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dukkah

21 Dec

coriander jar

The recipe has been in my diary since the summer, when I re-read Laurie Colwin’s “More Home Cooking”. Her food is down-to-earth and her stories gently funny; I liked the one on what to feed a jetlagged friend (something salty so they drink lots of water). The image that really stuck with me though was that of her sister (maybe? the book is still in the south of France) caught guiltily eating this spice mix, dukkah, out of the jar with a spoon.

Now eating Nutella by the spoonful, that I understand. But a mix of nuts and seeds, cumin, coriander and cinnamon? Surely that would be too dry, too strong?

Talking with a friend the other day – she is on the kitchen stool with a glass of wine, I am testing the recipe, blending the toasted spices and nuts, stopping and starting around the conversation – we realise that much as ex-smokers tend to be the most vehemently anti-smoking, people that have had issues with eating disorders tend to be largely impatient  with others’ dietary requirements, intolerances, particular preferences. She says she is gluten-free now, last week it was lactose. He only ate half the piece of cheesecake, claimed he was getting love handles. Obviously I know that there are medically diagnosed problems, food allergies. I know that. She knows that. Nonetheless as if we are trying to distance ourselves from our past, our obsessions, we are the most judgemental.

Smell that. I open the lid of the food processor, releasing a toasty cinnamon air. Good right?

But when walls are broken down, when someone admits to suffering, to have suffered from disordered eating, it is amazing how quickly others will respond with me too! Without that kinship, it would be admitting to weakness, to vanity, to a preoccupation with the self in a world of much more tangible problems.

We each dip a finger to taste the crumbly rubble, not quite a powder. Oooh.  We taste it again. It is like earth and fire, full of warmth.

cinnamon, cumin and pepper jars

It isn’t about being thin or pretty but feeling full or empty. From the beginning of university until not so long ago, I struggled with food. Push and pull. I ate my feelings, as everyone does occasionally. It went from once a month to almost every day, when I could count the ‘good days’ (tuna and rye crackers) one hand in that month.

We try it on some sourdough, spread with honey and goat’s cheese and topped with a baker’s pinch of dukkah (all fingers at once, not just finger and thumb). That will be breakfast and snacks for the next two days until the loaf runs out.

And then, slowly, sometime in the last year and a half it faded towards the horizon. It stopped being ‘I am’ this thing, this disorder that defines me, and became ‘I have’ and ‘I used to have’. I can feel its imprint on bad days, a worn pathway, a feeling of too much too full too frantic. Asked to describe it once, I said that when anxious I felt a balloon inflating in my chest and the only way to remove it was to fill myself up until I was a sack of concrete.

Now I remember how to feel physically hungry, not just emotionally empty. My feelings are not always in check – nor should they be – and sometimes it surprises me the forged link of hunger/sadness. Two days ago I finished class in a terribe mood, sure that everyone hated me, inexplicably miserable. Then, wait, I realised, I had been too busy to eat lunch. All I needed to right my self-esteem was a quick sandwich of baguette, cured ham and salad, with a sprinkle of more dukkah. (I ‘borrowed’ some from the jar in my handbag I was giving away as a gift. Sorry Jen!)

Where am I going with this? For one, more people than you would think will own up to those moments in the kitchen at midnight, guiltily nursing that spoon, if only you know how to ask the question. It is a relief to say, me too. Hopefully this does not read as melodramatic or self-centred. I just know that a few years ago I would have loved to know someone with the same experience, someone who made it out the other side. I would have felt less ashamed.

And secondly, this spice mix, dip, topping, whichever, is my favourite thing I have made all year. It is redolent with spices, savoury and sweet, salty. Hot with black pepper but tempered with the hazelnuts and sesame seeds, so that it can be used in generous spoonfuls rather than pinches. Of course, when I googled it I discovered it has been fashionable in the food world for at least a decade now, in all of my favourite blogs: 101 Cookbooks, Smitten Kitchen and now in David Lebovitz’s new book. And more importantly, in Egypt for centuries: street vendors serve cones of dukkah, or duqqa, with bread and olive oil for dipping. I cannot wait to serve it over boiled eggs, potatoes, soups, avocado toast… My flatmate makes home-made fermented-milk yoghurt which is incredible with dukkah and honey. I think Laurie Colwin would approve.

hazelnuts sesame and salt

Dukkah

Friends and family in the near vicinity, you may be getting a jar of this for Christmas. For those of you far away, I won’t risk posting sachets of mysterious powder, so you will have to make your own. This makes a generous quantity, three jam jars full, or many spice jars (save empty ones from the supermarket for your presents). You won’t regret making a big batch, especially if you go to the trouble of buying coriander and cumin seeds, might as well use them. Adjust to taste: add more nuts for a milder flavour, more pepper for more heat. Enjoy on everything.

115g ( 1 cup) hazelnuts

150g (1 cup) sesame seeds

15g (3 tbs) cumin seeds

20g (1/4 cup) coriander seeds

15g (1 1/2 tbs) black peppercorns

15g (1 tbs + 1 tsp) coarse sea salt

12g (2 tbs) ground cinnamon

Toast the nuts / seeds / spices one kind at a time in a dry frying pan. Shake it every now and then to cook evenly. When they smell toasty, tip into food processor and do the next lot. (If you want to skin hazelnuts, tip them still hot into a tea towel and rub firmly to remove skins.) Add the salt and cinnamon, no need to toast, and blend everything to a rubble, not too fine a powder. My food processor does not do very well with the peppercorns so I crush them roughly first with a makeshift mortar and pestle: rolling pin and mug.)

Divide into jars. Eat on everything.

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raspberry tangerine jam

5 Dec

raspberry tangerine jam

In Perugia, I lived in an apartment with big windows and cold floors. My flatmates would force slippers onto me when I walked around barefoot in the morning. Then they would make me coffee, and in the evening, spaghetti. Sometimes pasta twice a day. Around this time of year, November December, we might just have roast chestnuts and vino novello for supper.

One of them – I can’t remember which one – used to leave the skin of tangerines, peeled in one long strip, on top of the radiator. So that the house would smell like citrus. Which reminded me of the passage below, from M.F.K. Fisher.

(I have a recipe for raspberry tangerine jam, which is a delightful combination. Perfect with toast or porridge, or in buttery cookies. You should make it on a December afternoon to warm up the house.)

But Fisher tells such a good story, I will leave her the last word. Enjoy. From Serve it Forth:

I discovered little dried sections of tangerine. My pleasure in them is subtle and voluptuous and quite inexplicable. I can only write how they are prepared.

In the morning, in the soft sultry chamber, sit in the window peeling tangerines, three or four. Peel them gently; do not bruise them, as you watch soldiers pour past and past the corner and over the canal towards the watched Rhine. Separate each plump little pregnant crescent. If you find the Kiss, the secret section, save it for Al.

Listen to the chambermaid thumping up the pillows, and murmur encouragement to her thick Alsatian tales ofl’intérieure. That is Paris, the interior, Paris or anywhere west of Strasbourg or maybe the Vosges. While she mutters of seduction and French bicyclists who ride more than wheels, tear delicately from the soft pile of sections each velvet string. You know those white pulpy strings that hold tangerines into their skins? Tear them off. Be careful.

Take yesterday’s paper (when we were in Strasbourg L’Ami du Peuple was best, because when it got hot the ink stayed on it) and spread it on top of the radiator. The maid has gone, of course – it might be hard to ignore her belligerent Alsatian glare of astonishment.

After you have put the pieces of tangerine on the paper on the hot radiator, it is best to forget about them. Al comes home, you go to a long noon dinner in the brown dining-room, afterwards maybe you have a little nip of quetsch from the bottle on the armoire. Finally he goes. You are sorry, but –

On the radiator the sections of tangerines have grown even plumper, hot and full. You carry them to the window, pull it open, and leave them for a few minutes on the packed snow of the sill. They are ready.

All afternoon you can sit, then, looking down on the corner. Afternoon papers are delivered to the kiosk. Children come home from school just as three lovely whores mince smartly into the pension’s chic tearoom. A basketful of Dutch tulips stations itself by the tram-stop, ready to tempt tired clerks at six o’clock. Finally the soldiers stump back from the Rhine. It is dark.

The sections of the tangerine are gone, and I cannot tell you why they are so magical. Perhaps it is that little shell, thin as one layer of enamel on a Chinese bowl, that crackles so tinily, so ultimately under your teeth. Or the rush of cold pulp just after it. Or the perfume. I cannot tell.

– M.F.K. Fisher

Raspberry Tangerine Jam

We often used frozen raspberries in the bakery, especially when they are going to be cooked down to make puree. They still have a lot of flavour. The first time I made this I used the whole peel but because of all the pectin in it, the results were quite stiff. Just use half, put the other half on the radiator.

makes 1 large or 2 small jars

400g frozen raspberries

1 tangerine,  preferably seedless

250g jam sugar

Sterilise your jars. (Since I don’t have a dishwasher, I fill them with boiling water.) Put some spoons in the freezer for testing.

It is a small quantity of jam, so it can be made either on the stove or in a microwave. If you try the latter, keep an eye on it as it sets quickly. Heat the raspberries gently to defrost. Blend half the tangerine peel and all of the pulp (remove seeds first) with a spoonful of the sugar to make a puree.

When the raspberries have softened and started to liquefy, add the tangerine puree and the rest of the sugar. Bring to the boil and let it bubble for about 5 minutes. The bubbles should sound a tone deeper, the mixture more syrupy than before. When you drag the wooden spoon across the bottom, it should take a second for the liquid red sea to come back together. If in doubt, test the consistency on a frozen spoon: when the jam is at room temperature it should hold its shape instead of sliding quickly over the spoon, it should form a slight skin that will wrinkle slightly when you push it. You will see the jam sticking around the edges of the pan and on the wooden spoon too.* Carefully pour into jars, to the brim, close and turn upside down to cool.

*Plagiarising self from last post about jam.

just breakfast

21 Nov

breakfast

One of the first food blogs I followed, Simply Breakfast, was just that. Elegant and interesting breakfast for one, simply photographed. It disappeared a while ago, but some of her photos can be found here.

I love weekend breakfast, I love inviting people over for pancakes or waffles. (Or tebirkes!) I love making several pots of coffee and sitting around in pyjamas and slippers long past noon.

In the week though, I tend to oversleep and run out of the door with fruit and a yoghurt to eat standing up at work. Not so good. I need the motivation to wake up earlier and eat something heartier.

Options:

Porridge: a surfeit of regular, oat porridge got boring a while back. But Holybelly’s black rice porridge with fromage frais and berries is absolutely fantastic, ink-dark and full of flavour. I tried it at home twice, forgot about it twice, burned it twice. Working on it…

Toast: in any French household there is always a bit of baguette lying around from the night before. Our fridge is full of half-full jars too, lemon curd, fig jam, a tangerine-raspberry experiment that is a touch too stiff. Weirdly though, my sweet tooth is fading, the more I work with pastry. Who knew you could eat too many macarons?! For a savoury option, we have enormous avocados from the Indian shop across the road. They are as big as two normal ones, light and delicate. Mashed avocado, olive oil and coarse salt on toast. Perfect.

Eggs: Am too lazy to turn on the stove before work, so a stash of boiled eggs in the fridge makes things easy. This morning I had boiled eggs on buttered bread, plenty of pepper; a leftover matcha pannacotta with honey; and a pomelo. Luxury.

What are your breakfast staples? I would love some new ideas.

espresso banana smoothie

23 Mar

espresso banana smoothie - illustrated recipe

Once I asked a Japanese colleague, in a mixture of French and English and mime, why she had begun her career as a pastry chef. She thought about it and said,

“Butter…sugar…flour…” (points at each) “….MAGIC! (stretches arms out wide)

I felt the same – and still do, luckily – about patisserie. And this smoothie inspires the same emotions. Such simple ingredients, disproportionately delicious together. Espresso, banana, almond and coconut milks. Cinnamon optional. How have I never thought to put coffee in a smoothie before?

A friend served it at an elegant brunch the other day – with pancakes and four kinds of maple syrup. But it also works on its own, before you rush out the door to work.

It helps me pretend I am succeeding at adulthood. A nutritious, caffeinated breakfast I can make in two minutes. (I get the same smug feeling when I remember my past self has hidden lunch for me in the freezer: chicken mole or the Wednesday Chef’s Chinese celery and beef were recent, happy discoveries.)

Plus it saves on expensive-chain-store-coffee-drinks. And it’s vegan! Everyone is happy. Except the chain-store-coffee people. Win-win-win.

~~~

Espresso-banana smoothie

adapted from CocoJenalle – I’ve doubled the amount of coffee, because. Use any combination of milks you prefer – soy, normal, rice etc – but the coconut does add a nice richness.

makes 1 large breakfast-size, or 2 small brunch-accompaniment-size

1 banana, frozen*

60ml espresso (2 shots)

125ml almond milk

125ml coconut milk

Optional additions: 

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp maple syrup

1/2 tsp chia seeds

If you are super organised, the night before: peel and chop banana into small chunks. (Your blender will thank you for it.) Freeze. Make your espresso according to your preferred method.

In the morning: blend banana, coffee, milks until smooth. Taste. I like it plain. But add maple syrup if you have a sweet tooth. Cinnamon if you wish. More coffee if you are a caffeine addict. Chia seeds if you are a health nut. Blend again, serve.

*If you forget to freeze the banana, just add a few icecubes when serving.

nigel slater’s spiced bread pudding with fried bananas

20 Mar

spiced bread pudding

After a sleepy Saturday wandering from the Buttes-Chaumont  to the Marais, all I wanted was to curl up in my favourite wine-cardigan with something restorative. Luckily Nigel Slater understands me. When I opened his Kitchen Diaries, not only did the Spiced Bread Pudding jump out at me, but the accompanied story almost exactly mirrored one of my own. His recipe is inspired by a visit to Kerala, where he was stuck in “a teetotal oasis” for which he was unprepared: “twenty years ago the lack of alcohol came as a jaw-dropping disappointment after our long, dusty and dangerous drive from hell.” But the pudding made up for it.

We were also in Kerala when we took a six hour bus journey up into the mountains to the tea plantations of Munnar. I had packed a book, but for the first half of the journey I just wanted to watch out of the window, chin pillowed in the crook of my arm. The windows didn’t have any glass, just metal shutters. The dusty air swept in, a salve from the heat. We crossed lagoons that stretched to the horizon, passed banana plantations and busy villages. School-children, whole busfuls, waved at us and shouted HELLO HOW ARE YOU? Each town had at least one temple, mosque and church or shrine with a glass alcove housing a life-size St George and the dragon. Sometimes a few in a row. Trucks thundered by with their colourful head-dresses, painted slogans and flowers. On the back, “Horn Please OK.”  The two-lane road had an invisible third passage in the middle, constantly available for overtaking. The driver would beep and go and somehow the rest of the traffic would flow around us. Once the bus stopped and the passengers all filed out – us worried about our luggage – because apparently the bridge was too fragile. First the bus went across, empty, then we did.

Around halfway we stopped for a chai-break. Around four or five hours in, it got dark all of a sudden as the sun disappeared. Bella distracted me as you might a bored toddler, with iphone games of Clumsy Ninja and Trivial Pursuit. After six hours and a half hours, we scrambled off with our backpacks some way out of the town centre – where there was no-one to direct us to our hotel in the old British club, the only place with a last-minute vacancy. The Lonely Planet had promised us a quaint place perfect for gin and tonics. Sadly, due to licensing issues the three bars in the club could only serve lemonade. We came in just in time for dinner, just in time to read the Club Rules that forbade sandals and panic.

“You haven’t taken any chicken, please take! Come!” The manager barked. Two of us scurried back to the buffet obediently. He was an affable but abrupt character who might have been Basil Fawlty’s brother in another life. Hands in pockets, he gave us a tour of the club: lounge with leather armchairs and obligatory animal heads, library with table-tennis table. “You play? Yes? You will play now, for forty-five minutes.” It wasn’t a question. We could only acquiesce and laugh. It was an uncomfortably British time-warp. Even without our gin-and-tonics, we slept so well that night, totally exhausted.

The next day we visited the factories of the DARE initiative that teaches the differently-abled children of tea-planters: it included a textile workshop for dyes and prints, one for hand-made paper products, a jam factory, a bakery and a kitchen garden. The quality was absolutely incredible, especially the Aranya silks – all-natural, local dyes made of tea-waste, banana leaves, pomegranate skins, Indian madder. The workshops were surrounded by the hills planted with tea bushes, whose crazy mosaic pattern and bright green colour made it feel like we had wandered onto a Tim Burton set. Kerala is full of plantations, tea, coffee, cardamom, coconut palms. Pepper, vanilla. Bananas. Most of the delicious things in life in fact.

A long story to say: this pudding will remind you of exotic climes AND a really comfortable armchair. It works scaled down as solo supper or scaled up for an easy brunch. (Much simpler than pancakes or French toast if you have to feed a crowd – one dish you can prepare ahead.) I like using brioche for extra luxe, but bread and butter will work too. It isn’t too sweet nor too stodgy, more like a creme caramel than a slab of sponge pudding. It offers the intoxicating scent of cardamom and coconut, barely any resistance to the fork as the brioche soaks up the custard, just a few crisp, sugared points poking out. And the fried bananas, sticky and slightly caramelised around the edges, are delightful. It will cure a hangover, the ennui of a recently-returned traveller or the aches and pains of a long commute. Enjoy.

~~~

Nigel Slater’s Spiced Bread Pudding with fried bananas

Slightly adapted from Kitchen Diaries Vol II. If using brioche slices, omit the butter. Great for using up egg yolks if the whites are needed for meringues or macarons.

serves 4 for brunch or 6 for dessert

300g sliced bread or brioche (about 10 slices for me)

a little butter for spreading (not necessary for brioche)

6 green cardamom pods

1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)

1/8 tsp cinnamon

400ml coconut milk

400ml milk

2 whole eggs + 2 egg yolks

OR 7 egg yolks, about 140g

80g light brown sugar

pinch salt

a sprinkle of sugar for the topping

for the bananas:

50g butter

4 bananas

2tbs sugar

zest of one orange

Preheat oven to 180C. Butter a baking dish (approx 22cm diameter, but more or less is fine). Lightly toast the bread or brioche until golden-brown. If using bread, spread with butter. Cut slices diagonally and arrange the triangles in the dish, points up, overlapping slightly.

Remove cardamom seeds from the pods and crush in a pestle and mortar or with the end of a rolling pin. Slice the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds. Mix cardamom, vanilla seeds, cinnamon, both milks, eggs and sugar in a large bowl to combine.

(If you are preparing ahead – stop now. Clingfilm the bread, put the custard mixture in the fridge. Then all you have to do in the morning, or at the end of the main course is heat the oven, pour over the custard and bake.)

Pour custard over bread/brioche. Sprinkle a little more sugar over the points that stick out. Bake for 25 minutes or until the bread is nicely browned and the custard is set. Let it cool for 15 minutes or so before serving. (Equally nice reheated later or the next day.)

For the bananas: cut in half length-ways. Heat the butter in a large frying pan and cook the bananas on both sides until golden and soft. Sprinkle over the sugar and cook for a few more minutes until they start to caramelise around the edges. Stir in orange zest and serve immediately with the bread pudding.

(For a slightly lighter dessert, serve simply with oranges peeled and sliced into rounds.)

je brunch, tu brunch: extras

25 Sep

homemade lemon curd and raspberry jam

(Following on from “je brunch, tu brunch: savoury” and “sweet”)

To round out what is now a monster brunch, a jar of homemade raspberry jam, some lemon curd and a killer recipe for Belgian Chocolate Spread, from a neighbour of mine. Simply melt 100g each of chocolate and butter and mix with 150g sweetened condensed milk. Rich and sweet, more like ganache than Nutella. Pure chocolate indulgence. Supposedly to be served on fresh baguettes, really just for spooning up when no-one is looking.

If you have time you can blend some chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice and pickled red peppers for a quick red pepper houmous. Taste, season and serve with a few red pepper slices artfully arranged on top.

Finally, for a touch of class, make some cold brewed coffee overnight (it has a much cleaner flavour than cooled-down coffee) and some chilled green tea with cucumber and mint. And a little jug of vanilla syrup to sweeten (250g sugar, 250g water brought to the boil, add 1/2 tsp vanilla extract).

brunch extras 3

Have guests bring all the rest: fresh bread, some cheese, some ripe fruit. Brioche or croissants. Orange juice, sparkling wine. People like to bring things, and it is best to be specific. I am often too pernickety: bring a baguette tradition but from the bakery on the corner, not the one opposite my house. Bring strawberries, but only Gariguettes and not those Spanish monstrosities. Avocadoes ready to eat. My friends mostly laugh and comply – they know they will be well fed for their troubles.

In the end there was… too much food. As ever. Always better to have more than less. I sent people home with cakes – a cake pusher. My lists were crossed off and crumpled up. I learned things and tried new recipes. Satisfied, grateful for my friends, ready to dream of the next menu and even the next three years…

brunch extras 2

je brunch, tu brunch: sweet

23 Sep

brunch sweet 2

(Following on from je brunch, tu brunch: savoury)

For sweet teeth, two cakes to start with: a round chocolate and a square upside-down pear and pecan (from Diana Henry). Both rich and full of flavour, stand-alone cakes – no need for icing or frills.

When cooking for a crowd in a miniature oven, it is best to choose at least one simple recipe that you know off by heart, that you can mix together in five minutes and have in the oven straightaway while you read and measure the next, new recipe. Then you have time to slice pears and caramelise them, and to whip up a fluffy buttermilk sponge.

My chocolate fondant recipe is a piece of cake (ha) and so decadent it tastes like a lot of effort went into it: Melt 200g chocolate and 200g butter over a bain marie. Whisk 170g sugar and 5 eggs in a large bowl. Stir in chocolate mix and 125g ground nuts (hazelnuts are nice). Pour into a 22cm greased and papered tin, bake for 25 minutes at 175C until just starting to crack, not wobbly but still soft. Optional extras: orange zest, cinnamon, 2 tsp instant coffee dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water. Slice very finely and decorate with icing sugar.

Another easy option: the Nigella clementine cake. Instead of boiling the fruit for two hours as traditional, you microwave them, covered, for eight minutes, turning once. Then blend, add sugar, eggs and ground almonds. Done. Simple but with a depth of flavour; moist and fragrant, both dairy and gluten free.

brunch sweet 1

Meringues keep well and can be prepared a few days in advance. Pipe bite-sized versions in neat swirls for a professional finish. Ottolenghi’s brown sugar and cinnamon meringues have you dissolve all the sugar in the egg whites over a bain-marie, which creates glossy meringues that are delightfully sticky on the inside.

So, on the sweet side of the brunch table, there are already two cakes and some meringues. Maybe some cookies dug up from the freezer. I like making logs of shortbread mixture and freezing half for a later date, to slice and bake as many as needed.

And finally, a fruit compote for the glut of produce in the markets at the moment: for autumn, figs and plums cooked in syrupy red wine, sprinkled with fresh purple grapes (Henry again). I didn’t follow the recipe properly but the result was still lovely: I cooked a dozen large figs, halved, with a dozen fat plums, in red wine with sugar and a bit of liquorice vodka until soft. Then removed the fruit, simmered the sauce to a thick syrup and decorated with red grapes. All in a luxurious velvety purple, sweet and ripe. Delicious with fromage blanc.

brunch sweet 3

Enough to feed an army yet? With a few added extras – homemade lemon curd, some iced coffee –  your brunch should leave your guests in a happy (comatose) heap on the sofa…

je brunch, tu brunch: savoury

19 Sep

potato, rosemary and bacon quiche

I like to play hostess. Whatever your kingdom of nerdery may be – knitting, formula one, tumblrs of George Harrison looking awkward – I will let you have it. I will be daydreaming on the metro about menus. Maybe a week beforehand, I will be going through a stack of recipe books and post-it pages. I will make lists and lists of lists, of ingredients and guests. I will carefully calculate oven real-estate, because it is so small I can only make or heat one cake or tart at a time.

(In reality, the lists are only useful half the time, because often I get distracted with an aperitif and a friend and forget to prepare the the meringues three days in advance. I miss the market and have to get up early on the day, buying grapes because blackberries are nowhere to be found.)

The people that eventually arrive are secondary, sometimes, to the quiet pleasure of an evening juggling in my tiny kitchen, piling plates onto the washing machine and restacking the fridge to fit tart shells, bowls of whipped cream, cold-brewed coffee. Sometimes I weep into the washing-up when there is just no space left.

Brunch has the most scope for me – an amorphous meal that can encompass all of my latest favourites, savoury and sweet, mostly prepared in advance. Friends can drop by whenever with baguettes and flowers and help themselves to the spread.

For my three year Franceversary (three years! how?) I wanted brunch. For all of the above reasons, and for the fact that the last two years meant waking at 5.30 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. So no time for lazy brunches. In the cookbook pile this time was Ottolenghi’s The Cookbook, my old favourite of Diana Henry’s Roast Figs, and Bill Sewell’s Food from the Place Below. And my mother’s book, for reference.

ottolenghi's fennel feta and pomegranate salad

Here is my planning then, for a brunch to feed 10-15, with minimal effort on the day:

You need something savoury but breakfasty, probably with eggs. I have hated French toast ever since Scout camp when we called it “eggy bread” made of the polystyrene white sliced. I do love eggs benedict, or a stack of corn fritters but if you are serving more than four you cannot make to order.

Quiche is easiest for preparing ahead, and infinitely variable. Bill’s blog has the perfect quiche ratios and rules – the right combination of roast vegetables, always lots of cream, no milk. When I worked at the Café at All Saints I would invariably choose his quiche for lunch, crisp and golden on top, with scalloped edges of wholemeal pastry. The vegetables would invariably be roasted first to release a lot of water and concentrate their flavour – perfect for a sturdy quiche.

Mine was potato, rosemary and bacon quiche made with an extra ripe camembert. The night before I sauteed roughly chopped onion with lardons, then added some parboiled sliced potatoes (because my oven was too busy to roast them!) and at the end, rosemary and mustard. The wholemeal pastry was prepared overnight and left in the fridge to chill. The next morning I rolled it out, baked it blind and then filled with the potatoes and smelly cheese. I mixed eggs, cream and a good dollop of mustard (see Bill’s blog for the quantities). I made the mistake of filling the quiche to the brim and spilled some cream moving it to the oven: it is much easier to top it up in the oven.

That makes 10-12 slices as part of a larger meal (or 8 with plain green leaves for lunch). Then an enormous and colourful salad – four thinly sliced fennel bulbs tossed with 200g feta and some sumac, topped with the seeds of a pomegranate (Ottolenghi). I had an early arrival make the salad for me – trick your guests into being useful!

One more easy savoury item: a herby cornbread from my mother’s repertoire. The dry ingredients were weighed the night before so in the morning I just stirred in yoghurt, eggs and oil. It was ready in 45 minutes, served warm and fluffy with a delicate bite from the cornmeal.

brunch savoury 3

Next, of course, sweet things: cakes biscuits and a killer chocolate spread…

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