Simple pleasures

Apple filo tart

My first mumbled thought on waking this morning was that it is now acceptable to have a mince pie. Bonfire night has passed and November is wrapping its chilly fingers around mine reminding me I need some new gloves. Here at the kitchen table I’m doing a passable impression of a snowman.

We have moved out of ours temporarily so the decorators can paint over years of underinvestment and its accumulated grime, which includes the children’s use of walls as Basquiat did. Bee’s parents are kindly letting us stay with them, and unused as we are to big, old houses, (insert joke here about the owners being creaky and and falling apart? Pretty sure mother-in-law doesn’t read this? Check first) I’m considering turning their thermostat right up and convincing them it must be their advanced years that is giving them hot flushes.

The beginning of the week, although disorganised and busy packing boxes, didn’t prevent us eating homemade food. We had the leftovers from the Sunday roast as an evening meal of chicken noodle soup. That also left, in turn, chicken noodle soup leftovers for Monday’s supper, pepped up with a little ginger, garlic and chilli. For us, Monday’s meal is usually light and often no more than scrambled eggs on toast. Albeit scrambled eggs cooked with fresh curry leaves, garlic, ginger, green chilli, onions, garam masala and coriander.

We saved the eggs for Tuesday, where I cooked down some tinned tomatoes with garlic, onion, some sautéed chorizo and a dash of nutmeg and chilli flakes. The eggs went into this sauce and baked in the oven for ten minutes before we eat it spooned onto lightly toasted sourdough, plates balanced on our knees watching the penultimate episode of W1A.

Our first meal in our temporary home was Sue’s ‘Greek chicken’, a delicious rich tomato and cinnamon stew. The following evening I cooked us all beef stroganoff at Bee’s request, using a recipe from ‘The Cookery Year’. To some, it may be comfort food, and I suppose if you’ve eaten nothing but turnips in the Russian winter it probably is, but it left me, like a Moscow November, rather cold.

The week ended with me returning from a day at work to a cosy kitchen and a Bolognese. Its aromas of soft and sweet garlic and sautéed onion is one of the most welcoming things there is. This was most appreciated after a long day. Being cooked for and looked after is something we all need from time to time.

Sunday brought roast pork with its glorious crackling, the fat having been rubbed with salt and left uncovered in the fridge overnight to dry. I contributed a deep and slightly piggy apple gravy from the roasting juices. After, there was an apple crumble which is fast becoming a legal seasonal requirement. Thank God we’d been for a walk in the park before lunch. But it was the ribs, tender and falling off the bone after two hours cooking beneath the pork joint that were the best part. The juices and flavour from the apples, onions, rosemary and garlic had soaked and poached them in a robust liquor that was as if the whole meal had been distilled into a single, melting bite.

I made a dhal for the evening meal. Simple but full of caramelised onion flavour and spiced with warming turmeric, cumin, mace, mustard seeds and coriander. There were homemade flabreads, the dough filled out with a little natural yoghurt and a handful of seeds thrown in for good measure as well as a side dish of flash-fried garlicky courgette cubes. This just filled the little gap that always seems to appear late in the day even after such a handsome and substantial lunch.

For the week ahead I plan, having liberated the barbecue smoker from ours, to slowly cook the 1.5 kilo chuck joint I have. Six hours should do it, perhaps a little longer, rubbed with spices and smoked with hickory wood. These cold, crisp days seem made for cooking on a fire outside where I can sit warmed by the heat and breathe the fresh, clean air mingling with the smell of flaming meat and smoky wood. Perhaps I need to grow a beard and get a padded check shirt for this.

Another night I may suggest a chickpea tagine with lamb chops and prunes. And to use the big bag of homemade chicken stock I found in our freezer perhaps I’ll cook us a simple risotto bianco, or a wild mushroom and white truffle oil one loaded with butter and Parmesan.

But for now, here is my recipe for a quick apple tart. I’ve used Granny Smiths, they are slightly sharp and keep their shape well when cooked, which is ideal here. Bee doesn’t seem to share the enthusiasm my son and I do for cooked apples, but I made this the other day and there were almost tears, certainly a wobbly bottom lip, when I told Noah there was none left. There was almost the same from me when I realised it too. Maya seemed less bothered, she had solemnly and silently cleared her plate and then disappeared to run around somewhere with a cardboard box on her head or something. But it’s so simple to make, and the children loved helping, I’m pretty sure it will be appearing on the table again soon.

6 granny smith apples, peeled (keep the peel), cored then cut into segments and thinly sliced
Juice and zest of half a lemon
A fair old scoop of butter, melted. Probably four or five tablespoons, perhaps a little more. I can’t be sure exactly. These things are more often than not a matter of judgement
2tbsp soft brown sugar
1tbsp ground cinnamon
3-4 sheets filo pastry
An equal amount of water and brown sugar for the syrup glaze. Just enough to cover the apple peelings

Toss the apples through the lemon juice and zest and heat the oven to 180c.
Bring the apple peel, water and sugar to the boil and simmer for five minutes. Leave to infuse while you prepare the tart.
Butter the inside of a small to medium oven dish and lay a sheet of the filo down. Brush this with more butter, a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar and lay a load of the apples down in neat rows.
Sprinkle over some more sugar and cinnamon and a healthy drizzle of butter then lay down another sheet of filo.
Repeat until you have finished with a final layer of apples and another sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon.
Drizzle over the syrup and bake in the oven until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Leave to cool a little before serving with vanilla ice cream and the crushing disappointment that one slice just isn’t enough.

This week
Watched: Blue Planet 2. Mind-boggling stuff. The BBC justifying its licence fee on this alone. Incredible stuff. Maya asked me if Attenborough was a real man and still alive. Long may he be.
Read: Obviously, still Middlemarch. I’d say you can take that as read, but I’m still only halfway through. I’m beginning to have mutinous thoughts. But there was also the brilliant Bill Buford writing in the New Yorker from 2002 about his time spent with Mario Batalli in his New York restaurant Babbo.
Listened: Dirty John, a podcast about an online relationship with a nutter.
Eat: Bad chicken and pappy chips that was anything but ‘cheeky’ before a perfect fireworks display in Beckenham for the children. Quieter and friendlier, the kids went free and the £5 per adult went toward the scouts. Refreshing to see a community event not being run for profiteering. We bought lemon ice creams from the van and came back to snack on Bombay mix and peanuts while watching ‘Strictly’.

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