Friday, 1 April 2011

Don't panic! Everything's back to 'normal'

After yesterday's culinary shocker (and although it was posted today, it was written and is dated for Thursday so no, it wasn't an April fool!), today has seen the restoration of some sort of order.

A day's TOIL offered the chance for some serious kitchen time – and a good stretch of the legs: a walk to the vet at Dalston was required to purchase anti-flea treatments. The local squirrel population seems to have boomed and they've started appearing in the gardens of the block of flats we live in, leaving behind a very itchy present for the girls, who don't really appreciate it.

Otto has been squeaking at me in desperation, so it had to be done. Given the squirrel situation, I bought two treatments – so that's four applications, to be administered once every five weeks. Bloody hell: it's not cheap. And as always, it makes me think just what life would be like without proper social healthcare for humans in the UK.

Which was apt, since today saw campaigning against government plans to privatise the NHS and leave it simply as a commissioning agency.

Now I'm not one to cast aspersions, so it's obviously a complete coincidence that Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has been funded for some years by private healthcare companies. Or that he gave an interview in the US a couple of years ago wherein he stated that the NHS was the worst thing to happen to the UK. Which is going some.

My father would disagree – even as a raving Tory: but then his belief in the importance of social medicine has foundation in just what the NHS has done for him over many, many years. Given his medical history, it is difficult to imagine that, even from a minimum of 30 years ago, any insurance company would have taken him on. And one could actually throw that back even further.

He's a funny sod: a Tory, as I said (although he seriously dislikes David Cameron and has reined back on his adoration of Margaret Thatcher as her legacy becomes clear), but yet loves to report how Michael Stewart, the one-time Labour MP for Fulham, where we lived for three years when I was a young child, apparently used to say he was more of a socialist than Stewart.

But let's move on.

After my walk, I lunched on sautéed courgette and lightly boiled tenderstem broccoli, with Feta and a dressing of virgin oil, fresh lemon juice and course salt. And thus revived it was time for some serious cooking.

I'm not entirely sure what had motivated me to think that making a white chocolate mousse was a good idea, only a few short days after tasting such a superb one, but a browse through the spring section of Gordon Ramsey's A Chef For All Seasons inspired me in that direction.

As it happened, it was based on a sabayon, so although I used Ramsey's measurements, I employed Raymond Blanc's method. Then you add melted white chocolate. There was a very ropey moment when I thought the egg was scrambling but it seemed okay as I folded the whipped cream in.

Once that was in the fridge and I'd had a short break, it was down to making a shortcrust pastry.

I love Sarah Raven's Garden Cookbook – it's the best book on seasonal produce that I currently own. Having used part of a bag of spinach earlier this week, I had loads left and guessed that she would provide me with the answer of how to use up the rest.

And she did indeed. Once the tart case had been blind baked, it was simply a case of blanching the spinach, then draining and drying it thoroughly and gently. Then it went into the case, with gently sautéed shallots, finely chopped, to be covered in whipped eggs, double cream, nutmeg and paprika, and it was back into the oven for 35 minutes.

When it emerged, it was a thing of beauty, to be joined by a simple salad of red onion and fennel, thinly sliced on the mandolin, with slices of a baguette.

That was followed by some of the mousse, which was served with segments of orange and a caramel sauce that had also been prepared earlier.

In many ways, I think that was one of the most pleasing meals I've made recently. It wasn't technically perfect (the mousse wasn't as smooth as I'd have wanted, for starters), but the flavours were in place.

In other words, it was an enormously pleasing day – and a darned good start top the weekend.

Before I finish, I just want to say 'hello' and 'thank you' to Michelle, who came over to me in the UNISON bar last night as the amazing Three Companies team was marking the end of that project. She introduced herself and said some very nice things about this blog.

So I hope she won't mind when I say that that really delighted to me – every bit as much as hearing her say that she also thinks of cooking as therapy – in her case, when things get bad, she makes cupcakes. I bet they're fabulous, Michelle!


  1. my therapy cooking session is a big pan of soup or rissotto....I lose myself in the chopping and stirring. And there is something very satisfying about producing something so very tasty from sratch.
    So glad to hear the 'evil plastic food in a plastic pot' was just a blip.
    Shirley x