilson writes, “Make individual nests of lettuce leaves or line a salad bowl with them. In the centre, arrange thin slices of beetroot. Sprinkle with finely chopped mint and serve with French Dressing”. Other recipes are more traditional in length and layout. Nilson, like Heath, was a great admirer of the tin: lots of canned herring, pilchards, oysters and mussels appear in her recipes, which provide such nostalgia for me. As a young girl, I ate a great deal of fresh seafood, particularly octopus and mussels, but it was always the tinned smoked mussels which held my fancy: I loved the ring pull on the tin, the amber oil in which the mussels lay, and of course, the overpowering smokiness of the little morsels. We would eat them from the tin with a toothpick, and, like most delicacies, they were rationed in our house, so I was always left wanting more. Nilson’s little entries remind me of those childhood days in South Africa. How lovely that a little book can stir up such wonderful memories!

Towards the end of the book, in “Planning and Preparing Meals”, Nilson lists food groups, and, as I am sitting here at my desk shivering, hot water bottle on my lap, I have had a little giggle: under “Foods For Warmth and Energy”, she writes: “These are all the fats and oils, the sugars and sweets, bread, flour, cakes and biscuits, oatmeal, rice, semolina and breakfast cereals.” Sounds just perfect!

The Plain Kitchen

The illustrations are thin on the ground, but beautiful: in later editions, the cover included photographs, and I of course prefer the original, although I do not know who illustrated it- and I can’t seem to find out either. My copy is so delicate, that often, turning the pages causes the paper to crack and flake off, so I tend not to use it. I have to be very careful when doing so, and I certainly keep it well away from the actual kitchen area: I am a messy cook- and I’d hate to damage my beautiful little edition.

Penguin Books for Cooks

Until next Monday’s installment of Penguin Books for Cooks: goodbye, and have a wonderful week, whatever you may be doing.


The Last Hurrah

The Plain Kitchen Party Food

I am prone to make rash decisions when I’ve had a few too many glasses of wine- I’m sure I’m not alone in that. Luckily, my impromptu decisions are usually very upbeat and happy ones, and so it was on Saturday night. On New Year’s Eve, returning home early from a lovely party at a friend’s house, our neighbour popped round to wish us Happy New Year- we were all full of New Year’s spirits, and I decided then and there, at 12 o clock at night (loudly, enthusiastically, and gesticulating like only the sozzled can do), that they were to all come round the next day to ours, for drinks and snacks, following their New Year’s day pub lunch. I decided this in full knowledge that I’d not been to the supermarket for six days post the huge Christmas shop, and yet I happily offered to feed and entertain 8 adults and 6 children for a few hours. In my over-excited state I saw an almost empty grocery cupboard and fridge not, of course, as an obstacle, but as a tiny challenge which I could of course quite easily overcome. The Plain Kitchen food blog

Sunday dawned, with, strangely no headache, but quite a large amount of exhaustion. After a few breakfasts (we eat rather a lot in our house) I began tackling the food scenario- what the hell I was going to feed my friends? As you by now may have guessed, the little foraging mission was quite a success- so much so that I decided to write a little bit about what I got up to, and what I made, which I hope will inspire you: proof that one really can make do and be inventive when one has made huge promises to people while under the influence of a lot of wine. Here goes…

The Plain Kitchen Justine WallChicory & Gem with Bacon & Walnuts

Look, the best-by date on the leaves had of course gone over a while back, but, once the outer leaves were discarded and the funny bits removed, I was left with a perfectly acceptable platter of crisp green boats. I decided I’d do the usual, a bit of blue cheese, bacon and walnuts, but upon opening the fridge, a rather hirsute Gorgonzola greeted me. If it were just me tucking into my canapés, I would have probably shaved the fur off the cheese and risked this, but I didn’t want my guests to- so I sadly discarded the forlorn bit of blue. What to do? I arrived at the ingenious solution of mixing soft cream cheese, with a little finely chopped basil and parsley, a little lemon zest and a good dollop of smoked paprika together. I popped a little of this at the ends of the gem and chicory, and topped with very crispy bacon and toasted pecans (yes, yes, the idea was walnuts, but I couldn’t find those…)

Lemon Artichokes

Well, I’ve posted the recipe for these before and they are quite the easiest things in the world to make, and, I think, utterly delicious. Always keep tins of artichoke hearts in your cupboards- they are just the most versatile things, for using in bakes, on top of pizzas, whizzing into dips, and, of course, for eating on their own. The recipe for the artichokes is here– you’ll need garlic, lemon juice, parsley, salt and black pepper and very good grassy olive oil.

Chorizo Tarts

I always have a pack of ready rolled puff pastry or shortcrust pastry to hand, and those who know me well know that cheese nut garlic puff things are my usual offering, either at our home, or taken as a little gift when we visit others. So, it was with great relief that I found the shortcrust pastry lurking in the fridge: I cut little circles from the pastry, popped these discs into a shallow fairycake type of tin, and then topped each disc with my chorizo mix- again, this is an old reliable mix and does very well for any sort of pastry canapé. Saute a small, finely chopped red onion with a large microplaned clove of garlic in olive oil, add finely chopped chorizo, then, after 10 minutes or so, remove from the heat and stir through an egg yolk, a good dollop of sour cream or soft cream cheese, black pepper, and finely chopped parsley. Dollop a teaspoonful onto each disc as I said- and grate over a little hard cheese- whatever you have to hand. Bake at 180 for about 15 minutes, until golden brown and bubbling on top.

Jalapeno Baba Ghanoush and Pastry Nut Sticks

I am laughing at my ridiculous descriptions here: apologies. These are more ideas of what to do, than exact, refined recipes- I do hope you find them helpful!

The aubergines in the fruit bowl were not looking their glossy rotund best, it had to be said, but I soldiered on, and removed the rather unappealing bits. I made a mix of olive oil, garlic, dried chillis, salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, and paprika, scored the aubergines, rubbed the mix into them and roasted them on a high heat for a good 45 minutes. I had leftover pastry remaining from the little chorizo tarts, and I didn’t want this to go to waste, so I toasted some pecan nuts, garlic and olive oil, and mixed this garlicky nutty mix, along with salt and pepper, into the pastry. I made funny, knobbly looking sticks and baked these until golden brown. Once the aubergine was done, I scraped out the spicy flesh, and whizzed it up with lemon juice, jalapenos, olive oil and a little more garlic.


Well, these are a doddle aren’t they? I had made lots for Christmas, and still had salmon leftover, a forlorn bunch of rather withered dill, and, of course, there was a tub of everlasting sour cream in the fridge. In fact, one of our lovely friends Carly brought over a pack of salmon too- so we ended up using hers for this particular platter! I chopped the dill finely instead of using the individual feathers, as they really were rather sad: and a little dollop of that ersatz caviar we all buy at Christmas time ensured that these looked acceptably pretty. Sadly I left the platter of unadorned blinis on top of the warm Stanley, so when served were slightly crispier than they perhaps should have been!

Rum Cocktails

Everyone was feeling a little fragile, and we all admitted we were a bit over the wine scenario. I don’t generally make cocktails, and, as I said, I hadn’t been to the shops for a good week or so, so I really had to make do with what I had to hand. I boiled soft brown sugar and a large knob of ginger down to a syrup (caster would’ve been my choice, but we were out of that). The cocktails were simply a tablespoon of syrup, good squeeze of lime, shot of rum and topped with ice and fizzy water and another wedge of lime.

The children snuck what they liked from the snacks (mostly the salmon), but I ensured they didn’t kill each other by making plates of little cheese and ham sandwiches (the ham that kept on giving- it truly was like Button Soup!). There was no bread in the house- but we do have a breadmaker- which comes into its own at times like these. Children do eat a lot- and I always ensure there is more than enough for them to tuck into.

It was a really last minute, cobbled together affair, but worth it to see 2017 in with good friends, before we all went our separate ways to early beds, and promises of a healthier start to the rest of the year. And it made me think that even those of us who love order, planning, and control would do well to be a little more spontaneous at times: as long as you’ve a tin of artichokes in the cupboard and some ready rolled pastry in the fridge, that is. dsc_0045-1


Happy Times

the plain kitchen food blog
Festive season essentials: these, and Berocca every day…

I have had the longest period of time away from the blog: a purposeful move, and one which certainly did me the world of good. I have learned, over the last five years of running my own business, that it doesn’t work to attempt to do everything, all of the time. Of course, Christmas is a busy time for Hector and Haddock, and I conduct Christmas Linocut Workshops too at this time. Cooking is constant, as the holiday season, is, for us, all about friends, food and fun. I thought I’d write a little about what we’ve been up to here on The Plain- particularly in the kitchen.

the plain kitchen christmas cake
Easter Chicks or Penguins?

Our Christmas Cake ended up being a fairly rushed affair, and I relied on Delia’s Mincemeat Christmas Cake (for “busy, harassed cooks”, I think she writes). Decorations were tenuously linked to Christmas: pale grey penguins adorned the cake, and in fact, yes, on closer inspection the penguins may just be Easter Chicks. Note to self: invest in proper Christmas cutters for next year, or at least find the ones I already have which are probably lurking in Barnaby’s toybox.

The Plain Kitchen
Christmas light: it’s been gorgeous, hasn’t it?

Christmas Eve was quite the most wonderful affair. Friends invited us over for a Babette’s Feast celebration, inspired of course by the film. It’s one of my favourites from my youth, and certainly inspired me to pursue a life immersed in food, cooking and entertaining. I made little smoked salmon blinis which we had with fizz- I know it’s not the usual way, but I like adding chopped chives into the batter, which I did for both the gluten-free and “normal” versions of the blinis. Gina, who was hosting the evening, made the most heavenly Mussel soup (made, she told me, with a stock made from sprats- I am pinching this idea of hers, and shall be making sprat stock for a multitude of things: it was glorious). Gina’s father Chris had chosen the wines for each course, and each was pitch perfect. Gina followed the soup with Confit of Duck- again- just perfection. Our friend Helen had been entrusted with making the Rum Baba, and I have not seen such an utter triumph in a long time: we all agreed that Helen (who was slightly nervous about the creation) was in fact a secret star baker. I have ordered a tin online already, and am going to be making the exact same one that Helen made…

Simon, Gina’s husband, had cleverly devised a little Pantomime for all of us to take part in between courses- great fun for everyone, including of course the children who really threw themselves into it. I’m not very good at providing entertainment for people at dinner parties and the like- and am definitely going to be improving on this come 2017!

Of course, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without children waking at ungodly hours. Barnaby woke at 530, and so our day began- tea and mince pies, followed a little later by more smoked salmon blinis, and a little later by Buck’s Fizz (Christmas Day is the only day of the year when drinking at 11 o clock is completely acceptable, and of course I throw myself into this with my usual excitement). We had turkey this year- which I brined according to Nigella Lawson’s instructions. As a small family, we usually have duck, but Barnaby was leafing through Good Housekeeping magazine a few weeks ago (the child is obsessed with baking and food) and declared he’d like a turkey this year- so of course, we obliged. Dear God, I don’t think I will ever cook turkey by any other method- it was unbelievably good, and the turkey, a bird sourced from our wonderful butcher R Douse & Sons in Market Lavington, was gamey, spiced, and one of the most succulent roasts we have ever had. The usual accompanied the turkey: goose fat roast potatoes, chestnut & bacon sprouts, parmesan parsnips and carrots, homemade pigs in blankets (I make sausages from pork mince, apricots, walnuts and sage) and slow braised red cabbage. I don’t stuff our turkey, or any Christmas bird for that matter, in the usual way- I pop the cavity full of aromatics and vegetables, and then use these to flavour the gravy later with- the gravy being made, of course, with the roasted neck and giblets of the bird in question.

The day was happily interspersed with phone calls to South Africa, and FaceTime calls to family in far-flung parts of the world. When you live in one country, and all of your family live in others, you do need to make your own rituals, routines and happiness, probably more so than if you lived in the country of your birth: of course, we have built up our own rituals over the 19 years of living in England- they are hugely important and necessary tools for happiness, and, I dare say it, survival. However, as wonderful as these newly formed routines are,  nothing quite matches hearing those family voices you love on Christmas Day.

Trifle followed our Christmas turkey; again a Barnaby instruction- somehow he has trifle linked with Christmas, and I adore how his rituals have already begun. I make a simple gluten free sponge, and I layer everything in an old fashioned cut glass bowl- slowly stewed raspberries and clementine juice, the sponge, custard, raspberry jelly and of course whipped cream and toasted flaked almonds. We veer away from the booze at this point- it’s one ritual that Barnaby hasn’t got into- yet, that is!

The Plain Kitchen Stanley
Stanley, my trusty kitchen companion

Boxing Day was a quiet affair- and more food prep was underway, as we had been invited to our dear friends Alison and Frank on the 27th. We see them every year, along with their family, and this has become a sort of ritual too. I have mentioned them before in my blog- the family are an inspiration in the kitchen-we always come away feeling loved, and happy, and very content after being in their company. We had gorgeous turkey scratchings with fizz on arrival, smoked salmon (which Frank had smoked himself) and celeriac remoulade to start, followed by platters of beautiful ham and turkey, pigs in blankets and my absolute favourite, Alison’s Dauphinoise- I am quite sure she thinks I go on about it far too much, but I can never, ever get mine like hers. I quiz her on every aspect of it, determined to extract her secret, but, I fear I will never be able to make it quite like she does. I had made two salads- one a grilled chicory salad with toasted pecans, Cropwell Bishop Stilton, and an orange and mustard dressing: I had reduced orange juice down into a syrup with some brown sugar, which made a great difference to the depth of the dressing. Steamed green beans dressed in sautéed red onions and garlic followed salad-wise, liberally sprinkled with a cobbled together dukkah of mine: hazelnuts, chilli, za’atar, garlic, lemon zest, all toasted in lots of olive oil. I will definitely be making both salads again- and I promise I shall post the recipes for you!

Pud followed, of course: Alison’s Prune & Almond tart, a great wheel of golden toasted loveliness (again, I admired/envied Alison again, this time for the size of tart tin and perfect pastry) and I contributed with Delia’s Chocolate Rum Torte- which was ok- it needed to be of a softer consistency I felt, perhaps I needed to bring it up to room temperature a little more- and it was, as Delia does say, incredibly rich. What did work a little better- I have to say- is the double cream mix I made to go with the torte: I reduced clementine juice, rum and soft brown sugar to a syrup, and then folded this through the cream: I couldn’t believe how it changed the consistency of the cream so instantly; perhaps, like with a posset, it’s the citrus which alters the cream and thickens it. I will be making this wonderful creamy concoction again, I can tell you- and of course, the recipe will follow- but it is truly the most simple thing, and as long as you reduce the juice, rum and sugar down to the consistency of maple syrup- I am sure it will work for you, whatever proportions you use.

Branksome Beach
Utter heaven on Branksome Beach

A day of rest followed our Putman Thoma gathering, in preparation for a lovely visit to friends in Poole the next day: walks with the dogs on Branksome Beach, followed by more delicious smoked salmon and pink fizz, and Venison Stew: our friends had very kindly made me my own little version of flash fried venison as I couldn’t have the stew (silly bloody gluten thing that gets in the way and is an absolute embarrassment sometimes) and, in my usual fashion, I am now all about the venison: their dish has inspired me and I can’t wait to cook more of it. I shan’t have to wait much longer, because I have the most wonderful joint in the freezer, given to us by friends who shoot regularly- I have great plans ahead! Barnaby and I had made Florentines from his new Mary Berry cookbook, which we had with coffee after, of course, more cheese had been consumed.

The Guardian Reader Recipe swap
Mincemeat pebble Tart in The Guardian

I was also thrilled to have another recipe featured in The Guardian Reader Recipe Swap last Saturday- on the theme, appropriately, for Christmas Leftovers. It was for Mincemeat Pebble Tart- the recipe is on the site here.

As I write, I have a ham simmering slowly on the Stanley, deep in its aromatic cider liquor. I shall glaze and brown the ham briefly tonight, and will be, in my usual fashion, attempting to make Alison’s bloody Dauphinoise just how she makes it, but I’m not holding out much hope for its success. Vegetables will be steamed spring cabbage (“It’s squeaky, mummy, like halloumi, and I like that”) leeks and peas, with a glass or two of something white and cold. Barnaby has been up to his usual tricks today- we didn’t emerge from our dressing gowns until 11 o clock, not, as you may think being lazy- we simply began to bake at 830, and couldn’t quite leave the kitchen to shower and change. He decided more Florentines were on the cards, followed by Chocolate Eclairs, and Mary Berry’s “Best ever” Chocolate Cake, made in preparation for tomorrow evening. The happiness on this little boy’s face as he wandered off to walk James on The Plain, cream-filled, chocolate drizzled eclair in one hand and (I know, I know) a crispy rasher of Frank’s homemade bacon in the other was a sight to behold: well, if it works for you, Barnaby, why on earth should I stop you?

Mary Berry Chocolate eclairs
Mary’s Eclairs, off for a walk on The Plain with Frank’s Bacon…

On that note, everyone: I wish you a very happy 2017. A massive, all encompassing South African style hug to you all (we tend to kiss A LOT and hold on longer than most people do…)

Hector and Haddock: Christmas Shopping and a Big Thank You

Hector and Haddock Snow Fox

There is a little thank you for you all, at the end of this post: I hope it comes in handy!

As I write this, our little village is rather damp, to say the least: the rain hasn’t stopped for several days, and I’ve just returned from a daring trip out to the bank, of all places, and managed to make it home in one piece. The dog is looking longingly at the door, and I am afraid he will just have to continue gazing longingly, as I will wait for the torrential downpour to abate before I step out again. The cat, in all his black fluffy glory, has joined me in the studio and is not looking too happy- his mice hunting activities have been curtailed; one of the things which perhaps displeases him most in the world. Winter is well and truly here, I think, but we certainly can’t complain- Autumn was a blaze of glory, and we can only don our wellies with a smile and lift our brollies in bravery, while we go about our daily chores.

Hector and Haddock The Plain Kitchen Poppycock

Christmas too, is only several weeks away. I am off to Pullens Yards on the 2nd December, donning my “other” hat- my Hector and Haddock one that is. I’ve been attending the Pullens Yards Christmas Fair for a while now- this will be my fourth year there, and it is one of my favourite places to be in December. The Yards are a trio: Iliffe, Clements and Peacock, and I am lucky enough to have a space in a studio in Iliffe Yard, selling my wares. If you are able to visit- it would be lovely to see you!

Teatowel Jam The Plain Kitchen

I digress. What I did want to say to all of you wonderful Plain Kitchen readers and subscribers is this: thank you. Thanks for subscribing to my newsletters and posts, and thank you for your support and comments. As a very small gesture of gratitude, there is a special Plain Kitchen discount code for all of you on all you have to do is enter PLAINKITCHEN2016 at checkout and you will receive 30% off your shop, and, if you live in the UK, there is the added bonus of free postage too.

Fox print linocut the plain kitchen

There are a variety of things on the site: from framed handprinted linocuts, to organic cotton tea towels, framed ephemera, framed phrase and motif pictures, screen prints and greeting cards. I hope you find a few things there that take your fancy!

Happy shopping- and thank you all.

kitchenalia print hector and haddock