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Foodies dont always like the things youd expect. Felicity Cloake uncovers their guilty pleasures and shares recipes using her favourite ingredients, from her new book The A-Z of Eating

People have stopped inviting me to dinner. Its not that they dont want to see me, they explain, they just dont want to cook for me and then they suggest a restaurant, as if I wont leave the house for anything less than a 10-course tasting menu these days. In fact, little makes me happier than beans on toast and, honestly, it doesnt even have to be sourdough. In fact, tinned beans are but the thin end of a very large and heavily processed wedge. Much as I love kale pesto and honky goats curd, kimchi and oily fish, Ill always prefer a Wotsit to an artisan potato crisp, and the wrinkled skin of Birds custard makes my unsophisticated heart beat faster than a jug of elegantly thin crme anglaise could ever hope to.

Nothing
Nothing makes Felicity Cloake happier than beans on toast. Photograph: Alamy

But coming clean about what are often called guilty pleasures though I feel little shame in them is hardly brave, or even novel. In fact, these admissions are practically a badge of honour for the diehard foodie, a kind of culinary reverse snobbery designed to prove your worth as a committed omnivore. We know that two-Michelin-starred chef Claude Bosi likes curry-flavoured instant noodles topped with Frazzles, and Masterchefs Monica Galetti mainlines Marmite on the sofa, because they have happily disclosed these facts to the press. The godlike Yotam Ottolenghi tells me he has an obsession with supermarket-grade sushi for breakfast, and Nigel Slater regularly revels in the forbidden delights of everything from Smarties to Big Macs (Oh God, the sauce). Even healthier-than-thou birch-water botherer Gwyneth Paltrow has gone on record declaring her love for Oreos. Such confessions serve as useful proof that youre a real, fallible human being hearing Deliciously Ella admit that she has a serious thing for dates with almond butter and hummus, but thats about as crazy as it gets! only confirms my suspicion that shes a beautiful marketing robot for the chia seed industry.

Felicity
Felicity Cloake: Much as I love kale pesto and honky goats curd, Ill always prefer a Wotsit to an artisan potato crisp. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

And its not just junk food either; a kind of macho, aggressively omnivorous sensibility has developed in recent years: as John Lanchester wrote in the New Yorker: Once upon a time, food was about where you came from. Now, for many of us, it is about where we want to go about who we want to be, how we choose to live People feel judged by their food choices, and they are right to feel that, because they are. And if youre not prepared to tuck into anything under the sun without a moments hesitation, youre instantly classed as that most shameful of things: a fussy eater.

Take all those slimy, invisible tubes and organs that work so hard to keep us alive, for instance. With the likes of Anthony Bourdain and food writer Tim Hayward singing the praises of nose-to-tail eating, and the gutty, messy smells of things like kidneys, it takes someone with balls, or perhaps fries, as big as Momofukus Dave Chang to admit that, actually, youre not that into innards. But Ill be honest Im not. I dont hate all of it; brains can be surprisingly delicious if you dont think too hard about what youre chewing, and flash-fried liver and chargrilled hearts have a certain bouncy charm, but Ill come clean about the fact that the day I found myself judging 33 steak-and-kidney pies was a dark one indeed. Jay Rayner may boast he likes a certain uric tang as much as the next offal freak, but Ive given kidneys a good go, and I just dont share his enthusiasm.

Tripe falls into the same camp; however much Sichuan red chilli oil you throw at it, it still tastes of well, shit or as Allan Jenkins, the rather more eloquent editor of Observer Food Monthly, puts it, I have a conflicted relationship with tripe. Although Im all for treating the animal with respect, and eating as much of it as possible, surely if you dont like something, it should be OK to say so without being pilloried.

Sushi
Yotam Ottolenghi has an obsession with supermarket-grade sushi. Photograph: Alamy

The current attitude to food reminds me of being a nervous teenage music lover, anxiously scanning Smash Hits to find out whether a new band was cool before declaring myself a fan. And, like krautrock, offal is cool precisely because many of us lesser mortals find it rather challenging. The same goes for dark chocolate; the bitterer the better as I found to my cost when I bit into an 100% cocoa bar recently. Hearteningly, Im not alone in my childish tastes; Jane Baxter declares that she would rather have a Toffee Crisp dunked in a cuppa any day, while Ruby Tandoh reckons that Dairy Milk beats all else, advising if you get a really good-quality bitter dark chocolate, you only really need a square or two because its too horrible to want more.

Mushrooms in general, and truffles in particular, are another thing I would be happy to leave in peace under the soil. In the glory days of journalistic junkets, I was taken to Las Vegas for dinner at the three-Michelin-starred LAtelier de Jol Robuchon and treated to a seven-course truffle-themed menu, complete with precious tubers flown in from the chefs native France. Unfortunately, whatever Giorgio Locatelli might think about these grubby fungi being the highest expression of nature, they still tasted of stale armpits to me. Not that I dared to admit it at the time, of course.

In fact, Im a pretty cheap date, because I dont really get all the fuss about lobster, either. I have had it sea fresh and stuffed into a plain white roll on a New England shore, and gussied up at Londons beloved Le Gavroche, and Im still at a loss as to what this fearsomely pricy crustacean is supposed to taste like, apart from a big, shit, cold prawn, as a fellow doubter put it on Twitter. Many people I survey cant stand oysters, either dubbing them lumps of fishy snot yet they still feel its always embarrassing to turn them down.

Felicity
Felicity Cloake: I dont get all the fuss about lobster. Photograph: Alamy

It seems the more expensive the foodstuff, the more underwhelming the response, which makes me wonder whether things such as wagyu beef and abalone are the culinary equivalent of the emperors new clothes. Weekend magazines drinks critic Fiona Beckett thinks fillet steak is overrated, while Jemma Wilson describes foie gras as a total whatevs, and reactions to caviar in my survey range from a bit meh to sickly, fishy balls of overpriced disappointment although its the traditional ritual around these tiny, salty eggs that Gizzi Erskine cant stand. Having seen the aforementioned Chang eating fried chicken skin topped with caviar, sour cream and chives, Erskine confesses she is now obsessed with it Ive treated myself to a tin worth more than a hundred pounds and had it with the filthiest, greasiest fried chicken Its such a grubby idea that I have to eat it alone. The problem is, she says, that after that, caviar served the classic way, with blinis, bores me.

Jack Monroe is out and proud about a disgust of bottomless green smoothies, and baker Luc Martin hates quinoa so much that he is moved to tell me so on two social media platforms both feelings I can understand, although even I am puzzled by the rampantly omnivorous Fuchsia Dunlops horror of milk as a drink, or Rachel Roddys brave admission that shes the only person on Instagram not to worship at the altar of avocado. A friends hatred of sourdough bread, meanwhile, (Sour, sour. Chew, chew, chew. Its not like sinking your teeth into a lovely soft bloomer, like a thick, white duvet) seems, to me, frankly perverse. But, you know, each to their own.

This is why Country & Town House magazines food editor Anastasia Bernhardts shame at her dislike of smoked salmon (I cant stand the taste. Ive tried so hard to like it. Very embarrassing) makes me feel a bit sad. Since when did every meal become an eating competition? Try everything once, and then eat a balanced diet of the foods that give you pleasure. And remember, life really is too short to pick a winkle.

Coconut
Coconut ice magic. Photograph: Helen Cathcart

Coconut ice magic

Anyone who grew up in 1970s and 80s Britain will have fond memories of Birds Ice Magic, the sweet gooey sauce that set to a brittle shell on contact with cheap vanilla ice-cream, just right for shattering with an aggressively wielded teaspoon. Sadly, it seems it was just too magic for the market, and it has disappeared from shelves, along with its almost equally thrilling squeezy, cone-shaped bottle. But never fear, because help is at hand from an unlikely source. Extra-virgin coconut oil may not have been a kitchen staple in the 1980s, but its high melting point means it hardens as it cools which is exactly what we want here. For the sweet flavour of the original, albeit with a totally tropical coconut taste, add a little golden syrup. If you want to pretend sophistication, leave it out.

(Serves 6)
65g dark chocolate, chopped
50g extra-virgin coconut oil
2 tbsp golden syrup (optional)
A generous pinch of salt

Set a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water and melt all the ingredients together, stirring to combine.

Pour into a jug and serve with ice-cream pour over while warm and, within 30 seconds, it should set to a shell.

Mini Marmite-and-cheese doughnuts

Killer party food. If the idea of savoury doughnuts troubles you, just think of them as slightly more substantial versions of that classic French nibble, the gougre. These are best served warm, while the cheese is still gorgeously gooey.

(Makes about 18)
225g strong white flour, plus extra to dust
7g quick yeast
5g caster sugar, plus extra to dust
20g unsalted butter, at room temperature, chopped, plus extra to grease
2 tbsp Marmite
65ml milk
1 egg, beaten
40g parmesan, or other very hard cheese
100g mature cheddar, grated
40g gouda, grated
1 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp whole milk
2l vegetable or sunflower oil, to fry

Mini
Mini Marmite-and-cheese doughnuts. Photograph: Helen Cathcart

Combine the flour, yeast and sugar in a large bowl and mix well.

Put the butter and Marmite into a small pan with the milk and 45ml of water, and heat gently, stirring until melted. Pour this into the mixing bowl along with the egg and stir until it comes together; the dough should be soft and slightly sticky.

Tip on to a lightly floured surface, or (better still, as the mixture is soft) into a mixer fitted with a dough hook, and knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes in a mixer, more by hand). Put into a lightly greased bowl, cover with a damp tea towel, and leave in a warm place until doubled in size (about an hour). Meanwhile, finely grate the parmesan and spread out on a plate to dry out slightly.

Shape the dough into balls of about 20g each, folding each side tightly into the centre, rotating as you go, then turn the ball over and put it on a lightly floured baking tray or board, spacing them well apart. Cover and leave to rise again for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss the grated cheddar and gouda with the cornflour, and put in a medium pan over a low heat. Add the whole milk and allow the cheeses to melt, stirring regularly, until smooth. Keep warm.

Heat the oil in a large pan or deep-fat fryer to 160C. Cook the doughnuts in batches for about 2 minutes on each side, until golden, then blot with kitchen paper and sprinkle with parmesan. Make a small hole in the side of each, and use a piping bag to inject a splodge of cheese. Eat immediately, while theyre still warm.

Southern
Southern cheese on toast. Photograph: Helen Cathcart

Southern cheese on toast

By southern, I dont mean with zider and West Country cheddar, or indeed Velveeta and cornbread, but soaked in the sunny flavours of the Mediterranean. Creamy mozzarella, sweet umami-rich tomatoes and a peppery basil puree make this a treat indeed for a summer lunch. I like it just as well with baked tomatoes when theyre not quite up to eating raw, so feel free to make it with either.

(Serves 4)
20 smallish tomatoes, or, if tomatoes are in season, enough ripe tomatoes to feed 4 people
4 slices of robust bread
1 garlic clove, halved
2 burrata or buffalo mozzarella balls
For the basil puree
25g basil
100ml extra-virgin olive oil

If youre making this outside peak tomato season (or if your tomatoes turn out to disappoint), heat the oven to 210C/fan 190C/gas mark 7, then put the tomatoes on a greased baking tray (cut them in half if theyre larger than a walnut) and bake for about 20 minutes, until they start to split.

Meanwhile, bring a small pan of salted water to the boil and put a large bowl of iced water next to it. Dunk the basil into the hot water for 15 seconds, then immediately scoop out with a slotted spoon and put into the iced water. Drain the basil well and dry it, then put in a small food processor, or use a stick blender or pestle and mortar to blend with the oil, adding the latter gradually until you have a smoothish puree. Add salt to taste.

Toast the bread until golden, then rub with the cut garlic clove.

Squish the tomatoes on top of the bread, drizzle with the basil pure, add half a burrata or mozzarella (if youre using the former, do this on a plate so you catch any escaping cream), season and add a little more pure. Devour.

Black
Black and white shake. Photograph: Helen Cathcart

Black and white shake

An old-fashioned diner classic with a certain wow factor thanks to the contrasting layers of creamy shake and dark syrup. The syrup recipe makes more than you will need for two drinks, but keeps well in the fridge for the next time life throws you some lemons. For really bad days, add a splash of bourbon.

(Serves 2 very generously, plus extra syrup)
For the chocolate syrup
165g soft light-brown sugar
65g cocoa powder
A dash of vanilla extract

For the shake
500g vanilla ice-cream, slightly softened
250ml cold milk
2 tbsp malted-milk powder (eg Horlicks)
6 Maltesers, crushed

To make the syrup, whisk together the sugar and cocoa in a small saucepan with 180ml of cold water to make a smooth paste. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, until slightly thickened and syrupy with a glossy sheen. Stir in the vanilla extract and season with salt to taste, then set aside to cool.

Put the ice-cream and milk into a blender with half the malted-milk powder and whiz until well combined, adding a little more milk if youd prefer it thinner. Taste and add more powder as you see fit.

Pour the syrup down the side of a glass, rotating it so that it coats the inside, then carefully pour the shake into the middle so it doesnt disturb the syrup. Top with the crushed Maltesers and serve immediately.

The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for the Adventurous Cook by Felicity Cloake is out on 7 April (Fig Tree/Penguin, 25). Order a copy for 20 at bookshop.theguardian.com

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