Thursday, 29 March 2012

Drowning in a sea of twee

(Photo: Woman & Home)

I’m more than a bit hacked off with the recent trend of lifestyle-over-content cookery programmes. I feel that less and less is about the recipes and the cooking, and more about what sort of vintage crockery I should be serving my desserts in, or what kind of salvage tiles I should be coveting for my kitchen. In the new series ‘The Little Paris Kitchen’ I’m so distracted by what Rachel Khoo is wearing that I actually forget what it is that she is cooking at all. (Yes, yes, I do covet all her lovely bright vintage dresses, so very annoying that I rise to the bait like this!)

I was lunching with friends P and M yesterday, and they urged me to watch this new show as they knew it would get my goat on many levels. So of course I couldn’t resist the challenge and watched two episodes as soon as I got home, and found myself so irked by the programme that I actually can’t wait to watch the next episode… hah! It’s not just the over-stylised way the programme is made (each and every piece of crockery is a beautiful and lustworthy vintage item, everything is cute and twee and pretty) but the premise of the programme is confusing.

Why on earth would you want to watch a British girl re-interpret French dishes? She makes very strange re-hashes of classics such as muffin-style Croque Madame (strange) and Coq au Vin skewers (why? Whatever next, a beef borguignon kebab?) She interviews people in a leaden and stilted way, asking a Moroccan tea specialist if he used boiling water in his kettle to make tea (really?) and showing off her matiness with the local fishmongers. I’d be more interested in watching someone French cook really great French food, instead of cringing while a Brit ex-pat tries to re-invent the wheel and demonstrate her palliness with the locals. Not to say that all of Miss Khoo’s food looks bad, and some of it does look tasty enough, it’s just a question of why would anyone want to make French-style food when the real deal is pretty much perfect and not difficult to make in the first place? As P said, ‘I want to hold her face onto her stupid hotplate’. It’s like someone going to Italy and teaching the Italians how to make pasta…gah…really rather bloody irritating. Even if she has done a Cordon Bleu course!

I haven’t finished…remember Sophie Dahl’s much-panned ‘The Delicious Miss Dahl’ cookery programme? She seems like a very lovely lady, but I found I was rather more entranced by all her chipped enamelware ladles, rustic chopping boards and the fabulousness of the kitchen, which had been over-styled to within an inch of its life to resemble a delightfully bohemian enclave, complete with ‘authentic’ travel knick-knacks, bunches of gnarly onions hanging from rustic twine, and gorgeous pottery plates (all mismatched and chipped, of course). I have very few memories of what Sophie actually cooked (apart from one roasted tomato soup), but do remember tittering while Miss Dahl went and sat on a vintage velvet chaise longue and read out some poetry or stared winsomely out of a window at the rain. I kept expecting Jamie Cullum (her husband) to pop in and start singing. Everything was incredibly stilted and smacked of fakery, especially as I then learned that the kitchen where the series was shot was completely mocked up to look as though Sophie lived there. (But of course it would be, what was I thinking!)

Nigella was probably the original vehicle for all the over-styled over-sexed lifestyle-mag cookery show trend, what with her lusty glances as she licked spoons batting her eyes to camera, while her gorgeous KitchenAid mixer twinkled under strings of artfully festooned fairy lights and beautiful bouquets of flowers drooped handsomely near her Le Creuset cookware. Not to mention her flirtatiousness with the camera – it could be so hilarious at times that the food really does take a back seat. You are either agog at Nigella’s brazen raunchy moves, or coveting that lovely salad bowl (from her product line, of course). When I found out that, unsurprisingly, Nigella’s beautiful home had been recreated on some industrial estate to enable filming of one of the more recent series, I still felt cheated.

All of these programmes and their ilk leave me wondering whether any of the people in them know anything much at all about food, and whether we should really be blaming the stylists and producers of such shows who appear to all be in league to make us feel inadequate for not living in chic and retro bohemian splendour – and all the while the food sulks moodily in the corner. What do you lot think? Am I just a dreadful curmudgeon? Or are you also sick of feeling like you’re being preached to by the home and style police?

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Pineapple Tarte Tatin



Greetings. I hardly ever have time to blog anymore. I have a small baby and she has eaten up all my spare minutes. So you can imagine, it’s a miracle that I can actually sit down and type anything whatsoever, given that I am existing on roughly six hours’ broken sleep a night and consuming the equivalent of the EU wine lake in the evenings (parenthood needs its perks, ah oui). When I do get any inspiration for the blog, my baby has other ideas, and then when I finally get to my laptop, I forget what it was that I wanted to write in the first place as I’m so very weary…

It’s also incredible that I manage to cook any proper meals at the moment,  so when I do get a little window of time, it’s actually a real treat to make a proper recipe. Which is how this tart came about – we were having friends over for lunch on Sunday and the main course of coq au vin needed a nice French pud to round it off. Tarte Tatin is such a classic, but instead of sticking to the traditional filling of apples, I played around a bit with a mixture of recipes (Roux Brothers for technique, Thomasina Miers for the pastry) and used pineapple instead, as I was feeling a bit festive. It tasted pretty damned good, even if I do say so myself. I ate three slices that day. Enjoy.

Serves 6

You will need:

250g plain flour
25g icing sugar
125g butter
2 egg yolks

1 ripe pineapple, skin removed, flesh cored and cut into large chunks about 3cms thick – you might have leftovers
100g butter
150 sugar

To make the make the pastry, whiz the butter, sugar and flour in a food processor and then add the egg yolks, using the pulse button intermittently until you have a mixture that is almost coming together, like big breadcrumbs. Add a tiny bit of water bit by bit until the mixture comes together into a ball. Turn out onto some clingfilm, press into a flattish disk, wrap it up in the clingfilm then chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 220C.

Cut up your pineapple, then blot on kitchen paper to absorb excess juice. Grease a non-stick ovenproof frying pan (make sure the handle won’t melt!) that is about 20cm in diameter, then cut the rest of the butter up into cubes and dot on the frying pan bottom. Cover with the sugar, then add the pineapple chunks making sure you don’t leave any large gaps.




Roll out the pastry until it’s wide enough to cover the diameter of your frying pan, then cover the fruit, allowing for a 2cm overlap all round. Tuck the pastry in around the edges, then trim the ragged edge with a knife to neaten. Chill the tart in the frying pan in the fridge for 20 minutes.


Take the frying pan out of the fridge, then fry the tart on a fierce heat on the stove for about 10 – 15 minutes to allow the fruit to caramelise.


Then bake in the oven for 10 – 15 minutes, keeping a close eye on the pastry to ensure that it doesn’t over-brown, as the oven will be very hot, and everyone’s oven is different! The tart is ready when the pastry is golden brown.


Allow the pan to cool down for a few minutes, but when it’s still warm, very carefully (using oven gloves and tea towels for protection against burning yourself) tip the frying pan and the tart upside down onto a serving plate. Voila – you will see your beautifully caramelised fruits on top of the pastry. Some of the fruit will have come away, so reposition it on the pastry.

Serve with whipped cream flavoured with vanilla extract and sweetened with a little icing sugar. Cut the tart with a very sharp knife, as the pastry is quite short and prone to breaking when you cut it.


(I had tried sprinkling the fruit with cardamom powder and a little ground black pepper before covering it with the pastry lid, but I was too light-handed and you could barely taste it. Next time I’ll go at it with the big guns, ‘cause pineapple goes so well with spice).