Tag: cheese sauce

Chocolate ganache

Esther Walker is unwell. It doesn’t have the same ring to it, I know – but it’s true. I’ve had bronchitis. Okay not actually confirmed bronchitis, but that’s what I’ve been saying. In fact it was just a non-specific chest infection but when I say that it sounds like there’s something wrong with my bosoms. I reckon it was pneumonia, just between you and me. I don’t know how much worse you’d have to feel than I felt for it to be pneumonia. I’ve had a pain, you see, a pain in my lungs.

Anyway it’s taken ages to get better. Usually you get the antibiotics and 24 hours later you’re springing about going shopping. But I went to bed on Sunday night and only really got out of bed again on Thursday morning. It was enjoyable in a way – an uncomplicated, straightforward illness: chills, fever, head-to-toe aches, sweats, pain in the chest, dizziness, delirium, all of that. Not just tired, fed-up, run-down, burnt-out. Actually like fucking dying.

I lay in bed inert and unresponsive as other people looked after my children. Occasionally I would try to focus my hot, blurred eyes on my phone and would wonder why no-one was asking me any questions, how life in the house was carrying on quite so merrily without me. But I didn’t get too upset about it, just slipped back into a semi-coma gratefully.

And what I’ve got for you now I’m back from the dead is a thing that’s going to annoy you because I know you don’t want me to write about cakes and sweeties anymore. But the thing is that those are the NEW things that I am cooking.

I am indeed cooking savoury things like a motherfucker at the moment, but it’s all for Sam who has in the last three weeks started raging through food like a starving wolf.

I always used to find people who talked about how much their children (usually their sons) ate quite annoying, as I sat in front of Kitty coaxing her for hours to eat one more tiny weeny thingy of lamb stew. “Oh was Kitty fussy? We’re lucky,” they would say. “He just ate everything from the start.” And they say “lucky” but what they meant was “it’s because we’re such fantastic parents”. I mean, that’s probably what they meant. THEY SAID IT WITH THEIR EYES.

But now we all stand about and marvel at the food disappearing into Sam’s gob. It’s like a sideshow at a circus. Watch the enormous monster baby eat! Down goes a massive spoonful, and another, and another, and another! Like a waste disposal unit. I have decided that in order to fit it all in, the first bit of food must start to be digested and be making its was out of his tummy before he’s finished the bowl of whatever.

But it’s nothing I’ve done, you understand? Just like it was nothing I did that made Kitty able to exist for weeks at a time on nothing but air, sunlight and three bottles of milk a day. And it’s not because he’s a boy, because I know plenty of baby boys who hardly eat anything – because they don’t need to right now. Because they’ll do more growing later, thanks.

It’s just because Sam is massive and getting massiver by the day – he’s six months old and wearing Kitty’s old blue dungarees that she wore when she was over a year – and he will probably go on to be massiver. (Or maybe he will halt at five feet nine inches when he is twelve years old.)

People always act like it’s such a bloody marvellous thing to have a big baby who will eat the world and that having some strapping six footer son is just the gold standard. Whatever Sam ends up being is fine by me, but I don’t mind men under six foot. My husband is five feet nine inches tall and I think he is the perfect height. I can look him in the eye. When we embrace I don’t end up with my head under his armpit. At parties when I want to say something mean about someone I don’t have to climb a ladder to whisper it in his ear. He doesn’t constantly bump his head on things and complain about legroom on airplanes.

My point is that a consequence of Sam eating so much right now is that getting together enough food for him is an issue. (Don’t get me started on clothes!) If Kitty’s hungry I can make her a make her a sandwich. If Sam is hungry he needs something to be cooked and blended. HE WON’T EAT THOSE STUPID ELLA’S POUCHES. Every time I turn around it’s time to make another enormous stew, or enough cheese sauce for 8 pots of macaroni cheese. I think of life with Sam when he is a teenager (Insha’Allah) and really hungry and see entire loaves of bread and pints of milk disappearing in minutes before my eyes.

But I can’t think that you are interested in my recipe for lentil puree. And the new thing I made recently, as I slowly crept out of my bronchial hell, was a chocolate ganache.

I made one of these before and it wasn’t very good. But I have subsequently realised that the recipe was a bummer. So I made it again on the instruction of Paul Hollywood himself (I texted a question into a radio show! I KNOW!!) and it came out just absolutely perfect.

So this is what you do. To cover 12 fairy cakes you need:

100g best chocolate (for kids, milk chocolate probably best – Waitrose do one called Menier, very nice)
100ml double cream
1 knob of butter

(NB – chocolate ganache is always just equal quantities of chocolate and cream – mls to grams.)

1 Chop the chocolate into reasonably small bits and put in a bowl.

2 Put the cream in a small saucepan and heat until it is nearly boiling. Pour over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate has melted. This takes a while, you need to stir all the time. You can bung it in the microwave for a few seconds towards the end if the chocolate has really stopped melting in. Don’t whisk it!! Because you will get unattractive bubbles, as I did.

3 When it has all melted in, add a knob of butter, for sheen.

4 Pour over your fairy cakes and decorate. This doesn’t actually set firm, like an icing, it’s always a bit gooey and sticky. And hurrah for that.

Have a great weekend.

Esther x

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Butternut squash "cake"

Kitty has started at nursery. Finally!!! It’s not just the relief of being able to pack her off every morning to make the most enormous mess that someone else has to clear up, it’s the re-plugging back into society that, for me, is the biggest weight off my mind.

When you have a small child who is NEET – not in education, employment or training – you can feel a bit like you’ve slipped through the cracks of society a bit. Nobody knows or cares where you are, no-one expects you to show up anywhere. There’s no signing in or joining in necessary.

You don’t really have a child when your child is really small, more like a very strange pet. And it’s very easy to look in despair and dismay at the range of uninspiring activities on offer locally and fail at the first, second and third hurdle of making friends and, after a short time, to disappear.

But when they go to nursery – aha!! School. Lunchboxes. Pegs. Storytime. Playgrounds. Suddenly it’s all familiar again. I can do this, I know this. I am now “Kitty’s Mummy” – it’s brilliant. Your child ceases to be this sort of blob and starts to be a person with a nametag and a personality that others want to talk to you about.

The first days that Kitty was at nursery I would automatically stop talking about her after a few sentences, because you are so used to people not giving a flying shit about what she’s like or what she’s scared of, or not scared of and so on. But the people who work at the nursery kept saying “go on, yes, and what else?”

And so I talked and talked and talked and talked about what she was like and the teacher’s eyes didn’t glaze over and she didn’t interrupt. It was amazing.

I had assumed that Kitty, being a robust and outgoing sort, would be shoving me out of the door every morning, but in fact for the first few days she was reasonably droopy and needed a lot of coaxing during the second part of the morning (which does seem rather long in fact – 0930 – 1300??). But that was last week. Today I left her at 0945, and went home to do that thing with Sam where you hold a baby and shift your weight from foot to foot, staring out of the window, until it feels like your back is going to give out. I was anxiously holding my phone, waiting for the “she’s crying so hard she’s been sick” phonecall and none came. I went to get her at 12.50 and she saw me and ran to me and said “Oh Mummy I’ve missed you so much!” (wtf? who taught her to say THAT?) she was smiling suspiciously widely. Then she went to hide in the teepee and wouldn’t come out to go home. I had to bribe her hard with Smarties.

Anyway so I’m absolutely delighted.

They also have a bake sale every Friday at the end of the morning, which I am totally delirious about. Not so that I can be some ghastly goody two-shoes and show everyone else up by making something every week (… or is it…) but because I am not doing very much new savoury cooking at the moment and we really do not in this house need any cakes or biscuits or sweeties hanging about because some of us are still packing quite a lot of babyweight.

But this is the most terrific excuse to make a lot of biscuity nursery treats and then get them out of the house so that they can bloody make someone else fat. I have gone mad and ordered 2kgs of icing sugar, extra fairy cake cases, food colouring and sweet shortcrust pastry in honour of this. I am, as you might be able to tell, excited.

Before we embark on that particular journey, though, I do have this savoury thing to tell you about, which is a thing of my very own invention, which I’m very pleased with.

I absolutely love a butternut squash lasagne I found in P-Mid’s Celebrate a few months ago but I don’t want to eat a lot of pasta because of the aforementioned babyweight. So I wanted to do it without the lasagne sheets.

“Use the butternut squash in slices in place of the pasta” said my husband, although I will pretend to everyone it was my idea.

Anyway so what you do is make a sort of butternut squash, spinach and cheese layered cake thing. It is brilliant and delicious and I love it.

Here is how

Esther’s butternut squash “cake”
For two easily, with leftovers

1 butternut squash
10 sage leaves
1 small onion
200g (raw weight) of baby spinach
flour, butter and milk for a white sauce
a large handful of whatever assorted cheeses you have in your fridge
salt and pepper
mild olive oil

Set your oven to 180C

1 Peel and slice your butternut squash into rounds or half-moons of the thickness of a £1 coin (have a quick look at a coin because you think it’s thicker than it is). Slice up the onion into similarly elegant rounds.

2 Arrange the squash and the onion on a baking sheet, drizzle with quite a lot of oil – about 5 tbs I’d say, then season with salt and pepper and shove in the oven for 30 mins.

3 Now source from somewhere a dish in which to cook this. I used a 7in cake tin from John Lewis with a loose bottom, but I doubt you have one of those. Have a poke about in your cupboards for something suitable.

4 Cook or steam your spinach whichever way you know how.

5 Make your white sauce. If you don’t know how to make a white sauce, please refer to the “How to make a white sauce” section of this blog. There’s no shame in not knowing how.

You want a very stiff, thick white sauce, so when you make your roux, have it quite dry. Go easy on the milk. Shove in a lot of cheese. You want in total only about 300 ml of white sauce. But this is not an exact thing so don’t worry too much – the important thing is that the sauce is thick and reasonably stiff so that when you slice your “cake” is doesn’t just run out everywhere.

Add your cheese to the white sauce and muddle it round until it melts. This can take a while.

6 Assemble your cake the most practical way you can see how: layer of squash (add in with the squash all the onion and sage bits), layer of spinach, layer of cheese, robustly seasoning between layers – ideally you finish up with a layer of cheese sauce uppermost but this is MY recipe and I say, don’t worry too much.

7 Put the whole thing back in the oven for about 25 mins at 180. If you HAVE used a cake tin with a loose base, put it on a baking sheet or in a tray to go in the oven because it will leak.

This is as rich and filling as a lasagne so a little goes a long way. Eat with a cold, sharp cucumber salad or something like that. 

Shrimp & Jalapeno Nachos for Cinco de Mayo or Cinco de Anytime

These simple and addictive shrimp and jalapeno nachos are
not only a nice alternative to more common versions, but a great reminder of
how this iconic snack was actually intended to be served. Contrary to current
fashion, nachos didn’t start out as a giant pile of chips drenched in ladles of
florescent gold cheese sauce.

The earliest versions were made by simply broiling a single
layer of cheese-topped chips, which were then garnished with jalapeno peppers –
simple and elegant, with every chip genetically identical to the next. Over
time we’ve added hundreds of toppings, as well as replaced the broiled (real)
cheese with something that you can also use to grease an axel.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the aforementioned version just
as much as the next guy wearing pajama jeans, but once in a while it’s good to revisit
a simpler time in American snacking. If you’re planning to party, I wish you a
fun and safe Cinco de Mayo, and hope you give these very tasty chips a try.

Ingredients for 4 Portions:
1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp (I used 50-60 per pounds size, which are
ideal for this)
1 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
pinch of cayenne
1/4 tsp ground chipotle pepper
salt and pepper to taste
50-60 large tortilla chips, or as needed
2 jalapeno peppers, sliced very thin
about 3 1/2 cups of shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese
avocado creama (1 avocado, 1 cup sour cream, and juice of 1
lemon or 2 limes; liquefied in a blender)
sliced cherry tomatoes and freshly chopped cilantro to garnish

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