Friday, 18 January 2013

January 18th - The deconstructed meal is very French

Dear Nigel,

There is a fad for deconstructed Black Forest Gateaux around. Where it started and when (like one of those elaborate chain letters....'do this or something bad will happen to you...') I have no idea. My number three son, Will, had one at the pub/restaurant the other day. It tasted lovely but warningly reminded me of nouvelle cuisine - not much food smeared around a plate to look good: any intelligent six month baby could probably produce similar results. No, that's being disingenuous. It did look beautiful, but I think I would have felt cheated that it wasn't accompanied by the other seven portions clearly missing.

In our house the deconstructed meal has long been around. We are obviously ahead of fashion. My five year old, Molly, prefers the deconstructed Spag Bol. whereby she studiously oiks out every bit of mince from the sauce. My eldest son, James, will remove every scrap of mushroom from a casserole and there's very little left of a stir-fry once Hannah has removed mange tout, peppers,mushrooms and beans. Thus it ever was. Babies will eat anything, toddlers and children (although when that stops i don't know) are fusspots, generally - unless you have one of those precocious brats who make a point of eating something very adult - and usually expensive - just to get everyone in the room's attention: ...'Hugo just adores Jackfruit...'

There is nothing new in deconstruction. The french have been doing it for years. Take a perfectly good cooked and presented meal and they will eat their way round the plate item by item. We may choose to combine meat, sauce and veg. on the same fork; the french will finish off all their beans before turning to the potatoes. This reminds me of me as a child, and probably you? There was something very comforting in eating your way clockwise round a plate, or eating round a piece of toast before getting to the middle. And who hasn't bashed a Tunnock's teacake over the head and picked off all the chocolate first. This is deconstruction at its best - first the chocolate, then careful removal of the biscuit bottom, tongue in to remove the jam (if a jam one) and finally you are left with a perfect dome of flummery.

I made my own attempt at deconstruction this lunchtime: toast with all the toppings removed again. I have a thing for real buttered toast that involves me, the toaster in close proximity, and the butter dish. The toast has to be straight out of the toaster and therefore just too hot to eat, the butter only just added so that it hasn't had time to melt, and the melting point in my mouth. At this point a good piece of sourdough toast is just perfect and needs no addition. I eat the topping separately.

I see you are making 'A hearty pie of chicken and leeks' tonight. This looks like a good possibility for a stretched larder at our house too as all the ingredients are available today....and Archie looks like he's going nowhere for the next few days with this snow. The school was closed again today. You make no distinction between homemade and shop-bought puff pastry, which is a relief. It is an easy base for a meal. I used to enjoy making proper bread croissants with my granny - all that folding in of bits of butter and plaiting of the dough  - but in general these days I resort  to a packet. The recipe (pg 29) makes virtue of a sauce made from a milk stock that the chicken is poached in, and together with other yummy things like bacon and a handful of Parmesan on the outer case will surely enliven the old taste buds. It is a winner.

The poached apples with ginger and anise is a real possibility also, given that I still have some star anise left over from the Chicken noodle broth ( 6th January, although I think it was a few days later when I got round to it). I like the comfort of warm apples and often prefer to microwave one with a handful of raisins or some left-over mincemeat than chomp into one, unless there's a good cheese to be had. The gently spiced syrup is made from apple juice, caster sugar, star anise, stem ginger and the wonderfully toffee syrup it comes in. You say, 'Odd as it seems, we ate this outside in the snow. The ginger-scented warmth and clarity of the juice encouraged us to eat it standing up in the garden, marvelling at the tall hedges weighed down with snow and the slowly darkening sky.' Don't think I'll be standing out in the snow, though. There's at least 6 inches now and its blowing a blizzard. I took the dog down to the ford at the bottom of the village and the only tracks were those of a tractor as the incline is so steep. It still amazes me that this, the posh end of the village, is almost completely populated by people with nice sports cars. Do they really drive them through the ford each day? or do they just polish them once a week - I've yet to see one move.

Warm, comforting food is just what we both need right now, and a real fire and a drop of that french black raspberry liquor I've been saving. Cheers,



  1. I have a daughter who, as a child, liked all the ingredients of an English trifle but not mixed!

  2. I am in favour of your method of deconstructing toast. It is exactly as I like to eat it. Jam, peanut butter or marmalade on a spoon straight from the jar, follows after toast and butter as described.

  3. Deconstruction and being a fusspot were indeed two features of my eating habits as a child. Sorry to say that, a couple of decades on, things are no diferent now! However, if it is true what you say about how the French eat, I may start using that as my retort when people shoot me down for my preferred method of eating around the plate!

  4. As Mireille Guiliano says in her book "French Women don't get fat", 'eat one thing on your plate at a time...and enjoy the full flavours. The mouthful as melange..defeats the purpose of variety.'

  5. Your blog was recommended to me via a friend on Twitter... what a find! When mine were little they ate what was put in front of them or went hungry (what a hard mother I must have been!) My grandchildren have reached the fussy stage. The 2 year old would eat anything and everything but now picks her way around the plate. Whilst by no means precocius, my 6 year old grandson will happily eat olives and calimari in a restuarant but ignore the pizza when it arrives. Deconstructions seems to be the thing if watching "Come Dine with Me" is anything to go by.

  6. I remember when my daughter was little she would eat the thing she liked least first and then the rest of the food in ascending order of favour. Allegedly this is a sign of gluttony as the child assumes they will still have room for what they like most at the end of the meal. Or something like that anyway. Always sounded like a load of old codswallop to me!!