The Spectator’s letters page is hazardous 

Question time Sir: Your leading article ‘Sense prevails’ (13 April) is a valuable précis of the Cass Review into NHS gender treatment. However, it also raises several questions. How are the actions of these individuals, groups and organisations different from those of others who have been found to have acted unprofessionally, causing harm to patients who were entitled to place trust for their health in them? Where was the ethical and executive management oversight within the NHS? What other unproven ‘treatments’ are being carried out under the ever-growing demands for more money to be allocated to the NHS? Finally, what sanctions are to be meted out – or will we

Who would be a farmer’s wife?

On the opening page of The Farmer’s Wife, Helen Rebanks quotes George Eliot’s famous passage from Middlemarch. Dorothea adds to ‘the growing good of the world’ through her ‘unhistoric acts’ and by having ‘lived faithfully a hidden life’. With this enchanting, funny, fearless book, Rebanks brings her own ‘unhistoric’ life unequivocally out of hiding. The blood, mud, slog, exhaustion, bureaucracy and financial angst of farming are ever-present She lives with her husband James (a bestselling writer) and their four children in the Lake District on their farm shared with six sheepdogs, two ponies, 20 chickens, 500 sheep and 50 cattle. Writing in the present tense, she describes the rhythm of

Fish and chips: the fast food that made me

The last meal my parents had before I graced the world with my presence was fish and chips, so I like to think it forms part of my origin story. Growing up on the coast, fish and chips featured in all its forms: bags of chips clutched on windy beach walks; takeaway fish suppers brought home by Dad, steam escaping from cardboard boxes; and the ultimate luxury, a sit-in experience at Colmans, the South Shields king of fish and chip restaurants, accompanied by a slice of bread and butter and a cup of tea. I was built on fish and chips; salt and vinegar course through my blood. Battered fried

If the choux fits: the secrets of perfect profiteroles

Choux pastry can inspire fear in even the most confident of cooks. There’s a good reason for it: it’s difficult to give a very precise recipe for choux pastry, as the amount of egg needed to create the correct texture depends on the flour you’ve used, how long the choux has rested, and how fast and how thoroughly you have cooked the choux mixture out. It’s the water content in the egg that primarily causes the choux to rise and puff in the oven into those distinctive domes or elegant eclairs: not enough and they will fall flat, but too much and the pastry will be too sloppy to pipe

How to make your own burger buns

Do you ever find yourself holding forth on a topic you hadn’t realised you cared about? You know, someone asks you an innocuous question in passing about the merits of slow cookers, or the best way to grow cabbages, and before you know it, 20 minutes has passed and you’re still grandstanding. There are a few topics that have crept up on me like this during my life: I have found out that I feel extremely strongly about pyjamas (pro), low-calorie cooking spray (anti) and the TV show Stars in their Eyes. And, it turns out, burger buns. I truly didn’t believe I had anything approaching an opinion on burger

Why bother cooking?

In a world of ultra-convenience, I think making the argument for home cooking is important. Because a lifestyle of takeaway delivery apps, ready meals or eating out every day is not a recipe for health and happiness, no matter how easy the modern world makes it.   One of the downsides of the cult of the ‘foodie’ is that it can make food and cooking more intimidating than they need to be. If you’re a Londoner, invite friends over for a dinner of lasagne and garlic bread and you’ll have one guest asking if the pasta is fresh or dried and the other telling you to try roasting the garlic

Baked custard pots: a sprightly spring alternative to crème brûlée

I am pretty capricious when it comes to puddings. I’m always ready to declare my most recent success the king of all desserts, swearing blind I will never make anything else, and just falling short of sending a newsletter to my entire address book informing them of the new love of my life – only for a new pretender to take its place a week a later. So you would be forgiven for feeling a little dismissive when I crow about my new favourite pudding. But listen, this really is my new favourite pudding. Maybe I will never make anything else again. Baked custard pots: richer than a crème caramel,

Welsh rarebit: a slice of history for St David’s Day

I love St David’s Day. While it may not get as much attention as St Patrick’s, which seems to dominate the rest of March, it’s a great reminder that spring is on its way and an even better excuse to celebrate all things Welsh. When you think of Wales, you may think of our stunning scenery, rolling hills, choirs, rugby (although, if you are Welsh, probably best not to dwell on that one at the moment), breathtaking coastline, and of course Tom Jones. But we also have some pretty good cuisine – and I’m not talking about cheesy chips and gravy. Cawl, Welsh cakes, bara brith, leeks, laverbread and cockles

A twist on the toastie: how to make a croque monsieur

When I was little, toasties were my father’s domain. Many of his fillings cruelly haven’t made it on to mainstream toastie menus (tinned chicken curry was my mother’s favourite) – but his corned beef and onion one has stood the test of time in our household, and toasties remain a mainstay in my grown-up home. The croque monsieur is the more cosmopolitan, French version of the toastie. A croque monsieur is ham and cheese between two slices of toasted bread, often with a bechamel sauce inside and on top, bubbling and golden. There are lots of variations: the most famous is the croque madame, in which a fried (or sometimes

A slice of comfort: how to make a proper apple pie

Apple pies are synonymous with domesticity: both here and across the pond, the image of an apple pie, fresh from the oven, possibly cooling on a windowsill, speaks of family, and of homeliness. While they’re not difficult to make, they take time and care, and the making of one is an act of love. Perhaps that’s why they are such a simple and clear shorthand for comfort. A proper apple pie is just as good hot as it is cold: it is both the perfect end to a Sunday lunch, submerged under custard, and the most delightful bowl of leftovers A proper apple pie is just as good hot as

Smoked salmon blinis: bitesize luxury for New Year’s Eve

I tend to hunker down on New Year’s Eve, eschewing parties for my own home. Even when I was young, the prospect of sleeping on someone else’s floor or braving the night bus home in the early hours of the morning didn’t really appeal. But sometimes I worry that that can lead to the night being a damp squib. The way to fix this is a little bit of luxury. Perfect bitesize tastes of luxury. And for me, that means blinis topped with the fanciest, most delicious morsels I can lay my hands on. Drink them with something cold and sparkly, and you won’t regret staying in for one moment.

How to make eggnog

Let Bing sing about a white Christmas, if he insists. My kind of Christmas is more eggnog-toned: yellowy, like old-fashioned incandescent string lights; rich, like real velvet ribbon on presents; topped with pale froth of the most non-utilitarian and fluffy kind; sweet, with a kick of rum or bourbon to redeem it from sentimentality; stippled with a dark sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg on top to ginger up the olfactory receptors. Uncanonical as it may be to view this time of year through an eggnog-tinted lens, it seems to me that food and wassail are more essential to Christmas than snow. What is the celebration without culinary traditions, even though one man’s

The best cookbooks to give this Christmas

I love a good cookbook. In an age where endless variations on any recipe are no more than a few clicks away on the internet, there is still a certain magic to buying, or receiving, a physical, curated collection.  Cookbooks can teach you something in a way that individual online recipes can’t. Whether exploring a new cuisine or trying a new technique, cooking from a cookbook means you can build up a whole repertoire of dishes and hone new skills. I love that you can annotate the pages, and it doesn’t matter if they get mucky (I find you can always tell the best recipes in a book by how

Why we should be tucking into tongue and turnip

It seems our course is set. Food prices are rising at the fastest rate in more than 40 years, taking the average family’s yearly grocery bill over £5,200 – and there’s no relief in sight. Lord Woolton would be rubbing his hands at a situation so ripe for his ingenuity and optimism – and perhaps his namesake pie and the national loaf might find themselves resuscitated before long. But his 1945 call for ‘a simpler diet’ of bread, potatoes and vegetable oils won’t help much in 2022. According to the Office for National Statistics, ‘low-cost’ everyday staples are seeing the greatest price rises of all, with the average cost increasing by 17 per

The comfort and joy of a treacle tart

‘Come along, kiddie-winkies! Come and get your treacle tart,’ the Child Catcher trills in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, to lure children away. The youngsters are particularly taken with the idea of treacle tart, and it’s not difficult to imagine why: unapologetically sweet and sticky, it’s irresistible to small, greedy hands. It’s easy to dismiss treacle tart as a nursery food. But that, of course, is part of its charm. It’s the Platonic ideal of a childhood treat, and a byword for comfort. In Harry Potter, the love potion Amortentia smells of whatever someone loves most in the world; to Harry, it smells of broomsticks, Ginny Weasley’s hair and treacle tart, the

A chef’s tips to cut food waste – and your bills

Food waste is suddenly the subject on everyone’s lips. A combination of environmental concern and biting inflation has propelled an issue that was already rising up the public consciousness on to centre stage. Some supermarkets are dropping ‘best before’ labels on fresh produce, and this month the British Frozen Food Federation launched a campaign to highlight the virtues of freezing to save money. The issue even gained a mention in the first televised debate of the Tory leadership contest at the end of July, when Liz Truss stated: ‘I am naturally a thrifty person. I like saving money and it also helps the environment. It’s about using less, wasting less, particularly food

Fit for a king: kedgeree is the most regal of all Anglo-Indian dishes

How does the saying go? ‘Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.’ Well, if you’re looking for the highest possible status of breakfast, then kedgeree is the dish for you. Bran flakes just don’t quite scratch the same itch. Kedgeree cannot be casual; it requires time, both for preparation and enjoying, and it makes breakfast an occasion. It came to our breakfast tables (or mahogany sideboards) in Victorian times, brought back to Britain by returning colonial officers. It was served in silver chafing dishes, set alongside steaming urns of porridge. Kedgeree is a rice-based dish, flavoured with curried spices and cooked with smoked

I’ve finally learned to love baked cheesecake

I used to be a baked cheesecake sceptic: I didn’t feel they were worth the effort when other cheesecakes required you simply to stir together some ingredients and bung them in the fridge. My thinking was: why waste your time? Was the result really worth the extra effort? In turns out that yes, it was. It is. I just hadn’t ever eaten a really good cheesecake. That changed on a visit to San Sebastián. La Viña is a small bar and restaurant serving pintxos (the Basque version of tapas), but it is best known for its ‘burnt’ baked cheesecake. Inside, you feel as though you’re in a cheese shop that

My Easter recipe: Greek-style marinated lamb

This is a delicious way to cook lamb with a distinctly Mediterranean feel. It’s super fresh, easy to prepare and would be perfect for Easter Sunday. I would serve it with pitta bread and chilli sauce. It pairs well with a chilled bottle of Sangiovese. Serves 2 The lamb – 2 lamb shanks – 1-2 sprigs rosemary – 1-2 sprigs oregano – 1-2 sprigs mint – 2 tbsp dried oregano – 2 tbsp dried mint – 1 tbsp smoked paprika – ½ tbsp ground cumin – ½ tbsp ground coriander – ½ tbsp Aleppo chilli powder – 500ml lamb stock (or chicken stock) – 1 small red onion, sliced –

A fresh start: delicious twists on breakfast

The chance to enjoy a proper sit-down breakfast ­– or even, I daresay, the occasional breakfast in bed – on a weekday has been one of the (few) perks of lockdown. If I’m going to be under year-long house arrest then I’m going to have a three-minute egg on a Monday dammit. But as return to the office beckons for many of us, carving out time for brekky will become trickier. I’ve always been envious of the effortlessness and speed with which Romans take their breakfast: cappuccino and cornetto eaten standing at the bar counter. Somehow gulping down cornflakes or Weetabix standing in front of the mirror whilst shaving doesn’t