It should have been my best Easter ever: I was 7 and had been given a load of Easter eggs. I piled them up carefully, waiting to be given the nod to start chomping through them (or waiting until no-one was looking). After an interminable church service and lunch, my step-father announced that we were going for a drive. That's what you did on Sunday afternoons in the 1970's. I hated it, and often ended up throwing up in a National Trust car park. I don't know where we went that afternoon, but I was on a promise - no complaining and I could start on the chocolate when we got home. I remember rushing indoors to grab the biggest egg, but the stash had gone and the carpet was strewn with bits of cardboard and foil... the dog had got there before me. There wasn't anything left. I was bitterly disappointed, but deep down I couldn't begrudge her as she had been eating all my unwanted vegetables (fed surreptitiously under the table at mealtimes) for months.
An unknown man commented to me in the street today "You're dressed for the weather"... It didn't sound entirely complimentary. In other news, my housekeeping skills have been especially poor these past few days and I've really been scraping the barrel/bottom of the fridge. But I found a pack of mushrooms - best before a couple of days ago - and squeezed two tasty meals out of them. Necessity is the mother of invention.
Fun guys in the woods
Bacon and mushroom spaghetti for one
Put half a pack of sliced mushrooms, half a pack of lardons and a half a thinly sliced onion in a frying pan with a small knob of butter and cook until everything is soft. Meanwhile cook a handful of spaghetti. Beat an egg, add a splash of double cream and plenty of pepper and set aside for a moment. Drain the pasta and tip it into the frying pan with all the lovely stuff. Pour in the egg and cream mixture and stir well over a low heat for a couple of minutes before serving with grated Parmesan.
Cheese and mushroom quesadilla for one
Cook half a thinly sliced onion and half a pack of sliced mushrooms together in a pan with a small knob of butter. Meanwhile heat the oven to about 200/gas 6 and grate a handful of cheese. Place a flour tortilla on a baking sheet then cover it with the cheese and mushroom/onion mix. Top with another tortilla and bake for about 5-10 minutes until lightly browned on top. Eat hot with leftover salsa and guacamole.
Melt the plain chocolate and set aside to cool slightly. Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa into a large bowl and stir in the sugar and chopped white chocolate. Mix the eggs, vanilla, oil and milk together in a separate bowl and add the melted chocolate. Roughly fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients; less is more at this stage - do not mix too thoroughly. Divide the mixture between 15* muffin cases and bake for 20-25 minutes. Dust with icing sugar over when they are cool.
*The muffin in the picture was one of 18. I think they should be more top-heavy so suggest you make 15, or even 12 if you want whoppers.
A moonwalking Shetland pony to sell you a phone? A meerkat to sell you insurance? Companies will do anything to get you to turn a weary eyeball in their direction these days. But one pastry manufacturer has come up with a stonkingly good idea - British Pie Week (which ends today). Who doesn't love a pie, especially at this time of year? Sweet or savoury, the options are endless, though you might balk at the 17th century fad for putting live birds in pies which would fly out when the crust was cut open. Then what? Presumably the enraged birds flapped around the diners, defecating on the rest of their food. Back to more appealing pie thoughts and this delicious chicken and leek pie topped with crunchy-crispy filo pastry...
Aerial view of chicken and leek filo pie
Chicken and Leek Filo Pie
1 or 2 large leeks, finely sliced
2 large carrots, diced small
half a packet lardons (about 90g) or a couple of chopped bacon rashers
1 tablespoon plain flour
400ml hot chicken stock
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons double cream
350g cooked chicken, cut into chunks
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)
4-5 large sheets filo pastry
Pre-heat the oven to 200/gas 6.
Bottom: Cook the leeks, carrots and lardons in 25g of the butter for about 15 minutes until softened. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute. Gradually add the stock, stirring until you have a smooth sauce, then simmer for 10 minutes. Add the mustard, cream, chicken and parsley and tip into an ovenproof dish.
Top: Melt the remaining 30g butter. Taking one sheet of filo at a time, gently scrunch it and drop it onto the top of the filling. Repeat until all the filling is covered with pastry, then brush liberally with melted butter and bake without delay.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is golden and the bottom is bubbling.
I think it's fair to say that I don't give my heart away easily. I kissed a lot of frogs before finding my prince, and have been faithful to him for two whole decades. But last week I had a chance encounter in our capital city that changed my life for ever.
Love at first bite
It was a bleak day with a hint of snow in the air. I'd missed breakfast and my body was starting to complain so I stepped into the fug of the artisan baker's. The back of the shop was crammed with people hunched over designer coffees looking meaningful; the front had a large, central table groaning with sweet and savoury baked goods for all to peruse at close quarters. I was tempted by the array of muffins, cookies and glossy hot cross buns, but as it was nearly lunchtime I decided to go savoury and try a red pepper and feta brioche.
The walk home was quick and cold; the brioche sweated in its bag. Standing in the kitchen, I pulled it out and took a bite... still-warm ambrosial brioche, silky-sweet red pepper, salty-creamy cheese and a tangy black olive all in one go. I veered between hasty, greedy mouthfuls and lingering, savouring ones and being of the 'save the best for for last' school of thought, made sure the last bite would be mostly cheese. Unfortunately the feta toppled off its tiny base and bounced down the front of my black jumper dress. Monica Lewinsky, I know how you felt.
A week later and I can't get the taste out of my mouth or my mind. Other foods pale in comparison. I have become the lovelorn pining princess of fairy tales, doomed to live the rest of my days in rural exile from the urban red pepper and feta brioche.
If you are lucky enough to live in London, you can try it for yourself at one of the branches of Gail's Artisan Bakery. Also available from some branches of Waitrose and Ocado. They have not paid me to write a word of this, but did very kindly supply the photo.