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Nigel Slater’s recipes for halibut, and baked apples | Food



In a wretched year, brief moments of joy are to be cherished all the more. Today, cold, damp and dealing with a blanket of sodden leaves in the garden, I catch the smell of baking apples coming through the open kitchen door. A hint of fruit slowly building to a froth and the scent of browning butter and sugar which, albeit briefly, puts my world to rights. A dish of small, rosy dessert apples whose sweetness intensifies in the oven, which we will eat with homemade blackberry and apple ice-cream. The ice-cream will melt slowly over the fruit, forming a blissful, apple-scented puddle lying in wait at the bottom of our dishes.

The recipe is simple. Stewed apples, stirred through homemade custard, then frozen. I have an ice-cream machine, which hums away insistently, like a trapped bee, while I prepare dinner, but the ice-cream can be made easily enough without a machine. Even before I set foot in the kitchen, I’m thinking of the moment the cold ice-cream will meet the blisteringly hot apple.

Pudding will come as something of a balm after a punchy little fish dish. Halibut steaks, cut through the bone, have spent an hour or two in a marinade of yogurt, green chillies, garlic and ginger, ready to be grilled until their edges blacken in the heat. The fish will be finished with a dressing of chopped spring onions, mint, more green chilli and lemon juice. A moment of joy indeed.

Halibut with yogurt and spring onions

A thick fish steak – hake, halibut or salmon – cut through the bone is good here, but you could use a thick cut from the fillet, too. I plan on pieces about 200g in weight. Marinade for a couple of hours. I wouldn’t leave it much longer, though, as the flesh can become woolly. On the side, perhaps some lightly sautéed cabbage or green beans. Serves 4

halibut or hake steaks 4, thick

For the marinade:
natural yogurt 200ml
ginger 1 x 45g piece
garlic 2 cloves
green chillies 2, medium-sized
cornflour 1 tbsp
coriander leaves 20g

spring onions 6
olive oil 6 tbsp
mint leaves 15
parsley leaves a handful
green chilli 1, mild
lemon 1

Put the yogurt in a large mixing bowl then stir in 50ml of cold water. Grate the ginger to a purée, finely slice the garlic, then stir both into the yogurt.

Finely chop the green chilli, then stir into the yogurt with the cornflour and finely chopped coriander. Grind in a little black pepper then submerge the fish into the marinade and set aside for an hour.

Line a grill pan with foil. Get an overhead (oven) grill hot. Place the fish on the foil without removing too much of the marinade and leaving plenty of space between the pieces. Place under the grill and cook for approximately 10 minutes, watching carefully. (The exact time will depend on the thickness of your fish.) You want a little colour on the yogurt, but without overcooking the fish underneath.

Finely chop the spring onions and put them in a pan with half the olive oil. Cook over a moderate heat until soft. Remove from the heat. Finely chop the mint, parsley and the green chilli, then add to the onions. Squeeze the lemon and add the juice to the mixture, then stir in the rest of the olive oil and a little salt.

As the fish becomes ready, lift on to warm plates then spoon over the spring onion dressing.

Baked apples, blackberry and apple ice-cream

‘Use dessert apples for the contrast with the sharpness of the ice-cream’: baked apples, blackberry and apple ice-cream.

‘Use dessert apples for the contrast with the sharpness of the ice-cream’: baked apples, blackberry and apple ice-cream. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer

I suggest baking dessert apples for their contrast with the sharpness of the ice-cream. If you have a farmers’ market you may get Howgate Wonder or even Peasgood’s Nonsuch – surely worth buying for the name alone. Serves 4

For the ice-cream:
sharp cooking apples 1 kg
golden caster sugar 200g
single or whipping cream 400ml
egg yolks 4
blackberries a handful

For the baked apples:
dessert apples 8, medium-sized
caster sugar 2 tbsp
butter a little

To make the ice-cream, peel, core and slice the apples. Put them in a saucepan with half the sugar and stew over a low heat (they need no water, but keep an eye on them so they don’t burn.) Once a little juice has formed, cover and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes, stirring from time to time. Mash with a fork and cool.

Bring the cream to the boil and remove from the heat. Beat the egg yolks and remaining sugar, then stir in the hot cream. Rinse the saucepan – really important – and return the custard to it, stirring over a low heat until it thickens slightly. Cool quickly by plunging the pan into ice-cold water, stirring constantly.

Mix the custard with the mashed apples and churn in an ice-cream maker until almost frozen. Drop in the blackberries and churn briefly until the berries start to break up. Scrape into a freezer box and place in the deep freeze.

If you don’t have an ice-cream machine, pour into a plastic freezer box, cover and freeze for 1 hour. Remove and beat, then return to the freezer. Repeat three or four times.

Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Score each apple around the horizon with a small knife – to stop them exploding – then place in a baking dish. Bake for 30-50 minutes depending on their size. Dot with butter and sprinkle with sugar, then return for a further 10 minutes until glossy.

Serve the apples hot, with blackberry and apple ice-cream on the side.

Follow Nigel on Twitter @NigelSlater

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Creativity, sharing and delegation: the essential skills we learn through play | Child’s play and learning




Young boy being chased by dad in fancy dress costume at home, carefree, fun, childhood

Play is the vehicle through which children learn about the world around them.
Composite: Gary Burchell/Getty Images/Guardian Labs

According to US psychologist Charles Schaefer, we are never “more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything than when we are playing”.

The dictionary definition for “child’s play” is, by contrast, a misnomer. Child’s play is, reportedly, something that is easy to perform or something deemed insignificant. But Bo Stjerne Thomsen, chair of Learning through Play at the LEGO Foundation, says that play is, in fact, a serious matter.

“Play is the main vehicle through which children grow and learn. It is the foundation for all forms of development and stimulates every part of their brain, enabling them to actively engage in critical thinking, experimentation and wonder,” he says.

So, rather than being just a fun activity, play is the language children first use to communicate, and the vehicle through which they learn about the world around them. It’s the keystone for everything from maths and literacy to empathy. It’s also the way grownups can enter a child’s world, according to child psychotherapist Sarah Clarke.

Clarke, for example, uses building blocks to try and understand how a child is feeling. “Each child will turn these things into something completely different. It may be a way of them creating order out of chaos. So one child might build a house, which could represent a secure base if they are going through a turbulent experience,” she says.

It’s through creative play that children learn how to develop their cognitive, language and physical skills, explains Laura House, education lead at tiney, an early years education provider. This develops in age-appropriate stages. “From birth until the age of two, most play will be solitary as children will be content playing alone. After two, they may start displaying spectator behaviour, where they watch other children playing but don’t join in,” says House.

The next stage is parallel play: playing alongside or near others but not directly with them. “It isn’t until three or four that children actually start to play cooperatively in more elaborate games,” she says.

Meg Walls, co-founder of Great Minds Together, which works with families, schools and local authorities to support children, says play also helps create a child’s self-esteem by giving them a sense of their own abilities. “It gives them the freedom to follow their instincts, to practise or act out thoughts and ideas as well as develop their imagination,” she says.

Young female teacher sitting with group of preschool kids and playing with plastic blocks together in classroom of preschool building

Collaborative play lets children learn to take turns, share and solve problems. Composite: Miodrag Ignjatovic/Getty Images/Guardian Labs

Educational psychologist Ellie Roberts says different forms of play, including LEGO Therapy, are now used in many schools as it encourages children, especially those on the autism spectrum, to communicate and collaborate. “During play, children feel relaxed and happy, there is no pressure, no right or wrong way, or feeling of failure,” she says. “One child might be, for example, the ‘engineer’ and give descriptions of the pieces needed. Another might be the ‘builder’ who follows these directions and puts the pieces together,” she says.

This allows children to practise taking turns, sharing, problem solving, listening and social communication, says Roberts.

Trudi Featherstone, a teacher and parent of an eight- and six-year-old, says: “I love listening to my two work out problems and tackle tasks, like baking, together. It encourages them to use their creativity, to share and delegate.”

Children should, however, be allowed to play independently and be given the freedom to direct how they play, says Walls. “This can help improve a child’s ability to concentrate and foster creative thinking,” she says.

Rachel Clarke, a journalist and mum of two boys, from Oxfordshire, says: “Nowadays there is far too much temptation for children to play on screens for hours, so I really try and encourage my seven- and four-year-old to have plenty of time outside too. They often spend hours creating dens, playing football and going on the trampoline. It gets us out of the house and we always feel better for it afterwards.”

Children are, unsurprisingly, more likely to retain what they have learned if they are able to centre their learning around their own interests. Activities such as Things That Make You Happy, where children talk about things that make them happy, then find or create objects that represent those things and put them in a box before talking about why those things make them happy.

So, in this age of helicopter parenting and early intervention, what approach should parents, caregivers and teachers take when it comes to directing children’s play? Esther Brown, a key stage 2 teacher from Yorkshire, says we need to provide opportunities for them to learn “playfully” with a degree of guidance.

“Allowing children time to explore, discuss and explain their ideas – whether that be with maths, drawing or building a story, is not just about engagement. It allows multiple parts of the brain to be used at once by seeing, listening and doing, and opportunities for multiple links and learning to take place,” she says.

Thomsen says one of the best things about giving children choices and opportunities is that it enables them to try things out on their own terms. “Each child learns differently but no child can learn if they don’t enjoy themselves or aren’t actively engaged,” he says. “We need to shift our mindset so that play takes centre stage when it comes to learning both knowledge and critical skills like creativity and collaboration.”

Find out more about learning through play at school:

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Fill the grid so that every row, every column and every 3×3 box contains the numbers 1 to 9.

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Prosecco crisps, pigs in blankets pot noodles – please make these Christmas treats stop | Christmas food and drink




What really says Christmas to you? Is it a squeezy bottle of Sainsbury’s “Pigs in Blankets Mayo”? No? You surprise me. Or not, as the case may be. For the December issue of OFM I tasted that particular joy, and so many other Christmas products, alongside the fabulous chef Ravinder Bhogal. Oh, the things they make us do for you. It is, for the record, mayonnaise punched up with artificial smoke flavouring and, intriguingly for a product with the word “pig” in the title, suitable for vegetarians.

It’s not just terrible. It’s also symbolic of a trend that has come to blight the British Christmas: a repeated failure of NPD. Those letters should stand for New Product Development. All too often at this time of year, however, they seem to stand for Neurotic Product Desperation or, most simply put No, Please Don’t.

I mean really, has anyone ever really felt more Christmassy because Walkers have released their special edition brussels sprouts flavour crisps? That’s crisps, which taste of cabbage. By design. It’s not just a dreadful idea. It’s bad manners. How about winter berry and prosecco crisps from M&S? Or prosecco and elderberry crisps from Tesco? Or, in an attempt by Kettle Chips to be both weirdly patriotic and awkwardly Christmassy, truffled cheese crisps with “a splash of English Sparkling wine”? The word “splash” there makes me think of reaching into a bowl of snacks at a dreary Christmas party, to discover someone has accidentally emptied half a plastic cup of fizz all over them.

The issue is not food product innovation itself. Good NPD is a serious skill. It’s gifted us many great things, from salted caramel to ciabatta. It’s specifically Christmas food product innovation that’s the problem. (Not all of it, mind; there are some classy products in this month’s taste test.) But there is a problem to do with the rich store of festive signifiers that product developers have to reach for at this time of year. It starts with notions of midwinter shininess, which is the only explanation for clementine-flavoured gin liqueur sparkling with flakes of 23-carat gold for a snow globe effect. It ends with totemic foods like cranberries and, yes, pigs in blankets. As a result, Sainsbury’s – them again – have decided a pigs in blankets flavoured pot noodle is a top wheeze rather than an insult to good taste. There’s even a picture of a pig on the front, even though it contains no pig.

The other problem is timing. To get new products on to the shelves takes months. Which means Christmas NPD does not take place around Christmas. It happens in February or March, when the festival is an abstraction. Supermarket people sit in striplit rooms, chucking word spaghetti at each other. How about a buck’s fizz pork pie or a smoked salmon and cranberry jelly trifle with real silver sprinkles or a turkey, chipolata and dark chocolate yule log? (I invented these products, though some NPD whiz may be taking notes. If any of them are launched for Christmas 2021 I’m just so bloody sorry.)

Of course, ideas like this are lunacy. But because Christmas is so far away there’s nothing to block the blue sky thinking and some get through. How far can this go? How about a turkey and cranberry festive biscuit? For dogs? From Tesco? Because dogs love Christmas too. Jesus Christ, please make it stop. I’m literally appealing to the son of God here. After all mate, it’s your birthday we’re celebrating. It’s the least you could do.

The Christmas taste test is in Observer Food Monthly, out on Sunday 6 Dec

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