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Archive for the ‘Stupidly Easy Recipes’ Category

Because A Good Christmas Pudding Can Be Laid Down Like Wine

I don’t know why we, as a species, still ask each other if we’re ready for Christmas yet. There are only two possible answers, and both answers will make at least one of you sad and angry. “Are you ready for Christmas yet?” we ask each other. And then the other person will turn out to be either way less prepared than you are (which gives you the Christmas High Ground, but makes them feel terrible), or way more prepared than you are (which puts them on the Christmas High Ground, and gives you the rage). There is no way for everyone to be happy with the answer to this question. Competitive Christmas Preparation is the very definition of the zero sum game.

Billy Bob Thornton Bad Santa

In a perfect world, we’d all agree to never ask the Competitive Christmas Preparation Question ever again, ever ever ever. Since we all know that’s not going to happen, here’s a Christmas Pudding recipe that will allow you to win every single round, basically for the rest of time. It takes a bit of time, but the skill involved is absolutely minimal, and the sheer joy of winning the Competitive Christmas Preparation Game hands-down makes it well worth the investment.

Ingredients
For the fruit mix:
450g mixed dried fruit
100g currants
2 tbsp from a bottle of cheap nasty brandy

For the dry mix
225g Muscovado sugar
50g self-raising flour
2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
110g white breadcrumbs

For the batter mix
1 Bramley apple, grated
2 eggs
125g suet
150ml Oyster Stout
2 tbsp double cream
2 tbsp black treacle
150ml more from the nasty cheap brandy

For the decorations
Some glace cherries, some almonds, some walnuts or any other kind of edible thing you fancy seeing on top of your Christmas pudding come Christmas Day

Other stuff
Greaseproof paper
String
Either some form of improvised steamer (saucepan, colander, saucepan lid) or if you’re really posh, an actual steamer
Two 1L pudding basins that you won’t be needing for a long, loooong time
A good book
A clear day

Method
1. Check the time and date. Ideally, this pudding should be made at some time in November (although don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get round to it). However, unless you’re a real night-owl, it is quite important that you start making this recipe before 2pm.
2. In one bowl, mix the dried fruit and currants with a couple of tablespoons of nasty cheap brandy. Leave it all to soak for a bit while you make your other two mixes.
3. In another bowl, mix together your batter ingredients.
4. In yet another bowl, mix together your dry ingredients.
5. Take a quick swig from your nasty cheap brandy, just to make sure that it really is only fit for cooking with.
6. Take a quick swig from your remaining Oyster Stout, just to see if it has anything to do with actual oysters.

Disturbing Oyster

7. Take a swig of something you actually like, to take away the taste of the nasty brandy and the Oyster Stout, and to wash away the disturbing memory of the oyster picture above. (optional but recommended)
8. Get one last mahoosive bowl. Mix everything together. Inhale the scent of Christmas. Feel free to secretly try out a bit of the brandy soaked fruit.
9. Gather up everyone in the household and induce them all to give the pudding a stir.
10. Get your two 1L pudding-bowls and line the bottom with glace cherries, almonds, walnuts or whatever you fancy.
11. Pour half of your mixture into each basin. Then make a greaseproof paper lid by folding a pleat into a long rectangle of paper, then tying the paper around the lid of your bowl with string. For some reason, this is remarkably like putting an octopus into a string bag, so you might want to get someone to help you.

Time for more cheap nasty brandy

Time for more cheap nasty brandy

12. You are now going to steam each of your puddings for about four hours each. If you have a steamer, off you go. If you don’t, here’s how to build one: put a couple of inches of boiling water in the bottom of a saucepan, put your colander on top, put the pudding in the colander, put the lid over the pudding and put the whole thing over a medium ring on the stove. Congratulations! You have now built a steamer. Because the water will (obviously) evaporate, you’ll need to hang around and supervise your pudding by topping up the water level every forty minutes or so. Take out your good book. Remember to keep checking the water levels.

13. Alternatively, you can just zone out for a while and contemplate the mysteries of the Christmas pudding. (For example: Do I, or do I not, like the smell of cinnamon? Is buying a loaf of bread solely for the purpose of making breadcrumbs from it the ultimate expression of First World-ism? Black treacle: why? Is it better to throw away the second half of the suet packet right now, or should I first put it back in the cupboard in the pretence that I will one day make dumplings with it, keep it until it is several years out of date, and then throw it away? No, seriously: black treacle – why?) Don’t forget to keep checking the water levels.

14. After about four hours, your first pudding should be cooked. Take it out of the steamer and put in the second pudding. While the second pudding cooks, change the greaseproof paper lid of Pudding One for a brand-new one (remember to include the pleat).

An octopus disguised as a spider.

An octopus disguised as a spider.

15. Keep checking the water levels of your second pudding.

16. No, seriously – keep checking the water levels. This is literally the only thing that can go wrong, and as time goes on it’s deceptively easy to forget to keep topping up. Do not let your pudding boil dry. When the four hours are up, take your second pudding out and give it a new lid too.

17. You now have two cooked puddings. One pudding is this year’s pudding. (We’ll get to the second pudding shortly.) You are now going to feed this year’s pudding once or twice a week from now until Christmas, by taking off the paper lid, pouring over a couple of spoons of brandy, and replacing the lid.

19. On Christmas Day, pop this year’s pudding into a steamer for about three hours. You can’t warm this pudding up in the microwave or it will be dry and nasty – it has to be steamed – but when you taste it, you’ll know why you bothered.

20. But what about the second pudding? Get your game-face on and prepare for the ultimate Christmas Smugness. Here’s how it works.

Cat passing on secret

21. The second pudding is an investment. This pudding does not get fed. Instead you put it away somewhere quiet, where it will go into a state of suspended animation until you are ready to wake it up again.

22. About November of the Christmas you want to eat your second pudding, take your Christmas pudding out and start feeding it brandy once or twice a week. This will wake it up. On Christmas Day, you steam it for a few hours, just like the first pudding. And for THE WHOLE OF THE INTERVENING PERIOD, YOU ARE AUTOMATICALLY THE WINNER AT COMPETITIVE CHRISTMAS PREPARATION, BECAUSE:

23. There is no known upper limit to how long you can keep your Christmas pudding. They don’t go off; they simply mature. One year, two year, five years, whatever. I have family members who have reanimated Christmas puddings laid down a decade ago, and people talk about how unbelievably delicious those puddings were for years afterwards.

24. And the coolest part is, whenever anyone asks you “Are you ready for Christmas yet?” you can smile and reply, “I’ve started preparing for Christmas 2017, actually…how about you?”

Kirsty Alsop Christmas

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Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love My Spice-Rack

I hardly ever buy the Sunday Papers. This is because the colour supplements terrify me. They have articles telling me things like which narcissus bulbs I should be planting this month to ensure my garden stays on-trend next spring, or how to choose the right tutor for my children over the summer break, or which Greek islands are worth adding to my six-week summer tour given the current Euro-zone crisis. Even the advice columns (“I’m going to my friend’s wedding at Claridges in June and I can’t decide which designer I should be wearing. I’m bored with Armani, but Stella McCartney is so girly this season and I wore Marc Jacobs to her hen weekend in Bath six weeks ago. I’m five foot nine and a size eight and my budget is £2500”) scare the shit out of me.

But, in the same way I occasionally stay up till 2am on a Monday night drinking gin and drawing moustaches on my friends when they pass out on the sofa, every now and then I give in to the siren call of the Sunday paper. And I torture myself with the supplements. And to try and prove I could be a Sunday-Supplement yummy-mummy if I wanted to, but I just don’t want to, I choose and then cook one of the inexplicably faffy recipes from the Food section.

I don’t know why I do this to myself. It always requires me to go off and buy a whole lot of odd new ingredients, which I inevitably don’t know where to find, and which always ends with me going to at least three different supermarkets and sobbing in frustration in front of the herbs and spices. This time, it was fennel seeds, two different kinds of mustard, and…something else that I can’t even remember. Calves livers in aspic, possibly. Peacock brains. Unicorn spit. I also remember a stern injunction about the sausages that went something like “while you may want to invest in some speciality recipes, this will also work perfectly well with a good butcher’s sausage”. (I simply love the inherent judginess implied by “a good butcher’s sausage”. I’m guessing Walls are off the table, then.)

But the part that really tipped me over the edge was the Two Kinds Of Mustard. You had to add your Two Kinds Of Mustard in two stages. Stage One was just as you started to simmer everything. And Stage Two was near the end. Not right at the end, but near the end…only not too near. Because the final line of the recipe read: “…bearing in mind that mustard will lose its interest if it is cooked for too long.”

This one line epitomises everything I dislike about Sunday Supplements. It’s enigmatic, but terrifying. It makes me feel patronised, but it also makes me feel like I deserve it. If you deviate from these instructions, your dinner will become unspeakably dull. But we will not give you enough information to accurately interpret what we mean. If you don’t know already, you don’t deserve to know. We are going to our villa on a Greek island now. Goodbye.

I made this recipe a lot of times, following the instructions to the letter and agonising over each step. But I never really enjoyed it. I was always miserably convinced I’d cooked it for too long and made it boring, or added the wrong quantity of fennel, or got the mustard ratio wrong, or forgotten to add the unicorn spit. And then a couple of months ago, I had a revelation.

Hang on, I thought. Sausages are peasant food.

Sausages are glorious. They’re the unexpectedly delicious consequence of using up all the nasty bits of the pig you’d rather not think about. They are the poster-children for the kind of achievably good cooking we can all do, because if we couldn’t we would have been extinct by now. Peasant cooking isn’t about hunting down exquisite pinches of the rarest ingredients. It’s about brilliantly improvising with what you happen to have available.

So I threw away the Unicorn Spit recipe, and I improvised. And it was delicious. Then I did it again, a bit differently. That was also delicious. And again. See above. Also, I was happy while doing it, because making it up as you go along is fun. This isn’t a recipe, it’s more of a guideline. Feel free to ignore it entirely. The only thing I forbid you to do is to burst into tears in the Herbs and Spices fixture in Sainsbury’s because you can’t find the fennel seeds.

Ingredients

Six sausages, any variety as long as you know you like ’em
One big onion. I tried it with a red onion once and it was lovely, but any onion is fine
A tin of tomatoes. Alternatively, some actual tomatoes, chopped up
A tin of butterbeans, kidney beans, chick-peas, black-eyed peas, baked beans…whatever you happen to find lurking in the back of the cupboard. If you have some tinned potatoes (oh come on, we’ve all done it), they’re good too
A splash of oil for frying
A splash of whatever alcohol you happen to have open (optional)
Some garlic (optional. Although if you don’t like garlic then I’m afraid we can no longer be friends)
Some herbs (a selection)
Some spices (optional)
Anything else you like the look of (optional)

A nice big casserole or saucepan

Method
1. Chop your onion. I like to leave the pieces quite big and chunky, but just go for whatever shape and size you’re happy with.

2. Soften the onion (and garlic if you want it) in the casserole. The original recipe had dire warnings about getting it soft but not brown. Hell with that. Soften, brown, whatever. Just don’t burn it. Unless you like burned onions. In which case, knock yourself out.

3. As an optional step, you might want to get a frying-pan and slightly brown your sausages. This is really only an aesthetic decision. The sausages will cook perfectly in the casserole and will taste delicious – they just won’t actually turn brown. If brown sausages are important to you, now’s the time to achieve this. If you’re cool with your sausages looking all pale and emo, save yourself some washing up and give this step a miss.

4. Add your sausages to the casserole.

5. Pour over the tomatoes.

6. Add in your tin of beans / peas / potatoes.

7. Add in a nice slosh from whichever wine, beer or cider you happen to have open. If you don’t have one, go and open a bottle of beer, wine or cider. Now you have a bottle open, add in a nice slosh from whichever wine, beer or cider you happen to have open.

8. Go through your herb and spice rack and pick out some things you think might be nice. This is a surprisingly wide category. My favourite is rosemary, bay leaves and maybe a bit of chilli powder, but I’ve also used marjoram, mixed herbs, thyme, basil and ginger. Add them in small quantities, though. You can always add more, but once it’s in, you’re stuck with it.

9. Add some salt and pepper (or not. But all recipes seem to include this, so I thought mine ought to as well) plus a slosh of water for luck.

10. Pop a lid on and leave it to simmer for a bit. It will take about fifteen to twenty minutes for the sausages to cook through. After that, it’s done when you say it’s done.

You might like to serve this with crusty bread and a green salad. Or you might not. Maybe you are the kind of person who always has salad and crusty bread available, and maybe you’re not. Maybe you remembered to throw some in the trolley while you were buying sausages this afternoon. Or maybe you got those sausages out of the freezer because you’ve been glued to your keyboard all day and only just realised you were starving to death. It’s all good.

If you’ve got a great new riff on this improvised recipe, why not share it in the comments?

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A Recipe With Its Own Hidden Dangers

This is a great recipe for when your kids want to give their teachers a Christmas present. It’s very simple, very delicious and looks very pretty when put in jars with gingham lids.

However, do be careful who you show them to. The kids and I made many, many jars of fudge for the many, many wonderful staff at their school. I cut out blue gingham lids for Ben’s jars and pink gingham lids for Becky’s jars, and we lined them all up on the kitchen counter and admired them. Though I says it as shouldn’t, they looked extremely pretty. Becky was so impressed with their appearance that she went to show her daddy. And Tony looked at them and said, “Yes, they are very pretty, aren’t they? That’s because mummy fancies Mr Clarke.”

Ever since then, I have lived in dread of one day accidentally making eye contact with Mr Clarke across the playground and divining the awful knowledge that Becky has, in some idle moment during class-time, said, “You know…my daddy said that my mummy fancies you.” For the record, I do not fancy Mr Clarke. But this is a delicious fudge recipe.

Ingredients
300ml milk
350g caster sugar
100g butter
A few drops of Vanilla extract
A very, very large saucepan

Method
1. Melt the butter, sugar and milk together in your very, very large and very, very deep saucepan saucepan. It is of critical importance that this saucepan initially appears to be FAR TOO BIG for your ingredients.

One like this is fine

2. Bring your mixture to the boil, stirring all the time. It will creep inexorably up the side of the pan, growing to many many times its original size. Stirring helps keep its growth within bounds, so if you stop for a few seconds to scratch your nose or turn the page on your Kindle, be prepared for it to get even bigger. Once you’re certain it’s not going to explode out of its container, invite little ones to come and stir. But watch them like the Republican party watches the Iranian government, because…

3. …essentially, you now have a large pan of melty, syrupy gorgeousness that looks absolutely delicious. Do not under any circumstances give in to the temptation to stick a finger in, and do not let any one else try this either. For the time being it’s best if you think of your fudge as an extremely scrumptious form of Napalm and act accordingly.

Or like this, only sugary

4. Keep boiling, stirring and hawkishly supervising until your mixture reaches the “soft-ball” stage. If you have a sugar thermometer, this is where your mixture reaches the temperature of 118C. If you have a life, this stage occurs at a time between sixteen and nineteen minutes of stirring for the quantities given. You’ll know you’re there when your mixture does the following:
– Shrinks back down to manageable proportions
– Goes a little bit darker
– Goes a little bit thicker
– May have the odd little fleck of crystallised brown-ness appearing (if you see them, take the pan off the heat because you’re definitely there)
You may also like to try smearing a little bit on a saucer and then cautiously prodding it with a spoon to see if it’s setting. Again – you have a saucepan full of delicious Napalm, and it will hold its heat for a long, loooong time. Do Not Touch.

Remember there is a whole lot of room between "slightly cooler than before" and "objectively cool enough to touch"

5. Take your saucepan off the heat, stir in a few drops of vanilla extract and leave to cool. Still Napalm; Still Do Not Touch.

6. After five minutes, beat the mixture with a spoon until the gloss starts to disappear. At this point it’s about to set like a rock, so you have a very limited amount of time to scrape it into a greased tin (a cake-tin is fine) so it can finish setting. It’s probably a little less Napalm-y, but best to be on the safe side. Leave it to cool (but don’t refrigerate it).

7. When the fudge is cool (give it an hour or two), smash it into pieces using whatever method pleases you most. If you can stand to, put it in jars and give it as presents. If you can’t stand to, eat it all up and make more. And while you’re at it, try not to accidentally plant the idea in your children’s heads that your spouse has carnal designs on their teacher.

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A Pudding With A Health Warning

Let’s begin with the circumstances in which you should not make this pudding. Firstly, do not make it for any occasion when looks are important. It is delicious; it is chocolatey; it will make your guests’ eyes roll back in their head a little bit when they eat it. But it has to be said that it lacks kerb appeal.

Secondly, do not make it if you share a house with people prone to sudden and intense obsessions. Do not make it if, for example, you are a student living in a communal house and your three housemates are a bunch of Doctor Who fans and Electronic Engineers. They will become fixated on it, like cats with catnip, and will demand that you make it for them every single Sunday until the end of time. Just to pick a totally random example.

Thirdly, do not make it for anyone for whom sugar is an issue. It is simply not possible to substitute with sweetener in this recipe, so don’t even try. This pudding contains three (count ’em) different types of sugar, in quantities which together total significantly more than half a pound, and each type of sugar brings its own special characteristics which are essential to the pudding’s successful creation. Skinny minnies, diabetics or people who would be much happier with a really good cheese-plate will not appreciate the glory this pudding represents.

Now, let’s talk about who you should make this pudding for. Make it for your family on a cold winter afternoon, when you want everyone to be sleepy and peaceful and contented. Make it for your partner when you’ve reached the no-make-up, greying-t-shirt stage of being contented in each other’s presence. Make it for the friends you’re so comfortable with that you will quite happily go round to each other’s houses in your pyjamas. Make it when people are sad and need comfort food; and make it when people are happy and want to celebrate with something indecently delicious. Make it when you want to believe in magic (I have no idea how this pudding can possibly perform its strange layer-swapping trick, but it does). Look, just make it, okay? And don’t judge it by its slightly odd appearance when it comes out of the oven. Just wait for it to cool, plunge that spoon in deep, scoop out a big fat portion and start shovelling.

Ingredients

6oz Granulated sugar

4oz Self-raising flour

2oz Cooking chocolate

3 tbsp butter

1/4 pint milk

2oz brown sugar

2oz caster sugar

3 tbsp cocoa

6 fl.oz water

A medium-sized Pyrex or other ovenproof bowl

Oven at 160C

Method
1. Float a bowl in a saucepan of boiling water to make a bain-marie, and melt your cooking-chocolate and butter together.

2. In your pyrex bowl, mix the granulated sugar and self-raising flour.

3. Mix your melted butter and chocolate with your sugar / flour mixture. You’ll end up with a sort of pale-brown, grainy, pasty, stiff mixture.

4. Gradually blend in the milk. You should now have something that looks like pale-brown thick custard.

5. Over the top of your mixture, sprinkle the following, in the following order and in three separate layers:
– 2oz brown sugar
– 2oz caster sugar
– 3 tbsp cocoa

6. Carefully pour over the water. Don’t worry if you have strange beads of water dusted with cocoa-powder rolling around the surface, and don’t worry if you haven’t. Do not stir, poke with a spoon to see what happens, or interfere with the delicate balance of your pudding in any way. Just shove it in the oven and walk away for forty-five minutes to an hour.

7. After forty-five minutes to an hour, open your oven, and be amazed by the secret cooking magic that has occurred. The stuff you put on the bottom – the flour, the sugar, the butter, the chocolate, the milk – has made its way to the top, and turned itself into a luscious, dense, cakey, chocolate-sponge topping. And the stuff you put in on the top – the other sugar, the other other sugar, the cocoa, the water – has somehow found its way to the bottom and turned into the most beautiful fudgy chocolate sauce you could ever imagine.

8. On the downside, when you look at the centre of the pudding, you will now understand why its name is Catsbum Chocolate Pudding. Although I can’t prove this, I suspect this weird, puckered…thing…in the centre is the exit-route for the fudge-sauce ingredients on their mysterious journey to the base of the pyrex dish.

9. Leave the pudding to cool for at least an hour, plus as long as you can all bear to wait thereafter. Serve to your loved ones (you should never make this pudding for anyone you don’t love…it’s too delicious to waste on people you don’t have a deep and sincere affection for), with cream, ice-cream or anything else cool and melty you like the sound of. Lick the spoons clean, scrape the bowl, and fight over the leftovers. And for God’s sake, don’t count the calories. Ignorance is bliss. Just like this pudding.

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When Your Friends’ Mothers Start Asking For The Recipe, You Know You’re Really Onto Something

Lemon Drizzle Cake is the first recipe I’ve ever felt possessive about. Normally when people ask me for a recipe, I display the kind of over-the-top enthusiasm you get when you offer to take a labrador for a walk, like, “Oh, sure! Of course! Oh boy oh boy oh boy, you’re going to love this! Let me write it down! And can I email it too?  How about my blog – shall I post it on my blog? And then you can share it with all your friends…?”

But with this recipe – my own, perfect, world-beating lemon-drizzle-cake recipe – I feel a compelling urge to keep it All To Myself. I secretly sort of love the notion that there is some secret and unimaginable skill required to make this cake, which can only be attained by years of patient effort and dedication.

I actually have a recipe that I don’t want to give away! It’s a very strange feeling. For the first time in my life I am in touch with those mad and endearing characters in books like Mapp and Lucia, where the denouement for the entire novel is triggered by the theft of a recipe for Lobster Salad.

But keeping it to myself would be mean and pointless, and if I accidentally got run over tomorrow, the secret of the Perfect Lemon Drizzle Cake would die with me. So, here it is. Just…be careful who you share it with.

And it goes without saying that EVERY SINGLE STEP in this recipe must be followed exactly. To the letter. No arguments.

To make:

175g margarine

175g caster sugar

175g self-raising flour

2 eggs, beaten with 4 tbsp milk in a mug. Preferably a pretty one

2 lemons, zested and juiced

An unknown quantity of icing sugar

A 3lb loaf-tin

Baking parchment

A pretty apron

To serve:

A beautiful heirloom cake-stand

A pretty china teaset (preferably either received as a wedding-gift, or inherited from an elderly female relative)

Some matching pretty cake-plates

A group of discerning friends

Method

1. Tie on your pretty apron. For best results, put it on over a pretty frock. You may also want to freshen your make-up.

2. Cream the margarine and sugar together. For years I resisted using an electric whisk, because electric whisks are cheating. Then I saw Nigella using one, and thought it might be all right, and bought one. I can’t begin to describe how much quicker, easier and fluffier cake-making becomes if you have an electric whisk. They only cost about £20. Just do it. You’ll never go back.

Oh, and make sure it’s caster sugar. This really matters.

3. Whisk in the eggs and milk. As we all know, curdling the fat-and-sugar-mix by adding the egg too quickly is the curse of beautiful sponge-cakes. So, use your electric whisk, and add it in the following proportions, whisking well after each addition:
– One carefully-measured tablespoon
– One not-so-carefully measured tablespoon
– Two tablespoons at once
– One large, incautious slop of mixture using up almost all of what’s left, followed by a rather frantic whisking session on the fastest setting
– The dregs remaining in the bottom of the mug

3. Using a spatula, fold in the flour and the lemon zest.

4. Grease your loaf-tin, and line the bottom with baking parchment. Baking parchment is another thing I refused to contemplate for years. I honestly thought it was one of those inexplicable relics of a previous age that old people insisted on clinging to, like Vim scouring powder and antimacassars. But as it turns out, it really does make a difference to how easy it is to pry your cake out of its tin later. Hold the front page – my grandma really did know what she was talking about! Who knew?

5. Pop into the oven at 180C for about 55 minutes.

6. While it’s in there, occupy yourself by mixing your lemon juice with enough icing sugar to make a nice, thin, watery icing. Since all lemons are variable, the amount of icing sugar you’ll need to achieve this is also quite variable. The only clue I can offer is that it’s generally quite a lot more than you’d think. Begin with a heap in the bottom of a bowl, then pour your lemon-juice over the top and mix it in. Stir, taste and add more icing-sugar accordingly. It’s important it tastes sweet rather than sharp – we’re not making lemonade here – but it’s also important it remains pourable.

7. In the remaining cooking-time, do something dainty and feminine. Embroidery is an excellent choice, as is the light dusting of some fragile china ornaments on a high shelf. Alternatively, do something to enhance your environment. For example, you could decant your washing-up liquid into a decorative container. Or maybe you could try beautifying your scrubbing-brush. In Stepford World, even the most mundane task can be turned into a pleasure!

8. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, and while it’s still in its tin, spoon the icing all over the top. There will be a lot of it. Use it all. It will hiss, and steam a bit, and then disappear down the sides and into the body of the cake.

8. Leave the cake in peace to cool down. It usually takes about two hours to get to the perfect temperature, i.e. cool enough to handle, but still a little bit warm and steamy. Don’t try and get it out before then, because it will just fall apart. When it’s time to serve, loosen it all around the edge with a palette knife. Put it on your beautiful heirloom cake-stand.

9. Break out all the ancient and beautiful china you inherited from female relatives. Pause to enjoy the sensation of having generations of dainty, cultured female ancestors – all with minds like razors, tongues like barbed-wire dipped in honey and a stare that could turn milk sour through an iron door – standing at your shoulder, approving of your cake. Then, invite your friends round for afternoon tea.

10. Serve slices of your cake on pretty plates, with fragrant cups of tea, made properly in a teapot and poured into your most impractical tea-cups. Enjoy the taste of civilisation. Enjoy even more the taste of small-minded suburban triumph as they all ask for the recipe, and you graciously manage to avoid giving it to them. Alternatively, send them here. The occasional bit of Stepford Cooking is the way forward for all of us.

Stupidly Easy Recipes are just that – stupidly easy. Every single ingredient they contain can be bought from my local supermarket, and most of them are stuff I just happen to have in the house most of the time. They all produce results which are insanely nice compared to how little work you need to put into preparing them, and most can be eaten one-handed, with a fork, over the head of a Moray Eel nursing baby. Quantities are usually for two people.

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“Flash! Flash, I love you! But we only have ten minutes to save the Earth!”
Serves two tired, hungry adults with a ludicrously over-scheduled evening and no time whatsoever to spend on preparing anything for dinner.

Ingredients
2 chicken breasts or 4 chicken thighs, depending what you can unearth from the freezer
1 large onion
1 red bell-pepper (in any condition)
2 cloves garlic
1 jar red pesto
1 glug olive oil
1 glass red wine (the dregs of the bottle you’ve had around the place for a week will do nicely. Alternatively, take it as your cue to open a new bottle)
Rice or bread to go with it

Takes 5 mins to prepare, and 45 minutes to an hour to cook
1 oven-proof casserole (no lid required)
Pre-heat the oven to 160C

Method
1.      Hastily hack the chicken breasts into inept, mis-shapen lumps. If you have forgotten to defrost them first, don’t worry. This works equally well with frozen chicken lumps.

2.      Coarsely chop the onion and the red pepper. Coarse language when you cut your finger is optional.
3.      Crush, slice or otherwise beat into submission your garlic cloves. If you’re especially pushed for time, feel free to substitute garlic puree.
4.      Shovel the whole lot into the casserole.
5.      Disembowel the pesto jar over the chicken and vegetables.
6.      Pour over a glug of olive oil.
7.      Slosh over the red wine.
8.      Stir everything round a bit.
9.      Survey the resultant raw, unpromising mess in complete disbelief. Wonder if maybe you missed a step and you were supposed to brown off the chicken or soften the onion or something before putting it in the oven. Have faith. I promise this will work.
10.  Shove the casserole in the oven. Do not put a lid on. Seriously. Do not put a lid on. A lid will stop the magic from happening.
11.  Charge off to do whatever came next on your to-do list.
12.  Come back 45 minutes to an hour later, tired and hungry and cross. If you can stand to wait, put some rice on to cook. If you can’t stand to wait, tear a loaf of bread into lumps.
13.  When your carbohydrate of choice is prepared, gingerly open the oven, where an authentic culinary miracle will have occurred. Your raw chicken breasts, tired red pepper and dubious onion have now transformed into a delicious casserole, with meltingly tender chicken pieces and vegetables which are slightly caramelised, verging on burnt, but in that good way.

14. Serve to your grateful and incredulous spouse. Assure them that it was incredibly complex and difficult to prepare, but you did it anyway, because you don’t like to compromise on nutrition. Bask in the knowledge that you have just re-proved your credentials as a true Domestic God or Goddess.

Stupidly Easy Recipes are just that – stupidly easy. Every single ingredient they contain can be bought from my local supermarket, and most of them are stuff I just happen to have in the house most of the time. They all produce results which are insanely nice compared to how little work you need to put into preparing them, and most can be eaten one-handed, with a fork, over the head of a Moray Eel nursing baby. Quantities are usually for two people.

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Come Into My Gingerbread House, Little One…

This pudding is a great way to kick-start your child’s social life. Once you’re made it for one child once, the word will spread, and you will then be able to lure not only that child, but all future children, round to your house to play with your child – merely with the promise that chocolate pudding will be made at tea-time.That sounded a lot less sinister in my head.

Before someone calls the police on me, I should add that the fun of this pudding doesn’t stop with the acquisition of small-sized dinner-guests. This pudding is almost indecently delicious. It requires no skill whatsoever to make. Because all the quantities are based on volume rather than weight, you don’t even need to get the scales out. It can be prepared in about five minutes (three if you’re really motoring) and it then takes three minutes to cook. One pudding is frequently too much for one child, so you get to scavenge off their plates afterwards. And it’s also hilariously good fun to watch while it cooks. On the downside, it’s strangely hard to clean off the mugs afterwards. But it’s worth it.

Serves two children (with scavenging potential for mothers), two adults, or one outrageous pig 

Ingredients

4 tbsp self-raising flour
4 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp cocoa
1 egg, beaten
4 tbsp milk
4 tbsp oil
2 splashes vanilla essence
As many chocolate chips as you feel you can justify
2 mugs you don’t like very much (or 1 mug if you’re going for the Outrageous Pig option)

Method

1.      Take your two mugs you don’t like very much.

2.      Into each mug, put:
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp cocoa

…and mix well. Get right into the crevices with the mixing-spoon, otherwise you’ll have little patches of flour left over.

3.      To each mug, add:
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp milk
a splash of vanilla essence
half the beaten egg.

4.      Mix some more. If it turns into a sort of weird chocolate cement, add a bit more oil and / or a bit more milk.

5.      Add the chocolate chips, and stir them in a bit. If you let them sit on the top, they will melt and run down the sides, which isn’t a disaster, but seems like a bit of a waste.

6.      Microwave the mugs on full power for three minutes. Gather the children around the microwave in the manner of savages witnessing the making of fire, and watch in genuine fascination as the puddings rise up the insides of the mug, threatening to erupt like volcanoes. Be prepared for quite a lot of discussion from any small people watching regarding vital questions such as whose pudding is “winning”, what constitutes “winning” anyway, whether the rising puddings look more like hats than monsters or more like monsters than hats, and what might happen if the pudding filled the whole microwave / grew all the way up to the ceiling / collapsed over the side and tried to escape. Don’t worry. Three minutes from now, a beautiful silence will descend on your household.

7.      Remove your pudding from the microwave and serve with ice-cream and cream. Enjoy knowing that your pudding will soon become a legend in the playground, and your child will now be able to secure anyone they want, even if their idea of fun is to tie up their guests and pointlessly torture them for an hour. If their idea of fun is to tie up their guests and pointlessly torture them for an hour, remember to book a therapist. But finish off the remains of the chocolate pudding first.

 

Stupidly Easy Recipes are just that – stupidly easy. Every single ingredient they contain can be bought from my local supermarket, and most of them are stuff I just happen to have in the house most of the time. They all produce results which are insanely nice compared to how little work you need to put into preparing them, and most can be eaten one-handed, with a fork, over the head of a Moray Eel nursing baby. Quantities are usually for two people.

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