Recipes from food stylist Nicolas Ghirlando: Fish fingers to Friday nights.

Hidden gems

The half term holidays are over and Noah and Maya have been pressed, polished and painted and sent back to school looking less like stig-of-the-dump and more like human children. Quite an achievement, I think.

We spent the week in less of a rush than usual, a nice change to the routine and lovely to have the little blighters around more. Tuesday found us bowling. I’m sure it wasn’t as obscenely expensive when I was a teenager, trying to look cool in my huge ’80s clothes. Maybe it’s me, or maybe every activity these days is genuinely out to fleece you for as much as possible. A child in the queue ahead of us had just vomited on the floor by the ticket desk. Whether or not that was excitement, overindulgence, or shock at the cost I’m not sure. The noise, wild-eyed children and flashing lights made me feel like doing the same.

And then, ‘Kidzania’ at Westfield. A theme park where the children can pretend to do adult stuff and come to terms with the pointlessness of life. I think they enjoyed being window cleaners, surgeons, pilots, chocolatiers and chamber maids (Note to self: the last two sounds like a Mills and Boon novel. Possible book pitch?) They are now well prepared for working hard for almost no reward and then being ripped-off in the shops afterwards.

The nicest things we did were the most wholesome (and free…). Pumpkin carving in a garden in Dalston, pumpkin carving at home, staying up late to watch Strictly with a big pile of homemade tacos to assemble yourself (spicy chicken, ‘rockamoley’ as Maya calls it, cajun spiced yoghurt, tomatoes, coriander and grated cheese) and eat on a rug on the floor.

We’ve eaten quite a lot this week, having them around every day. The children helped me make a kind of brioche, poking chocolate buttons into the middle of each dough ball before dusting the top with Danish sugar crystals and chocolate flakes. We made chocolate brownies together too, sticky, gooey, dark and rich – they disappeared in a flash.

One evening for supper I unleashed the Monte cristo sandwich on them. Fresh, homemade sourdough slathered in  butter and filled with cheese and ham and then fried on the griddle pan. They went in a flash too, I served them with a pile of tarragon and garlic green beans on the side trying to be a little healthy. I had to bribe the children to eat those.

Noah’s little eyes lit up when I asked him if he’d like a roast chicken on Sunday. I covered it with Parma ham, stuffed it with lemon, garlic and rosemary and served it with red peppers and turmeric roasted potatoes that came out a deep gold, crisp all over, fluffy and light in the middle. We followed this with a rhubarb and apple crumble – the children even helped peel the apples, Bramleys bigger than their little hands could hold. I had to finish the job for them the slackers – it was a perfect Sunday lunch.

Midweek, Bee and I ate more chicken, this time with asparagus grilled in Parma ham (I see a theme here) and cooked with mirepoix, haricots, pearl barley, thyme, stock and lemon zest and juice. It was hearty and slightly celebratory feeling for a Wednesday. And on Saturday lunch we had today’s recipe: sausages, firm gem squash like hand grenades, cooked to melting softness, chorizo cubes and more haricots. A one pot meal perfect to help you against the cold crisp days now the clocks have gone back and it’s dark just after breakfast. All Autumnal and very, very cosy.

Ingredients
6 nice sausages, a little herby perhaps, but not too much
A tin of haricot beans, drained and rinsed
About 15cm chorizo, cubed
A sprig of rosemary
4 banana shallots, peeled and finely sliced
4 garlic cloves
2 gem squash, quartered
300ml water or chicken stock
A scattering of pumpkin seeds
Salt and pepper to season
Olive oil

Method
Heat the oven to gas 8 or about 190c. Nice and hot, anyway.
Brown the sausages in a frying pan with a little oil then add the shallots, garlic and rosemary.
Transfer this to a roasting dish and add the remaining ingredients. Mix about a bit and drizzle with some olive oil then season well.
Cook in the oven for about 45 minutes, until the squash is soft.
Serve with the juices poured over.

This week:
Read: Still bloody reading Middlemarch. Looks like it will be the middle of March before I finish it.
Ate
: Fruit kebabs made by the children and each one had a marshmallow in the middle. Delicious. They hate marshmallows it turns out, so I got the lot.
Watched
: Crawling our way through Fargo series three and the recent Cold Feet. Both are a bit of a struggle to maintain enthusiasm with. Bee’s given up on Fargo. It’s been early night’s and book reading a lot recently, that’s how we roll these days.
Listened
: ‘Here’s the thing’. Alec Baldwin interviewing Michael Pollan for his podcast.

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