Today, I’m kicking off another Accent Press author Kristen Bailey‘s Christmas blog party with a fairytale of New York. Do pop over, take a look and follow the rest of the tour. It’s going to be a blinder. Essential reading for all book, booze and food lovers.
Kristen Bailey’s debut novel, Souper Mum, is published today by Accent Press and I have the great honour of welcoming her to my blog. Kristen is a kindred spirit; she’s as hopeless in the kitchen as I am! Some of you might remember my Great British Burn Off? But today’s all about Kristen. Over to you…
Can I cook? Well, in theory, yes. For example, if you gave me a chicken breast, I could season it, apply heat to it and you’d end up with one cooked chicken breast. Ta-dah! The problem is I’d probably overcook it. It’d be charred (code for burnt) on the outside and inside the consistency of chalk but yes, definitely cooked. Bon Appetit!
My culinary prowess is a bit of a running joke in my family. It started back at school where I had to create a dish for my Home Economics lesson. I had the truly great idea that I’d coat bits of cod in cornflakes. I called them Fish Flips. I didn’t use any binding agent like egg or flour. So it just ended up as shrunken rubbery pieces of cod in a sea of baked cornflakes. Yum. My brother still brings up this spectacular culinary fail fifteen years down the line. When there is talk of Christmas, family birthdays and celebration meals, the conversation often goes as such:
Mum: It’s my birthday! Let’s go out for dinner!
Me: I could cook?
Mum: Or we could go out for dinner?
And I’m not sure why I’m so bad at cooking, I give it a good ol’ stab. I have cookbooks about my person which I bookmark and drool over. I watch the odd cookery show and help myself to those random recipe cards you find at the back of supermarkets. But for some reason, those glossy pictures of burnished lamb shanks with crowns of rosemary, and lustrous fruit tarts usually get lost in translation through my cooking skills. I’m not sure if it’s my bad maths that can never work out the timings or perhaps there is something fundamentally wrong with my palate but many a time, my kids curiously drag their forks around their plates. Children who are essentially, the worst food critics, ever. ‘I don’t like it.’ Imagine that as a restaurant review in The Times, just that. Ouch.
And what is worse is that I come from a family of foodies. My mother is the archetypal kitchen-dwelling matriarch. When you eat at her table, it’s a veritable feast of courses and flavours and love. My sister produces layered, well-iced cakes that are GBBO worthy. I have aunts, cousins, grandmothers who have recipes and dishes that are firm family favourites. And then there’s me. Mac and cheese, anyone? I make a decent mac and cheese? With a side of frozen peas?
So in a market saturated with cook books, foodie blogs and faddy diet advice, I wrote Souper Mum for mums like me, the non-cooking sorts. The ones who try, who let occasional junk pepper their dining tables but who also level it out with a bit of broccoli. Mums who have limited cooking skill, fussy little customers and who have to think about other constraints like time, fatigue and budget. It’s like the proper Hunger Games. Your kitchens are the battlefields; they’re not the pastel, beech work-topped utopias you see in your cookbooks. These kitchens are covered in yesterday’s washing up, school newsletters, Lego and a remote control without any batteries. The mums within have little to no foodie wisdom or ability; they’re literally just winging it with a bag of pasta, a tin of chopped tomatoes and half a block of cheddar cheese.
My Souper Mum is Jools Campbell: she grills cupcakes, messes up scrambled eggs and has never really worked out the secret mastery involved in chopping onions. Let’s just say I had a catalogue of excellent bad-cooking anecdotes to lend to her story. Her journey is one of self-discovery – the same one that I think most mothers go on when they find themselves embroiled in parenthood and are trying to dig through the debris to remember what’s important in life and reclaim their sense of identity. Her story is set against a foodie culture she decides to take a stand against with hilarious if life-altering consequences. If your life is full of quinoa, samphire and you’re one of those full-on crazy people who feel the need to make their own puff pastry, then I warn you, you may not like what Jools has to say. However, if tonight you’ve opened your kitchen cabinet, reached for the baked beans and are examining those last few slices of bread for mould then Souper Mum might just be your new best friend….
Souper Mum is the story of Jools Campbell, a stay-at-home mother of four, who becomes an unlikely foodie hero when she stands up to a pompous celebrity chef, Tommy McCoy on a reality show. Armed with fish fingers and a severely limited cooking repertoire, we watch as she becomes a reluctant celebrity and learns some important life lessons about love, family and the joyless merits of quinoa.
To buy Souper Mum, click on this link:
Mother-of-four, gin-drinker, binge-watcher, receipt hoarder, hapless dog owner, enthusiastic but terrible cook. Kristen lives in Fleet, Hampshire and has had short fiction published in several publications. The sequel to Souper Mum will be published later in the year.
She writes a weekly blog about being a modern mother. That and more can be found at her website: http://www.kristenbaileywrites.com
You can also find her on:
Twitter @baileyforce6 and Facebook www.facebook.com/kristenbaileywrites
Sounds fantastic, Kristen. Best of luck – with the book (and tonight’s supper!). x
The launch party was ages ago now but I’ve been hectic, so it’s taken me a while to post about it. It was a delightful evening hosted in the gorgeous events room at New Writing South, well supported by lovely friends and colleagues in Brighton. Debbie and Barbie made the delicious cup cakes and Julia baked Mandy’s favourite cake – Victoria sponge. There was wine and beer and even a few books! Super talented Sarah Smith took the photos and here are a couple. There are more on my Pinterest site – Laura 1765 – so do check out my boards!
So here’s another recipe from my friend, Julia Cook’s (I know, I know) book. Another one I haven’t tried and never will given the alleged trickiness of getting soufflés just right, and my proven culinary ineptitude. If expert cooks mess it up I sure as hell will.
You will need:
50g/2oz plain flour
300ml/ ½ pint of lukewarm water
100g/4oz finely grated cheese (preferably stale)
1 level teaspoon made mustard
½ level teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Yolks of 3 large eggs
Whites of 3 or 4 large eggs
Melt the butter in a saucepan and add flour. Cook for 2 minutes without browning, stirring all the time
Gradually whisk in warm milk (do not use a spoon). Continue whisking gently until sauce comes to the boil and thickens
Simmer for about 2 minutes. Sauce should be thick and leave the sides of the pan quite clean
Remove from heat and cool slightly. Beat in cheese, mustard, salt, Worcestershire sauce and egg yolks
Beat egg whites to stiff snow. Gently fold into sauce mixture with a large metal spoon
Transfer to well-buttered 1 to 1 ¼ litre/ 2 to 2 ½ pint soufflé dish. Put in the centre of a moderately hot oven (190C/375F or Gas No.5)
Bake for 45 minutes. Soufflé should be well risen with a high, golden crown
Remove from the oven and serve immediately
It is VITAL not to open the oven door while the Soufflé is baking or it will fall
On the eve of official publication day, here’s a recipe that Mandy would approve of. I remember my grandmother serving liver regularly. Offal is dirt cheap and I’m told by my fella and sons that this is extremely tasty. Personally, I’d rather eat my own tongue, but hey-ho, we’re all different. I’m including a photograph of the book, because it’s lovely to have one to hold and sniff. Forget the smell of cooking, there’s nothing to beat freshly printed pages!
You will need:
250g/8oz calves’ or lambs’ liver
2 level tablespoons flour
Salt and pepper
300ml/ ½ pint milk
2-3 tablespoons double cream
Cut liver into small pieces
Roll in flour seasoned with salt and pepper
Fry gently in hot butter until cooked through and golden brown. Stir in remaining flour
Gradually blend in milk. Cook slowly, stirring, until mixture thickens. Simmer for 5 minutes
Stir in cream
This recipe is from Yorkshire Television’s Farmhouse Kitchen book of 1982 and one that Mandy might have served up to the pickets and children. I love it because it’s such a quirky-but-perfect name and also because the recipe is credited to a Mrs Ruth Brooke & Mrs Sheila Powell of Hove and Portslade, Sussex, which is where I live now!
These dumplings used to be served with a good gravy and, like Yorkshire Puddings, before the meat course. The rule was those that ate most puddings could have most meat, a canny way to save meat! They can also be served as a sweet course with golden syrup.
You will need:
100g/4ozs self-raising whole wheat flour
100g/4oz self-raising white flour
100g/4oz shredded suet
¼ teaspoon of salt
7 to 8 tablespoons of milk
Boiling stock or water
Mix dry ingredients and suet
Mix to stiff dough with milk
Take tablespoons of mixture and form into balls
Have ready a saucepan of boiling stock or water in which the dumplings can be submerged
Slip dumplings into pan and boil for 15/20 minutes
Drain well and serve with a good gravy, or golden syrup!
Mandy, my lead in Public Battles, Private Wars, is a Yorkshire lass through and through, but she’s partial to this famous dish from across the border. Short of cash, Mandy cooks it for the families and pickets in the soup kitchens during the strike, often replacing the neck of lamb with much cheaper cuts. Don’t tell anyone – but it tastes just as good! Try it with bacon, or left over scraps of beef. One last tip for budgeters everywhere: my Grandma used to add left over veg, like carrots and cabbage to pad it out.
You will need:
750g/1lb 8oz best end neck of lamb
2 lambs’ kidneys
500g/1lb of potatoes
250g/8ox of onions
Salt and Pepper
150ml/ ¼ pint stock or water
25g/1oz of melted butter
Cut the lamb into cutlet, removing surplus fat
Peel and core the kidneys. Cut into slices
Thinly slice potatoes and onions
Cover base of 1 to 1 ½ litre/2 to 3 pint casserole dish with some of the potato slices
Stand lamb on top
Cover with kidneys and onions
Sprinkle with salt and pepper
Arrange overlapping rings of rest of potatoes on top.
Pour in the stock water
Brush with butter
Cover the dish
Cook in the middle of a moderate oven (180 C/350 F or Gas Mark 4) for 1 ¼ hours
Remove the lid and cook for a further 30 minutes (till the tatties are golden brown)
8 shelled oysters may be added if you’re feeling flush.
During the year-long miners’ strike of 1984/85, many families suffered extreme hardship. Social security benefits were cut on the premise that miners were in receipt of strike pay. Like the government’s overarching policy on fossil fuel, this was a politically motivated decision, not an economic one. And it wasn’t true; the NUM pocket was almost empty, and were it not for fundraising efforts and soup kitchens many people, and children, would have gone hungry.
Offal is, and was, ridiculously cheap, with the added benefit of being packed full of protein, vitamins and all round goodness. Low in fat too. So in Public Battles, Private Wars Mandy and her team serve them up frequently. Here’s a recipe for those of you who, unlike me, are not of a squeamish or vegetarian disposition.
Devilled Kidneys (feeds four)
You will need:
4 pigs’ kidneys
2 level tablespoons of flour
Salt and pepper
50g/2oz of butter
1 medium-sized chopped onion
300ml or ½ pint of water
2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce
2 level teaspoons made mustard
2 teaspoon of tomato puree
1 level tablespoon of finely chopped parsley
4 slices of hot buttered toast
Skin and core the kidneys
Cut them into ½ cm or ¼ inch thick slices
Toss in flour seasoned with the salt and pepper
Melt butter in a saucepan, add the onion and fry till pale gold
Add kidneys and any remaining flour. Cook slowly for another 5 minutes, turning frequently
Combine the water with the Worcestershire sauce, mustard, puree and parsley and then pour into the pan
Cook slowly, stirring, till the mixture comes to the boil and thickens
Lower the heat and cover the pan. Simmer for 15 minutes
Serve on toast.
Okay, so I was going to share a Victoria sponge recipe next, but I changed my mind. Another old-fashioned food staple mentioned in Public Battles, Private Wars are FLODDIES. I am utterly useless in the kitchen, so perhaps not the best benchmark, but I’d not even heard of these before I wrote the novel. Cheap, easy to prepare (yes, as part of my research I made them) and brilliant for using up left-overs. And boy, are they delicious.
A way to use up a small amount of cold, cooked meat. You can also use chicken and turkey.
1 large potato peeled
1 medium onion peeled
1 beaten egg
25g/1 oz self-raising flour
75g/3oz bacon, finely chopped
A pinch of mixed herbs (optional)
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying
- Grate potato and onion into a basin
- Mix in the egg
- Add flour, chopped bacon, herbs and seasoning and mix well
- Heat oil in a heavy-based frying pan
- Fry tablespoons of the mixture, turning until golden brown both sides.
There are a number of themes in Public Battles, Private Wars, one of which is food. Mandy Walker, my lead, likes to cook and she loves to bake cakes. As a cook-the-basics-when-I-have-to (i.e. for the kids) and a non-baker, I had to do some research. Given that the novel is set against the backdrop of the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike, I needed to look at old cook books and those with budget recipes, as well as swankier dishes. Luckily for me, I work part-time in a school and one of the more experienced teachers is a keen baker, and a jolly fine one too. She kindly leant me some of the cookery books she used as a young wife and mother in the late 70s and 80s. Thank you, Julia Cook – and yes, that is her real name. You couldn’t make it up.
It was such a joy to read (and feel) these plain but somehow beautiful, obviously very well loved, tomes. I believe it’s the love that makes them beautiful. Public Battles, Private Wars is set in a fictional Yorkshire pit village so you can imagine my delight to discover that the Farmhouse Kitchen was based on a series broadcast by Yorkshire Television during the timeframe. The Dairy Book of Home Cookery was published by the now defunct Milk Marketing Board and, though we are much more cholesterol conscious these days, there are plenty of wonderful, non-dairy recipes in it. Over the coming months, I’m going to share some recipes of dishes and cakes mentioned in the novel. Have a go a baking some and let me know how you get on. I might just tell you how I fared when I attempted some.
I’ll start with a cake that is, for me at least, quintessentially Yorkshire: Parkin.
Parkin is a form of gingerbread, and Yorkshire Parkin is made using oats. Traditionally, it is eaten on Bonfire Night (November 5th and my son, Ginger1’s birthday) celebrating the famous failure of Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Guy Fawkes was a Yorkshireman.
- 8 oz/220g soft butter
- 4 oz/110g soft, dark brown sugar
- 2oz / 55g black treacle/molasses
- 7oz / 200g golden syrup/ corn syrup
- 5oz/ 120g medium oatmeal
- 7 oz/ 200g self raising flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 4 tsp ground ginger
- 2 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 2 tbsp milk
- Grease an 8″ x 8″/ 20cm x 20cm square cake tin.
- In a large heavy-based saucepan melt together the butter, sugar, treacle, golden syrup over a gentle heat. Do not allow the mixture to boil, you simply need to melt these together.
- In a large, spacious, baking bowl stir together all the dry ingredients. Gradually add the melted butter mixture stirring to coat all the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
- Gradually, beat in the eggs a few tablespoons at a time. Finally add the milk and again stir well.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and cook for 1½ hours until firm and set and a dark golden brown.
- Remove the parkin from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. Once cool store the Parkin in an airtight tin for a minimum of 3 days if you can resist eating it, you can even leave it up to a week before eating and the flavors really develop and the mixture softens even further and become moist and sticky. The Parkin will keep up to two weeks in an airtight container.