Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Contented Cook

Xanthe Clay's Spanish Canas.  
Photograph by Tara Fisher from The Contented Cook, Kyle Books

I spent yesterday packaging vanilla powder for the vanilla gift swap.  The smell takes me straight back to Uganda and the Ndali processing house. I realised that I couldn't take everyone I knew to Uganda .. but I could bring something back here instead.  I am so excited about the vanilla gift swap and I love bringing twitter and blogging into real life.  Seeing people laughing and suddenly meeting someone who they've been chatting with for months in person is just such fun and I have been busy making sweet yellow plums into french soft set jam with just a whisper of that seductive vanilla in it. 

It is my favorite time of year. There is bright September sunshine outside and the glory of summer has faded.  Occasionally I almost forget that we haven’t really had a summer. The only things that did well in my garden this year have been the herbs, the strawberries and the salad.  The rest has suffered with the whether.  Now the vegetable garden needs tending to and my house needs a good tidy after the summer holidays.  I suppose an untidy house is to be expected with three children vs one working mother. Never doubt that behind the scenes of domestic bliss I am peddling like mad to keep afloat.

Last night my husband lit the first fire. Walking across the garden wafts of pine wood smoke drifted. It is autumn and an evening indulging in new cookery books promised.  With the chickens shut away, and the days freshly laid eggs collected I curled up on the sofa to read some of the books that have landed on my doormat in the past few weeks. I have to admit that I feel a little guilty at indulging when there is so much to do, nevertheless I read on, listening to the fire crackle.  

Food writer and Telegraph journalist Xanthe Clay's new book The Contented Cook is exactly the kind of book I can just lose myself in.  The photographs are just beautiful, and the recipes are practical. For someone who has many cookbooks I find often find myself lost in deciding what to cook, but not with this one.  I wanted to cook everything.  You see the recipes in the book are practical in every sense of the word.  They are as you would expect from Xanthe well thought out and in a sensible order, but there is more than that.  It’s classily perfectly written to make me feel I can and will cook from it. I earmark the Hot and Sour Noodle Soup, the Squishy Almond cake and the Pan-fried Onglet with Fennel Seed Roast Potatoes.

As I read I am romanced.  Recipes have an almost therapeutic effect on me and I find myself  thinking that I need to remember that my children will not look back on their childhood and marvel at how clean the kitchen floor used to be… or how tidy the sitting room was.  They will remember the smells of baking, the laughter as we sit at the table and the feeling of warmth as they come home from school with their pockets full of conkers and the treats they ate whilst swapping stories about their day.  So I  shall make the  Spanish Canas for the children this evening and I’ve invited friends for supper later in the week so I’ve ordered the Onglet from my local butcher. 

As the fire glows I wonder how perfect moments happen.  They are like dreams hard to pin down and impossible  rarely but somehow whenever they do there always seems to be food about and there is contentment wherever there is food, and so the title Xanthes book rings so true.  

Here is the recipe for Xanthe’s Cañas

The Spanish chef and restaurateur José Pizarro’s parents, whom I was lucky enough to meet, are both in their seventies and still tend a smallholding of 20 hectares. Señora Pizarro fed me on her homemade cañas, crisp curls of flaky cinnamon-scented pastry, which melt richly in the mouth. Gorgeous with coffee or the hot chocolate on page 207.

Makes about 20
125ml olive oil, plus extra for deep-frying
Zest of ½ orange
375g plain flour
125ml white wine
125g caster sugar mixed with 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Heat the oil and the orange zest gently in a small pan for 5 minutes.

Put the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Pour in the hot oil and stir to mix. Add the white wine and mix again. Knead the dough lightly to make a soft, silky, but not sticky dough.

Roll out the dough to a thickness of about 3mm. Cut it in strips 15cm long and 4cm wide.

Heat oil in a pan or wok to a depth of about 5cm (ensure the pan is no more than half full) to 185°C or until a scrap of the dough browns in about 1½ minutes.

Take a cream horn mould or a 12cm length of stainless steel tube, about 3cm in diameter and wrap a strip of dough around it in a spiral. Put the whole wrapped mould into the hot oil and allow to sizzle for 10 seconds, or until the dough has stiffened and turned pale. With tongs, carefully pull out the metal mould, allowing the spiral of dough to slide back into the oil. Cook for a further minute or so until deep golden.

Carefully lift the spiral out of the oil and drain on kitchen paper. While still warm, dust with the sugar and cinnamon mixture. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

Please note that the both  recipe and photograph shown have been reproduced with full permission from the publisher.


  1. I'm a fan of Xanthe Clay's writing so thanks for sharing. Finally got round to listening to podcast of food programme - the whole series on spices was enlightening but after listening to the vanilla programme I will never begrudge paying higher prices for it again.

  2. What a lovely post, an inspiring book to add to my wish list, and a wonderful evocation of the beginning of Autumn, the fire sounds so cosy.
    I'm really looking forward to the gift swap, though still pondering what to make, I tried a few things last weekend which didn't quite work, so it's back to the kitchen for me:-)
    See you next week.
    Jude x

  3. This is such a beautiful post, and what you said about kitchen floors vs the conkers and tea time treats: perfection. I need to remember that over the coming years.

  4. I do love Xanthe Clay, especially her article about all the food programmes on TV at the moment.....so witty!
    Bet your plum jam infused with the Ndali vanilla will be so delicious. Have a fantastic time next week xxx

  5. I do hope the gift swop goes well and that I can take part in the next one. The Canas look really delicious. There's something very comforting about pastries dipped in runny, dripping chocolate. Just need a log fire and a comfy sofa to curl up on. Mmm, I'm off to the kitchen to bake! GG


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