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Date bread

If this looks familiar, it’s because it is almost identical in every way to a Banana Bread For Dory (q.v.) but it uses dates instead of bananas.

I wanted to try this out because my friend Becky B brought over a sticky date cake the other day and it reminded me of the packet of dates in the larder I had been meaning to use to make a sticky toffee pudding, but have never quite found the excuse for.

It’s also because I do LOVE that banana bread recipe but quite often don’t find I have quite the right number of overripe bananas to justify it. So I wondered if it was possible with dates. And it is! It is still a sort of date bread, rather than a cake, because it’s not especially sweet, which I think is a good thing. You could definitely spread this with butter, for example. Like all cakey/breads that are not a sponge, this keeps very well in tupperware for a few days.

Becky B did a terribly clever thing with HER date cake, which was to soak it, in the manner of a lemon drizzle cake, with a caramel sauce that she bought from Waitrose – it was Bonne Maman, she said: “Confiture de Caramel”. She thinned it with some hot water, pricked the cake all over with a skewer and then went MAD with the sauce. It was really, really fab. My mother always says that things that other people have made for you are always more delicious than something you have made yourself, but still – Becky B is a terrific cook.

You can also make your own caramel sauce if you are that sort of person – there is a recipe somewhere on here, have a rummage.

So here we go

Date bread

150 veg oil
200g dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
250g dates
75g natural yoghurt
1 tsp bicarb of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
225g wholemeal spelt flour (get it from Waitrose)
2 tbs caster sugar or cane sugar

1 Pre-heat your oven to 170C and butter a 2lb loaf tin and line it (YES you must do this, don’t be lazy) and line a baking sheet, too.

1 In a bowl whisk together the oil, sugar, vanilla and eggs

2 Chop up the dates roughly then put them in a bowl and pour over boiling water to just cover them. Leave them to soak for 20 mins then drain them and sort of gently mash them through the sieve to get out most of the water.

3 Add the youghurt to the dates and mix together. Sprinkle over the bicarb of soda, baking powder, and salt and stir again.

4 Mix the date mixture and the sugar/egg mixture together. Then sprinkle over the flour and stir until things are only just combined. Over-mixing is disastrous here so stop as soon as you can’t see any more flour. Spoon the batter into your smugly-lined tin.

5 Sprinkle some sugar – caster, cane or granulated -down the spine of the loaf and then put in the oven.

7 Bake for 45-50 mins.

HOW is Kitty, people say to me. How is she, how is she? I don’t talk about her that much any more because she is just off my hands. She turns two in February but she has been off since she turned 18 months old and could walk, talk, ask for things, watch tv, sit and draw or look at her books, play imaginary games with her stuffed animals, scoot around the kitchen on her little trike and so on. She is an actual person these days and it’s such a relief, I can’t tell you.

When I look back on some of the darker things I wrote when she was small I feel awful, so guilty. But it must have been bad for me to write those things, it must have been like that. She’s now this little chattering pixie, everyone wants a piece of her, everyone wants a smile and to hear her squeak “I’m knackered!” – her first party trick.

I used to dread her waking up in the night – the thought of it made me feel actually sick with anxiety. Now sometimes I wake in the night and hope that she might wake, too and need me. But she never does.

Here is a picture of Kitty with her bunny, her hair a bit wild from her nap. Note how she is gripping the bunny quite hard round the neck – I think she is trying to get him to tell her where the chocolate is. I can get pictures printed on t-shirts, mugs, bags and mousemats for a small fee if anyone is interested?

Though I can see the benefits of babies, I suppose. They are not constantly after your iPad and whatever it is that you are eating. And they don’t have a massive fucking tantrum when you try to stop them from doing incredibly dangerous things.

 

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Pot-roast partridge with savoy cabbage

I felt so guilty all of yesterday for the carpet disaster that I set about making a very elaborate partridge thing for my husband’s dinner, using the two partridge he had bought on an impulse at the Farmer’s Market the previous Saturday.

This was a slightly over the top thing to have on a cold November weeknight but I think my husband liked it – though I had a sudden and unexpected massive attack of nausea at 7.45pm so couldn’t eat a thing.

This would be very good for a dinner party – everyone gets their own partridge and the sides are straightforward and easy to do in bulk. I’m sure you could do this with quail, as well. Or pheasant? Or are pheasant huge?

Pot-roast partridge with Savoy cabbage

For the partridge

2 partridge
1 small savoy cabbage
2 carrots
1 medium onion
2 bay leaves
4 sage leaves
4 sticks thyme, leaves picked off
2 sticks celery
1 glass white wine
1 pint chicken stock

For the cabbage
(you do not have to have cabbage with this. Maybe some lovely mash instead, or a cauliflower cheese?)

1 cabbage
1 small onion
4 rashers streaky bacon
1 tbsp cream if you have it

1 In a casserole pan with a lid, melt some oil and butter and then brown the partridge all over. Do this quite thoroughly – I’d say for about 6 minutes in total. Once browned, remove the birds to a plate and take the casserole pan off the heat.

2 Now make your mirepoix. Don’t panic! I will explain what this is.

A mirepoix is a mound of very finely-chopped onion, celery and carrot, (although there are variations on this), which makes up the base of a lot of French sauces and soups. This is one of the reasons to own an incredibly expensive, very sharp knife from the likes of Global. Ask for one for Christmas! (I am not on commission)

Chopping up carrot and celery very small is easy enough, but I always struggle with onion. What I tend to do is try my best and then when it all starts going to piss and slipping about everywhere, I just go over it with my knife in a levering motion to get the rest really small. Not what Jamie would do BUT HE’S NOT HERE :(

Anyway so that is a mirepoix. Make one of these and then add to it your bay leaves, thyme leave and torn sage leaves.

This is a mirepoix. The veg could stand to be even smaller but I am a bit ham-fisted.

3 Add the mirepoix to the recently-vacated casserole pan and cook this over a medium flame for 4 minutes. I chose to stir this a lot to stop the onions from catching and it was a good idea. After this time, add your glass of white wine and turn the heat up so that it all bubbles down to just a thin pool of liquid at the bottom of your casserole. This takes a few minutes.

Now add your stock – it really must be decent stock, not from a cube – and put the partridge back in. Put the casserole with a lid on in a 180C oven.

The recipe I followed, although good, left the partidge rather scarily underdone as it only specified a 15 min cooking time. So if I were to do this again I would do 15 min with the lid on and then 10 mins with the lid off. Another benefit of this is that partridge can have an unfortunate greyish tinge to the skin and taking the lid off allows the top to brown, which is so important for presentation. And, because this is a pot-roast, you don’t have to worry about the partridge drying out because it is protected by the surrounding liquid.

4 While the partridge is cooking, shred the savoy cabbage and chop up the onion and bacon. Sweat the onion for a few minutes in some butter and oil and then add the bacon. Cook this for about four minutes and then add the cabbage. Put a lid on and leave for another four minutes. I was not happy about leaving this with so little liquid so added a ladleful from the partridge cooking sauce. In all I reckon I cooked the cabbage for about 10 minutes. The recommended 4 minutes just left it raw and crunchy. I finished the cabbage with some cream I had knocking about.

4 Once the partridge is done, remove and put somewhere to rest and keep warm. Put the casserole pan back on the hob and give it a good boil to reduce the sauce. Season generously with salt and pepper after it has reduced.

5 Serve with a pile of cabbage, a partridge (on or off the bone, up to you) and the cooking sauce.

 

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