Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Gardening gloves wot are great.

I was born in Selfridges. Well not literally, but almost in that I was born just down the road and that's where I lived til I was thirty. Most of my family have, at one time or another, worked in Selfridges. My First Holy Communion dress was made there (my aunt used to work in the alterations department). So I know lots about Selfridges, and Oxford Street. As I once said to a fishing ghillie, who asked me what sort of terrain I was used to, I'm comfortable with concrete and carpets.

Growing up a stone's throw from Selfridges, in a two-bedroomed mansion block flat, didn't teach me much about gardening however. I did have an impressive window-sill collection of plants. And when we went to Italy we had an orchard and my relatives had land. But gardens? Nope.

Three years ago, I bought me a house in Suffolk. We now have just under one acre of land. I have no idea what to do with most of it. The reason we bought our funny little 1960's house (little being a good, descriptive word here) was because the garden that came with it was the best we'd seen. The former occupants were very keen gardeners. VERY keen. We have lawns, and a little formal garden at the back, and a woodland walk bit and lots of trees (which I've learned the names of, mostly) and borders n' stuff, it's all very magical and perfect for children to play in.

But I have no clue at all what to do with it. I am not exaggerating, not one single bit, when I say that I can tell a tree, I know what grass looks like and I can identify roses and daffodils. And moss. But that really is about it. People I know come round and say "but darling, look at your cornus controversia traversia fantasia tree, it's divine, how did you get it so tiered?" and I think "do my gardening for me."

When we first moved in, driven by keen enthusiasm and with only one child to look after (which let me tell you, is EASY, retrospectively) I decided one day to do some weeding of things that looked, to me, like weeds. To be fair to me, which I always try to be, I did check with my partner, who said "yes them's is weeds". So I pulled them all up.

Later I discovered they were poppies. Wild and rude poppies (rude cos they just go where they like) but poppies none the less. It's taken them three years to recover from my frantic plucking. I like poppies.

In 2008 I could ignore the garden cos I was pregnant, and shuffling around like a Barbar Papa. In 2009 I could ignore the garden because I'd just had a baby (at HOME, a HBAC, yes it is possible people). This year I'm realising that unless we want to end up with a garden like that one in The Secret Garden (except without the possibility of staff, or a TV crew, to make it alright) I was going to have to do some work in it.

But, as I've mentioned in other posts. I'm a girl that needs kit before I can do anything. Growing up, I was forced FORCED to work in my parents' cafe. One of the things I did was the washing up. There is nothing like doing washing up of un-known people's dishes to really put you off washing up. I remember coming across bits of food floating in the water that, to this day, can still make me retch at the memory. I was too small to wear rubber gloves (are you crying yet?).

These days, when I am washing precious things, things that cannot go into the dishwasher, I will only do so if wearing rubber gloves. I need that degree of separation because I've been deeply scarred.

So of course, with gardening it is obvious I need lots of my own kit if I'm to really take any interest in it.

I have my own wheelbarrow, but that has since been stolen by my eighty-year old father who will insist on helping out in the garden. My partner also nicks the wheelbarrow. So I've lost interest in it.

I NEED really expensive secateurs, because we all know that will make me much cleverer and more capable in the garden. But until I've ascertained which those are to be, I make use of my three other pairs of secateurs, all of which have broken/rusted because I don't take care of them properly because I haven't bought them especially for me.

So finally we get onto gardening gloves. It is completely unfathomable that I could garden without them. So three years ago I bought some Briers gardening gloves from Chartwell, Winston Churchill's old home. They were cream, and leather and really rather good. But they too got 'borrowed' and then they hung on the washing line until they turned brittle.

I bought some very good, green, leather gauntlets, reduced to a fiver (from lots more) in Johnny Lou Lou's last year. But the mice ate them, goddamit, in the garage. Then I ignored my own advice and bought several pairs of cheap gloves from Homebase, all of which were totally rubbish.

Two weeks ago, I put out an appeal on Facebook for good gardening gloves and my online friend Vicky R, told me to try Atlas Gardening Gloves. I was suspicious because I'd only ever worn leather gardening gloves. And these were rubber nylon things. The pictures of them are a bit misleading, because they look like they'd be thick and unwieldly, like a beefed up rubber glove. But they're not.

Blimey the look enormous. I promise I haven't got Shrek hands. Photographed here on yet another stainless steel surface in my kitchen.

God they're fantastic. I mean, I know it sounds completely mad to rave about a gardening glove, or anything, in that 'they've changed my life way'. But they have. Here's why:

They're really sensitive, so you can do almost anything in them, from coaxing out a weed root, to handling really rough weeds. What the pics don't really convey is that they're really soft, you can scrunch them up in  your hand.

They scrunch up small, not particularly useful per se, but means they're flexible, which is.

Because of this: they're not so tough they'd be able to handle super hard thorns (you can get some others for that, which I've yet to try) and I have stung myself on the back of the hand with a nettle (although that's good for you in the long run init, protects against arthritis) because the back of the glove is less protected to make the glove more flexible. But I lived.

They come in all different colours, which I like, so I know which are mine.

They're washable.

They're cheap compared to leather gloves. But actually, so much better I think.

Sizing: I have fairly small hands, and I got a medium, which fit fine, but with room. I may go to a small next time for uber sensitivity and pretend I am a garden surgeon. They're not like rubber gloves in that hard to get off way if they're too small, because they feel like fabric.

So the upshot is that I have been out in the garden pulling up actual weeds (since that is the only thing I am trusted to do) regularly.

Vicky gets them from eBay where they are cheaper. But I got mine direct where there is more selection.

So there you have it.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

In search of the perfect vanilla ice cream

I'm aware this is my second food post in as many days. And I want to stress this isn't a food blog, but just random things I use and consume that come into my head.

Vanilla ice cream is the most basic of flavours, and because of this, it gets overlooked. I've made many vanilla ice creams and they have varied from too vanilla-y to what tastes like little more than flor di latte (which means flower of the milk and is the plainest ice cream flavour you can get).

Heston Blumenthal has a recipe for vanilla ice cream that involves coffee beans, and sounds interesting, but I haven't made it yet because it involves six vanilla pods. Heston's recipes are amazing, but they don't work out cheap (he has a current recipe in Waitrose for Banana Eton Mess which works out at £18 for the ingredients, Heston love, don't you know there's a recession on??).

My beloved Panasonic ice cream machine came with a humble little paper recipe pamphlet that, nevertheless, has proved to have some of the best ice cream recipes on it (I still think its chocolate ice cream recipe is unsurpassable).

This is what it suggests for vanilla ice cream:

120ml double cream
2 large egg yolks
50g granulated sugar
80ml milk (I always use semi-skimmed, to no obvious detriment)
1-2 tsp vanilla extract

You beat the egg yolks and sugar together, until pale and fluffy. If you don't want to do a big work out (and really, you should, it's the little jobs like this that our grandmothers did that all added up to keeping them fit, that and washing clothes by hand and turning mattresses etc). Add the milk and mix together well. Place this mixture in a saucepan and stir over a low heat. Don't boil (but if it starts to boil a bit don't panic, just turn it down and mop your brow and pay more attention next time). When its thickened to form a custard (which I find needs quite a vigorous heat), remove it from the heat and let it cool. Make yourself a cup of tea or something.

In a separate bowl, whisk the cream up, then add the vanilla extract to the custard mixture, then the whipped cream. Chill then churn in the machine.

Now a few notes about this recipe. You'll see it tells you to whip the cream and then add it. I've done it without whipping it and the result has been the same. But try it the proper way first (I find the whipped cream flattens anyway when you mix it into the custard mixture). You'll also see later that, although similar ingredients are used in other recipes, the way they're put together varies. I guess it goes to show it all amounts to the same thing.

I found 2tsp of vanilla extract waaaaaaaaaaay too vanilla-y for this amount of ice cream (which doesn't give you much, but just scale it up for more), so you may need to experiment.

This recipe above was my standard vanilla ice cream recipe for ages.

Then I started getting lots of books about ice cream. One which is pretty good is called Ice Cream. In it there is a recipe for vanilla ice cream which uses:

300ml full cream milk (again, I say, I always use semi skimmed milk and it's just fine)
1 vanilla pod
4 large egg yolks
100g vanilla sugar
300ml double cream

What you do with it all is put the milk and the vanilla pod, which you've split in half length ways, in a pan and heat gently then remove it from the heat and let the pod infuse for 15 mins. With this one, in a separate heat proof bowl, you beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale.

Remove the pod from the milk, scraping out all the seeds and slowly beat the milk into the egg mixture.

Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water, stir mixture until it coats the back of a wooden spoon (which it pretty much does straight away but you can carry on stirring as it's fairly calming and you can day dream, the mixture won't come to much harm as it's in a bain marie).

Remove bowl, cover surface with cling film or grease proof paper (I am so lazy, I have pre-cut baking parchment circles for cake making and I use one of those) and let it cool, then chill for an hour or so. Then stir in the double cream and sling the whole lot into the ice cream maker.

All good. Ish. The ice cream is perfectly fine, but nothing special. A few notes about the ingredients. Vanilla pods annoy me. They're expensive, sometimes, even if correctly stored, they go brittle and don't work with you. I manage to leave behind half the seeds and all in all, I think are a pretty imprecise way of using vanilla. Do not buy vanilla sugar! It might as well be labelled "food stuff for stupid people with too much money", just get a container, put some caster sugar in it, and lob a vanilla pod in it.  Keep it like that forever and ever. When you take some sugar out to use it for a recipe, put a bit more caster sugar in. Vanilla pods are great at this, they infuse the sugar with their bossy vanilla-y-ness. When you remember, replace the pod with a fresh one. If you're reading this recipe and thinking "but I want to make vanilla ice cream NOW and I don't have time to infuse my sugar with a vanilla pod", then I applaud your enthusiasm but say: just use regular caster sugar this time. I swear you won't notice much difference, which just goes to show what a terrific waste of money shop-bought vanilla sugar is.

So I decided to slightly adapt the above recipe. And when I say slightly, I really do mean slightly.

I bought some vanilla paste.  The one I used is by Taylor and Colledge and I buy it from Waitrose. It's not a cheap alternative, at about a fiver for a small pot but I reckon you get more value from it as you can  use the whole product, none of that scraping etc, see above.

Now, my Ice cream books says that one tablespoon of vanilla paste equals one vanilla pod. The Taylor and Colledge website says one teaspoon. I used one tablespoon, which did seem like a lot. But for just over a pint of ice cream, it resulted in a very, very good vanilla ice cream. It was speckled, pale yellow, very vanilla-y tasting without making you want to grab the table for support; overall, almost buttery. In the way that people use buttery to describe something delicious, I don't mean it tasted buttery literally as that wouldn't really be that great. You experiment with how much vanilla paste to put in according to taste.

Try it and let me know what you think and also, what's your favourite vanilla ice cream recipe?

Monday, 23 August 2010

Best banana chips

I'm not a huge fan of banana chips. This is due to a legacy of over dosing on them when small (sadly the same effect was not forthcoming for cake, or chocolate). They - the banana chips - sort of suck you in with their super sugariness, fooling you into thinking they are in any way healthy (I'm talking about the coated ones) when they're not.

My daughter regards banana chips as the ultimate treat. I am not sure how I've succeeded in conning her into believing that dried fruit trumps Haribo* sweets (which I never, EVER buy her since they have zero nutritional benefit unless you're stuck in a lift and about to die and they're all you have in which case I guess the sugar would keep you alive) but I have.

Every Saturday we go to the local market and I let her buy 20p of banana chips, which are of the coated variety and taste, to my mind, of shite. But she likes them and the occasional treat ain't bad. When we go to Waitrose she sometimes asks if she can have the more expensive banana chips in packets and which aren't coated with loadsa sugar, which I sometimes let her have even though they are, have I mentioned, expensive: like £2 for what amounts to about five pieces of dehydrated banana, which gram for gram must surely make it more expensive than, perhaps, gold or something.

Last week when we were in London, we went to the John Lewis Food Hall, aka the poshest Waitrose you can get and I bought her some Slow Dried Cavendish Banana. They aren't chips at all (sorry about the misleading title, but "banana bits" might not have registered in the same way) but chunks of banana that look, frankly, like shite.

Voila the packet, they cost £1.99 or so for 200g. For those of you interested in such things, they contain 385kcal per 100g, 3.9g protein, 82g carbs (of which 74g are sugars), 1.8g fat and 7g of fibre.

This is what's inside. Looks like a piece of poo init? But trust me much more yummy.

But God they were delicious. They're 'slow dried' and don't have anything added to them, but they're chewy, naturally very sweet and just really pretty fucking delicious. So much so that I ended up eating way loads more than I planned and ended up with really sticky fingers before I'd even got back up to ground floor in John Lewis, which I then plastered all over the escalator rail (sorry about that).

In fact, as I photographed the packet, there are two pieces left which I would have snaffled and stolen from my own flesh and blood, had I not just eaten two pieces of dark chocolate.

Talking of chocolate, and talking of Zotter chocolate as I was last month. When I was back at the JL Food Hall I bought another flavour: 70% cocoa with wine and pumpkin. It was just GREAT. Although my parents weren't impressed. My mother took one bite and it launched her into a tale of some chocolate she once had which "wasa so awful, I hadda to spitta itta out".

You really have to try this - Zotter - chocolate if you come across it.

Anyway the banana bites/bits. Would be really good for packed lunches and the like. So, er kinda topical in that tedious back to school way...

*When I was chamber-maiding during school holidays I once went in to clean someone's room and they had a packet of Haribo sweets and I couldn't stop eating them, so much so that I ate about 3/4 of the packet and had to then carefully position each sweet in the packet to make it look like there was more than there was. I so get how people like the chewiness, very addictive. But I still won't buy them for my children.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Great girls' mac

Some years ago, I bought this great mac from Mini Mode the now (almost, as of the end of this month) defunct brand you could only get at Boots. It has a hood, which you can't see, and was pretty hydrophobic and it looked good with most things. I always got asked where it was from. I loved this mac. My daughter loved it (although if I remember rightly, like most things, she had to be coerced to wear it). My partner/her father loved it. Even my parents thought it was pretty cool, although not actually pretty cool as that would reinforce their idea that I don't dress my daughter warmly enough, ever. It had done many years sterling service, but even if Mini Mode were still going, it only ever went up to age six and my daughter is nearly seven. So the hunt for a new mac was on.

The lovely mac from Mini Mode which did gave many years of service through snow 'n' wind 'n' rain.

Nice, stylish girls' macs are not easy to find. They're either too cutesy, too pink, too branded or just plain rubbish. My mother, when not feeding my daughter two Bahlsen plain chocolate biscuits sandwiched together, had, she said, spied a really nice mac in Zara but hadn't bought it yet.

Last week my eldest and I went to London. She came with me whilst I went on my appointments, aka going to get my hair done at John Freida and meeting up with the totally fabulous perfumier Roja Dove at the reading rooms in Claridges (ha! you thought my life was all making bread in Suffolk, wrong, wrong, wrong!). Because we then decided, quite ad hoc, to stay the night in London I decided to go shopping with her for school shoes at Johnny Lou Lou's. As we were leaving there I spied Next.

Now, lots of my friends seem to find nice children's clothes in Next. I never do. But that's mostly cos I don't really look and I don't order from the catalogue because last time I did they opened a credit account for me and started sending me scary statements that made me fearful and it took me ages to cancel it.

Anyway. I thought I'd give it a go by actually going in there and looking around properly. And I found what I think is a great little mac/trenchcoat for girls. It's camel coloured (so, like, bang on trend for this season if you care about such things, which I really do not), has little details like slightly puffed sleeves and a dotty lining. It's really cute, and looks well made and isn't too expensive.

It's 100% cotton and is billed as 'shower proof' and is of course washable at 40 degrees.

"Stone Trench Coat for girls" by Next, in sizes to fit ages 3-16 and costs  from £21-£27.

Thursday, 12 August 2010


One of the reasons I started this blog, was that, being a consumer journalist, I get a fair amount of calls/emails from friends asking me about stuff they want to buy: "Should I buy this, should I buy that, what's the best one to get" etc. Or, from  my friend Mark (I was SO going to name you in full but shan't) "do I need an electric food steamer? (no, just use a pan with a steamer on the top); do I need an electric rice cooker? (no, just use a pan FFS); do I need a cappuccino machine (yes).

I'm not complaining, it's a privilege, etc, but when you've got two young children, it's not always easy to chat. So much easier to say "go look at my blog".

Many moons ago, I used to write a column called Dear Annie in the Independent on Sunday (and, for a bit, the Observer); it was like being a doctor at a party (except SO much more important). I'd get people coming up to me saying "I need a dress for a wedding a week Saturday, what do you suggest?" I still get emails from readers asking me about clothing issues, even though I stopped writing the column some years ago. When I was fishing correspondent of the Independent I used to get people phoning me up in a panic at the supermarket: "Can I buy cod?" "The prawns are from Madagascar, is that okay?" "What is it about farmed salmon that I should know?"

Now that I've neatly told you some of the things I used to do, as a by the by, I can also slip in another one, as co-founder of a parenting website (no not that one, this one: I've been hugely fortunate in learning lots from other mums. Nothing like a bit of collective wisdom is there? And one of the things I learned, luckily fairly early on, was that steam is a valuable tool in the fight against snot.

This is relevant because the question I've been asked three times so far this week is about babies or children having colds. Now, do I need to point out, (do I really need to? I guess so) that I'm not at doctor. I have no idea if you should take your child to the doctor or not. But when my children have colds one of the things that helps is a steamer. You know, a slightly more sophisticated approach than standing over a sink full of boiling water. Which is a perfectly acceptable thing to do except it's not a great mix: young children and boiling water. And anyway, you get only a short amount of time between the water being so hot you can't get near it or too cold.

The Vicks Warm Steam Vaporiser, about £30

For the night time, this steamer by Vicks is really worth getting (it makes a great, if boring-looking, new baby present). Don't be fooled into thinking it's anything special: it ain't. It's a big hulk of plastic that sits on the floor, heats water up and lets warm steam out. There's a little compartment where you can put essential oils 'n' stuff. When the water runs out, it switches off. The lid is sort-of locked down but I still wouldn't risk it with very young children (what I found was that the steamer was great when they're babies and trapped in their cots, and when they're older and you can say "look it's hot, don't touch it" but there's a period in the middle, where they're mobile but have no sense, where you might not be able to use it). You put it on at night and it fills the room with warm steam, making it easier for them to breathe. It's not a miracle cure, but it can really help, especially with coughs.

For older children, and adults, this electric steam inhaler by Vicks is a good addition, you put your face right over it and inhale. (Note: I have no experience of the site I linked to, I got mine from Amazon but it doesn't seem to sell it anymore, or at the moment.) It's highly recommended if you have sinus problems (I find steam, and sinus massage one of the few things that work when my sinuses are inflamed and I can feel my teeth). And especially useful when you're pregnant and get a cold/sinus inflammations and can't take much.

It holds a small amount of water - enough for about fifteen minutes of steaming. It heats it up and lets it out a consistent temperature, and you can control how fierce it is by shutting down some vents. Or something like that. You do have to stand over the counter top (you can't really do it whilst watching TV unless you get an extension cable out), but it's really great to do before bed as it helps you breathe. I use it on my six year old when she has a cold but she gets bored after about ten seconds.

I hate to think about the seasons changing and colds a-visiting. But it looks like they might be and when you're bunged up you can't really eat or enjoy cake so much. 

Monday, 9 August 2010

Cherry Bakewell Slices for a picnic

The Bakewell slab, before it was liberated into slices. Please note how crumbly my pastry is thanks to my super cold heart and hands.
We went to Southwold at the weekend, and central to this, central to most trips in my life, was a picnic.

We had everything other than something treaty to take with us (like sourdough bread, home made coleslaw and pork pie aren't treat enough, spoiled bastards that we are). I had some ground almonds I wanted to use up and decided to make individual little clafoutis, until I found out that mostly the recipes I had for clafoutis didn't really involve ground almonds and anyway I didn't have enough cherries. But I did have a can of 'black cherries in syrup' and lots of ground almonds.

What could I make?

I make a really superb (look, there's no immodesty in the truth) Bakewell Tart, the recipe for which came from the Waitrose magazine long ago. Believe me when I say you don't need to search for any other bakewell tart recipe as the Waitrose one cannot be beaten.

But I didn't want a bakewell tart. I wanted little individual things to pick up. So I thought: bakewell slices.

So I adapted the recipe slightly. First I made the pastry:

200g plain flour
2 tablespoons icing sugar
100g cold unsalted butter, cubed
2 egg yolks
(you may also need a bit of extra water).

I whizz the flour, sugar and butter in my Magimix, then add the egg yolks and a bit of water if necessary. Don't overdo it with the water and try to keep the pastry so that it's just holding together, it shouldn't be all smooth and one big ball. If you haven't got gadgets of course you can do this with your fingers and then use a fork to mix the yolks in or something. I don't know, it's ages since I didn't have gadgets.

I never roll out pastry. Life is too damn short. It's not too short to make your own pastry though cos shop bought really isn't the same and how long does it take to weigh out a few ingredients and slam them in a blender?

When it's blended, I just take bits of the pastry and flatten it out into the bottom of whatever tin I'm using, welding it all together with a thumb like a giant pastry jigsaw. In this recipe I used a small Mermaid roasting tin which is about 30cm by 23cm. I lined it first with baking parchment/paper.

Then when you've covered the bottom of the tin with pastry in this piece meal but completely acceptable fashion, chill the pastry for about half an hour (perfectly do-able to chill for longer of course).

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 190C. When the pastry has rested, cover with foil, pour on baking beans (sorry, apparently you can use rice too, never tried it, I've had baking beans since I was seven, I've always been very serious about pastry). Bake blind (this means with nowt in it but the baking beans on the foil) for 15 mins. Then remove the beans (take care they'll be hot) and bake for a further five minutes.

Now I have a problem with jam. It's just too damn sweet. The only shop bought jam I really like is Bonne Maman's apricot conserve, although I can't eat the chunky bits of apricot as they scare me. When I make my Bakewell Tart, I use strawberry jam, very thinly spread. But I had that can of black cherries in syrup that I was determined to use up.

So I poured the whole contents of the can into a saucepan and boiled it until it was mush. This takes about 10-15 mins. It makes for a really nice fruity layer which isn't too worthy (it has got syrup in it after all) but isn't as teeth-jarring as jam.

Whilst you're reducing the cherries in syrup, make the filling:

125g caster sugar
100g very soft unsalted butter
3 eggs
half a teaspoon of almond extract
150g wonderful ground almonds (I LOVE ground almonds)

Mix the butter and sugar together until it's light and fluffy, this is quite a good work out for your arms and you'll expend about 12 calories to offset against the calorific value of these slices, then add the eggs, one at a time, mix well, la la la,  then the almond extract and finally fold in the ground almonds.

Spoon the black cherry mush onto the pastry case, then on top spread the topping. It looks like you might not have enough but unless you're using a giant tin, in which case you haven't read my instructions, you'll be fine.

I also like to top it all with flaked almonds, like a handful scattered on top. You can never have enough almonds, rich in protein (so they bring down the GI of anything), calcium and essential fatty acids. How can you go wrong. Unless you're allergic to nuts of course.

Cook for 25 mins or so, the top should be definitely golden, not pale blonde. When out, tie your hands behind your back and dive in face first. Or alternatively, slice into Mr Kipling type slices, big or small depending on what suits your psyche. You can also drizzle some icing on in that fancy filigree way (50-75g icing sugar with a few teaspoons of sugar, do it slowly so you have a fairly thick mixture, not too runny but not so thick it blobs on). I do like icing, but remember you're adding on a whole heap of sugar for that bit of icing, so go easy.

These keep lovely in an tin for a few days and make lovely treats. My boyfriend cries slightly when he eats one.

Chanel's Paradoxal nail varnish: the new Rouge Noir.

I have about thirty bottles of nail varnish in my fridge*. Nearly all of them Chanel. I'm a total sucker for its nail varnishes. I love the colours. I love the bottles. I love feeling a bit posh for having it.

But of all its shades, the one I still go back to, again and again, is Rouge Noir. That gorgeous black/red colour perfect for girls such as I who just don't do, and never did do, bright red. (Tis the shade Uma Thurman wore in Pulp Fiction. When it launched in early 1994, it sold out almost immediately, and then there were waiting lists of up to a year; it's still Chanel's best seller in terms of units sold.)

Each time I get a new shade I think "this might be the new Rouge Noir" but it never is. I've done the blues, and the greys and the pinks. I've done the glitters at Christmas (always a bugger to get off) and they're all lovely. But they're not Rouge Noir. The thing about Rouge Noir is that it's perfect. It doesn't look too dressed up, whilst still always looking groomed and fabulous.

This Friday, Chanel launch its latest shade: Paradoxal. I'm guessing, so named cos it's hard to label. In certain lights it looks violet, or metallic purple, then grey, then brown. I love it. (Yes I have some, I've been wearing it for a few weeks now.)

Okay so it probably won't trump Rouge Noir, but nothing else has come this close in sixteen years.

*they last longer that way.

Chanel's latest nail polish launches this Friday 13th August. And yes it's important.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Beetroot salad dressing

I've been meaning to post this up for ages, as it's my current favourite salad dressing. But I couldn't remember where I'd found it. It was getting pressing as it's coming into beetroot season now (er, I think, at least ours are being harvested).

When I like a recipe that I see in a magazine, I tear it out and put it in a Muji folder that has clear sleeves, so you end up making your own recipe book. It works really well: you can change the order round, very easily get rid of recipes you don't end up using much, and the plastic sleeve that encases every page keeps them clean of cooking splashes.

Here is the one of the pages from one of my many recipe books using torn out magazines put into Muji PP folders. It just so happens it's a pic of some chocolate cheesecake ice cream cookies..also I know that when I post this on Facebook this is the picture that will come up, and I bet more people will read it thinking it's about biscuits/chocolate rather than vegetables.

Here's the same book closed, not easy to take a pic of as not the most photogenic article, but bloody useful.

If I really like a recipe and use it lots, I write it out in my Travelling Cookbook, which is so named as we take it with us when we go away and is a large Moleskine book, much used, much loved and I like that it's all handwritten (I have romantic ideas that my daughters will one day inherit this book and say things like "look, that's Mamma's famous chocolate mousse recipe"). This is what I'd done with the beetroot dressing recipe, which is why I had no idea whose it was. I have about 10 of those Muji folders, each housing 60 sleeves, ergo 120 recipes, so I kept meaning to go through and find the original.

You get the point.

Finally, as is the way of these things, I found it whilst looking for something else. It was by Yotam Ottolenghi, who is fantastic. He gives it as part of a bigger recipe involving gorgonzola, radiccio and toasted almonds, but you can put this dressing on almost any type of salad. Drizzle it on (use one of those squeezy bottles chef use if you have one) as if you actually toss the salad in it, whilst it will still taste delicious, it really won't look so hot.

This dressing makes a fair amount - I'd say enough for six very greedy people, it keeps for a day or two but not much longer so make less if there are less of you.

One small beetroot, cooked (I buy mine precooked, otherwise roast it til soft)
20g honey
15g Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove (I tend to leave this out)
25ml cider vinegar
salt and pepper
120ml extra virgin olive oil

Yotam (cos we're on first name terms, I wish), suggests you blend everything together (I use a mini blender, the one that attachs to my Braun Multistick thing, really useful piece of equipment) and then add half the oil, mix up and then other half. I have to say I just bung it all in and it's fine.