My food-splattered recipe books also sport some short observations and random expletives. I don’t remember or understand many of them, going back many years and no doubt written after guests had left following a rather jolly evening. Comments are often less than complimentary. The cook’s fault no doubt, although this is not recognised in the jottings! Wild garlic pesto is likened to ‘pond slime’ and will not be repeated, stuffed cabbage, “ghastly, ghastly, ghastly and in these quantities you have to eat it every day for a fortnight”. However, the best scribbles are those kept in a notebook detailing my ‘entertaining’ for over ten years – a private post mortem of culinary events with friends, food and mostly lots of fun.
My notes centre on the food, the recipes and where to find them if I want to repeat them, which mostly I do. I can laugh now at some of my disasters but my early cooking trials still make me wince. The very worst, over 20 years ago, using fresh pineapple in a jelly for a Christmas trifle (as requested by an old boss). Believe me, it would never, ever have set. Even if you sieve it, add three more packets of gelatine and try freezing it. Putting the custard on the frozen ‘jelly’ pretending there isn’t a problem won’t help either, as the custard will sink and the liquid will erupt and puddle on the top. I wrote to Rowntree’s about my mortifying trifle making. It seems there is an enzyme in fresh pineapple that breaks down the protein in gelatine and de-activates it. Seems I should have used canned pineapple. Duh! Serves the ex-boss right for asking me to make a trifle with jelly in the first place – proper trifle doesn’t have jelly.
So, disaster prone, I was drawn to Aliksandra Mir’s The How Not To Cookbook – lessons learnt the hard way. I am someone who needs another cookery book like a hole in the head, but I couldn’t resist this one. I sat in Beatons, Tisbury’s avantgarde café and bookshop, giggling over my coffee on a rainy afternoon. Here are some short examples of other people’s advice on what not to do when cooking: (but buy the book – 1000+ giggles for foodie friends)
○ ‘When you have accidentally added dishwashing liquid to your salad instead of oil, do not attempt to wash it out and serve it to your children, they will be able to tell the difference. Even the teenagers.’
○ ‘If your water supply is cut off, do not stick your head of lettuce in the toilet bowl.’
○ ‘Do not put marshmallows in your omelette even if there is nothing else in the house to eat. It’s revolting.’
Why not send us your tips of ‘how not to’ to firstname.lastname@example.org?
The recipe this month appears in my notebook more often than any other. It is a truly sensational dish and comes from Tamsin Day-Lewis’ book Good Tempered Food, who credits Tim Withers and Simon Hopkinson, the cream of chefs if ever there were any.
‘Top-Drawer’ Tarragon Chicken (Chicken Savoyarde)
£16.50 when all ingredients purchased in Ludwell.
I x 2 kg casseroled chicken or 6 large, cooked, moist chicken breasts (the better the stock for cooking the chicken the better your sauce will be. The meat must be moist and good quality – no skin or chewy bits!)
For the sauce and to finish
50 g butter
50 g flour
400 ml poaching chicken stock
300 ml dry white wine
250 ml double cream
100 g Gruyère cheese, grated
1 tbsp Dijon mustard (but go easy!)
50 g chopped fresh tarragon (DON’T scrimp here - it’s essential)
50 g minimum breadcrumbs
25 g minimum grated Parmesan – adjust to ‘crust preferences’
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 230ºC / Gas 8 / AGA middle shelf
1 To make the sauce, melt the butter, add the flour and cook for a few minutes without browning, stirring constantly to form a ‘roux’ or smooth paste.
2 Gradually add the HOT chicken stock, then white wine and cream. Keep this moving to avoid lumps.
3 Stir until thickened and smooth – watch this stage carefully. (Seriously, if there are lumps it’s not the end of the world. Take a clean pan and sieve your sauce into it and continue – you may not have as much sauce but it has been saved.)
4 Taste to check there is no ‘floury taste’ (if so, cook a little longer) and stir in the Gruyère cheese, mustard and the tarragon.
5 Adjust the seasoning and then simmer very slowly and carefully, stirring often for approx 20 minutes.
6 Mix the breadcrumbs with the grated Parmesan cheese.
7 Butter a gratin dish/oven proof dish – max 2” depth
8 Place the chicken pieces (large bite size bits) into the base of the dish, pour over the sauce and sprinkle with the breadcrumb mix
9 Bake in a preheated oven for 20–25 minutes until the dish is golden and bubbling well around the edges.
Serve with buttered new potatoes and a crisp green salad with french beans.
Absolutely the best and naturally..… Truly Scrumptious anytime of the year.
These musings and recipes are gleaned from The Donhead Digest with the permission of AIF, their author.