I recently rediscovered one of my favourite cookbooks, Simon Hopkinson’s classic, Roast Chicken And Other Stories, which I used to borrow regularly from Ballyroan library, but hadn’t seen for years until last week. It’s a very charming read – sweet, humorous illustrations by Flo Bayley, ingredient-focused recipes, great writing and a modern tone that belies its 1994 publishing date. While some of the recipes seem a little retro now, the principle mood of the book is forward-thinking and very much in tune with what many chefs and food writers are now saying, albeit 18 years ahead of the curve.
According to Hopkinson, “Good cooking, in the final analysis, depends on two things: common sense and good taste. It is also something that you naturally have to want to do well in the first place, as with any craft. It is a craft, after all, like anything that is produced with the hands and senses to create an attractive and complete picture”, which sort of sums up the approach in the book. Roast Chicken And Other Stories is a sensible book, in that it offers a common sense approach to food, yet it is an utterly tasteful and stylish read too; anecdotes of favourite restaurants or long-gone friends sit next to practical tips for cooking aubergines. It’s a book that makes you want to get the basics right. Having re-read it, I decided I wanted to make a roast chicken with herbs (p36), grilled asparagus and homemade lemon aïoli (p37), with a recipe I know always works well for dessert, my mum’s recipe for brownies, gleaned years ago from an even more retro font of knowledge, the ‘Supercook’ cookery-binder series.
4 oz butter
6oz chocolate (Bournville works well)
4 oz caster sugar
4 oz self raising flour, sieved
2 oz chopped walnuts
2 medium eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
Grease and line a square 9 inch x 9 inch baking dish. Melt the chocolate in a large saucepan with the butter and the two tablespoons of water over a low heat. Add the sugar and vanilla and stir in so that it is fully incorporated and dissolves. Allow to cool. Add the chopped walnuts into the saucepan, then sieve in the flour and stir in the beaten eggs. Mix fully and then pour it into the baking dish. Bake for around 20 mins, or until they look ready and a knife comes out fairly clean (but not spotlessly clean for once – brownies need a bit of chew).