Come To Lunch, Bring Your Slippers

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Last Saturday night, as I roasted and whisked and rolled, I wondered if it all might be in vain. I was prepping for a Sunday lunch which might never happen. I dusted the counter with flour to roll out the pastry as snow fell heavily on the kitchen’s glass roof. The cats shot through the catflap and threw themselves in front of the fire where they meticulously licked fat flakes from their whiskers and paws.

Lunch the next day was to welcome home four of our closest friends, Vanessa and James from Cambodia and Richard and Stuart from Australia. Their planes were due to arrive at Heathrow between five and six on Sunday morning. It seemed a good idea, on Boxing Day, when we discussed getting together for a jet-lag-deferring Sunday lunch. But now every news bulletin came with dire updates about runways being closed. Newspapers screamed about ‘Snowmageddon’. Perhaps it would just be Séan and I, tucking into that rolled shoulder of pork and rhubarb and custard tart?

But planes landed. Guests came. Radiators were draped with lightly steaming mittens and scarves. Pegs struggled under the weight of damp wool and fat down coats. Boots lay in a heap in the hall. They’d all brought their slippers. I like that. I like having a house where people pad about in their slippers. It’s what makes it home.*

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Snow soufflés rise from plant pots.

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Frosted magnolia.

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A present from Cambodia. Silk, peppercorns, peanut brittle, a little aluminium coffee filter and ground coffee which smells so deliciously of chocolate, I want to rub my face in it.

 

*Or perhaps a prelude to The Home, where I hope we’ll all end up one day, surviving on soup, show tunes, gin and gossip, cheating at cards and fighting over the best lounger on the terrace.

 

Rhubarb and Custard Tart

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Back in 2008, on the very first shoot I did for River Cottage, we made this pretty, and pretty delicious tart . I’ve made it quite often since and I’ve tinkered with it slightly, adding some orange zest to the pastry and cramming in even more rhubarb, because you really can’t have too much of a good thing.

For the pastry:

225g plain flour, plus a little more for dusting the tin
110g unsalted butter, softened, plus a little more for greasing the tin
110g caster sugar or vanilla sugar
A few gratings of orange zest
Pinch of salt
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten


For the filling:

800g rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 5cm pieces
Zest of 1 small orange
Juice of half an orange
3 tbsp caster (or vanilla) sugar
1 vanilla pod, split and cut in half


For the custard:

250ml double cream
1 vanilla pod, split
5 large egg yolks
2-3 tbsp caster (or vanilla) sugar

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Sorry this picture is a bit rubbish. Snapped it on my phone just as I took the tart out of the oven and I forgot to take a new one the next morning, but it gives you an idea of the fruity, vanilla-y goodness.

First, make the pastry. Lightly greasy a 28cm, loose-bottomed flan tin, dust it with flour and tap out the excess. Sift the flour into a bowl and rub in the butter with your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Whisk in the sugar, zest and salt with a fork. Add the egg yolks and mix with a knife until the dough comes together. Knead very gently and quickly into a round, smooth disc. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate while you prepare everything else.

While the pastry is resting, roast the rhubarb. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6. In a roasting tin, mix the rhubarb, zest, juice, sugar and vanilla, then bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until soft and slightly caramelised. Cool, strain off the juices (save it to pour over greek yoghurt – so good) and remove the vanilla. You can rinse and dry the vanilla pod and use it in the custard if you like. Thrifty.

While the rhubarb is cooling, line the tart tin. On a lightly floured surface (or between two sheets of baking parchment or cling film), roll out the pastry and line the baking tin, letting the excess pastry hang over the side. Refrigerate again for 15 minutes or so.

Reduce the temperature to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.

Line the tart tin with several layers of cling film, leaving plenty hanging over the side. Fill generously with baking beans or uncooked pulses or rice. Bring the excess cling film over the top to make a sort of blind baking ‘pad’. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven, take out the ‘pad’ and prick the pastry all over with the tines of a fork. Brush lightly with egg wash (steal a little of the egg yolk from the custard and whisk with a splash of water or milk) and return to the oven for about 8-10 minutes, until the case is golden and completely cooked through. Remove from the oven and trim off the excess pastry with a small, sharp knife.

Reduce the oven temperature to 130°C/250°F/gas mark ½.

Make the custard. Pour the cream and split vanilla pod into a pan and heat until the cream is just scalded. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar, then pour into the cream, whisking to combine. Pour through a fine sieve into a jug. Scrape the seeds out of the pod and into the custard.

Spoon the rhubarb into the pastry shell and pour over the custard until it’s about 5mm from the top. Bake on a tray for 30-40 minutes, until the custard is just set but not too firm – it should still have a little wobble to it. Serve cold.

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Up and down the Kingsland Road

Gravadlax

Sometimes, I imagine a shuttle running between Lady de B’s house and mine rather like the underground trains that once carried four million letters a day between Paddington and Whitechapel. Our zippy little shuttle wouldn’t transport the Royal Mail. It would carry such precious cargo as extra chairs, baskets, platters, ice cream makers, jelly bags, jam pans, barbecues, tablecloths, ice buckets, stick blenders, mandolins, baking sheets and roasting tins. A truly moveable feast – or the furnishings for one – running the mile or so between my house and hers. It’s not unheard of for me to admire a plate in her house and for her to say, ‘Well, you should like it, it’s yours’.

We cook together so often, plan parties together, eat at one another’s tables with such regularity, that I can find the cling film or cinnamon or colander in her kitchen as easily as I can in my own. I know where the hot spots are in her oven. (Well, at least I did. She’s just got a swanky new Lacanche, and though we’ve been formally introduced, we’re yet to get to know one another intimately over roasted meats, slow-cooked stews, bubbling gratins and biscuits.)

Vanessa and I share recipes obsessively, whether it’s excitably garbled descriptions of dishes we’ve eaten on holidays or in restaurants, inspirations ripped from magazines, or pristine, bookmarked perfection in the pages of the latest cook books.

When Vanessa said she was making gravadlax for Easter lunch, I’d quite forgotten that I’d lent her Falling Cloudberries: a world of family recipes, one of my favourite books because it is filled not just with lovely recipes, but family, history and stories. In her introduction, Tessa Kiros writes ‘These are the recipes I grew up with: the recipes that have woven their way through the neighbourhoods of my mind, past indifference and into love’

Falling Cloudberries Falling Cloudberries

Tessa's mother Tessa Kiros’s mother and a Finnish birch tree.

Born in London to a Greek Cypriot father and a Finnish mother, Kiros’s childhood in Africa was followed by stints cooking all over the world before settling in Tuscany with her Italian husband. It’s hardly surprising her cooking is as diverse as it is delicious. There’s skordalia and semifreddo, couscous and ceviche, tom ka gai and crème brûlée, and in the middle of all that, her mother’s recipe for gravadlax, the happiest of beginnings for our happy Easter feast.

Gravadlax with dill cucumbers

Gravadlax with dill cucumbers

Vanessa bought the salmon from Steve Hatt, fourth-generation fish monger and the north London fisheratti’s piscine purveyor of choice. He advises that for gravadlax, a larger, more mature salmon that had had a chance to build up some fat responds best to the salt and sugar cure. Get the best your pocket can stand, but after that it’s all very easy.

Salmon ready to be sliced

Serves about 20.

300g (10 ½ oz) caster (superfine) sugar
200g (7oz) coarse salt
150g (5oz) dill, chopped
2 whole fillets of salmon, skin left on, but cleaned and small bones removed

For the dill cucumbers:
1 cucumber
1 tbsp chopped dill
100ml (3 ½ fl oz) white wine vinegar
2 heaped tbsps caster (superfine) sugar
1 tsp salt

To serve:
Chopped dill
Finnish mustard (See below)

To make the gravadlax, combine the sugar, salt, dill and a few good grindings of black pepper in a bowl. Put a large piece of foil on your work surface. Onto this put about a third of the salt and sugar mixture. Put one of the fillets, skin side down, on top of the mix then top this with another third of the mixture. Top with the other salmon fillet, skin side up, and cover with the remaining mixture. Pat down so it is all covered nicely and wrap the foil around it to seal the salmon. Keep it in a container in the fridge (Vanessa used a fish kettle, perfect) for four days, turning it over every day. If you don’t have a container large enough, sit it on a tray or large dish to catch nay juices that may drip.

To make the dill cucumbers, cut the cucumber into very thin slices, slightly on the diagonal if you like, so that they are extra long and look good. Put them in a bowl where they will fit compactly in a few layers, sprinkling the dill between the layers. Combine the vinegar, sugar, salt and 2tbsps of water, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Pour this over the cucumber and cover it. Keep in the fridge for at least a few hours before serving. Transfer to a jar and cover with its liquid and it will keep for up to a week.

To serve the gravadlax, remove the foil and scrape off as much of the sugar and salt mixture as possible. Slice the salmon very thinly, horizontally, and scatter with more fresh dill. Serve with the dill cucumbers and Finnish mustard.

Finnish mustard

This keeps really well, sealed in a jar, in the fridge for a few weeks. Its fiery fabulousness will perk up a plate of cold meats, sausages or, yes, cured fish no end.

Makes about 300ml/10 fl oz

45g (1/3 cup) hot English mustard powder
115g (1/2 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
1 tsp salt
250ml (1 cup) single (pouring) cream
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp apple cider (or other, white) vinegar
Juice of half a lemon

Mix the mustard powder, sugar and salt together in a bowl, squashing out the lumps with a wooden spoon. Put in a small saucepan over a low heat with cream, oil, vinegar and lemon juice and bring to the boil, stirring constantly. Cook for 7-8 minutes, stirring often, then remove from the heat when it darkens and thickens. Stir now and then while it cools and then pour into glass jars, seal and refrigerate.

Wayward tarts. It’s not you, it’s me.

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Look, I tried my best. I’m sure it was my fault. Two days of fizz-fuelled festivities blunted my baking arm. I’d promised Lady de B two tarts for Easter Sunday lunch, Blood orange meringue pie and Black bottom pie from Lindsey Remolif Shere’s Chez Panisse Desserts so I got up at 6.30am on Sunday to make good on my promise.

Can I start by saying I love this book? Many a summer evening has ended with scoops of its Beaumes-de-venise ice cream melting alongside slices of apricot tart. In autumn and winter, its apple crisp or espresso cognac mousse are to be found on my table almost as often as salt and pepper. But I just couldn’t get my tarts to behave. The blind-baked tart shells cracked like river beds in a drought, requiring patching, cursing and coaxing into usefulness. I struggled on. They were fine but not the perfection I was seeking.

But no matter. I was playing to the home crowd, those most likely to forgive my failings. Besides, after a feast of Lady de B’s homemade gravadlax with mustard sauce, barbecued shoulders of lamb, cheese and salad, the tarts vanished quickly enough so they can’t have been too horrible.

DSCN1498 Barney and Patrick play in the garden.

DSCN1413 So many glasses, so little time…

DSCN1405 Richard made collages of parties past and laminated
them into placemats.

DSCN1529 Tucking in.

DSCN1479 Lady de B’s home-cured gravadlax with mustard sauce
and cucumber salad

DSCN1507 Barbecued shoulder of lamb with roast potatoes and
cauliflower gratin

DSCN1514 I think Kim and Steve raided a particularly fine French restaurant to come up with all of these fabulous cheeses.

DSCN1532 The smell of the cheese brings Patrick to the table.

DSCN1556 Wayward tart No. 1: Blood orange meringue pie

DSCN1561 Wayward tart No. 2: Black bottom pie

DSCN1612 Naughty Claudia feeds Barney at the table.

Chez Panisse blood orange curd

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What was delicious and easy was the blood orange curd I used to fill the meringue pie so at least I can offer you that. I’ll try the tarts again and post them later.

Makes about 1 ½ cups

2 blood oranges (about 275g/10oz)
1 tbsp lemon juice
¼ tsp cornstarch/flour
¼ cup/55g caster sugar
1 egg
4 egg yolks
6 tbsp/85g unsalted butter

Wash the oranges and finely grate the zest into a non- corroding bowl. Juice the oranges, strain 7tbsp of the juice into the bowl, and add the lemon juice. Mix the cornstarch/flour and the sugar – this prevents lumps from forming when it’s mixed with the eggs. You may omit the cornstarch/flour unless you are filling a tart that you want to brown. Put the egg and yolks in a small, non-corroding saucepan and whisk the sugar-cornstarch/flour mixture into them. Stir in the juice and zest mixture. Don’t be alarmed if it seems to curdle; it will smooth out later. Cut the butter into several pieces and add to the mixture.

Cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon as for crème anglaise. Remove from the heat and stir for a minute or two until the heat of the pan dissipates so the custard won’t curdle on the bottom. Pour into a small container and chill.

Pork belly, and a very British competition…

Slow roast pork belly from Canteen: Great British Food Slow roast pork belly from Canteen: Great British Food

You could be forgiven for thinking that the clocks haven’t just gone forward an hour, but leapt, galloped, sprinted forward several months, given today’s rather autumnal offering of roast belly pork with apples and red cabbage.

But it was a chilly, overcast sort of day on Friday and I had lots of work to catch up on, so that most forgiving, delicious and inexpensive of cuts, pork belly, ticked all kinds of boxes for our supper for six that evening.

I’d been sent Great British Food, the first (and, I sincerely hope, not last) cookbook by Cass Titcombe, Dominic Lake and Patrick Clayton-Malone, the trio behind the four Canteen restaurants dotted around London serving classic British dishes such as steak and kidney pie, Lancashire hotpot and apple brandy syllabub to the gratefully, nostalgically nourished masses. Their Slow-roast pork belly with apples was calling my name…

My grease stained copy I’ve already managed to get a grease spot on the spine.
It’s love, see.

Lots of lovely pictures too It’s filled with impossible-to-resist deliciousness.

I love this book. I’m going to cook from it a lot. It will become spattered, battered, creased and stained in the Licked Spoon kitchen. Pencil marks will blemish its artfully designed pages. I like the feel of it in my hands, with its brown cover and reassuringly sturdy typeface. Inside are 120 recipes for everything from spicy mutton pie, bubble and squeak, devils on horseback and coronation chicken to steamed syrup pudding, marmalade and piccalilli. I have no doubt it will become a modern classic. So… drum roll… I want to share it. If this is your kind of food, I have an extra copy to give away. Leave a comment below about what your favourite British dish is and why and I’ll announce my favourite response here next Saturday, 3 April.*

We had a lively dinner. Howard brought white roses and French cheeses, Lady de B  brought two kinds of chilly treat, home made mango ice cream and mango and lime sorbet, Victoria and Helder brought delicious wine and even more delicious gossip. I can’t think of a better way to launch a weekend.

* If you register a profile before leaving your comment, this will make it easier for me to get in touch with you, but it’s not essential. Just check in next Saturday to discover the winner, and I’ll work out a way of getting it to you if you’re the lucky person. This competition is open to readers outside of the UK too, so get commenting!

Slow roast pork belly with apples

The recipe calls for pork belly on the bone, but my pork shopper in chief, Séan, came back from the butcher with a boned piece. It worked really well too.

Slow roast pork belly with apples

Serves 6-8.

1 piece of pork belly, weighing about 2.5kg (on the bone)
1 tsp ground fennel
1 garlic bulb, separated into cloves
20g fresh sage leaves
500ml dry cider
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 Cox’s apples
50g butter
Ground allspice

Preheat the oven to 150˚C/300˚F/Gas mark 2. With a sharp knife, score the belly across the skin at 2cm intervals (or get the butcher to do it for you). Season the meaty side of the belly with the ground fennel, 1 tsp salt and some black pepper.

Fennel Fennel, in the mortar

Sage & garlic Sage and garlic

Yum, seasoned pork Seasoned pork, how could it not be delicious?

Bash the unpeeled garlic cloves and place them in a metal roasting tin with the sage. Set the pork belly on top. Pour over the cider and sprinkle the surface of the belly with 1 tsp of salt. Cover tightly with foil and roast for two hours. Remove from the oven and turn the oven up to 200˚C/400˚F/gas mark 6.

Drain the liquid out of the tin into a pan. Put the pork belly back into the tin and return to the oven, uncovered, and roast for a further 45 minutes to 1 hour until the skin is crisp. If I doesn’t become crisp enough, remove the pork from the oven, cut off the skin and put it back into the oven to continue cooking until it resembles proper crackling. Meanwhile, cover the pork and keep it warm.

Meanwhile, prepare the apples. Cut them in half and remove the cores. Butter a metal baking tray and place the apples in it cut-side down. Dab a little butter on top of each and sprinkle with a little allspice Put in the oven with the pork and bake for 15-20 minutes.

Transfer the pork belly to a carving board, placing it fat-side down. Slide a knife under the rib bones and cut them off, keeping the knife against the bone. Set aside the meat and bones in a warm place.

Skim off any fat from the cooking liquid, then bring to the boil.

Cut the pork into thick slices and serve with the baked apples, the cooking juices and the ribs.

An independent sort of lunch

Spring Spring is here.

On Sunday, I arranged to meet Katy at the flower market at 11 and I’d invited a few friends to join us for lunch afterwards. I needed an independent sort of recipe, one that would allow me maximum bouquet bothering time, something I could nudge into being with a little light prep and then bung in the oven to become lunch all on its own.

Seven hour leg of lamb is a good candidate on such occasions. I’ve been wanting to try the one from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook for ages. (I have a weakness for a bad boy with a batterie de cuisine and he has to be the very best of that genre.)

The ingredients

Now if you try this recipe, don’t do what I did and buy a joint so big it won’t fit in your largest pot, thus requiring your husband to go around to the neighbours’ to borrow a hacksaw. ‘You doing a bit of DIY?’ asked Kev. ‘No, sawing through bones,’ said Séan. ‘Oh right, we’ve got plenty of black bags if you need any later.’ I love living next door to a very, very dry Scot.

Along with the lamb, I needed a side dish with an equally self-sufficient spirit. Step forward, AB’s gratin dauphinoise. The oven time is shortened because he simmers his potatoes in cream to part cook them first, so all I had to do when we got back from the market was pop the potatoes simmered in cream (it makes me happy just typing those four words) into the oven with the lamb while we sipped chilly glasses of fizz, nibbled olives, salami and roast cauliflower, read the papers and swapped gossip.

Mel Mel asks ‘Just how big is the leg of lamb?’

Judy Judy, surrounded by the papers.

Tom, Beth & Richard Tom, Beth and Richard

Cauliflower Roast cauliflower

Salami Salami

Barney Barney sat on Stuart’s lap to make sure he didn’t miss anything.

Tom checks his iPhone Tom and Stuart

PS A huge, huge thank you to those of you who sent me first anniversary good wishes. I had no idea when I began my blog how much fun it would be. Pressing ‘publish’ for the first time was a strange feeling, much stranger than seeing my work in a magazine or newspaper. More intimate, somehow, and much more personal. But I’ve loved it. I love the quirky imperfection of it. And I love it most of all when you share your own stories, too.

Gigot de sept heures

Gigot de sept heures Plated up

Look, it’s not going to win any beauty contests but it’s tender, intensely flavoured and delicious.

Serves 8

1 leg of lamb, about 2.7kg/7lbs
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced, plus 20 whole garlic cloves
55ml/1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 small onions, thinly sliced
4 carrots, peeled
1 bouquet garni
250ml/1 cup dry white wine
225g/1 cup plain flour
250ml/1 cup water, though I think you need less (see below)

Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas mark 2. Using a paring knife, make many small incisions around the leg. Place a sliver of garlic into each of the incisions. Rub the lamb well with olive oil and season it all over with salt and pepper. Place it in a Dutch oven or large casserole and add the onions, carrots, bouquet garni, unpeeled garlic cloves and wine. Put the lid on the Dutch oven.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and water to for a rough ‘bread dough’, mixing it well with a wooden spoon. Now, Anthony B suggests an equal amount of flour and water which was a bit too sloppy to stick to my pot. Just add enough water to make a rough paste – don’t worry you’re not going to eat it. Use the dough like grout or caulking material to seal the lid onto the pot so no moisture can escape. Put the pot in the oven and cook for 7 hours.

Remove the pot from the oven, break off the dough seal and breathe. It’s intoxicating. At this point, you will be able to carve the lamb with a spoon – not for nothing do the French sometimes call this dish ‘gigot d’agneau à la cuillière’.

Gratin dauphinoise

I must have made hundreds of dauphinoises in my life, but never one like this, where you simmer the potatoes in the cream before putting them in the dish. I rather like it – great if you’d like to do all the chopping and simmering ahead and just slip it into the oven an hour before lunch. I added the Gruyère, as instructed, and though it was good I think I prefer it in its naked, unadorned, uncheesy state. Obviously, leaving out that 115g of Gruyère almost makes it into health food.

Serves 4 – so I doubled the quantities here.

8 Yukon gold potatoes (I couldn’t get hold of these so I used Desiree), peeled and cut into 6mm/1/4 inch slices
500ml/2 cups double cream
5 garlic cloves, slightly crushed
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig rosemary
1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
Salt and white pepper
Freshly ground nutmeg (go easy)
1 tbsp unsalted butter
115g grated Gruyère cheese

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4. Place the potatoes in a large pot and add the cream, 4 of the garlic cloves and the herbs. Season with salt, white pepper and a little nutmeg. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer. After 10 minutes of simmering, remove from the heat and discard the garlic and herbs.

Use the remaining garlic clove to rub around the inside of the gratin dish. Butter the inside of the dish as well so that is evenly coated. Transfer the potatoes and cream to the gratin dish and sprinkle the top with the cheese. Place in the oven and cook for 40 minutes, or until the mixture is brown and bubbling. Remove from the oven and rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

The usual suspects

The Lake
I’ve been cooking food that doesn’t belong to me. No, I’m not confessing to a shoplifting habit. Part of my job is developing, testing and writing recipes. Though they mess up my stove, bubble and spit in my pans, colonise my fridge and – shameful admission time – sometimes fill up my bin, though they’re coaxed and soothed and occasionally bullied into edibility by my own fair hand, they aren’t mine to share until they appear, weeks, months, later in their designated newspaper or magazine. As well as my regular gigs, I’ve also been working on recipes for my friend Mark’s book which will appear in the autumn. So though the Spoon stove has seldom been cold these past few weeks, I’ve made very little I can share with you yet, dear blog readers.
This isn’t helped, either, by the stolen camera situation. Or the hours spent dealing with the insurance company. Or the endless, torpor-inducing discussions of new technology to replace the nicked stuff.
I felt as sprightly as a week-old loaf as I folded myself into the passenger seat last Saturday. We were heading north to the country and Victoria’s fabulous fortieth birthday weekend. This was a big deal. We’ve been hearing about it for months. Something special had to mark this milestone, so a dozen of us abandoned our concrete comfort zone of the city for the opalescent skies and high hedgerows of North Norfolk.
We stayed at Fritton House, where barmen and waiters and chambermaids indulged every whim and fancy of kids and dogs and overexcited townies with charm and humour.
This was the perfect antidote to weeks of double shifts at the stove and desk. Victoria is my dearest friend, the one whose judgment I trust in all things and in whose company I’ve spent most of the happiest times of my life, as well as some of the saddest. And the rest? Well, these are our ‘top table’ the ones who, when my mother calls to ask who’s coming to lunch and I begin reeling off their names, she replies ‘Oh, the usual suspects’.
Back in London on Monday, even the heavy skies couldn’t dampen my spirits. Mark’s recipes are within a within a ping of a kitchen timer of being done. I have my eye on a new camera. Normal service will be resumed.
Oh, and another thing, Mark told me I have to Twitter and I always do what the cool kids tell me. Usually three years after they tell me to do it when they’ve all moved on to something else. So if you’re the Twittering sort, do please tweet along with me at @lickedspoon.

Debora & Lady de B Lady de B and I cling onto each other for warmth, and onto our wine for dear life.
The DenThe Den & Luca Luca and Leo’s den in the woods.

Drinks The birthday girl, with Damian and Brian.

The Table Having dinner.

The Birthday Girl Victoria proudly sporting the banner Kim bought in Peckham market.

Just Zac Stuart. Yes, I know he’s our own personal Zac Efron.

09 Barney & Patrick Barney takes off across the sofa, pursued by Patrick.

After dinner drinks Sunday, 2am. Both the food groups, caffeine and alcohol.

Sunday papers Essential Sunday morning reading.
Leo in the HAT OF TRUTH The next day, Leo tries on his mummy’s hat, also bought by Kim in Peckham Market. The night before we christened it The Hat Of Truth, as we all took turns in trying it on and telling a secret.
13 The Usual Suspects The usual suspects, getting ready to go home.

I’ll raise a tart to that…

The table's set By the way, we never eat anyone’s health, always drink it. Why should we not stand up now and then and eat a tart to somebody’s success?

Jerome K. Jerome

So I’m still picking glitter out of the floorboards and suspect I will be for some time.

We returned from my parents’ just in time to prepare our New Year’s Eve party, planned as an elegant dinner for six – all (bar one heavenly Portugeezer) people we’d spent Millennium Eve with. I was looking forward to it, rather loving the fact that in a world where things change at a terrifying pace, some friendships remain constant. Those who were dear to us then are dear to us now, their presence woven like the weft through the (time) warp of our lives. But then, over the course of the morning, the party grew to twelve adults and four children. More linens, more glasses, more food, more fun. More angels at my table.

Sean and I spent a happy day getting everything together. We chilled champagne, roasted meats, peeled vegetables, whisked dressings. I made a delicious chocolate cake, but given our increased numbers I needed a second pudding I could pull together from things in the larder.

I made some mincemeat in November. Not just any mincemeat either, the world’s best mincemeat, from Pam Corbin’s River Cottage Handbook No2: Preserves, fat with fruit and fragrant with brandy. I’d used up half the jar making mince pies for the highlight of my social calendar, The Dog Walkers’ Christmas Party in Clissold Park, but I still had quite a bit left.

Mince pies in the parkA cold party......with warm mulled wine At least someone dressed up!The dog walkers’ party in Clissold Park

I threw together a quick tart, with pastry from the freezer, a couple of thinly sliced apples and a walnut-y crumble topping. If you have any mincemeat left over, it’s a great way to use it up.

At 4am, surrounded by a flotsam of plates and glasses and ends of cheese, I sat at our marble counter with my dearest friend in the world sipping the last of the champagne as our husbands and her children dozed in beds and on sofas around the house. We’ve known each other for almost twenty years. Our lives have changed a lot. But the one thing that drew us together in the first place remains constant. Neither of us ever wants the party to end. We may not be dancing on the speakers any more, we may have swapped the night bus for taxis and (sometimes) cava for premier cru, but we’re always there, ‘talking nonsense’ when less doughty, more sensible souls are tucked up in their beds. How lucky I feel to be entering a new decade doing the very thing that has brought me so much happiness over so many years. So here’s to nonsense, here’s to old friends and new ones, here’s to constancy and here’s to change. I’ll raise a tart to that.

Happy New year!The spreadA bit of beefHoping for some beef... Damian's new motto

Mincemeat crumble tart

Mincemeat crumble tart

1 sheet of ready-roll all-butter shortcrust pasty
2 crisp eating apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
About 200g mincemeat, enough for a nice thick layer
180g plain flour
70g caster sugar
100g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
50g finely chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Butter a 22cm loose-bottomed flan tin.

Line the flan tin with the pastry, letting the excess hang over the sides, and place on a baking tray. Line with baking parchment filled with baking beans and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the paper and baking beans. Brush some egg wash over the base and put it back into the oven for eight minutes. Trim off the excess pastry with a sharp knife.

While the tart shell is baking, make the crumble. Whisk together the flour and sugar. Rub in the butter until it is the texture of coarse crumbs. Stir in the walnuts.

Line the tin with a layer or two of sliced apples, spoon over a good thick layer of mincemeat and sprinkle on the crumble topping. Bake until golden, about 35-40 minutes. Serve warm or cold with custard, cream or crème fraîche.