Category Archives: Musings

Tomatoes on toast

Just in time for the August bank holiday

No matter how appalling the weather has been for the rest of the year – how many barbecues have been rained off and festival goers covered in mud, you can guarantee it will always be hot and sweaty during the last weeks of August. Because the last weeks of August are when we cook Christmas dinner, and, presumably to punish us for being so previous with his son’s birthday celebrations, God likes to play a little joke.

The joyous occasion came to pass last week. While everyone was sunning themselves in parks, I was shoving a roast turkey in the oven and blanching as the idle meat thermometer on the side read 38C. And then we lit a fire. And after a few days of this sweaty festive ordeal, the very last thing I wanted to do was come home to a hot dinner. So I suppose it’s God’s way of mitigating his hilarious heat wave timing by making sure that all manner of gorgeous, refreshing vegetables are in season right now.

For those in London, if you only go to Borough market once a year, it should be in August. The stalls are riots of the most divine fruit and veg, piled high, soft, succulent and ripe. It’s absolutely mesmerising. On escaping from the office winter-wonderland in search of an antidote for supper, I was utterly spoiled for choice, but came to rest on the heritage tomato table in Turnips. My god. Row upon row of plump, glossy tomatoes, watermelon striped, primrose yellow, huge red Coeur de boeuf, and elongated San Marzano. Completely ignoring the price tag, I filled bags with the most unusual I could find, took them to the counter, then nearly had a heart attack. On a cautionary note everyone, when being seduced by vegetables in Borough market, always look at the price tag. My haul worked out at approximately £1 per tomato. Hmm. Needless to say I balked, went to remove them, remembered all those mince pies and meekly handed over my card, grabbing a sourdough baguette before scuttling away.

Tomatoes on toast has to be one of the simplest, but most delicious meals on the planet. But you have to have good tomatoes, and while £10 for two people might be a little excessive, when you’ve spent all hot summer day steaming Christmas puddings and making pigs in blankets, it seems worth it. We ate them with a very cold bottle of Viognier, and finished the meal off with fresh figs and a tiny goat’s cheese crottin drizzled with honey. Not a stuffing ball in sight…

Tomatoes on toast for two – hardly a recipe, but worth knowing anyway

Around 600-700g ripe mixed tomatoes, roughly chopped

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1shallot, finely chopped

drizzle sherry or red wine vinegar

pinch caster sugar

2-6 slices (depending on size) sourdough baguette or similar crusty, chewy bread, toasted

1 garlic clove, halved

sea salt and black pepper

handful basil leaves

Mix the tomatoes with 3tbsp of the extra virgin, the shallot, the vinegar (proceed cautiously and keep tasting) and the sugar (ditto). Leave it to sit for 15 minutes so the flavours mix. Rub the bread with the cut side of the garlic clove and place on two plates. Season the tomatoes generously last minute (the salt draws the liquid out of them so do this as late as possible) and taste again. You may find you need a little more vinegar after you’ve added the salt. Toss the basil leaves through and tip on top of the bread, finishing with a final drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately, preferably outside.

If you like, you can add a few shavings of good Parmesan over the top, but I think it’s just as gorgeous unadorned.

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Pork belly

As soon as people find out what I do the first thing they invariably always ask is ‘So what’s you signature dish then?’ My usual response to this is a heavy sigh, a slightly bored expression and a ‘well I don’t really have one, I’m always cooking different things’. But recently, I’m actually starting to think that I do have a signature dish. And I think it might be pork belly. So apologies to all those I’ve sighed at recently.

Pork belly, or belly pork as it was called before it became fashionable, was seen as being wildly uncouth about 15 years ago – I remember my family of butchers loving it, but we were about the only ones, and it was dirt-cheap. Now, it’s on just about every restaurant menu, and it’s normally not done properly at all. They don’t cook it long enough, or they try and jazz it up by removing the skin and cooking it separately until it’s that horrible, dried-out bubbly consistency that just falls apart in your mouth. Proper crackling should make you ever so slightly concerned for your teeth, but still be irresistible.

Although the price has gone up recently with its rising popularity, it’s still a lot cheaper than most other meat – a free-range belly at my local butchers is about £9.50 a kilo, and 3kg will feed up to eight people, depending on greed. It’s my go-to dish for having people over  – it’s utterly low-maintenance and everyone (me included) gets absurdly excited about the crackling.

You’ll see a lot of recipes that only tell you to cook it for a couple of hours, but for me, 5 is the absolute minimum. The thing that tends to turn people off about pork belly is the quantity of fat you have to wade through to get to the meat, but long, slow cooking melts almost all of this out, and what you’re left with is meat so tender it falls off its bones, and a rich, intense sauce (I hate the word jus, but I suppose that’s what it is), that you can spoon straight from the pan.

I add flavourings according to what I’m cooking for the rest of the meal. A while ago I rubbed harissa all over the underside before cooking, and before that it was jerk seasoning. This weekend, though, I wanted to serve affogato and ricciarelli for pudding, so I decided to go down the Italian route, with sage, garlic and lemon. Another huge bonus of cooking this for friends is that it’s so rich, all you need with it is a big, sharp salad, and some potatoes chopped small, tossed with olive oil and then roasted until golden. I’m absolutely allergic to cooking side dishes last minute, so anyone who’s been for dinner at my house will probably be nodding in recognition right now. That is, unless they came for Sunday roast. I’m not a total philistine.

And a quick word on salad. While it may seem like the easy option, you can still make it fabulous – just think about what the meat needs to complement it. I did raw fennel, watercress, radish and little gem – crunch to balance the softness of the pork, heat from the radish and watercress to counteract its sweetness, and a sharp French vinaigrette to balance the richness.

My last point, and I know you already know this, but don’t you dare buy rubbish pork – quite apart from the pig having had an awful life, the meat and skin will be inferior, which means you won’t get lovely crackling and it won’t taste nearly so good. Rant over. Enjoy…

Slow-cooked pork belly with sage, lemon and garlic

This amount fed four of us with some leftovers, but could easily have fed five, and still had leftovers.

2kg piece free-range pork belly, bone-in and skin scored (your butcher will do it, unless you’re handy with a Stanley knife*)

Small bunch sage, leaves removed and finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

zest 1 lemon

2tbsp olive oil

About 2/3 bottle white wine (don’t worry too much about quality – I used Stowell’s…)

1. Heat the oven to 130C (110C fan). Turn the pork belly over so it’s skin side down, and with a sharp knife cut down along each rib about half way into the flesh – no deeper. Mix the sage, garlic, lemon zest and olive oil together and season very well, then rub this all over the underside of the meat, pushing into the cuts. Line a roasting tray with foil, sit the pork belly skin side up and push the foil up around it so it forms a smaller tray. Pour the wine into this – it should come about 11/2 cm up the side of the meat. Pat the skin dry with kitchen roll, scatter sea salt over and into the scores and cook in the bottom of the oven for 5 hours. Check periodically – it will shrink quite a lot, and as it does, keep pushing the foil closer into it to protect the outside meat.

2. After this time, remove the pork from the oven and turn your oven up to as high as it will go (I normally go for about 240C). Pour off the juices that will have collected in the foil and set aside. Close the foil up around the meat so only the skin is exposed, and return it to the top of the oven, then cook for around 20-25 minutes checking to see it’s not burning, until the skin is crisp, dark golden and slightly bubbled. Remove, making sure to enjoy the sound of it audibly crackling, transfer to a board and rest for 10 minutes, then slice down along the ribs, (this is easiest if you take the crackling off first) and serve with salad and potatoes. Skim most of the fat off the cooking juices and you have a ready-made sauce. Any leftovers can be kept for 2-3 days, pulled into shreds and reheated to make an excellent sandwich.

*Truefoodie accepts no responsibility for you getting ahead of yourself and slicing your finger off with a Stanley knife

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The rise of the tenuous celebrity chef

It has seemed of late, that when a celebrity has reached ego satiety from tv, film or tabloid, they will do one of two things. They will either enter Celebrity Masterchef, or they will write a cookbook. If it’s the former, then I will sigh in a slightly superior manner and take the opportunity to loathe Gregg Wallace a little more, but if it’s the latter, there will normally be anything from a slight hiss to a positive spit of rage.

Because who do these people think they are?

Ker-ching…

Take Sophie Dahl. Actually born Sophie Holloway, she opted to take her maternal surname (cannot imagine why), and has so far published two cookbooks with accompanying tv series. She’s a contributing editor for Waitrose Kitchen. I can’t argue with the fact that she can write (given her pedigree it’s hardly surprising), but can she cook? Uhhhm, no. Not really. Oh, you cry, but she went to Ballymaloe! And? Thousands of people have been to Ballymaloe, but that doesn’t make them equipped to teach the nation how to eat. It seemed to me that the main content of her first book was the flouncy introductions to her recipes, urging you to eat them by candlelight, your head resting on your beloved’s chest as soft piano music tinkled in the background. Did she mention she’s married to Jamie Cullum? And once your head is full of romantic notions of eating dimly lit prawn curry on top of a short jazz musician, are you actually going to notice the recipe is only really flavoured with curry powder? Obviously not, as some bright spark commissioned a second book.

And Gwyneth Paltrow. Just because she named her child after a fruit, it doesn’t mean we all want to eat her macrobiotic muffins. Stick to acting Gwynnie, it’s a rare gift for an American to produce a convincing British accent. Fay Ripley attracted my ire when she announced that she wanted to write a book to teach people how to feed their families. Well, that’s a lovely sentiment Fay, but why you? Do you have any authority on cooking? No? Oh, Cold Feet? Well, carry on then.

The latest offering to irritate me afresh is Gok Wan. The simpering lifestyle coach is about to appear in his own Channel 4 tv series about Chinese cookery, with a sparkly book to match. His credentials? Alright, they’re better than some, his father owned a Chinese restaurant. But looking through his book, there are almost as many pictures of him gurning with noodles, gurning with rice, gurning with potstickers as there are recipes. And do I really want someone with such a complex history with food telling me what to cook? I’m not sure I do.

Look good eating that naked and I might be impressed.

Now, you may rubbish me for having extreme professional jealousy, and to a certain extent you’d be right. It’s unbelievably frustrating watching talentless celebrities doing utterly predictable things with chicken, when it’s taken a lot of training and hard work to make me think I have any form of authority about cookery. It seems that because cooking is something that most people do, they feel entitled to share their opinions on it, and if they’re famous, this can mean globally. But it takes real skill to write a successful recipe, which most don’t have, and the upshot is a raft of failed dinners and disappointed consumers who were sucked in by the ‘Look, just look! You too could have my life if only you buy this book!’ of it all.

And before you judge any further, I have absolutely no jealousy towards the truly wonderful food writers and chefs that we’re also fortunate enough to have advising us – Nigel Slater, Diana Henry, Lucas Hollweg, Simon Hopkinson being just a few of my favourites. These people know their stuff, and you can trust their judgement implicitly because they’re not just in it to satisfy some whim for recognition in a different field to their norm.

So the next time Sophie Dahl looks like convincing you to eat something under the boughs of a blossom tree, or Gwyneth makes you think sugar is evil, or Gok Wan so much as opens his mouth, steel yourself, turn away and look to a respectable cookbook. Or, you know, you could always check out one of my recipes

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The trouble with chalet holidays

As an ex-chalet girl, I have my fair share of guilty secrets. I occasionally was not averse to cheating a little bit, knocking off ingredients here and there, leaving out a step, ‘forgetting’ to make the porridge, cleaning the bathroom with glass polish (it makes it shine without scrubbing). Anything that would give me a couple more hours out on the slopes. The minute the next set of guests stepped off the mini bus each week, they were no longer cheerful holiday makers, they were pests who were deliberately trying to ruin my life – harrassing me with fatuous questions like ‘how cold is it at the top?’ (I don’t know, I’m down here, making your scrambled eggs), or ‘so what do you do for a REAL job then?’ Grrr. One man, a company director in work time, even got me out of bed on my day off to request a lesson in how to turn the kettle on. The kettle was a Kenwood, imported from England at the start of the season. I never did find out which company he ran…

My lovely little chalet Myrtille

And yet, despite my moaning and underhand activities, I still consider myself to have been a pretty good chalet girl. The chalet always looked clean (I mean, you don’t really need to bleach the bath every day, do you?!) I was always cheerful and polite, albeit sometimes through gritted teeth, and I did put genuine care and pride into my food. Which is more than can be said for some of my colleagues, who let’s just say didn’t quite share my blossoming love of cookery.

There was the chalet boy who forgot to put any sugar in the lemon tart one evening, and when his guests winced, just plonked the bag of caster on the table with a spoon. There was a girl (later fired), who, not bothering to make dessert had grabbed a load of out of date yogurts that were sitting in her apartment, dished them out to guests, then remained blank faced as one lady choked on rancid salmon mousse. (A note to all prospective overseas workers…if you’re going to use shop bought, make sure you can read the language.) Another host I knew had told her chalet-holiday-virgin guests that they could only have starter and main course, or main course and pudding, but not all three. I remember something similar written in my school canteen…

My recent chalet holiday, it seems, was run by staff from the same school of customer service. And although I was given strict instructions from the boy not to be all ‘snobby food writer’ about the dinners, I reached my breaking point when everyone else was actually laughing out loud at them. Because, actually, I wasn’t being snobby food writer about it at all. I was being snobby ex-chalet girl.

The problem with the whole chalet system is that they employ young people who just want to ski, drink and kiss people. Sorry Mother, but it’s true. As a rule they’re not interested in whether or not their cream sauce has depth of flavour, or if their pannacottas set. And for some reason, most chalet companies insist on making their staff cook awful 80s dinner party food, peppered with outdated words like jus, tian and  assiette. One of our chalet girls had such trouble with the word pithivier I ended up butting in and telling the token veggie ‘it’s an aubergine pie’.

Do you seriously want these people touching your food?!

This all-fur-coat-and-no-knickers approach to the menus only exacerbates the problem of the Lacklustre Chef. Most hungover youths with a week’s cooking course behind them can knock up a pretty decent lasagne or pie, but cooking 25 duck breasts to pink perfection takes a bit of effort (and a vaguely clear head). And let’s be honest, who wouldn’t rather have a bowl of really good pasta at the end of a hard day skiing than a wizened, leathery old pork chop with a mint-infused, honeyed (insert pretentious term) watermelon salsa? Watermelon. In the Alps. Seriously.

So my idea is this. If and when food writing holds no more promise for me, I want to set up a chalet company that serves proper food. No jus, no bavarois, no poivrons farcis just delicious, unpretentious, proper food in generous portions, that hungry skiers look forward to sitting down to. And I promise to clean your bathrooms with bathroom cleaner, and not glass polish. Now, who would like to bankroll me?!

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Why does my food taste average?

I’m sure this has happened to most of us. You’ve eaten something somewhere, you’ve managed to get hold of the recipe, you follow it to the letter, but it just doesn’t taste as good. And why does that starter from the Hawksmoor cookbook not fill you with the joy it did when you ate it at Hawksmoor? What is Ottolenghi doing that you’re not? And HOW does the meringue roulade in the magazine look so wonderfully crispy and light, when yours looks more like a slug?

It's all about the beating

Well, it could be almost anything – different ingredients, wrong season, complete lack of talent, but here are some of the more obvious ones that a trained chef will do without thinking, but you might be surprised to read…

Seasoning

Now I know I harp on and on about this, but there’s a reason I’m writing it first. Seasoning is the building block of cookery – without salt, your food will taste bland. Period. If you’re cooking with meat, you should always season it while it’s still raw, before it’s even seen the heat. It will make a huge difference to the flavour that just can’t be achieved after it’s cooked. And remember to season everything, even down to salad dressing. My idea of a pinch of salt is a four-fingered pinch so be bold, buy some Maldon and throw it about with gusto. And take heart, my blood pressure is absolutely fine.

Onions

Don’t rush your onions. They’re nature’s sloths, they like to do things in their own good time. If a recipe tells you to cook onions until caramelised, it’s safe to say you’re going to be waiting for at least half an hour, maybe longer if you’re doing a big batch. Cook them low and slow, and use plenty of butter. Caramelised onions form the flavour base for so many dishes, and if you rush the beginnings, the finished product will never taste as good.

Garlic

Burnt garlic will taint an entire dish, so treat it with respect. If you’re putting it with an onion base, add it only a couple of minutes before you add the rest of the ingredients – it doesn’t need as long as an onion to cook, just a few minutes to take the raw edge off. Never add it to really hot oil, it will burn instantly and smell of sulphur. For a dish like garlic prawns or mushrooms, add it finely chopped just before you serve – the heat from the food will soften it, and it will taste perfect.

Stock

This one is make or break, the difference between a masterpiece and a finger painting. If you’re cooking anything that lists stock as a main ingredient (a broth, a rich casserole, a gravy), you need to use the proper stuff. Either you can make your own, by roasting bones then cooking them slowly covered in cold water brought up to a gentle simmer with onions, bay, carrots, celery and peppercorns for about 3-4 hours, or you can buy the fresh ones from supermarkets. Heston’s from Waitrose is fantastic, well worth the cash and a gorgeous dark colour. The M&S ones aren’t bad either, and if you’re really stuck, the Touch of Taste bouillon bottles are ok too. But use fresh if you can, if only just to make me happy.

Ingredients

This is basically a common sense issue, but it stands to reason that some asparagus that’s come over from Peru in the dead of winter is not going to taste as good as a freshly picked spear from Kent in May. If you’re confused about what’s in season when, there are tons of websites you can look at (my favourite being this one from River Cottage). Also make sure you’re buying the best you can afford of the everyday stuff. Value Cheddar isn’t going to be a patch on the mature farmhouse stuff. Although this works both ways – for example, cheap mozzarella is better than buffalo for pizzas – the buffalo goes watery – you want the rubbery brands for cooking, save the good stuff for eating raw.

Meat

This needs a whole post to itself really, but please please always buy the best meat you can afford. Battery farmed chickens, grown super quickly with hormones taste bland, slimy and dry. And then there’s all the welfare issues. Anyone who thinks chicken or pork are tasteless has obviously been buying the budget packs, and if you find your cottage pie or lasagne has a slightly rancid taste, it’s probably because you used cheap mince. With meat, you get what you pay for, so find your nearest Q-Guild butcher, and start up a beautiful relationship with him.

Beating

Don’t get too excited, I’m talking about with a whisk. As you know from my cake post, butter and sugar needs a lot of beating to realise its full potential, but beating is equally important for other puddings. For example, your meringues should be beaten to firm peaks before adding any sugar, and even then it should be added a tablespoon at a time, and the mixture beaten well in between each spoonful. It incorporates as much air as possible, and breaks the proteins down in the egg white so your meringue will be more stable while cooking. And if you think that sounds like too much effort, just think of all the good it’s doing your bingo wings…

 

 

 

 

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Cheesecake.

Everyone in our office loves cheesecake. They LOVE it. Like one might love a firstborn child. Alright, not that much, but certain members of the team have been known to yelp when I put a freshly baked cheesecake on the communal table. That’s a pretty strong reaction to a bit of Philly and some egg if you ask me.

Because I don’t really get the obsession with cheesecake. It’s very tasty, it can occasionally, possibly border on delicious, but I would never order it in a restaurant, and I would never make one for a dinner party. And yet, consumer research time and again tells us that people want cheesecake recipes. When we do a gallery of them on our website we get a massive spike in user traffic. Am I just completely unaware that the Holy Grail of puddings is staring me in the face?

The world, it seems, is also against me. Cheesecakes have been around since Ancient Greece, when the Romans nicked the recipe and started making theirs using a cheese similar to ricotta, sweetened with honey and usually shaped into loaves. The addition of flour to the mixture would have produced a heavier, drier style than the smooth confections we’re used to, but the idea was the same.

Our widely accepted version using Philadelphia was born when an American accidentally invented cream cheese while trying to re-create French Neufchatel. Later, James Kraft (recognise the surname?) invented pasteurised cream cheese, somebody decided to bake it with eggs and sugar, and the modern cheesecake was born. Latterly, people have gone a bit nuts with the flavourings, as the fashion for one-thing-that-tastes-like another has gained popularity. If you fancy whiling away half an hour in contemplative gluttony, check out The Cheesecake Factory’s menu to see what I’m talking about. My favourites so far are ‘Adam’s peanut butter cup fudge ripple’ (what?!), and their Low Carb selection. AS IF you’re worrying about your carbohydrate intake if you’re supping at The Cheesecake Factory…

But what is it about the cheesecake that is so irresistible? Is it the (buttery) biscuit base? That unspeakable trougher Gregg Wallace seems to enjoy it. Is it the sometimes smooth, sometimes curdy main bit that fills your mouth with sweetness at the same time as setting your teeth slightly on edge with an alkaline tang? Is it the topping – the melted chocolate, toasted nuts, fruit compote or (God forbid) peanut butter cups? Or is it simply the knowledge that you’re eating not one, not two, but up to six or seven fattening ingredients in one, sinful, ecstatic mouthful and you feel like a kid in a candy shop?! I suspect the latter has more to do with it than most of you would care to let on…

Alright, so maybe I'm pretty proud of this one...

And while I can’t claim to be whisked away on a cloud of cheesey dreaminess at the mere mention of the C-word, I can see why people love them. All the elements of taste are there. I just have little joy in making them – there’s not the same feeling of alchemy that comes from making cakes, not the sharp intake of breath at the spectacular finished article. I’m mainly worried about whether the damn thing’s going to crack or not. (By the way, I can find no reliable cure for this – sometimes it works if you put it straight in the fridge, sometimes it cracks anyway. I think it’s the cheesecake’s revenge on me for not giving it its proper respect.) But people love them, so I suppose that is enough of a reward for making them on a fairly regular basis. Cooking is all about selfless giving to others and all that. But I’d still rather have cake.

NB. Check out this video of Louis Armstrong extolling the virtues of cheesecake, courtesy of our lovely photographer Myles New. It’s hilarious.

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Any questions answered

During what seemed like an entire lifetime spent on a rickety old bus yesterday with some friends, I found the conversation turning, as it often does, to food – and the inevitable ‘how do you…’ questions started coming out.  As my doctor friend finds she’s constantly asked ‘what’s this on my arm?’, ‘Is that normal?’, ‘does it always look like that?!’, so I find people ask me about all sorts of cooking problems. And since I too have been known to text Dr Davey the odd query or two, rather than queue up for the GP, I feel it’s my duty to answer them as best I can. But in order to save time in the future, I thought I would write a few of the most common ones down here, so that hopefully next time something cocks up in the kitchen, you’ll know where to come.  So…

I’ve made something too salty

First of all, well done for seasoning – so many people don’t nowadays and it makes their food taste so unpalatable. But if you really have overdone it, apart from the old tricks like adding a raw potato (NB. This only works with liquid based dishes like casseroles and soups) to suck up the salt (remove before serving), try adding some acidity. Salt and acidity cancel each other out – so some lemon or lime juice, or a splash of vinegar should help the problem. If  you don’t want to add it directly to your dish, serve a salad with a strong vinaigrette on the side, and hope people have the good sense to eat them both at the same time. And if all else fails, supply lots of water and keep quiet. Most people need to drink more of it anyway.

I’ve burnt the bottom of my casserole

We’ve all done this – maybe you got sidetracked by the telly, or maybe you were trying to fit too much in one pan and couldn’t stir it properly, but the telltale scrape of the wooden spoon on the bottom of the pan is always a moment of panic. Don’t. Stop scraping, remove as much of the food as you can to a different pan, and bin anything that looks burnt. Hopefully you noticed before the situation turned drastic, and it will all be ok.

I don’t know if my fish is cooked

If you’re cooking a whole fish, ask the fishmonger to leave the dorsal fin on. When a whole fish is cooked you’ll be able to pull it out easily. If you have to tug, it needs a bit longer.  If you’re using fillets, you should stop cooking as soon as the fish turns from translucent to opaque and when it just begins to flake. If you notice white gunk seeping out you’ve gone too far – the proteins start to break down when it overcooks, and that’s the white stuff.

Can I do anything to stop onions from making me cry?

I’m afraid the answer to this is not really – although many people will come up with old wives’ tales about spoons in your mouth and running water. I’ve never found the running water trick works, the only thing that gives me any slight relief is putting them in the fridge for a few hours before cooking – I think it’s something to do with slowing down the enzyme that reacts with your tears, but the scientists out there may shout me down. Whatever, it works for me, sort of. Or there’s always the old ski goggles, but apart from looking ridiculous you might find that the lenses confuse your depth perception and you end up chopping your finger off. Then you really will cry.

Why didn’t my ice cream freeze?

Done a batch of homemade ice cream? Got a bit liberal with the rum for the raisins? Rounded up the sugar volume? That’s probably why. Sugar and alcohol don’t freeze (think of that syrupy bottle of vodka in your freezer). Ice cream recipes have to balance out the ratio of liquid to sugar and booze (if it’s in there), so you get the correct consistency, so try not to go all Michel Roux on it. If you think the recipe needs something else, then add it as a topping or a syrup – you’ll get the same effect when its eaten. And remember that the cold kills a lot of flavour, so your raw ice cream mix should taste very strong before you freeze it.

Of course, drizzling extra syrup on is never a bad thing

My meringues always crack/weep

Both of these problems are generally because you’ve cooked them on too high a temperature. They crack because a crust forms before the inside is cooked so you get an air pocket between the shell and the inside, and when you remove them from the oven the shell collapses with nothing to hold it up. If they weep (they will have brown bubbles of syrup around the base), it can also be because you cooked them on too high a temperature – melting the sugar and making it seep out, or that you cooked them for too long, which splits the mixture. If you’re worried about your oven, buy an oven thermometer to check it’s running correctly.

So that’s a few of the basics covered, and you can click on the links for cake problems or pastry tips. If anyone has any more, please email them to me – it would be nice to have this as a regular thing – a cookery 101, if you will. Plus it makes me feel like all my mistakes were not made in vain, which is always a nice feeling…

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