Sunday, 29 August 2010

Feeding a house guest

My mother-in-law was staying with us for a week this last week. It is slightly different having a house guest for a prolonged period compared to guests over for the evening. For a start, you have to tidy up properly rather than just pushing things into cupboards out of sight otherwise you're stuck for a whole week not able to open that cupboard! But also, you can't eat like a dinner party for 7 nights in a row. No one has the stamina to cook like that night after night and no one has the stomach for it either. Having said that, you know you can't just boil some pasta, grate some cheese over it and fork it into your mouth whilst watching TV... it just won't do!

So for the past 7 nights I have been cooking a variety of "nice" meals. Not overblown, show-off cookery nor reheated make-do meals. Instead, a few good quality ingredients, simply cooked. What makes that a good deal more achievable is access to the very freshest, organic fruit and vegetables, something top chefs not only prefer but often insist upon. Seasonal vegetables, picked within hours of being eaten, fruit hand picked and handled with care. Something that is worth paying a premium for and yet readily available from my allotment plot just on the other side of my garden fence.

On the menu this week, chops, gammon, fish and sausages, served with chips, mash, santed potatoes, new potatoes, baked potatoes, French beans, carrots, broccoli, sweetcorn, beetroot, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, courgettes, onions and fresh herbs. Perhaps the finest meal was Wednesday's when everything in the salad was homegrown.

And for dessert...? Strawberry swirl cheesecake, raspberry trifle, chocolate courgette muffins and apple & cinnamon crumble.

With a menu like that who needs to eat out?

Apple Crumble

Apple crumble is a classic bake but some versions can be overly sweet with a sickly, sticky crumble topping. This recipe retains its fruity flavours and the crumble topping is reminiscent of flapjacks.

2 lb (900 g) apples – peeled and sliced
1 oz (25g) soft light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 oz (85g) sultanas
2 tablespoons water
4 oz (110g) wholemeal flour
4 oz (110g) oats
4 oz (110g) light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 oz (85g) butter

Place the apples, sugar, cinnamon, sultanas and water in a large pan and cook with the lid on for twenty minutes until fluffy – stir occasionally. In the meantime, preheat oven to 180°C (gas 4). In a bowl, add the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder and butter and use finger tips to rub into crumbs. Spoon the apple mix into a suitable ovenproof dish and layer the crumble mix on top. Level it off then bake in the oven for 30 minutes until golden brown. Serve with custard.

Replace the apples with fruit such as plums or rhubarb. Also try reducing the weight of apples and replacing it with blackberries.


  1. Our neighbours decided to go away for two weeks right at the point when the peaches on their peach tree were ripening. As luck would have it, we're the ones with the small kid who don't have to go away during the school holidays so we were the only ones left to take the crop off their hands. Tragic. Yesterday I made the most delicious peach crumble, also using rolled oats in the topping. Perfect with ice-cream as well as custard! No wonder I still haven't lost my baby weight!

  2. By the way - living in Germany now, I totally understand what you mean about having guests (often my mother and partner) for a longer period of time. I do make the mistake of forcing us all to overeat. It's as though every evening is a special occasion. On the other hand, with a small (sometimes picky) toddler and plenty of friends with the same, I don't often get to cook more adventurous grown-up meals so having a couple of extra adults in the house to feed is sometimes rather nice!