The Home Cookery Year author digs into her digital loves.

Claire Thomson is almost always found in an apron. Between her capacity as a chef, cookery writer and mother of three daughters, and with her deep and abiding love of food thrown into the mix, there rarely seems much reason to take it off. Food and travel are, as she puts it, what ‘make her world go around.’

Born and raised in Zimbabwe, then London and Shropshire, she’s travelled extensively and cooked all over the globe. That harnessing of ideas – usually vegetable based – has since transpired to similarly excite others too. As such, she has garnered a legion of followers through her cookery column in The Telegraph and via her ever popular Instagram account @5oclockapron, which – though always great – came dazzlingly into its own during lockdown.

Claire also has five beautiful cookery books under her perma-tied apron strings. Her latest is Home Cookery Year, the biggest and most gorgeous yet. As she observes, ‘The title is an especially prescient one, given that it’s 2020 and we’ve all spent so much of this year cooking from home. I finished the edit on this book just as the UK went into total lockdown back in March, thinking to myself, well this might last a couple of weeks, a month perhaps. Quite apart from hoping this becomes a cookbook of our time, Home Cookery Year sets a benchmark for how I cook, week in, week out: a bit like a chef, a bit like a food writer and a bit like a working parent juggling all the usual.’



If you fancy a taster of Home Cookery Year, Claire shares her mouth-watering recipe for Green Apple, Thai Basil & Smoked Tofu with Shallots & Bird’s Eye Chilli below. But first, she tells us how clay modelling via Instagram and her trusty KitchenAid got her and the family through the first lockdown proper and why, thanks to the wonders of IGTV, the family hamster, Captain, is now star in his own right.

Photo credit: Maria Bell

HOME COOKERY YEAR: Four Seasons, Over 200 Recipes for All Possible Occasions by Claire Thomson (Quadrille, £30). Photography: Sam Folan.

My favourite website...


Tough call. If you mean the ones I look at the most, then these are probably them: The Guardian, Toast and Eat The Seasons.

My favourite app...


Instagram. I use it quite a bit for work and find the Insta community super friendly and supportive.

My favourite blog...


I really love Vittles, a newsletter sent via email on subscription for intelligent, thought-provoking writing on food and culture.

My Internet hero...


Marcus Rashford is doing some tremendous work on heckling the government on child food poverty and making sure they make it more of a national duty.

My favourite podcast...


Dolly Parton’s America. Best podcast ever. I listened to it during lockdown – it’s from the makers of Radiolab and is so very good. It’s about more than just Dolly – and that’s saying something. This podcast is about life in present day America. It is simply brilliant.

My most recent buy online...


A rug for the living room. Winter is on its way and I fear it’s going to be a bit of an odd one, all things considered.

Last book you downloaded or read...


An American Marriage. I couldn’t put it down. I love how the author weaves the three stories together. Sharp as a tack and yet so very, very tender.

Favourite tweeter...


Nigella Lawson is pretty good at keeping us all on our toes with food, recipes and general tips for graceful interaction when it comes to all things food.

Favourite Instagrammer...


I really admire @zoeadjonoh for her feed and I’m constantly ogling the Ghanaian recipes that she posts. It’s the kind of food I like to eat and want to know more about.

Favourite tech gadget...


I’m a luddite, honestly. If there has to be one, it’s my Bluetooth speaker for car journeys, as my car radio is so old and useless. This speaker is my lifeline to Spotify on long car rides with the kids.

The most useful gadget/item on your desk...


My kitchen table is my desk, so I would say it’s one hundred percent my KitchenAid mixer. During lockdown, KitchenAid got wind of the cooking videos the children and I were doing in our kitchen and sent me a personalised mixer with 5 O’Clock Apron stamped along the top. Very impressed.

Most useful digital resource during lockdown...


Instagram /IGTV. We did some brilliant #cookingwithkids #the5oclockapron cookery videos on these platforms from our kitchen and gained quite a following for them. Such fun to show the world how I cook at home with my kids. Our hamster made regular cameo appearances and also got quite a fan club. Let’s hear it for Captain!

Most inspirational digital resource during lockdown...


The free kids’ stories that Audible put out over lockdown were a boon. So too were @jimparkyn’s real time clay modelling sessions – the kids loved these and we completed quite a few. Such a magnanimous activity to provide for people with – or indeed without – kids during lockdown proper.

First thing/app you look at on your mobile when you wake up/in the morning...


WhatsApp to check on kid’s arrangements for the day. With three under thirteen, they have quite a fruitful social life and it’s a job to keep all the balls rolling. I share quite a few drop off and pick-ups with other parents, so often check in with that. I will also check Instagram as I often have quite a few DMs there to answer.

Last thing you binge-watched...


Normal People. I felt so sad when I finished it. Such terrific TV.

Favourite brands have you discovered online...


Toast is a winner. I love their clothes and wear them often.

Social media allowed me to meet...


Many, many people. Too many to count here.

The best digital advice I've been given...


Back up your Mac at least once a month onto a hard drive. I’m a luddite, as mentioned, but my best friend’s husband is my digital saviour. Without Lex, I’d be toast, as would all my digital devices.

My screensaver is...


My three girls sitting on a bench on the equator, a photo taken in Kenya last year. We went there for a travel piece I was writing and had the most magical time I think we’ve ever had together as a family. Memorable doesn’t even cover it!

My pet online hate is...


Bigotry and aggression, of which there is plenty online. Be kind or don’t say anything at all is a pretty good maxim to follow online.

Do you have any online rules or resolutions?


No phones in the bedroom, ever. That includes my husband and I and our 13-year-old daughter.

The Internet. On balance, a force for good or ill?


Good, if we follow the above: be kind or keep quiet.

RECIPE: Green Apple, Thai Basil & Smoked Tofu with Shallots & Bird’s Eye Chilli




The apples and the smoked tofu are an excellent canvas for the dressing in this recipe, a dazzling combination of cherry tomatoes and peanuts, which are pestle-bashed in a mortar (or use a food processor – those little ones are often very handy – to bruise and break everything down just enough), then mixed through with the lime, fish sauce and shallots.

Try to get hold of some Thai basil – it has a pungent, slightly spicy flavour redolent of liquorice and anise, quite different to standard sweet basil, which has more minty, grassy notes. Most larger supermarkets stock it these days, and (most likely of all) Asian grocery stores. This is a light lunch or supper dish that truly packs a punch.

Ingredients

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1–3 Thai bird’s eye chillies, thinly sliced, plus more to taste if needed
1 tbsp palm sugar (or use light brown soft sugar)
30g (1oz) roasted peanuts, lightly crushed
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
4 tsp fish sauce, plus more to taste if needed
Juice of 1 lime, plus more to taste if needed
3 small shallots (or 1 large), very finely sliced
3 tart, firm green eating apples (such as Granny Smith)
2 little gem or 1 soft round lettuce, leaves separated
200g (7oz) smoked tofu, cut into bite-size pieces
1 small bunch of Thai basil (or use green or purple basil), leaves picked, and roughly
chopped if large
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

In a food processor on pulse or in a mortar with a pestle, pound the garlic, chillies and sugar to a paste.

Add 1 tablespoon of the peanuts and all the cherry tomatoes and pound or blitz a few times, just to bruise the tomatoes and release some juices.

Stir in the fish sauce, lime juice and shallots and put to one side.

Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper as necessary.

Fill a bowl with some salted water. Slice or shred the apples with a peeler or cut them into matchsticks (peel them, if you prefer), putting them straight into the bowl of salted water to prevent discolouration.

Drain the apples and transfer them to a large mixing bowl along with the lettuce leaves, tofu and basil.

Add the dressing, adjusting with more lime, chilli or fish sauce, if necessary, and serve immediately with the remaining peanuts strewn over the top.

By Nancy Alsop
October 2020

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