EDIT: Many thanks to Catherine for emailing me, you can read the full article (including the recipes!) below now!
And here’s another photo:
TheTimes.co.uk has posted a new interview with Emilia
Is there any more daunting culinary challenge than Christmas dinner? Not in my wildest dreams have I ever imagined myself saying: “Hey, it’s Christmas at mine this year!” Instead, I’ve always left it to my mother, who is happy to get up at 4am to sort out the turkey and the stuffing.
The truth is I get incredibly intimidated in the kitchen. I think it’s because mum (the actress Joanna David) is such a brilliant cook. Dad (the actor Edward Fox) knows how to cook only three things, all breakfast-related — a fry-up, porridge and scrambled eggs — so it’s clear that mum had ownership over the kitchen. As well as being quite territorial, she was so busy that it must have been much easier not to have me bashing about in the kitchen. Then, after I left home, I always seemed to have friends who were great cooks, so I would offer to do the washing-up instead.
Now I really regret not having learnt to cook when I was younger. It’s one of those life skills that are fairly fundamental to being independent and give personal satisfaction in achieving, like knowing a second language or being able to play a musical instrument. You learn it and then you have it for ever, and you can take it to whatever degree you want and wherever in the world you want. I feel that having travelled so much for work I should have picked up really fine culinary skills and be cooking Italian, French, African or Russian cuisine. Instead, my hard-earned repertoire doesn’t go beyond pretty basic traditional English food — things like shepherd’s pie or fish pie, followed by apple crumble and custard. And I learnt to cook those only after my daughter Rose, who is four, was born. She made me want to be more domestic, because life in general became much more home-centric and I wanted to feed her well.
My theory is that children eat better when they’re included in the cooking process and are more enthusiastic about food. Cooking well is all about confidence and feeling able to experiment. When we go to Pizza Express Rose is always hanging off the counter asking to make her own pizza, an attitude that has always eluded me.
When she was a baby I had cooking lessons at home for about a year . I wrote everything down, but inexcusably I rarely use the recipes, although my knife skills did improve considerably. Subsequently, I started up the Scrambled Egg Club with my friend Sara. Every weekend we’d invite friends and my parents over and we would have to cook a dish that was out of our comfort zone — for me that was the whole world of gastronomy. (I did have some success with sea bass and a fruit-layered elderflower jelly that took nearly a whole night to make because you had to freeze every layer.) My father was the judge: if he thought a particular dish was a failure he would decree that we had to have scrambled eggs instead. (Actually I don’t think we ever did have to resort to the scrambleds.)
So it isn’t that I am unable to cook, it’s just that I find it daunting. I worry about whether I have the right kitchen equipment and all the ingredients.
My job is another factor. When I’m working I’ll often leave the house at 5.30am and find breakfast waiting for me courtesy of the caterers on set. Same for lunch. By the time I get home, often late, I can’t be bothered to cook, so I just graze on crackers and hummus, which does seem a bit ridiculous at my age. I seem to have so little free time that cooking gets put on to the back burner when it should be right at the front. I’m always making excuses for myself, even though when I do nerve myself to cook at home, I absolutely love it.
I don’t aspire to being a domestic goddess — a mere kitchen-confident mortal would do me fine. I want to be able to cook for Rose and her friends and be able to invite people over to supper and cook while chatting and not even think about it. Even now I’ll still only invite the most forgiving of my friends to sample my shepherd’s pie.
This is how I found myself signing up for the “continental Christmas cookery day” at the Good Housekeeping Institute. I felt that if anybody was going to be able to teach me the basics it would happen here, because the recipes are supposed to be completely foolproof. Their motto is “Tried, Tested, Trusted” after all. First up — make your own Pimm’s Salmon Gravlax. How to do that? It was in fact delightfully simple and took no time at all, just a case of getting sugar, salt, pepper, dill, orange and lemon zest, mixingthem with some Pimm’s and rubbing the mixture into the salmon, which takes five minutes. You then put the salmon in the fridge for three days, covered in clingfilm and weighed down with a few tins of canned food, remove excess liquid regularly and slice it up before guests arrive. It’s the sort of brilliantly simple recipe that makes people think you know what you’re doing. I have never attempted to assist with Christmas dinner before, but maybe with this recipe it might be the year that I offer to make the starter. Me turning up in Dorset bearing a side of home-gravlax will cause about as much astonishment as Father Christmas inviting himself to lunch.
Port and fig duck breasts were surprisingly easy too . I found the hardest bit was scoring the fat without cutting into the meat beneath. Then you simply fry the breasts on a low heat until the fat turns golden and shrinks. The clever thing about this recipe is that you can do this bit the day before, which eases the pressure of getting timings accurate. After that, the duck just needs a quick blast in the oven, while you boil up a little port, some stock and a squeeze of orange juice. Slice a couple of figs in half, sizzle them in the pan and then arrange everything beautifully on the plate. Presentation, I have learnt, is as important as the cooking itself. It makes sense — no one wants to eat food that looks inedible. The result was an impressively festive-looking main course that also seemed to be fairly healthy and it didn’t cause me to boil over in panic.
With the help of the very reassuring chef Shenley Moore I then tackled a vanilla and almond yule log. Once I got over my terror of the GHI’s alarmingly professional-looking KitchenAid mixer I realised I might even make this at home too. I really enjoy a ritual of baking with Rose on Saturday mornings and she would love to help make this. The great thing about a yule log is that the sponge barely has to rise, so you don’t feel anxious about it sagging in the middle. Admittedly, rolling up the cream-covered sponge is a little nerve-racking, but I reassured myself that it wouldn’t matter if there were cracks in the crust: that would just make the log look more authentic.
I was so encouraged by the experience that I have signed up for another class to learn how to make my own edible Christmas presents, things like chutneys, truffles and cheesy biscuits. Hopefully a Christmas treat for all.
It is doubtful that Fox’s Fantastic Food will ever materialise as a bestselling recipe book, but I’m much encouraged and feel more confident about the prospect of coping with Christmas cooking one day, thanks to the skills and patience of those in the kitchen at the now personally tried, tested and trusted Good Housekeeping Institute.
Emilia Fox signed up to the cooking class at the new Good Housekeeping Institute in London, which is now open to the public. www.goodhousekeeping.co.uk/cookery-school.
What every beginner cook needs
Good chopping board
Chef/cook’s knife approx 18cm blade
Medium knife approx 11cm blade
Small knife approx 6cm blade
Flexi rubber spatular
Set mixing bowls (stainless steel are good)
Set saucepans (small, medium, large)
What Emilia learnt to cook
Salmon gravlax with Pimm’s
750g whole, skin-on fresh salmon fillet
125g caster sugar
125g coarse rock salt
1 tbsp cracked black pepper
15g finely chopped fresh dill
Large handful finely chopped fresh mint
Finely grated zest of an orange and a lemon
50ml Pimm’s No 1
1. Lay the salmon fillet (small bones removed) in a large glass serving dish, skin-side down. In a bowl mix the caster sugar, rock salt, black pepper, dill, mint, orange and lemon zest, and Pimm’s No 1.
2. Pat the mixture over the fish. Cover with baking parchment. Wrap dish in clingfilm, then top with a roasting tin or plate that fits inside the dish. Arrange some heavy items on top: about four tins of tomatoes are ideal.
3. Chill for three days; a briny liquid will run out.
4. To serve, lift fish out and wipe off the salt mixture (don’t worry if some bits stay stuck). Lay skin-side down on a board. Use a sharp, long knife to cut thin slices across the grain of the salmon.
5. Gin, brandy or whisky are all great alternatives to Pimm’s.
Duck breast with port and figs
4 x 200g duck breasts
1 tsp rapeseed oil
300ml hot chicken stock
Zest of 1 orange, plus 1-2 tbsp orange juice
9 fresh figs, halved
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6. Using a small, sharp knife, diagonally score the fat of each duck breast, making sure you don’t cut into the meat. Trim away any sinew and excess fat.
2. Put the duck, skin side down, with the oil into a large frying pan set over the lowest heat to let the fat run out. This will take 15-20 min and can be done up to 24 hours in advance (pour the fat into a bowl and use to cook the roast potatoes later). When the skin has turned golden and most of the fat has drained out, put the duck breasts on a rack set in a roasting tin, skin-side up.
3. Cook the duck in the oven for 15 min for pink and 20 min for well done. Remove from oven, cover loosely with foil and leave to rest while you make the sauce.
4. Put the port, hot stock and orange zest into the frying pan and bubble rapidly until syrupy and reduced by two thirds. Stir in orange juice to taste along with any of the juices from the resting duck. Season to taste and keep warm.
5. Meanwhile, heat a griddle pan over a medium-high heat and griddle the figs cut-side down for 3 min until softened. Slice the duck breasts diagonally and arrange on warmed plates with the figs. Drizzle over the sauce.
6. To cook ahead: store the duck in the fridge at the end of step 2 covered in clingfilm for up to 24 hours. Bring to room temperature before completing the recipe.
Snowy Yule log
A little butter to grease
75g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsptable salt
4 medium eggs
150g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
75g ground almonds
284ml carton double cream
2 tbsp golden icing sugar, sifted, plus extra to dust
50g flaked almonds, toasted
Optional: 50g of chocolate to decorate
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Grease and line a 33cm x 23cm Swiss roll tin with greaseproof paper. Sift together the flour and baking powder with ¼ tsp salt.
2. Use an electric hand whisk to beat the eggs, caster sugar and vanilla essence in a bowl for 5-10 min until pale and fluffy. The mixture’s ready if it leaves a ribbon-like trail when you lift the beaters.
3. Using a large metal spoon, carefully fold in the ground almonds and the flour mixture, taking care not to beat too much of the air out of the mixture.
4. Pour into the prepared tin and spread the mixture in a thin layer right to the edges. Bake for 12-15 min until the edges begin to pull away from the sides of the tin and the cake springs back when you press it gently with a finger. Leave to cool.
5. Lightly whip the cream and the icing sugar in a bowl until the mixture forms soft peaks. Cut out a rectangle of greaseproof paper larger than the cake and dust heavily with icing sugar. Flip cake on to the paper. Remove the tin and carefully peel away the attached greaseproof paper.
6. Spread the cream over the cake and sprinkle with the flaked almonds. With the help of the paper, roll up the cake lengthways. Don’t worry if cracks appear — they’ll add to the log effect.
7. Carefully transfer to a serving plate. Dust with icing sugar and serve in thick slices.
8. Decorate the yule log: melt 50g dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Fill a disposable piping bag with the melted dark chocolate and cut off the tip. Write Noel on a piece of greaseproof, then chill to set. Carefully peel away the greaseproof paper from the word Noel and lay on top of the log.
The Scandi Christmas smorgasbord
200g cooked beetroot, diced
3 sprigs dill, chopped
1½ tsp wholegrain mustard
100g pickled onions, drained
100g cornichons, drained
150g cooked crayfish tails or cooked prawns
125g smoked, peppered mackerel fillets, skinned and flaked
4 tbsp sour cream
200g sliced gravlax
12 crispbreads or crackers
1. In a serving bowl, mix the beetroot with the dill and mustard.
2. Put the pickled onions and cornichons into a separate, small serving bowl.
3. Put the crayfish or prawns and mackerel flakes into a medium serving bowl and the sour cream into a small serving bowl.
4. Lay the slices of gravlax on a board.
5. Let everyone help themselves from the smorgasbord at the table, spreading crispbreads with sour cream and topping with the fish and vegetables.