I recently rediscovered one of my favourite cookbooks, Simon Hopkinson’s classic, Roast Chicken And Other Stories, which I used to borrow regularly from the library, but hadn’t seen for years until last week. It’s a very charming read – sweet, humorous illustrations by Flo Bayley; classic, ingredient-focused recipes; great writing and a modern tone that belies its publishing date. While some of the recipes now seem a little retro, the principal mood of the book is forward-thinking and very much in tune with what many chefs and food writers are now saying, albeit almost two decades 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. 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 roast chicken with herbs (p36), grilled asparagus and homemade lemon aïoli (p37) for dinner, 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. These brownies don’t ever seem to go wrong, no matter what you do to them. The last time I made them I left the oven’s grill setting on accidentally and I’ve refrigerated the mix for hours before cooking many times with no ill effects. They are also absolutely delicious and a total crowd-pleaser, so in that sense, they are perhaps one of our ‘classics’. Use whichever nuts you prefer – walnuts, pecans or toasted hazelnuts and try to find good, rich chocolate for them – Bournville works well as a happy medium between milk and dark.
Makes nine big ones or 16 smaller bites
60z chocolate (Bournville works well)
40z caster sugar
40z self raising flour, sieved
20z chopped walnuts
1tsp vanilla extract
Pre-heat oven to 170°. Grease and line a square 9×9 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) and cut into nine or 16 while still hot. Then either lift the parchment out onto a cooling rack or leave to cool in the tin if you’re bringing them somewhere.