Soak it and see
Please understand that I’m not for a minute suggesting that any dames should feel under any obligation to prepare food for other people on a regular basis. But there may be occasions when you actually want to entertain, or you might even want to prepare food for yourself.
This is where the ‘soak it and see’ approach comes in handy – you reap so much more than you sow.
The trophy for best ‘soak it and see’ recipe must surely go to Claudia Roden, for her Middle Eastern fruit salad. A load of dried fruit, cover with water, add a bit of rosewater and orange blossom water, and leave it for 48 hours! Yes, you can just go off and read a book, watch a few box sets, run a marathon, have a short break in Paris – whatever takes your fancy – while this dish, as Ms Roden so elegantly puts it, gently macerates. (I’d call it festering, myself.)
The results are fantastic, and the basic recipe makes such a large amount that it may continue to macerate for a week or two while you finish it. When you can’t face any more of it in its present form, stick the remains in a blender and combine with whipped cream for a mousse or ice cream (it’s only fair to warn you that this last bit of advice comes from me, not Claudia Roden). I can guarantee that this recipe is foolproof, but there is one warning. If your fridge and food cupboards are, like mine, cabinets of ancient curiosities, beware. I once had to throw away a whole fruit salad as I realised on tasting it that the rosewater and the orange blossom water had fermented.
In the reign of the Blessed Mary Berry, it seems like heresy to admit that my cakes and I consistently fail to rise to the occasion. But I do have a ‘soak it and see’ recipe that works. This time you soak the fruit overnight in cold tea and sugar, stir in flour and an egg in the morning, and stick it in the oven. It tastes great, and I really don’t care that it gets spurned at charity cake sales in favour of more decorative and labour-intensive cupcakes and cinnamon buns (all that kneading and proving . . . life’s too short) so I end up having to buy it back. At least I have DONE MY BIT.
What I love about this relaxed alchemy is that it takes place while you’re not looking and it doesn’t need you to make any judgments – the antithesis of hovering anxiously over a hot stove trying to decide whether the chemical reaction you are waiting for is happening now, will happen, or happened two minutes ago while you were watching next door’s cat.
So bring on anything that needs macerating or marinating or steeping, and anything that involves stuff soaked in cream or alcohol overnight, or preferably both. You can be both deeply lazy and at the vanguard of the internationally chic Slow Food movement.