Lockdown: The Earphone Weeks

7 May

This Is Fine

When this all started I eyed up the four foot stack of books next to the sofa, waiting to be read. Oh I was going to steam through that. On furlough I bet I could probably manage a whole book a day.

Let’s get to it, what have I read these last long, strange, empty six weeks:


Not one single book. Why? No idea. I just have absolutely no wish to read. I’m a bit annoyed with myself but I just don’t want to. I was halfway through the excellent A Treachery Of Spies and it’s just sitting on the coffee table starting at me.

I have a feeling it’s not just me, so I thought I’d tell you about the things I have been enjoying and some things I think you might too.

What I’ve been listening to 

You're Dead To Me

I am loving Greg Jenner’s You’re Dead To Me podcast on BBC Sounds. He sits down with an academic and a comedian to talk about a historical figure or event for 50 minutes and I think this is the main thing that has stopped my brain ossifying. Each episode is fascinating, informative and very funny and I feel at least 10% smarter. So far my favourites have been The Spartans, Blackbeard and Lord Byron. (And it’s amazing how many professors turn out to be really hot when you Google them.)


Ghosts In The Burbs

Ghosts In The Burbs is sooooo not usually my sort of thing at all but I’ve been really sucked into this. Liz Sower is your common or garden stay at home mum in Wellesley, Massachusetts – chatty, affable, someone you’d hang out with – who has a bit of a thing for ghost stories so puts up a flyer asking locals to tell her theirs. Each episode she meets up with someone to hear about their experience and suddenly you’ve gone from a description of a handbag to waiting to be murdered by a seven foot tall shadow man who lives behind the fridge.



Oh my god I can’t explain how much I loved this. ElvenQuest completely rips the piss out of basically every fantasy novel ever and had me doing huge out loud laughs. Stephen Mangan stars as a sarky novelist of said genre who, with his dog, gets sucked into a Lord of The Rings parody land called Lower Earth where he and a band of warriors team up against Alistair McGowan’s Lord Darkness. It sounds like such awful geekery but it’s just the most hilarious pastiche you basically can’t not like it. If that doesn’t win you over, loads of the jokes are about sex. Hope that helps.


This Thing of Darkness

This Thing Of Darkness is a really gripping drama podcast that’s sort of a look at the impact of a murder on a family, and sort of a whodunnit. David is in prison charged with the murder of his son, Jamie, though he insists he is innocent. The episodes take the form of his talks with his psychologist, her interviews with the rest of the family and her thoughts on the psychological impact of terrible crimes. Did David do it? It’s a compelling listen that’ll keep you thinking. A good one for when you’re pottering around in the kitchen.



I listened to Hag last year but have dipped in and out a bit recently. I was completely ready to hate this as it’s sold as “feminist retellings” of folk stories from the writers’ hometowns and is that not just the most tedious thing you have ever heard? From the description I assumed they would be militantly irritating and all about armpit hair but I loved them. Women are really interestingly portrayed and put front and centre without it being sort of obvious, and the stories are brilliant. As an extra treat, at the end of each episode the writers discuss their story with Oxford’s Professor Carolyne Larrington who specialises in medieval literature and they’re such interesting chats. This is also the second time I have mentioned professors in this post so look how smart I am.


The Whisperer in Darkness

This is one I tell everyone they have to try, but that’s because The Whisperer In Darkness is just SO incredible that I couldn’t stop listening, crouched in a corner looking like The Scream and trying not to cry. Based on H. P. Lovecraft stories, it’s about a fictional true crime podcast called Mystery Machine, which I would totally listen to if it existed. The two podcasters start an investigation into the case of Charles Dexter Ward, a man who has disappeared from his locked room in an American institution, while the psychiatrist treating him arrives in London to commit a murder. Cue the occult, secret government plots, more of the occult and you literally jumping out of your skin at some points. The second series is just as fantastic and creepy and one bit – you’ll know which bit when you listen – made me scream.


Homeless Bodies

It is such a shame that there are only six short episodes of Homeless Bodies. Each story is based on an item from the Wellcome Collection so naturally they’re all creepy as shit. I think this must be Audible’s Thing because each episode begins with the author talking to one of the Collection’s curators (does this count as a Professor hat trick?) about why they decided they liked a tattooed bit of human skin or whatever enough to write about it.  They’re all absolutely brilliant and my favourite one is the second episode, based on the scold’s bridal. Weirdly.



Let’s talk Mortem. This is the first I’d heard of Carla Valentine. She’s an incredibly cool and charismatic mortician, and this podcast takes a death – the body on Carla’s slab – and then goes from the morgue to the crime scene to police labs and speaks to real-life experts as if they’re working to solve the case. It sounds really simple but it’s an interesting dive into how it all works. Each case is told over three episodes and I think my favourite is The Burning Man: the tests they do, and how, have you gripped. This is one I like to listen to while I iron. Post mortems don’t really go with cooking supper.



In 1978,  after going missing while travelling through Belize, Peta Frampton and Chris Farmer’s bodies were found. They had been sailing on Silas Duane Boston’s boat, along with his two sons, and he was the only suspect. He wasn’t arrested for 38 years, despite his sons claiming they had witnessed the murder. Paradise asks why it took so long for authorities to act, speaks to Peta and Chris’s families,  includes recordings from Chris’s time travelling, and basically teams up with the suspect’s oldest son. I felt like this podcast was going to be really intrusive, but actually the two journalists investigating are really sensitive, and it feels like it means something to them. It’s a sad story, so this isn’t one for one of those lockdown days that involves just blankly lying facedown on the floor for three hours.


My Favorite Murdwe

Oh come on, we all knew it was going to show up. If you haven’t already heard of My Favorite Murder, you probably won’t like My Favorite Murder.



Halloween Costume Ideas For Grown-Ups

1 Oct

I saved all of these as screenshots when Storify shut down and printed them out and posted them to Agnes for prosperity.

Here is a nicely un-flowing list of all the Halloween costume ideas you will ever need.

Bolognese with Hidden Veg

1 May


I am 29-years-old and this is the first time I have ever cooked bolognese. Mince has always grossed me out. I never had it when I was little – it just wasn’t a staple in our house – which meant if someone’s mum announced we were having bolognese I would end up quite happy with a bowl of plain pasta in front of me instead.

But look at me now! I have grown as a person, I am wandering new pastures, staring straight into the unknown… And I liked it. I made this because the nine-year-old loves bolognese and I have watched him eat it countless times and order it in restaurants. And it was totally worth it: “This is the best bolognese I have ever eaten!” Awww. “I usually hate bolognese and never eat it.”


Anyway. This is based on a Jamie Oliver recipe but I ‘hid’ some extra veg in it because that’s what passive aggressive adults do in 2018 instead of shouting at the table about starving children. It makes a HUGE amount so make sure you have room in the freezer. We had linguine with ours rather than spaghetti because I find the latter slimy and horrid. I have no idea what you mean by ‘picky eater’.

  • 2 aubergines
  • 3 red peppers
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 red onions, finely chopped
  • 3 carrots, finely chopped
  • 3 celery sticks, finely chopped
  • 2 rosemary sprigs finely chopped
  • 2 rashers of smoked streaky bacon
  • 500g lean beef mince
  • Beef stock cube
  • 400ml boiling water
  • Tin of chopped tomators
  • Tomato purée
  • Red wine vinegar
  • 3-4 bay leaves, I used the dry ones as the boxes seem to breed in the cupboard

Unless you have a huge amount of patience or enough knife skills that you wouldn’t be reading this anyway, use a food processor to finely chop the onions, celery, carrots and garlic. Finely slice the rosemary and the bacon with a sharp knife.

Add a little oil to a large pan on a low heat and chuck everything in. Soften it up and then raise the heat slightly to start it turning golden. Add the mince and whack up the heat. Keep stirring and cook until the meat is all browned and all the liquid has cooked away.

In go the tomatoes, a tablespoon of tomato purée, the same of red wine vinegar, bay leaves, the stock cube, and the boiling water. Season well with salt and pepper, stir everything in and bring to the boil before reducing the heat. Simmer for about an hour giving it a stir now and then.

While your sauce is bubbling away prick the aubergines with a knife and put them and the red peppers on a tray lined with tinfoil. Pop them in the oven at 200°c/gas mark 6 for around 40 minutes and then leave to one side to cool. Once you can handle them peel the peppers and remove the seeds and scoop the flesh out of the aubergines. Pop them in a blender or food processor until smoothish. I used the NutriBullet because otherwise it only gets used for frozen margaritas.

Once the sauce has reduced and thickened add in your blended vegetables. Keep the lid off and cook for around 15 minutes until it’s a consistency you like, adding more water if it looks too dry.

Stir through pasta and eat with loads of Parmesan. The wine was grown-ups only.


There is no nice way to photograph mince.

Pea and Mushroom Croquettes

23 Jul


These croquettes are a Jamie Oliver recipe from Jamie Does, but with the ham filling swapped out for peas and mushrooms because I used to LOVE these at Pizza East Portobello.

They take a little bit of time because you need to let the filling chill in the fridge for at least an hour, but they are worth it. I usually serve them as a starter for about four people, or you can go mad and just have them for lunch like I did the other day.

You need:

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 75g flour, plus 100g or so extra for coating
  • 300ml milk
  • Salt and pepper
  • Grated nutmeg
  • 50g finely grated Manchego cheese
  • 4 or 5 mushrooms, chopped into chunks
  • Small handful of frozen peas
  • Breadcrumbs
  • 1 – 2 eggs
  • Enough vegetable oil to fry with


First things first – you need to make a béchamel. Put the butter and the oil in a small pan on a very low heat. Once the butter has melted completely start adding in the 75g of flour, a spoonful at a time. After each one mix well and get rid of any lumps before adding the next one. Once you’ve got a paste add the milk in the same way, a splash at a time, stirring until everything is combined and it’s lump-free. I always find that I spend most of my time worrying that it’s all gone wrong, or is never going to work, and then the next thing I know the whole thing is done and looks great.


Keep it on the heat, stirring a bit, until the mixture becomes really, really thick. It’s one of those things when you’ll just know when it’s done. Season with the salt, pepper, and a decent pinch of nutmeg. Stir through the cheese, peas and mushrooms and leave to cool before popping in the fridge for an hour minimum.

When you’re ready to cook you’ll need to set up a production line: One plate of flour, one of beaten egg, one of breadcrumbs (I pop mine through the food processor to get them as fine as I can).

Take a tablespoon of your mixture and shape into a little barrel. Gently roll in the flour, then in a light coating of egg, and then the breadcrumbs.


Once you’ve finished you’re mixture you’re ready to fry! Add about half an inch of vegetable oil to a frying pan, get it nice and hot, and brown the croquettes all over.

Pop them on a plate, scrunch over some good sea salt, add some lemon wedges to squeeze over and you’re done!


Cheat’s Thai Red Curry

9 Jun


I’m not a huge fan of Thai food in general, but I bloody love a good red curry. I also love being able to make something tasty in under 20 minutes and not have to faff about, and that’s where the cheating comes in…

This is made with shop-bought curry paste. From a jar. GASP!

So, to make enough for two, you need:

  • A jar of red curry paste (I like Waitrose’s own-brand one best)
  • One or two red chillies
  • Two cloves of garlic
  • Just under an inch of ginger
  • Three spring onions
  • A can of coconut milk
  • 400ml chicken stock
  • Teaspoon of fish sauce
  • Two chicken breasts
  • A handful of green beans, the same of baby corn, and again of broccoli (you can use frozen veg too). Really, you can add any veg you like. I’m not the boss of you.

Peel the garlic and ginger and finely chop both. Cut the spring onion and the chilli into thin rounds and very gently fry it all in some vegetable oil in a deep pan.

Add two or three tablespoons of the curry paste and let that fry for a minute or two.

Pour in the can of coconut milk, add the chicken stock and your fish sauce, and after a good stir let it come to a gentle boil.

Chop your chicken and veg into manageable chunks and once the pot is bubbling tip it all in and let it simmer for around ten minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

Serve it with sticky rice, a scattering of fresh chilli, and something rubbish on Netflix.


Guinness lamb shanks 

20 May

I stole this recipe off Jamie Oliver (with a few changes) because I don’t think I’ve ever cooked a recipe of his that’s gone wrong.

I made this for my boyfriend and his son, who, just so you know, gave every bit 10 out of 10 and I’m smug about it. Also I went all the way to sodding Croydon to my storage unit just for some kitchen equipment so I had to actually use it.

This takes some time but is gorgeous. Rich and hearty.

Ingredients: (for two):

  • Two lamb shanks
  • One red onion, finely sliced
  • 1 tablespoon marmalade
  • Half a tablespoon of ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon Worscestershire sauce
  • 170ml Guinnness
  • 5 sprigs of rosemary, leaves off the woody bits and finely chopped
  • 500ml chicken stock

In a casserole (or in pans and then bung it all together like I do) on a medium heat with a bit of vegetable oil cook the onions – Jamie says until they caramelise but this is bollocks. That takes forever. Literally an hour minimum. Just cook them gently until they start to brown without crisping up.

Stir in the marmalade, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce and a good bit of salt and pepper. It’ll go lovely and gooey and nice. Then chuck in the rosemary.

Add the Guinness and keep everything very gently simmering on a low heat.

Brown the lamb shanks in vegetable oil until they’ve got a good colour all over.

Pour the chicken stock into the Guinness and onions and stir. Add the lamb shanks, put the lid on and bung in the oven at 160°c/gas mark 3.

Cook for two and a half hours, then turn the meat.

Cook for another two and a half hours or until the lamb is falling off the bone.

Remove the meat and stick it back in the oven for ten minutes uncovered.

While you do this whizz the liquid and onions etc up in a blender (thank you Croydon) and then put on a medium/high heat on the stove to reduce until thick.

After the ten minutes in the oven take the lamb out to rest under tinfoil for at least another ten minutes. While you do this your gravy will become unctuous. I just really wanted to use that word.

Plate up, pour over the sauce. Serve with all butter mash, because what other mash is there? and lots of greens you have to force boys big and small to eat.

Potato and goats cheese tart

16 May



Aaaarrrrrgh I love this. SO many carbs. All the carbs. And cheese. Cut me open and I’m basically a breathing Breville.

This is a really simple lunch or supper, great served with a big green salad. Imagine I’ve added it into the photo on MS Paint.


  • Pre-made puff pastry because let’s be honest who can be buggered otherwise
  • A large red onion
  • Three potatoes
  • A log of goats cheese (without the rind probably better melty-wise)
  • A few springs of fresh thyme
  • Fresh black pepper

Peel and boil your potatoes. I know this is super complicated but I have faith in you.

Slice your onions into thick half rounds and in a frying pan on a very low heat gently cook them in a little olive oil until they start to caramelise. Though this seems to take about eighty years usually so just sweat them until they start to brown unless you’re really relaxed and have time.

Score a box about two centimetres in from the edge of your pastry. Lightly oil some grease-proof paper and pop it on top on an oven tray. Cut your potatoes nice and thin and then layer them over. Just look at that. Carb city.


Sprinkle (dollop) your onions over the top and add slices of goats cheese. Take the leaves off the thyme and scatter over the top, with a good scrunch of black pepper and drizzle over a tiny bit of olive oil. You don’t need any salt because of the cheese. I added salt when I ate it because I’d bought some sort of organic bullshit and it was sad.


Pop it into the oven at 180°c/gas mark 4 for about 15 minutes, or until everything is golden and yummy. It also makes fantastic leftovers.

You can thank me later. I accept cash and travellers cheques.



Steak and ale pie

15 May


Hi there, don’t know if you’ve noticed but it’s mid-May! You can tell by the grey sky, sheeting rain and the fact I am regretting taking my coat to my mum’s to make more room in my wardrobe.

Basically, it’s comfort food weather. Sod your bikini body salads, it’s best to keep that little sleeping bag of going-up-a-size on until it warms up. I made this pie before spring sprang and then promptly dropped dead, but forgot to blog about it, so thanks to the shitty weather you’re getting it now. It’ll help, I promise.

I used the Grauniad’s How to cook the perfect… for this so it’s almost an exact copy based on it.

DISCLAIMER: I don’t want to hear your whinging about how this is a casserole in a hat, I get enough of this at home. Christ.

You need:

  • 800g of ox cheek – I did puppy eyes in Waitrose so the man at the meat counter cut it into chunks for me. A butcher will do this, or you’ll need a super sharp knife
  • 15g plain flour
  • 200g lardons
  • 250g chopped white onion
  • 400ml beef stock
  • 400ml Fullers Golden Pride ale
  • Four or five sprigs of thyme, leaves off the stems
  • Two sprigs of rosemary, leaves off the stems
  • A bay leaf. Just one. Then you’ll realise you already have three boxes of them in the cupboard
  • 1 tablespoon of dark muscovado sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon of cocoa powder
  • Ready-made shortcrust or puff pastry
  • A marrow bone for a funnel if you’re feeling proper fancy

Season the flour and coat your ox cheek in it, I find it easiest to do this with my hands. It’ll help the meat brown beautifully, but if you don’t have any don’t panic. Brown it off in a frying pan on the stove on a high heat using vegetable or rapeseed oil (or anything tasteless), but don’t bung it all in the pan or you’ll overcrowd it. Once it’s done chuck it in a large casserole dish.

Throw the lardons in the pan, turn down the heat and add the onions. Once they start to brown they all go into the casserole with the beef.

Pour over your ale and the stock (hot, please!), then in go the herbs, sugar, vinega and cocoa. Give it all a nice stir and then get it up to a simmer. If, like me, your casserole dish won’t go on the stove, just bung it in the oven with the lid on now, at 150°c/gas mark 2. It’s a pie. It’ll be fine.


I cooked this for about six hours, stirring when I remembered, so the beef was incredibly tender. For the last hour or so I took the lid off the dish to let the liquid reduce – I stirred it more at this point to stop the top bits from crisping up too much.

I used a little blackbird pie funnel for this, but you don’t need to worry too much if you don’t have one. If you want to show off, which I usually do, use a marrow bone instead. As it cooks the marrow will melt into your pie filling and be delish.

Egg wash the lip of the dish and place your pastry over the top, crimping the edges with a fork. Brush egg over the pastry, add on any decoration and egg wash those too. This will make it shiny and lovely and make you look like you know what you’re doing.


I made this for my boyfriend which is why it is so romantic 

This then goes in the oven at 180°c/gas mark 4 for around 50 minutes. I served it with LOADS of all-butter mash, broccoli and red wine. We’ll pretend we ate all the broccoli.


1 Oct

Puttanesca is one of my favourite easy suppers. It’s usually made with spaghetti, but I always find that a bit slimy so use linguini, or fusilli to really mop up all the sauce.

The name comes from the Italian for prostitute, puttana, and basically means whore’s pasta. There’re lots of arguments about why, but rather than a load of working girls knocking something up for clients (do you pay extra for dinner?) I see it in more of a Godfrey Bloom sense: you’ve been far too sluttish to do any shopping, never mind clean behind the fridge, and this is the ultimate bare-cupboard recipe.

Serves four or two carb lovers

  • Pasta, obvs, of your choice
  • Half a white onion, finely chopped
  • Two cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • Two anchovies, chopped up
  • A tin of chopped tomatoes or around 300ml of passata
  • Tablespoon of tomato purée if you have it
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried chilli flakes depending on how much heat you want
  • A small handful of black olives, halved

Chuck a spoonful of capers in if you like them, and if you have any dried basil or oregano a sprinkling of those.

For anchovy haters like me PLEASE don’t miss these out. You absolutely won’t taste them but they add a perfect bit of salt and non-fish flavour.

Gently heat a glug of good olive oil in a large pan and add the anchovies for a minute then sweat off the onions and garlic until the former have gone slightly translucent.

Throw in the chilli and give it a good stir before throwing everything else into the pan. Let it simmer while your pasta cooks and then stir through with a tiny bit of the starchy pasta water – it helps the sauce stick. Top with LOADS of Parmesan and some torn basil if you’ve got some handy.

Eat with a bucket of red wine and a hot date, just make sure they leave a tip on the nightstand.

Lemon Drizzle 

14 Sep



I used to be quite good at cakes, then suddenly, like some sort of biblical curse, every cake I touched curdled.

I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t left staring at a big, grainy mess in the bowl in front of me. At first I thought it might be because my kitchen was so cold, but now I’ve moved back to my mum’s with her fancy show-off central heating and proper insulation and I’ve still got the same problem.

I know all the tricks, putting in a tablespoon of flour before you start mixing the wet ingredients, everything you’re cooking with being room temp, but no luck. The worst bit is I don’t even really know what curdling is, or why it matters. Everything seems to turn out all right in the end anyway. There’s probably a life lesson there, but who really cares?


  • 2 unwaxed lemons
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 tablespoons of milk
  • Skewer


  • Juice of 1 and a ½ lemons
  • 100g icing sugar


  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • 150g icing sugar

Grease and line a standard-size loaf tin or loose-bottom cake tin – I know this is a faff and boring and every time I see it in a recipe it makes me clench my fists and breathe really hard through my nose, but you’ll thank me later. Heat the oven to 180ºc/gas mark 4.

Cream together the butter and sugar until doubled in size and light and fluffy. Add the zest of one of the lemons, and the eggs. Gently whisk in.

Fold in the flour and salt, at which point it’ll all seem too thick and dry and you’ll start to get that hollow feeling of failure in your throat. Oh you. Stir in the milk and it’ll all be fine. If you’re me it will have curdled by now anyway. (I usually chuck a tablespoon of poppy seeds in with the flour, but had run out and am disorganised so… didn’t.)

Pour into your cake tin (if you’re feeling fancy you could put some lemon curd in the middle and leave off the syrup later) and pop it in the oven for around 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Just before you take the cake out make the syrup by heating the sugar and lemon juice together until dissolved.

While the cake is still hot poke some holes into it and pour over the warm syrup. Leave to cool completely in the tin.

Make the icing by mixing together the icing sugar and lemon juice. That’s it. Don’t use all the juice at once, just get it to a thick consistency where it will pour off a spoon, but still set.



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