Thursday, 15 December 2011

Celeriac & Barley Risotto

Rose Prince gave a recipe for this the other week in one of the weekend papers and it sounded so good I made it as soon as I got my hands on some celeriac. It doesn’t sound terribly promising, indeed I might even apply the adjective ‘worthy’, but it’s filling and warming and not at all stodgy. This makes enough for two.

Melt a good knob of butter in a pan and sweat a finely chopped onion. Cut half a head of peeled celeriac into matchsticks and add to the pan with a clove of chopped garlic. Stir in the butter for a couple of minutes, then add 150g or so of pearl barley. Coat in the butter, then pour over enough chicken stock to cover by 1cm. Put a lid on and leave for 15-20 minutes. Check how the barley’s cooking, it might need a splash more liquid. Cook until the barley is tender, but don’t expect it to amalgamate like risotto. The grains will stay completely separate. Season and squeeze in as much lemon juice as you like, but lots is the key, Serve topped with a good dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

It’s beginning to feel a lot like winter

Or at least, it is up here. The skies are menacingly grey and low, the wind is actually howling (no doubt exacerbated by the gaps around the front doors), we’ve had hail and even a little snow. And yet, at the Tarporley Christmas Lights Switch On last Friday, I definitely overheard someone who sounded like he knew what he was talking about, saying how the multitude of holly berries meant we were in for a mild winter. Since then I’ve been carefully examining all the holly I can see and I can categorically state – and the people of Scotland can rise up in chorus – there really aren’t any berries on any holly up here. Maybe he has a special, sheltered one. In the Caribbean.

But it is definitely starting to feel a bit Christmas-like. I don’t need a small child to feel excited about it; I genuinely love the run-up and up here it’s all a lot less frenetic and – dare I say – a lot more fun to do the dreaded shopping. I’m not going to lie and say I’ve spent mere pennies on buying locally-crafted wooden toys for all made by cherry-cheeked Cheshire people, but there just isn’t the stress of a mass of humanity rushing to do the same thing in the same place at the same time. I’m also a bit more reliant on the internet which does take the fraughtness out of it. And I am sailing through a short but defined list of achievements.

1. We have decorated. See random picture (which for some reason I can’t crop) of our big tree.


It is purple and silver and the photo really doesn’t do it justice as I think it’s so so beautiful. I bought proper decorations (actually from the lovely garden centres round here) and it is splendid. We even have a small (real) one in the lounge for MCD Jr to stand and – oddly – rub his face against like a small cat. Whatever makes him happy.

2. I have ordered the Christmas meat. This year it’s a gigantic rib of beef. I follow Nigella’s Christmas book like a mantra, although in reality it’s no more stressful than a roast. On Christmas Eve we shall have a ham with her parsnip, potato and porcini gratin, which feels like the start of a tradition in itself.

3. I have mostly done the shopping apart from one last Amazon order and a little more internet magic. This I am incredibly proud of but I have been like a general, sending people spirit-crushing emails along the lines of IF YOU DON’T TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT BY THE END OF THIS WEEK, YOU SHALL BE GETTING NOTHING AT ALL. Two family members are in hideous peril of this actually happening; it makes me quite ill to think they might not have a gift to open.

4. I have organised our first ever pre-Christmas drinks. Actually what happened was I sent a text to my new friend asking if she and her husband wanted to come over. She phoned and said, in a terribly efficient manner ‘And shall I bring trifle or a cheeseboard?’ I leaned my head against the patio and admitted I had gotten no further than the excitement of making poinsettia cocktails out of Nigella and could we not make do with crisps? She countered with fried chicken from the kebab house. I am now making a lamb and date tagine (Nigella again!) to continue the illusion I am a grown-up and I hadn’t thought we might just sit and drink and everything would be fine in the morning.

5. I have bought a really large tupperware box to freeze the tagine in as I shall make it before we go away for a few days.

6. We stop and look at the nativity scene in the village every time we go past. This is in the vain effort to educate my 14-month-old son in the ways of a nativity sheep (he is one) and that they go ‘baaa’ and stand quietly, looking solemnly at the wonder of the new baby. I have an inkling his strategy is to employ his three new favourite noises which is to snort like a pig if he doesn’t know the animal noise; to follow with a slightly dampened roar (unlike his dinosaur roar which is full-on) which is his version of hee-haw (like a donkey) and then (his latest and never fails – alas – to send us both stupid with laughter and I know I shouldn’t encourage) to strain to make a fart because apparently it’s very funny when he does so.

It’s going to be a very noisy Christmas.