Thursday, July 21, 2011

Trifle - it's the most honest of puddings

"Because it lets you know how you're going to look after eating it,"

Wobbly, expansive, slothful and self satisfied.

So said our lunch guest Mr Ben Frichot as he contemplated the perfect English Trifle I set on the perfect English Sunday Lunch Table (even though it was in Australia). And he was right.
There he is on the left, saying it.
My guests begged not to have the recipe such was the temptation to create an endless supply and abandon themselves to middle aged spread. However, I am not such a gracious hostess.
This is an adaptation of the trifle my mother serves for Boxing Day Tea.

You will need:
A very nice cut glass bowl because you have to let the dogs see the rabbit. Otherwise it's just whipped cream and glace cherries and even after a main course of glazed English Gammon, cauliflower cheese, peas, carrots and roast potatoes and a canapes of miniature Yorkshire Puddings with steak and kidney gravy, that won't produce the adulation I am so blatantly craving.

I bought this one at a charity shop for six bucks. When I married Mr Wong we did not have a wedding list: We were unmaterialistic, about to take a month's honeymoon backpacking round SE Asia before heading back to London and we flouted convention - foolishly it now appears. If I'd done the right thing I would already own a trifle bowl. And a gravy jug. And a decanter. And possibly a set of ironing board covers and a toby jug so on reflection....

Back to the trifle, which you must make the day before.
1 pack of sponge fingers *
100mls of sweet sherry
1 large tin of fruit salad - it MUST contain green grapes and startlingly pink cherries
seedless raspberry jam
raspberry jelly - I used a cold-water version made with agar agar, it was all I could get, but I don't think anyone noticed the absence of reconstituted connective tissue.
One and a half pints of confectioners custard.
400ml of double cream
Glace cherries
Flaked almonds
Angelica if you can get it. I could not.

1. place the sponge fingers in a single layer in a square container and soak in the sherry and the juice from the tinned fruit salad.
2. Although no one is going to examine this foundation it is in your interests to get it as neat as possible, just as a counterpoint of decency and decorum to the way you will end up licking your bowl the next day. Fit the soaked sponge fingers into the bottom of the bowl, nipping and tucking if you have to.
3. Spread carefully with the raspberry jam, cover and place in the fridge while you make the jelly. You know how to do that. When it is room temperature pour it on the base and spoon on the fruit. Do try and distribute the cherry pieces evenly. Cover it again and put it back in the fridge while you make the confectioners custard.

Let's take a break from the text to see the roast potatoes. N.B. the only potatoes that will roast properly in Western Australia are the purple skinned Royal Blues. What I wouldn't do for an illegal stash of Desiree seed potatoes.
So back to the confectioners custard.
4. Put 3 tablespoons of cornflour and 3 tablespoons of sugar in a mixing jug and break in 3 eggs. Mix until smooth, like toothpaste. Lumps will ruin it.
5. In a nonstick saucepan bring 850ml of milk, full fat please, to just below boiling point with 2 teaspoons of vanilla essence.
6. Pour a cup of the hot milk onto the egg and cornflour mixture and blend well. Return in to the pan and stir constantly while you bring it just to boiling point.
7. The custard will thicken alarmingly but keep stirring and moving it around the pan and letting it bubble and blow like a geyser for 4 or 5 minutes - the cornflour taste must cook out.
8. Transfer to a bowl. Cover with clingfilm and let it cool to room temp.

Now let me show off my table setting, something I rarely do as I am an habitual slattern. But it paid off.
A table cloth and a floral centre piece are just detectable amidst the glasswear. The table itself is a $55 trestle from the hardware store as I don't have an indoor table big enough to seat 8. No one noticed. My usual 6 seater dining table I got from an old catering client in Hampstead. He was a Hungarian Diplomat and was just about to chuck it in the skip when I rocked up in my volvo wagon and he said I could take it away. Turns out it was a Fritz Hansen 1984 design classic. Not something I would ever have had the wit to put on my wedding list. Swings and roundabouts, eh?

So the custard is cold, the bottom 2 layers are set and it is time for the last step of the day.
9. Spoon the custard on evenly, cover with perhaps a new piece of clingfilm by this stage and stash it in the fridge until tomorrow.

I also made two other desserts. Ostensibly to give a balance of flavours and textures and a healthier option for my guests. The real reason is because I Am Greedy.

One was a winter fruit compote: Simmer one of those dried fruit salad packs in a light sugar syrup, I added orange peel and lemon peel, cardomon, cinnamon and vanilla to mine and a pack of pruriently plump semi dried figs.

The third dessert was sticky date pudding which I wrote about 12 months ago (do keep up).
And when it came to coffee and cigars my good friend and artisinal Patissieress Angie Mariani brought a sample of her new range of meringues. How fortunate they matched the camelia centre piece. There is a hazelnut hidden in the centre of each meringue.

1o. Before your guests arrive whip the cream adding a little more vanilla and spoon it in to a piping bag with a star nozzle. Find a tall container and stand the bag up in this and stash it in the fridge.
11. Work out where you keep your glace cherries and almonds because when the time comes to decorate and you have had a glass of wine or shandy, your choice, you will need all your wits to pipe the cream on the trifle top layer let alone fuel a panic to find the sweet garnishes.

Et voila. Le Trifle Anglais, un peut deshabille.

*Many years ago when I was cooking at The Church Studios in Crouchy for a band called Motor Ace I had my ingredients laid out for tiramisu and all of a sudden a short, bald old man appeared at my elbow, dressed in a green tracksuit. "Ah would they be sponge fingers, them's me faves. Can I have one, aw g'wan," he asked. "Of course, just one." I replied kindly. It was Sinead O'Connor pre-costume and makeup. Sheesh.

It is something of a blessing (for my figure) and yet a curse that all the trifle is now gone. Mr Wong is, as I type, having dinner with the stupendous Swedish Rock Band The Hives
in our favourite restaurant in town while I host a sleepover for assorted small boys in the suburbs. I am very bitter at the moment and I could do with some sweetness. Hey Ho.

And for the sake of balance, test your brain power here!/WorldFoodProgramme

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Thank goodness I finally have a laptop to work on in my kitchen. Not only does hamper procrastinating about beginning writing but my usual computer station is filled with the odour of rehydrating dried mushrooms. My Mother in law always cooks on a Thursday and this Thursday she is cooking pork with mushrooms. I can only describe the reaction to the odour of the re-hydrated fungi by most Whiteys as similar to being faced with an open jar of roadkill cured in swamp gas. Every fibre of my Northern European sensory system is repelled. It is simply Not Right. I can only imagine the same effect would be induced on my Mother In Law if I piped Stilton and Cauliflower gratin fumes in to her chambers. Which of course I would never do. The aforementioned mushrooms also have the texture of ear cartilige, thinly sliced. Mother in Law is cooking the dish for the rest of the family for its cleansing properties and as a strengthening agent against the winter weather. Similar to offering lemsip only more pungent. Bless her.

Ahhh..... a trip to the supermarket in the mall, what joy. If I hadn't been accompanied, aurally, by James Dean Bradfield and Josh Homme there could have been an incident. I dislike supermarket shopping, hell, I even think I grew jaded with Waitrose when I lived in England. I did pop in to a very large Asda last year but it proved overwhelming. Now I get the reusable bags sent to me by a nice lady in Harrogate. I do envy those of you with access to Lidl and Aldi. Sean Lock says it's like going on holiday.

Another sunbeam brightening my day is having remembered I shall be seeing The Hives here in Perth and, if they have time, here in my kitchen in July.
Reader, I cannot wait.
Beautifully designed site, don't you think?

However the upshot of the supermarket visit was to buy cheaply.

There are no new soups. Soup making was nailed back in the last century. So what I present is a version of Scotch Broth, the way I made it and with some colourful photographs. I have nothing new to say on the subject, and if I had I am at something of a loss to put any value on it.

Dry Soup mix containing peas, barley and lentils
Sliced carrots and celery
Beef stock from the freezer
and these lamb forequarter chops.

The bones in these chops will do wonders for the texture of the soup. I make a very good curry with them because of the quality of the bone, recipe next time I do it. I also add a good dash of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce because the tamarind and the anchovy contained therein are very good at cutting through the richness of the lamb.

Will you look at that; pan of boiled peas barley and lentils fits in snuggly to the brim. I am very good at estimating volumes, and parallel parking even if I do say so myself.

A tablespoon of cornflour cooked on the stove top in the liquor and it's done, and some sliced chard from the garden. This is a dish for the next day as it benefits from having the lamb fat skimmed off after a restful night in the fridge.

Bulk Roasting.
I am tired of chopping onions, one of the many reasons I quite professional catering plus I couldn't do it properly. Today I am going to shove on the roasting rack a raft of whole ones, in their skins, seasoned with sea salt and - no, I cannot use the term drizzled, I lived through the 90s and never said it then - moistened with some olive oil.
Far better to coax them from their crispy skins all at once without the release of lachrymatory-factor synthase. I hope one day to be able to draw it. Once coaxed, they need to be pureed and then can keep covered in the fridge for two weeks. I added a spoonful to the scotch broth to a pan of sausages baked in the oven and mixed in the juices and some dijon mustard. No pictures, no time, eaten too quickly.

Also going in are slices of Italian bread with olive oil which will become diced vacuum pack to serve as croutons for all the soup yielded from carrots and pumpkin, roast with thyme and cardomon. The carrots took an age so I added water and sealed the pan and roasted for another hour and then pureed. Again, a spoon of the onion puree and a cup of yogurt mixed through. Gorgeous colours, don't you think. Katie Price take note -Orange is for FOOD, not skin.

Joining the others in the oven is an crumble made with tinned apples, yes I said it; tinned apples. I made the pastry but I refuse to peel and pulp when the season's apples here are on their last legs and woolly and dented. And one cannot get Bramley's. God, my life is Hard. To conclude, although the ingredient cost was minimal, especially all the protein and carbohydrate yielded by the dry peas et al, the fuel costs were high. It may be less vain and wiser to let Campbells and Heinz take the hit for fuel bills in bulk, afterall they can write it off against corporate expenses.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Winter, Paying attention to Food Prices and a new 3 litre slow cooker: this one is already writing itself

My first semester at Curtin University has ended. Now there is time to cook and write and take stock (geddit?) of what kind of writing about food is useful. Any-old-person can take a picture of a restaurant plate of food and funnel their "oohs" and "aaahs"through the keyboard and onto the screen but to what end? Great if it works for you, however it's not floating my boat of self-actualisation and feeling of worthiness right now. Plus many people do it far, far better than I can.

I blame Bob, of course, for two things: It was July 1985, my friend Rebecca Nelson and I had boarded the Excelsior Coach to Londondinium, sold some trinkets and emptied our piggy banks for two scalped tickets to Live Aid. If I recall correctly we also had on t-shirts we printed ourselves with day-glo dye and crimped hair. Take a look at your own self 26 years ago and then judge. I blame (Sir) Bob for my addiction to rock concerts (what a one to kick off with) and what I now admit is an indelible connection between what I buy to eat and what that says about Me. Am I a grateful, conscientious Have or a blase, ignorant Have? (I did resist buying 2 litres of supermarket brand milk for one dollar ninety nine because I know what that is doing to the dairy industry and I really should use up all the tins in my pantry before I replenish so maybe I 'm a small part of the way there). Chances are high I am never going to be a Have Not of any description.

I have also been reading the postings of the World Food Programme and while it is too late for me to skip off to Niger* and do Good Things it is not too late for me to Take A Serious Interest in the way Food Resources are managed in the world.
*Plus, I don't fancy hookworm or being taken hostage by a militia.

I shall not be preaching nor pontificating nor eating any of my own proteins but I shall be considering how Food is Managed as a Resource and how the Everyday consumer can create a discourse with those managers. And I shall be tightening my family's food budget* belt in an attempt to show some empathy with families who have to make hard choices about what they can buy to feed themselves. Also I am thinking ahead slightly: what if it does all go tits up and there is no longer any pata negra to be had on the high street and what if dairy farmers should get paid the real cost of milk production? One should just have to cope and those Ones with the knowledge and skills shall prevail.
*plus I 'm saving up for two weeks in Tuscany next year where I shall have my nose firmly in the trough of conspicuos, nay frivolous and fancy free, consumption.

Which brings me to two of my mother's bequests:* The Pauper's Cookbook by Jocasta Innes, Penguin 1971 and Crockpot Cooking by Mary Norwak, Futura 1977.
* or do I mean gifts? Can one bequest an item when one is still living? Mother this is a stylistic and rhetorical device, I am not asking for a grammar lesson.

watch this space

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Is it prudent to eat a mackerel, red onion and chilli puff pastry pie just because it is winking at me from a display cabinet here at Changi airport? It is 7.24 am and I have just necked paratha and mutton curry.

They care not for breath freshness on this continent so the pharangeal fragrance quotient is negligble.

Dunno. Is that even how you spell Mackeral?

So much food so little elasticity in the duodenum

Next stop Hanoi.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Heatwave Breaking, Mojo Coming back

Feeder are coming to town. ( do you know why they can't call their site simply "Feeder"? Let's just say it attracts The Wrong Sorts).
Back in July 2000 it was my great privilege to cook for the band and Gil Norton and crew for the recording of Echo Park at The Church Studios in Crouch End.
And now, having recorded, released and gigged around the world constantly in the interim Feeder are going to be fed by me again. Joy.
The band is currently on tour down here with the Soundwave festival and will be stopping by my kitchen for a bite to eat and Good Times next week.

I have my work cut out; our very good buddy bass player Taka Hirose cooks. I'd better sharpen up my Globals and get to Kailis for some export quality rock lobster before it gets exported.