Latest Posts

chapter 5: a seasonal shift

Hello, autumn, and hello to –

sharing a plate of pumpkin cinnamon rolls with family, hot from the oven and drizzled with cream cheese icing – sticky, sugary, good

soup, made with hearty grains and meats, more brothy, light – it’s not winter yet

the heady scent of cinnamon – a pinch in a pot of coffee before it’s brewed, imparting mellow, memory-rich spice

lighting candles for a breakfast of yeasted waffles with cinnamon-sugar-roasted figs and vanilla-olive-oil yoghurt – stolen moments before the day really starts

conker spotting – kicking leaves – digging out woolens – buying soft socks

being wrapped in a heavy dressing gown on chilly mornings, padding over to the boiler in soft socked feet to flick the heat on – not yet necessary, but nice

new stoneware mugs, perfect for petite cups of steaming hot coffee – held lovingly by hands wrapped in warm Dijon-coloured fingerless gloves

the crisp bluster of Glasgow air and soft pink-blue sunsets, best seen from the top of the Lighthouse or the viewpoint at Queen’s Park – colourful and clear

baking bread to warm the kitchen, sending a soft yeasty smell through the flat, lending warmth to drafty corners – and the knowledge of a treat to come, crackling and soft, thickly spread with butter and a sprinkle of Maldon salt

filling shopping baskets with squashes of all shapes, sizes, and colours and lugging them home – dotting some around the kitchen, stuffing and roasting others

reaching for thyme, rosemary, and sage – a darker resin-richness for cooler nights

the perfect golden autumn light on walks through the park – wrapped in a hat, scarf, gloves to keep off the bracing whirl of wind

a season of mulberry – gold – brown – russet

and, here’s hoping, a season of good things.

– Giv

 

 

 

summer pea, pancetta, and parsley soup

This dish will henceforth be known as the “three ps soup” in my house, both because it seems fitting, and because it’s a sister dish to my “four ps pasta”. But the latter does require a little explanation, if you’ll allow for a small detour from soup to pasta.

The four ps pasta is one of the most memorable foods from my childhood. My mum would make it, without a recipe (although I do believe it originally started with Claudia Roden), seeming to conjure happiness out of a few fridge and storecupboard ingredients. To my hungry eyes, it seemed like my mum was in possession of the most entrancing kitchen magic as the house would fill with savoury-scented clouds of sizzling bacon, the hug-like fug of simmering chicken broth.

Served in big bowls, with a little bit of brothy sauce, it has all the charm and healing powers of chicken soup, but with pancetta. Yum. Peas give it sweetness. Parsley a little earthy grassiness. And the fourth p? Well, that’s parmesan – unleash a few soft curls on top and it wraps the whole bowl in salty, umami-rich goodness. Yes, there’s a historic leaning to my adoration, I’ve been a fan for what is now almost three decades, but I can tell you, it’s one of the best things to eat.

Pasta is all-year-round, any-day-of-the-week goodness so you might wonder why I decided to transmogrify what’s already pretty perfect. But sometimes you just want soup. And, in the spirit of honesty, it was an accident. I didn’t really realise what I was on my way to making, until I leaned over the pot and breathed it in. There it was, the scent of home. All it needed was a verdant drenching in parsley and we’d have culinary lift off. I was a very happy Giv that night.

Soup’s fantastic, even in the summer. If the weather’s hot, there’s gazpacho to cool your down. But if it’s dreich (which it is), you want something warming, comforting and packed with the vibrancy of summer to counteract the drizzly day. Incidentally, dreich is one of the best words I’ve learned since moving to Scotland. It perfectly captures a day that’s slightly gloomy, maybe a bit wet, meaning “dreary” or “bleak”. So, yeah, today. And yesterday.

At its most basic, you could call this ham and pea soup. But where many recipes would have you add cream, this just uses the blended peas to add thickness. And the richness comes from the rendered pancetta nubbins that are cooked in a little bit of butter. So it’s deeply satisfying, but light and vibrant. And deliciously quick to cook, probably 10 minutes all told, making this a serious contender for work-night supper. Or when you just need a taste of home.

summer pea, pancetta, and parsley soup
serves two as a main, four as a starter

100g pancetta
200g frozen peas
small handful of parsley (5-7g)
1 leek (white parts sliced)
500ml chicken stock
1 tbsp unsalted butter and 1 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Slice the white part of the leek into thin rounds while you heat oil and butter together in a small soup pot (the light olive oil, or other neutral oil, will keep the butter from burning).

Lightly saute the pancetta and leek in the pot with a small pinch of salt. Be conservative with the salt at this stage as the pancetta itself is salty – you just want a bit to encourage the leek to start to soften, rather than brown.

Fry the mixture until the pancetta’s cooked, but not crispy, and the leek’s are softened – about 3-5 minutes. Stir frequently so the mixture doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan.

Pour over the chicken stock and bring to the boil.

Once it’s bubbling, add the peas, chopped parsley (a few stalks are fine with the leaves here because it’ll all get blitzed), and a healthy grinding of fresh pepper.

Once the peas are cooked through and tender, switch off the heat and blitz the entire mixture. An immersion blender works well, as would a blender. But if you’re using the latter, let the soup cool down a bit before you whizz.

Once the soup’s blended, bring back up to the boil, taste for seasoning and serve.

Note: A swirl of grassy green extra virgin olive oil would be lovely here, as would some crusty white bread and perhaps some snowy white goat’s cheese. And if you want to make it a bit more substantial, you can always slip in some cooked small pasta shapes – like ditalini – at the end, perhaps with a small splash of the pasta cooking liquid. But whatever your additional food stuffs, I can vouch for enjoying it all with a glass of chilled pale pink rosé.

buttermilk beignets

It’s my birthday this week, and it falls on a Sunday. First, this is incredibly exciting – I love my birthday. I love other people’s birthdays. I love them all. A day to celebrate the people you love with food and presents? And then a day to get food, presents, and love? What’s not to excitedly bounce up and down in anticipation of about that? But argument could be made that Sundays are also my favourite days. So it’s a double whammy. They speak of pjs and papers. Hot coffee and pottering about the house in socked feet. Brunch and, more specifically, beignets.

Making beignets has been a revelation, born out of my recent obsession with the food of the American South. You make a dough the night before and the next morning, after a little oil heating and dough rolling, you’re in for crispy, fluffy, sugary perfection with your Sunday morning.

 

J and I have been known to make a platter of these, liberally snowed with icing sugar and plonked down on the coffee table. Maybe next to some fruit, for respectability’s sake. What happens next is anyone’s guess. That’s the riot part. It’s not like you can see how many the other person eats behind those broadsheets, after all. Or how far the sugary snow travels on your person. (These are literally finger-licking, sugary-face-smudging good). The resulting sugar and coffee high? Well, that’s another story.

You’ll want a thermometer for this; if the oil temperature’s too high, the beignets will stay raw in the middle while they get golden on the outside; too low, and they’ll absorb more of the oil than you’d like, rendering them claggy, rather than crisp. And if you’ve got a cast iron pot, use it. It might not be the first pot you’d reach for, but trust me, it’s great for deep frying – it keeps the temp up.

 

Beignets are the perfect weekend food, too. Exert a little diligence the night before, while you’ve still got energy and you’re making over-ambitious plans for your weekend, everything from tackling the ironing pile to cleaning the oven. You know, the things that pile up in the corners of your mind during the week. And then ignore them all. Because you work hard – you deserve a Sunday off. Because these are really that good. Because… well, do you really need a reason to make yourself hot, sugary, delightful doughnuts? If you do, you can think of it as your birthday present to me. Treat yourself. When you wake up on Sunday morning, your beignets will ready and raring to go. Just put on a pot of coffee, fling open the curtains to let the light in, blast some of your favourite tunes and get rolling – beignets await.

buttermilk beignets
From Southern Living’s Around the Southern Table

1/2 pack active dry yeast (3.5g/1.25 tsp approx.)
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup granulated sugar (divided)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp salt*
1 egg
1 1/2 tbsp butter*
3 1/4 cup bread flour
vegetable oil (for deep frying, and a little bit to grease the proving bowl)
icing sugar (for dusting)

*Note on the butter and salt. Preferably, use unsalted butter, in which case add the 1/2 tsp salt. However, if you’re using salted butter, omit the additional salt.

** This will feed four hungry people, with leftovers, depending on size. Or two greedy people over two generous mornings of hot, sugary beignets. Make the dough on a Friday night, and you’re basically set for the best weekend ever.

Measure out the sugar and place in a small bowl. Take 1 tsp of it and put it in a large bowl (big enough to mix the dough together in) with the yeast and warm water. Mix and leave it alone for 5-10 minutes.

While the yeast mixture is resting, melt the butter, letting it cool slightly.

Add the milk, buttermilk, remaining sugar, salt (if you’re using – see the above note) and egg to the yeast mixture. Pour in the melted, slightly-cooled butter and stir to combine; a little whisk wouldn’t go amiss here to bring it all together.

Gradually add the flour, stirring briskly as you go. Add flour, stir. Add more, stir. If you have a machine, you’re set – add the flour all at once and let the machine bring the mixture together into a smooth ball of dough. If not and you’re doing this by hand (like me), once all the flour has been added and the mixture is starting to come together as a dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for 3-5 minutes. You’re looking for a smooth, slightly sticky dough.

Put the ball of dough into a clean, lightly oiled bowl (that’s bigger than the dough ball is now because it doubles in size), cover with clingfilm and chill in the fridge overnight (minimum of six hours).

The next morning (or whenever your dough is ready), lightly flour your work surface and turn out the dough.

Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to a thickness of a 1/4 inch. Then cut into squares (a sharp knife or a pizza cutter are the best tools for this) that are roughly 2.5 inches, or thereabouts, the measurements aren’t set in stone. FYI: I found it’s easier to lightly score the dough first (keeps the dough from hitching too much on my knife when I make the proper cuts). And having little oddly-shaped ones, cut from the corners, are also absolutely fine too! They’ll taste great whatever the shape.

Pour vegetable oil into a small cast iron pan (cast iron is great for deep frying as it helps keep the temperature consistent). You need at least 2 inches to fry the beignets. Heat to 190C.

Slide the squares of dough into the pre-heated oil and fry for 2-3 minutes, turning them over from time to time. Fry them in batches of two or three so you don’t crowd the pan. They’ll puff up like magic – you can tell when they’re done because they’ll be golden brown.

A word on temperature: a few degrees fluctuation in temperature is okay, but keep an eye on it – too high and the outside will cook before the middles, leaving the inside raw.

Scoop out of the hot oil and drain on a wire rack. Then dust generously with icing sugar et voila! Brunch is served…

Eat with hot coffee, good friends, and the Sunday papers.

almond, manchego, and green olive bites

There are few food rituals I love more than aperitivo. Cocktail hour. It’s the in-between time. The day is ending, the night is beginning. It’s a time for talk. For laughter. For food. Whether it’s a stiff G&T and peanuts in an English garden on a sunny evening, or a vibrantly-coloured Aperol Spritz and a few olives on a cobbled street in Bologna as the lights twinkle on, you can’t really go wrong.

J and I have reproduced this ritual many a time. It’s a treasured holiday tradition, and an elegant everyday treat. We’ve enjoyed it with our families. In far-flung places. Sitting in a sunny patch on our living room floor, like cats stretching out in a puddle of sunshine. It’s not fancy – that’s kind of the point. You don’t need much to throw together a pleasing nibble feast. You need a good drink, something you love. Some radishes. A small bowl of nuts. Some rosy, languorous lengths of proscuitto. A few olives. And, in my opinion, these compelling little bites.

bite 2

They’re ridiculously easy to throw together – you just blitz all the ingredients in the food processor, chill the resulting dough, and then shape and bake the bites for 8-12 minutes. I like to make a batch this size, baking some the first night, and mini batches over the next few. They keep fine in an air-tight jar, but you can’t beat the combination of a ice-cold glass of something and a few freshly-baked bites, warm from the oven. Kept chilled in the fridge the dough will be fine for a few days, so your aperitivo snack is ready to go. It couldn’t be easier.

These bites go wonderfully with a glass of rosé. Sherry, too. And they’re great with a Negroni (anchovies and Campari are a match made in heaven). But those are just a few of the drinks we’ve tried them with. I imagine they’d be equally as good with a cold beer. I mean, they’re pretty good on their own, if you just have a hankering.

bite

A word on the dough. You’ll need to rest it at least 30 mins in the fridge when you first make it, but it responds really well to a bit longer than that if you have a patience (an hour or two would be great). While you can roll it out with a rolling pin, the process is sticky and quite frankly more effort than it’s worth. I prefer to just pull off little nubs of dough, roll them like meatballs, and press them down with the pad of my thumb. That way you get little bite-sized morsels. I like them small (they get nice and crispy), but size will come down to personal preference. Just bear in mind that the bigger they are, the longer they’ll need to bake.

The number you’ll get from this batch will depend on the size of the bites. Let me put it this way, if you’re enjoying a few nights of aperitivo with a friend or a loved one (e.g. one other person), this batch will keep you going for at least 3 or 4 nights of fun. You can make different sizes and shapes every night if you so wish, until you find the shape you like best. That’s what aperitivo is all about. Your favourite people. Your favourite drink. And some delicious nibbles – made just the way you like them.

Almond, manchego, and green olive bites

Ingredients

1/2 cup whole almonds (or a mix 75-25 almonds and pecans also works nicely)
1/2 cup green olives
1 cup plain flour
115g unsalted butter
50g tin of anchovy fillets (in oil, drained)
65g manchego (this can be very rough – just a good-sized chunk)
1/2 tsp pepper and a scant pinch of salt
3/4 tsp smoked paprika

Toast the almonds in a dry pan for a few minutes, shaking them so they don’t catch. Set aside to cool slightly (you don’t want to add them to the rest of the ingredients while they’re hot, otherwise they’re likely to melt the butter and mess with the mixture).

Put all the ingredients into a food processor. Blitz until a dough forms.

Remove dough from the food processor, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

Pull off little nubs from the big ball of dough. Roll them between your hands to form small balls, then press down with the pad of your thumb to form a bite-sized disc. Almost like an orecchiette (“small ear” shaped pasta).

Lay each bite on the prepared sheet, then bake for 8-12 minutes.

Once slightly cooled, enjoy with your favourite drink.

lime and chicken rainbow salad

I‘d like to say I’m the kind of cook that never feels like ordering a takeaway. That fresh, nourishing (if indulgent) food is the name of the game in my kitchen. But that would be… an untruth.

Having had a surplus of tired evenings when my brain was wrung out and rewards were necessary, the takeaway drivers of South Glasgow were indeed summoned to my door bearing hot, naughty aluminium- and cardboard-encased dishes from far and near. And, let it be said, I have no regrets.

salad in progress.jpeg

I toyed with adding cherry tomatoes to the dressing – a tasty variation, if you fancy

However, in the bright light of day, I’ve been craving something that sets the balance to rights. It’s all very well and good to yield to temptation on occasion (and doesn’t it just feel great?), but the body wants it wants. And mine wanted zing. That mouth-puckering freshness that comes from citrus. The cleansing crunch of fresh veggies. And chicken because, well, who doesn’t love chicken?

Having some leftover Zuni roast chicken and an overflowing citrus bowl that boasted a whole host of gleaming globes – including limes – my mind turned, as it is wont to do, to a past tried-and-true recipe. Originally hailing from Nigella Bites by the estimable Ms Lawson, the Vietnamese chicken salad seemed like just the thing. Especially since I had work to do and a reprieve of 10 minutes was to be mine while I made the dressing. The 30 minutes the dressing needed to let the flavours blend would give me just enough time to wrap up my tasks, at which point I’d return to the kitchen, hungrier, to slice carrots and rip apart the chicken. Hunger, indeed, makes little monsters of us all.

notebook view.jpeg

notebook view – playing around with the dressing, before leaving well enough alone!

Which is to say that, with a little bit of prep, this is a quick recipe to knock together, even if you’re not fueled by mid-morning monster munchies. And you should feel free to play around with whatever raw veggies you have lying around. For example, some mange tout or sugar snaps would be great in this. As would ribbons of courgette. Or some julienned cucumber and chopped cherry tomatoes. I’ve even added some freshly podded peas for an extra burst of colour and crunch. Same goes for the herbs. Parsley and basil would be lovely as a substitute for mint, if that’s what you’ve got in the garden/window sill/fridge. Or coriander; after all, this salad loves its aromatics. Need to make this vegetarian? Try substituting pan-seared tofu for the chicken or adding some noodles to the dish. Want a final bit of crunch? Go nuts and sprinkle over a few crushed peanuts. Go on, make it yours. This recipe will generously serve two, with leftovers.

Lime and chicken rainbow salad
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s “Nigella Bites”

Ingredients

Dressing
1 chilli, sliced/diced
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp rice vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp lime juice (or to taste – I like it very tangy and add the juice of about one whole lime)
1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
1 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 medium white onion (or 1 shallot), sliced into thin half moons

Salad
100g red cabbage
3-4 finely sliced radishes (or a small handful of your choice of crunchy veg)
1 carrot, peeled and julienned or grated (or sliced into ribbons with a veg peeler)
100-200g cooked and shredded chicken (up to you, this is a substantial salad even without the meat)
Small bunch of mint (basil and parsley, or coriander makes a nice variation)
Black pepper

With regards to the cabbage and chicken in this dish, I tend to eyeball it. There’s no need to obsessively measure lumps of cabbage. A 1/4 head of cabbage will be more than enough to serve two, as would the meat from one or two chicken drumsticks, for example.

Combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl, along with a hearty grinding of black pepper. Set aside for 30 minutes to let the flavours come together. (It’ll be fine if you leave it a bit longer than this, don’t worry).

Mix together the salad ingredients, pour over the dressing, and toss gently but thoroughly to make sure everything is coated.

Eat. Be happy.

peanut butter crisscrosses

Peanut butter is a fairly new discovery for me. We’d circled each other warily for years. I’d seen jars of the stuff swirled with jelly and wanted to like it. Heard about the PB&J but just couldn’t get on board. But then, seemingly through sheer force of will, I started to like it. Now? Can’t get enough of the stuff. My favourite way to eat it: liberally spread in the crevasse of a celery stick and doused with hot sauce.

I have been informed that this is something of a peculiarity of mine. An aquired taste, if you will.

Happily, these cookies are not. They’re crowdpleasers if ever there were ones. Softly crispy, with a pleasing chew, and a really moreish mix of sweet and salty. While they won’t be as crispy on day 2 (cookies are always going to be best the day you bake them), as long as you keep them in an airtight container, the soft chew remains, and they won’t change much beyond that. Yum.

The recipe is adapted from The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. An American recipe book, it delves into the world of cookies, from chocolate chipped beauties to Italian biscotti. To say it’s comprehensive is an understatement. Obviously there will be more cookies from this tome in due course…

Peanut Butter Crisscrosses
Adapted from The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion – makes 24

1/2 cup vegetable shortening (or butter)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar (or dark brown)
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
1 1/2 cups plain flour

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. I can fit 12 per sheet (just about), which means I do two batches, one after the other. Make sure to leave a little room around each cookie – they will grow slightly as they cook.

Cream together the shortening and the sugars. Add the egg and beat to combine, followed by the vanilla essence, bicarb of soda, salt and peanut butter.

You should now have a creamy mixture. Stir in the flour.

Using a tablespoon measure, take little scoops and drop them on the prepared baking tray.

Make the cookie’s namesake crisscrosses by pressing the tines of a fork into the middle of the ball of dough twice, making a tic-tac-toe pattern. You don’t need to be precise here, I like that the resulting cookie is a bit shaggy. Just don’t press down too hard (e.g. to the bottom of the pan), just enough to make a good pattern.

Bake the cookies for 10 minutes (or until they’re slightly brown). When you take them out of the oven, leave them on the tray for a minute or two before moving them onto the wire rack to cool completely. They’re pretty delicate at this stage so be gentle – they’ll firm up properly as they cool.

courgette carbonara

Now, let’s get this out of the way first, the name of this dish is likely to cause consternation with Italians – Romans, in particular. Obviously, the only true carbonara is an actual carbonara. But I was faced with a dilemma: what do you call a pasta dish that utilises the basic components of a carbonara, but which actually uses courgette instead of pancetta (or guanciale)? Carbonara sans meat? Courgette pasta? Spring rigatoni? Nah. I’m just calling this like I see it – this is a courgette carbonara.

makings of courgette carbonara.jpeg

the makings of dinner

By the way, you won’t miss the crisp chew of pancetta nubs in this. You can take my word for it – I have a true and lasting love for anything that even remotely resembles bacon. Lardons (yes). Pancetta (yes). Actual strips of bacon (hell yes). What I can’t abide, incidentally, are those freeze-dried bacon bits that somehow keep finding their way into jacket spuds. I mean, come on. There are so many better things to put inside a fluffy spud: baked beans and cheese, creme fraiche and caviar, leftover ratatouille. But crunchy chunks of something that may have been bacon in another life but now dwells in the twilight of a plastic pot? No.

courgettes.jpeg

the julienned courgette softly frying with shallots

Back to the pasta. The sauce is light and velvety soft. The little tangles of julienned courgette have the briefest hint of a bite left, but are otherwise buttery smooth. And the basil lends the whole dish the most compelling pepperiness, which blends fantastically with the sweetness of the courgette and the creaminess of the sauce.

And, it’s easy. Definitely one to have in your back pocket when you need something fresh, but deeply nourishing.

pasta.jpeg

tossing the dish together – pasta water is your friend here

A word on courgettes. The thinner the better – they’re younger and sweeter than their chunkier counterparts. But if the latter are what’s available, don’t fret. I was lumped with some impressively sized ones myself, and it didn’t fundamentally alter the dish. All that changed was I gave them a little longer to cook down.

So grab yourself some courgettes, eggs, parmesan, basil, and your choice of pasta and get cooking. I opted for rigatoni, hoping that the little tangles of courgette would get lost within the pasta’s tubular middles. I was not disappointed.

finished dish.jpeg

dinner is served

courgette carbonara
feeds two

250g courgette, julienned
1 shallot, sliced into thin half moons
2 egg yolks
30g parmesan
200g rigatoni, or other pasta
small handful of basil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

To get started, julienne the courgette using a mandoline, or use a knife to cut it into fine matchsticks. Slice one shallot into half moons.

Grate 30g of parmesan (basically a small hunk) into a bowl with 2 egg yolks. Some freshly ground pepper here wouldn’t go amiss. Whisk gently to combine.

Start cooking the pasta to packet instructions, remembering the cardinal rule of pasta cooking: use a large volume of really salted water (it should taste “like the sea!”) that lets the pasta move a lot as it boils.

Using a large, heavy-bottomed pan (it should be big enough to mix all the pasta in later), melt a tablespoon of butter and add the olive oil over a medium heat. Just note you might use more or less than this depending on the size of your pan – you’ll want to coat the bottom of it. Add the shallots, followed by the courgette, moving them gently around the pan.

Cook the vegetables for 10 minutes or so. You want them to soften, but not colour or disintegrate into mush. If in doubt, try a bit of courgette – ideally you want it to have a bit of bite.

While you’re cooking the courgette, take 2 tbsp of starchy pasta cooking water from the pan and add it to your egg and parmesan mixture. Stir to combine. It should make a loose paste.

Drain the pasta once it’s a minute or two off the way you like it – you’ll be adding it to the pan of courgettes and cooking it slightly to bring the sauce together next – making sure to reserve some of the pasta water. Either take a small cupful while the pasta’s cooking, or position a bowl underneath the sieve when you drain it.

Pour the drained pasta into the pan with the courgettes. Turn the heat way down – it should be really low. Stir to mix the pasta into the courgettes and add a tablespoon or two of the reserved pasta cooking water. Pour over your egg and parmesan mixture, stirring quickly again.

If it looks dry, add another splash of pasta cooking water to bring it all together.

Then season to taste and dish up! Scatter fresh basil leaves over the pasta, and take it to the table, along with another hunk of parmesan to grate in situ.

Peter Reinhart’s bagels

I’ve always loved bagels. Chewy, tasty, slightly crispy – they’re the whole package. But I’ve recently upped my bagel ante. Gone are the days when all I’d do is wax lyrical about the different ways to top a bagel – of which, incidentally, there are so very many more than the four I mentioned here back in the day.

You see, I’ve now baked bagels.

Bagels 1.jpeg

And I can’t go back. They’re too good, and they’re so easy to make. In fact, I think it’s safe to say I’m now forever ruined for supermarket simalcrums.

I have baker extraordinaire Peter Reinhart to thank for this particularly wonderful new addition to my life. Not being a native New Yorker, or living near enough London’s Brick Lane, believe me when I say that I did not know bagels could taste like this.

proving bagels.jpeg

after a night’s prove, they’re not the prettiest at this stage – but they promise so much

Baking these came about as part of the recent bread-baking kick I’ve been on. And, let me tell you, a little bit – and I do mean a “little” bit – of effort here goes a long way. Get the dough started the day before, then forget about them as they prove overnight and return to them fresh the next day to poach and bake them and – before you know it – BAGELS! You’ll soon be very popular. And for good reason. Who doesn’t love a freshly-baked bagel on a Sunday morning? Plus, it’s simple enough you can do it on a Sunday morning pre-coffee. And those who know me know I don’t like to do many things pre-coffee.

bagels ready to bake.jpeg

You’ll find the recipe all over the place, not least on Smitten Kitchen, The Wednesday Chef and the LA Times. Oh, and, of course, in Reinhart’s own book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. So you could take our collective word for it when we say that they’re wonderful, and easy, and so very tasty. You could be nodding your head as you read this, thinking, sure, the bagels might be nice but that lot are probably wrong about the process being easy. Don’t. Trust is a beautiful thing and all, but screw it. Don’t take our word for it. Find out for yourself that these are glorious. Just a word of warning: you will be forever ruined for all other (store-bought) bagels.

NY bagel spread.jpeg

A few things to note:

  • The recipe says it makes 6-8. But I’ve had the best results making six. While you definitely can get eight out of the dough, the resulting bagels are just not as big (in diameter or depth). What’s the point? Size matters, folks.
  • When it comes to shaping the bagels, don’t be shy. I was tentative with the rolling and shaping of one batch and all I got was air bubbles and sad, flat bagels for my trouble. I mean, they were delicious, but they were by no means voluptuous. Again, what’s the point? Give those babies a good squeeze and get all the air out.
  • The original recipe calls for barley malt syrup as the sweetener. I’ve never gone to the trouble of buying the stuff myself because honey works really well, but if you’d like some, take a look at Sous Chef – it’s an online emporium of all things food.
  • Toppings: once you’ve boiled them, you can adorn your bagels with a topping, although keeping them plain is a solid move too. Personally, I love poppy seeds, or sesame seeds (black or white). Just sprinkle them liberally over your poached bagel before putting them in the oven. You can also make these sweet with a cinnamon sugar topping (just bake them plain and add the cinnamon-sugar at the end). Dealer’s choice.

Bagels

3 1/2 cups bread flour
3 teaspoons salt, divided (2 tsps dough/1 tsp boiling water)
3/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon honey (or barley malt syrup)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon baking soda, e.g. bicarbonate of soda (for the boiling stage)
Neutral oil (e.g. vegetable or sunflower) to grease the proving bowl and the baking tray
Topping of your choice (sesame seeds, poppy seeds, cinnamon sugar, dried onion or garlic, or have a go at making The Kitchn’s Everything Bagel Spice)

The day before you want to eat them:

First, mix together the bread flour, 2 teaspoons of the salt, the yeast, honey and water until it comes together as a stiff dough. (I tend to start with a wooden spoon, then give up and get stuck in with my hands). Once it’s come together, which should take about 3 minutes, leave the dough to rest for 5 minutes.

While the dough rests, give your mixing bowl a quick wash and dry, then lightly oil it. The dough will rest in this later.

Next, knead the dough on a lightly-floured surface. No knead to be too aggressive with your kneading (couldn’t resist) – just purposeful. And if you want to take a little break, feel free. Dough always likes having a bit of a rest. What you’re aiming for is a firm but smooth, almost satiny dough. This should only take another 3 minutes or so.

  • Troubleshooting:
    • If your dough feels too wet or sticky, sprinkle a bit more flour on the surface you’re kneading on, a little at a time until it feels workable.
    • If your dough is too stiff/dry, not supple, the best thing to do is run your hands under the tap, shake off the excess and then start kneading the dough again. The moisture on your hands will start to give a bit more hydration to your dough in easy-to-absorb amounts. You might need to do this more than once if it’s being particularly truculent.
    • Remember, dough and flour are vulnerable to the temperature and the weather. If you get into one of the above situations, you most likely didn’t do anything wrong, the mixture is just being temperamental. Or it’s raining. Whatever it’s doing, just give it what it wants, and it’ll behave again.

Leave the dough to rest in the pre-oiled bowl. Just cover it with clingfilm and pop it in the fridge for a couple of hours (min: one hour).

Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with greaseproof/baking paper and wiping it lightly with some neutral oil.

Next, shape the bagels. Once it’s rested, separate the dough into 6 (or 8) roughly equal-sized pieces and roll them into little balls using a slightly cupped hand. Note: don’t flour your surface for this stage, it should be clean and, if necessary, a little damp (wipe the surface lightly with a clean, damp cloth, or a piece of kitchen roll) to get more “bite” as you roll.

Roll each ball into a rope of dough about 8-10 inches long. This is where you should use a good amount of pressure – don’t be shy. You want to make sure there are no air bubbles.

Now shape the bagels! Take a rope of dough between your thumb and forefinger and wrap it around the back of your hand. Overlap the two ends in your palm by about 2 inches. Squeeze the two ends together, then roll the two joined ends back and forth on the slightly damp surface to seal.

FYI: You might find that the side with the join is a bit narrower – you can even it out by going around and giving the whole bagel a bit of a squeeze.

Lay your shaped bagels on the lightly oiled and lined baking tray, cover the whole thing with cling film and leave to prove in the fridge overnight.

The next morning:

Bring the bagels to room temperature before baking. So, when you wake up, stumble to the fridge and take the bagels out roughly 90 minutes before you want to cook them.

Test that the bagels are ready to cook by gently sliding one into a bowl of water. If it’s ready, it’ll float. If not, put it back with the others and leave them alone for a bit longer (15 minutes or so, then try again). Once they’re ready, you can poach them.

Get a big pan of water boiling (you want at least 4 inches of water – I use a soup pot). When it’s boiling, add the teaspoon of baking soda and the remaining teaspoon of salt. Get the oven preheating to 250/260C (basically as high as your oven will go).

Bring the water to a simmer and start poaching the bagels in batches – 1 minute for the first side, then flip the bagel over and give it a further 30 seconds. Take out of the water and put on a slightly oiled baking tray. Repeat.

Sprinkle over your choice of topping (but if you’re making cinnamon-sugar bagels, you’ll add this topping once the bagels have baked) and put the bagels in the oven. Immediately reduce the heat to 230C.

Bake for 8 minutes, then turn the tray around (so that the side facing the back now faces the front) and bake for another 8-12 minutes. Keep an eye on them though – you don’t want them to get too dark.

When they’re ready, let the bagels cool slightly on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Then DEVOUR.

A final word:

  • If you’re making cinnamon-sugar bagels, brush them with melted butter as soon as they come out of the oven and sprinkle over your cinnamon-sugar mix. It’ll form a crust as it cools.
  • Try one of the four bagel toppings/fillings I wrote about last time.
  • Or, for a true NY experience, try a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel. My favourite way to do this is borrowed from New York Cult Recipes (a great book by Marc Grossman):
    • Generously spread the top and bottom halves of your bagel with cream cheese. On the bottom, layer – in order – smoked salmon, a slice of white onion, and two or three slices of tomato. Top with the other half of the bagel and enjoy, preferably with some coffee, a glass of OJ and the paper. As Grossman rightly points out: “nothing can beat it!”

what is “a cook’s bookshelf”?

A friend recently stood in the middle of the kitchen and exclaimed: “Wait – these are all cookbooks?”

Swivelling in place, he took in the numerous bookshelves and stacks, seemingly seeing a new book with every turn. He seemed surprised enough; I didn’t mention that this is just the kitchen. Books – cooking and otherwise – have free and full reign over the whole flat.

Bookstack 1.jpeg

precariously but preciously positioned on the skinny shelf

There are currently three book stacks on either side of the bed, another on my desk chair, two on the desk. There are piles in corners. On (and under) coffee tables. Hiding in the wine rack. There are little ones perched on scrappy-thin surfaces. Big ones squatting, happily, waiting. New ones, old ones, all jostled up next to each other, brimming with beautiful ideas, flavours and places.

Cookbooks are windows into other worlds. They show you how people eat on the other side of the planet. How they ate in the past. How I want to eat in the future. They tell stories, and show places. They’re made by people with passion. With a hunger for life. They give you the tools to feed those you love, to nourish yourself, and think bigger than you ever did before.

In short: cookbooks are my not-so-secret love, and I have the tomes to prove my devotion. Taking it all in, some might call it an obsession, but I call it adoration. And there are so many more to discover! Incidentally, I recently read that Diana Henry – one of my favourite food writers by far – has around 4,000 cookbooks in her collection. Turning slightly pale on hearing this, J muttered: “You know that’s not a challenge, right?”

Right…

Bookstack 2.jpeg

Chez Panisse Desserts is a recent acquisition, hence its top of the pile placement

But it is a lovely reminder that there are culinary kindred spirits out there in the world. Ones that pick up cookbooks and read them like novels, just as I do. That can’t pass by a bookshop without sneaking a peek to see what books might be waiting, what new recipes might be tucked inside. That get transported with each and every turn of the page.

When we moved to Glasgow and were packing up our London place, J bravely suggested that maybe this would be a good time to thin the herd; let the best, the boldest, the tastiest survive.

And I thought about it – I really did. Cross my heart. But this was back when my cookbook collection had only just burst from countertop to its own bookshelf. Today? Nah. He’d need a small vehicle just to transport them to a charity shop. And the assistance of several passersby to pry my outraged form from our front door, much like a cat halfway up a pair of curtains. Thankfully, however, the topic hasn’t come up again (seriously). J has, as many of you know, the patience of a saint. I think it helps that he’s my Taster-in-Chief and is invested in my cooking.

Bookstack 3.jpeg

the ‘under the coffee table’ contingent

But I digress. I actually did get rid of some. Two, in fact – I gave them back to my dad, who’d kindly lent them to me months earlier. Although, it probably should be mentioned that I’ve since visited my parents’ and somehow those two cookbooks made it back to Scotland with me.

Speaking of Scotland: my cookbook compulsion has come into its own here. In much the same way as I’ve noticed in other parts of my life, being here has been a boon. For example: my pace of life is deliciously slower and sans-commute; J and I work from home together every day; and there are now three meals (plus snacks) that I can play around with in my kitchen.

Sometimes moving to a new city is about necessity. Sometimes it’s about a desperate search for something else. For us, it was both. J needed to be here for his career, and I needed a change. A new adventure. But the one year we’d planned to stay has come and gone, and we’re still here. In our lovely little flat, with its mismatched tiles and huge windows, that are just now coming back into their own with the reappearance of the sun.

Bookstack 4.jpeg

2 proud camels guarding this stack

Living here has changed so much more than just the size of the removal van we’ll eventually need when we leave. When you make a leap of faith, you obviously don’t know what awaits you on the other side. But I’d do it again – in a heartbeat – if only for the cookbooks.

Today, the arrival of the postman now involves banter. From my reading spot –  whichever that may be in our cosy wee flat – I can hear J and the postman laughing about the delivery of yet another tome. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure our postman gets a great Christmas present this year; the amount of books he’s brought to my door so far would have broken a lesser man, for sure. And my compulsion shows no signs of abating. Poor guy.

Bookstack 5.jpeg

some bedtime reading

Which brings me to A Cook’s Bookshelf, where I’ll be cooking from my books, chatting about them, and generally revelling in their splendour for all and sundry to read.

And, obviously, if you have any suggestions for any additions to the Bookshelf, please, please, don’t be shy. Tell me in the comments below.

chapter 4: of marmalade and madness

“I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It’s amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor.” DH Lawrence

My blues at the start of 2017 weren’t forward-looking (that came later) like DH Lawrence’s. They were defiantly fixed in the present, conjuring memories of the past. I lost someone I loved dearly in January. It was unexpected. And it carved out a hollow space in my heart. Around the same time, I smashed my knee on an icy patch of pavement, making it hard to walk, stand or hobble. It was dark, it was gloomy, it was the deepest patch of winter and I cleaved to it.

wintry Glasgow.jpeg

snow falling in the wee hours of a January morning

Wintry Glasgow was a solace. An ever-present, but patient friend. The air was sharp, blustery, harsh. The city didn’t ask anything of me; it practically begged me to stay inside. The winds and rain hit at my window, reminding me it was out there, but telling me to stay put. My world, understandably, became a little small. And I liked it. We had a little island, all to ourselves.

And since I couldn’t move, I simply sat with my grief for a while.

But my sadness, heavy as it was – even my inability to stand – didn’t keep me from my kitchen for long. I first limped into the kitchen a week or so after I hurt my knee. I’d been in bed, listening to the rustle of pots and pans as J made lunch, and gingerly swung my bruised self around and up. I limped in, grabbed an egg yolk, a dollop of tarragon-Dijon mustard, and a small blue jug of vegetable oil, and limped back out again. I was going to make mayonnaise. Safely sitting on the edge of my be-quilted bed, and with my trusty tiny whisk in hand, I started to gently stir and coax the vivid green mayonnaise into existence. I can’t remember what we ate it with that afternoon, but I do remember the colour, the vivid soft taste of it.

snow.jpeg

frost-rimed blades of grass and fallen leaves in the park

After that, I made more small forays into the kitchen. I’d linger around countertops. Peer into the fridge. Stare at the empty fruit bowl. And then, slowly, subtlely, an idea crept in. I’d make marmalade.

Now, I’ll put this out there. I’m not sure I’d ever bought a jar of marmalade before. I was familiar with it, sure. I knew its taste (it was generally okay, if a little sweet). I’d marvelled at the neon shade of the lime stuff, imagining that it tasted like it looked; memories of lime cordials past. I’d considered it on hotel condiment trays. Pondered it on supermarket shelves. But suddenly I wanted to make the stuff. Nay. I needed to.

oranges.jpeg

an abundance of Seville Oranges

I wanted that burst of sunshine-scented mist. The tang and taste of bright orange. The sensation of doing something useful. Something bright and happy. The idea of making something to enjoy, share, and savour was an appealing one. And thus a plan was born.

It’s fitting that the first batch was a bust. There was a lot of need going into it. Some small part of my brain was quietly chanting – let this work, let this make things better. The irony lies in what I now know, several batches along; I didn’t give the marmalade time. Hungry to pour the stuff into the hot, clean jars, screw the lids on tight, and have the final product be neat, perfect and ready to share with the world, I’d jumped the gun.

old marmalade.jpeg

while not technically marmalade, the four-citrus syrup was still delicious

Marmalade takes its own time. You can stare at it. Stir it. Test it. But you can’t rush it – it’ll reach that sweet setting spot when it’s good and ready.

But it wasn’t a complete loss. We’d made a delicious marmalade syrup (spiked with some “maybe this will help” whisky, hastily grabbed from a nearby shelf), perfect for pouring on porridge, pancakes and the like.

I let the idea lie for a while after that. At the time, it had seemed like a sign. It wasn’t going to work. I failed. Why bother? You know the thoughts. But then that urge for citrus rose up again, and the planets aligned. I went from finding Seville Oranges nowhere, to seeing them everywhere. And finally – after weeks of limping – I was able to walk well enough to venture off my island to claim them.

ma.jpeg

a small whisky while I worked – surely more effective than whistling

So I gathered up bags of them. I grabbed pink and ruby grapefruits, blood oranges, and lemons, and carried the kilos of fruit, heavy with juice and promise, back home. The kitchen was buoyed for weeks on their blowsy, sweet-sharp scent. And in the middle of it – there I was. Slicing. Stirring. Waking up.

It’s March now. And Glasgow’s waking up too. Crocuses are poking their purple and white heads out of the ground. The hyacinth on my kitchen counter is in full bloom. Daffodils wait in tight green bunches in every store and supermarket on my road. And I’ve got around 36 jars of marmalade waiting in the cool dark of the cupboard. And you know what? It’s great. I might well make some more.