It’s the Northern Hemisphere winter and we’re fast approaching the year’s shortest day. It’s more often gloomy than bright, the sun sets early and leaves fill the gutters. Setting foot outside a warm home or office becomes a chore, coats and scarves weigh heavy on tired bodies, so when we finally do have some respite at home, simple, soothing food is definitely on the menu.
Carolyn Caldicott and photographer husband, Chris, have produced a timely antidote to chills and sniffles, in the form of a little book of winter-warming recipes called Comfort. Starting with Breakfasts to Get Up For, Carolyn teaches us how to perfect the classics like a boiled egg and soldiers, porridge and eggy bread and sensibly suggests a trio of eggs, potato rösti with a stiff Bloody Mary to blitz that Silly Season hangover. Hearty Meals for Friends and Family includes favourites such as pie and mash, shepherd’s pie and spicy warmer-uppers like spaghetti puttanesca or chicken and mango coconut curry. Every page of this cookbook oozes relief from inclement climes. Chris Caldicott’s photography takes us into farmhouses where fires crackle as they fuel ancient black stoves, enamelware trumps fancy serving dishes, and there, in the midst of all the recipes, a rainbow arcs across a steel-grey sky – a double-paged message of beauty and potential that exists in spite of all the rain and sleet and snow; a reminder that things won’t stay grey forever.
Carolyn offers up edible tonics for seasonal maladies, along with easy snacks, hot toddies and classic English puddings – each and every page designed to coddle the reader into rosy-cheeked contentedness.
I’ve always been seduced by any sort of baked cheese, so as my recipe test I chose Whole Camembert Baked with Garlic and Rosemary. So quick, so wicked, so ideal for sharing with some chunks of oven-warmed sourdough bread and a bowlful of crudités. Here’s the recipe for all you fromage fans out there:
1 whole room temperature Camembert (250g/ 9oz size in a wooden box)
1 plump clove of garlic, sliced,
1 sprig of rosemary
Warm baguette or ciabatta
Mixed crudités – carrot, celery, raw mushrooms, fennel, apple…
Slices of your favourite saucisson and ham
Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5
Tip the Camembert out of its wooden box, remove the wrapping and carefully squeeze the cheese back into the box. Using a small knife make a few slits in the top of the cheese and insert the garlic slices and rosemary leaves.
Place the Camembert on a baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes or so, until the garlic is golden, the cheese has a slightly swollen appearance and feels soft and molten to the touch.
When I reached into the fridge today I saw immediately that a hungry mouse had nibbled at my perfectly-ripe Camembert de Normandie au lait cru from the dairy at St-Hilaire de Briouze (in London you can buy this at the Hamish Johnston fromagerie on Northcote Road, SW11), but there was still plenty left for me to play with. In the store cupboard I had a couple of bulbs of black garlic from The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight, so I substituted that for regular garlic. Black garlic has the consistency of treacle once the clove is exposed, so if you use this, poke holes into the Camembert with the end of a chopstick or similar, and use it again to push the gooey garlic into the cheese.
I absolutely hate cleaning the oven, so I try to protect its innards as much as possible and therefore set the wooden Camembert box on a small enamel dish before placing it in the oven. Thank goodness I did – the cheese was flowing out of the box like lava after 15 minutes in the heat.
This recipe couldn’t be easier to follow. I served the molten cheese with sourdough bread, heirloom radishes and batons of cucumber, whilst watching Kind Hearts and Coronets – a film to warm the cockles, as we say in London Town.
One final suggestion in the lead-up to Christmas: if you know someone who’d benefit from a bit of TLC, why not package this up with a copy of a heart-warming DVD or book and a pair of super-long socks with padded soles?
To order Comfort at the discounted price of £7.99 including p&p if within the UK (or +£2.50 for orders from outside of the UK) please call +44 1903 828 503 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and quote the offer code APG258.
Comfort – Recipes to warm the heart and feed the soul, by Carolyn Caldicott, photographs by Chris Caldicott
Published by Frances Lincoln
I received a copy of this book for review and all the opinions expressed in this post are my own.
For the true grub-loving gastronome, the most fatal by-product of enjoying our food has to be weight gain. Monsieur and I are no different, loving our food as we do and engaged in a constant battle of taste versus calorific content. It was therefore serendipitous to catch a tweet from Quadrille Books, asking for bloggers to review Lighten Up by Jill Dupleix.
I admit that Dupleix’s name was relatively new to me, so for a girl with shelves plural devoted to cookbooks, I have had to ask myself why this is the first of Dupleix’s fourteen books to break into the Epicurienne fold. As I learn more about this seasoned kitchen whiz, I am astounded that her profile isn’t better known in London. I thought it might just be me, so I asked some foodie friends about Dupleix. Apparently, it wasn’t just me. It would seem that unless you’re a regular reader of The Spectator or The Times food columns, you may just have missed this writer, much like I have, and that is what I’d call an absolute travesty of gastronomic proportions. Here’s why.
Dupleix’s website profile tells us that she was born on a sheep farm in Australia, growing up with ‘good, fresh, no-nonsense home cooking’. (This sentence alone makes me nostalgic for the freshness of unregulated Downunder produce). But, in spite of a growing passion for food, Dupleix didn’t enter the realm of the food writer until she’d done a spell of copywriting, encompassing such non-food-related topics as cars and fashion. Then something happened along the way and a passion for food, cookery and restaurants overtook all else. Dupleix first took the mantle of Cookery Editor for the Sydney Morning Herald, later moving to London to do the same job for The Times. Nowadays, Dupleix contents herself with freelance food writing and cookbook work, which is a good thing indeed, especially for foodies whose nightmares involve a set of bathroom scales.
Bring on Lighten Up, the latest Dupleix offering, first released in 2007. From the moment I first flicked through this brightly-covered paperback, I was a fan. Then I read the introduction and became a total Jill Dupleix acolyte. Once I proceeded to test the recipes for myself, I started daydreaming about hanging out with Dupleix in her kitchen, making Chawan Mushi.
So what makes this book different from its rivals? For a start, the inspiration. Dupleix has created a more easygoing, lighter alternative to the heavier northern hemisphere diet, which sees altogether too many antipodeans expanding sideways once they’ve landed in the likes of North America or Europe. There is proven, personal inspiration also, in the form of Dupleix’s husband, Terry Durack, a restaurant critic who, through his self-professed love of long lunches, cultivated quite an impressive girth. With the help of Dupleix’s lighter approach to eating, he managed to lose an admirable 38 kilos. Now, with Lighten Up, we can all benefit from Dupleix’s tasty, healthy food and a few lost pounds to boot.
The book’s layout is so easy to follow that even a novice cook would find it difficult to make a hash of the recipes. The instructions are short and written in a brief, bullet point style, starting with the action required for each stage: SEAR, CUT, MIX, ADD, TOSS, TRIM, SERVE. The book is separated into sensible sections, such as Morning Food, Salad Food, Soupy Food, Spicy Food, Fast Food and Slow Food. These are interspersed with snack ideas using bananas, bread (yes, the Dupleix Way even bread-based snacks can be good for you!), Japanese ingredients like nori and miso, and perhaps not surprisingly, tofu. There’s a glossary of terms so you have no excuse for mistaking your tamari for tamarind, and if you’d like to know what kitchen accessories rate high on Dupleix’s list, you will find out in Lighten Up.
That’s the summary, but in practice, what are the recipes like? So far, so scrumptious. I’ve particularly enjoyed the ease of Fast Roast Fish with Anchovies, the Fresh Salmon burgers with dill pickles and watercress and Spring Onion Scallops served in their shells, which were so professionally tasty that friends might think you’d called in the caterers. Grilled Chicken with Salsa Verde has received exacting Monsieur’s seal of approval and I’m happily working my way through the little recipes in the Extras section. But what I particularly love about Lighten Up is that it’s time-friendly to the full-time working woman, allowing weight-loss to be quick in preparation with any sense of deprivation completely eliminated.
Still on food but with a whole different slant, here are some articles by Dupleix:
How I shrunk food critic Terry Durack, where Dupleix talks about transforming her husband from Mr Piggy into Mr Fit
Hollywood audiences must think we never eat, where Dupleix wonders why Great Australians are never seen eating on film
And if you want to try out some fantastic sweetcorn fritters, here’s a Dupleix recipe for you. Oh, boy, I’m actually making myself hungry now.
Lighten Up is certainly a worthwhile introduction to Dupleix, with the tantalising photography by Petrina Tinslay spurring me on to try more and more of the Lighten Up recipes. Next on my list will be Chicken Tortilla Soup with Avocado, Watermelon Carpaccio with feta cheese and kalamata olives and the Crab Salad with pumpernickel crisps. When I’m done with those I just might let have to pop along to Books for Cooks to pick up another of the thirteen Dupleix books I have yet to read. I have a funny feeling that Jill Dupleix will be popping up again on Epicurienne, so if you like her style, watch this space.