stories

Things I learned in lockdown

left: original artwork, right: the tea towel itself (creased, stained and used)
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You can make 4 ingredient biscuits in 20 minutes.

The BA cookies leave you with a couple of spare egg whites which can be used to make Ricciarelli - Italian almond cookies - which are perfect with a cup of coffee. The recipe is here - you can add lemon or orange zest too (I left out the vanilla). An old school friend who is now baking beautiful things in Portugal shared this recipe and the knowledge that you can freeze egg whites (!). You can follow her baking adventures here.

You can make good popcorn at home cheaply, but you need to look up a recipe first.

I’ve tried making salted popcorn at home several times by heating olive oil and chucking in salt and kernels in a small lidded pan; every time has ended up with a bowl of mostly burnt or half-popped kernels (which is still reluctantly eaten). I finally looked up how to make good popcorn properly last week and it was a delight - definitely as good as shop-bought but I think it would need butter to be as good as cinema quality (I miss the cinema). The recipe uses coconut or olive oil and a larger pan and took a few minutes, you can find it here.

Daal is something warming and healing, not a store cupboard last-resort.

I’ve fallen in love with homemade daal after trying Anna Jones & Meera Sodha’s recipes. Both use coconut milk but one is full of flavour and heavier spices, the other is fragrant and light. They can both still be made using ingredients you might have stored already and go well with a homemade naan.

Coffee is nicer when you grind your beans.

Sorry. I now spend ten minutes with scales and a timer to make my coffee on the weekends. It’s Covid’s fault.

Don’t trust recipes if it doesn’t look right.

This one’s simple: if whatever recipe you're following isn’t looking right, add more of what you think needs to be in there. I’m speaking after a *slightly* traumatic Franco Manca pizza dough attempt at the weekend which needed at least 20% more flour to avoid the soggy mess it became.

Fat is important, always, but different fats are better at different times.

I use olive oil for everything, but I know it’s got a low smoking point and isn’t the best for cooking some foods. We usually cook chips and roast potatoes in the oven by heating olive oil in a tray before chucking the potatoes in; this time we tried sunflower oil instead (something which usually sits forgotten under the sink). The results were completely different - they were crispy on the outside and so, so fluffy inside. They held their shape better than usual too. The method was the same, all we changed was the fat.

You can make sauce using cashews really easily.

I’ve always hated mayo, but equally hated the idea of vegan mayo as I really don’t want anything that is trying to imitate eggs. I also (despite drinking nut milks) find the idea of milking nuts beyond recognition really strange. My copy of Meera Sodha’s East fell open on the page for a simple cashew-based hot sauce on the day we were having sausage sarnies. It only requires 100g cashews, 1 garlic clove and some powdered spice and lasted a week in the fridge; it was great on toast and with salads too. You could add paprika and use it on tacos and burritos.

Sourdough is an exciting, weird thing to experiment with.

Once you’ve got through the uncertain period of transforming literally just flour and water into something that grows and bubbles, sourdough starter is a low-maintenance thing to live in your fridge. I’m not a baker and do not own any of the ‘right’ equipment for making bread. So far both of my attempts at a loaf of bread have produced enormous, oval beasts; the base is not flat so it’s impossible to cut as the loaf rocks on the chopping board and the top is essentially burnt… Regardless, it tastes incredible but I'm looking forward to having time to create less imperfect bread. You can also make other types of bread, pizza dough, pancakes, crumpets, muffins and crackers with your starter; it's been so rewarding.

Brown butter is delicious.

I knew this already - but I’m convinced it’s what makes BA’s cookies the best-ever. It’s also what makes sage butter so good.