I’ve already talked about how the smells of food and cooking are very evocative to me of particular people, places and things. What has come as a shock to me this morning, is that they are also very evocative of more nebulous concepts and ideas that are probably the accumulation of many different, and hitherto forgotten, experiences.

This recipe calls for oven-baked potatoes and there are two ways of doing them: the long, but less labour-intensive and arguably much more expensive, way of chucking them straight in the oven and leaving them for about an hour or the much quicker way of nuking them for a few minutes in the microwave to get the lion’s share of the cooking done, before chucking them in the oven for about 20 minutes to crisp the skin.

I must admit that I usually fall back on the latter method because either I’m incredibly disorganised and don’t get the oven heated up in time or I decide, far too late, that a jacket potato is what I want. Today, though, I decided to do it the more traditional way: I wanted to go to the supermarket and it was far easier to chuck them in the oven, put the timer on and forget about them.

And forget about them I did…that is, until I was struggling in through the front door, and out of the driving rain, with four groaning carrier bags (I’d only gone out for a chicken and a newspaper!) All I can say is that I was engulfed in the most warming bear-hug of an aroma that I have ever experienced. I suddenly felt all festive and as though the house should be full of family and their chatter and laughter, ready to sit down around the table to eat, drink and be merry. When I realised that it is, in fact, still three months until Christmas, I felt quite disappointed and impatient! The holiday spirit does seem to be kicking in earlier and earlier with me and the only thing I can put it down to is that, for the last two years, I’ve been a mum and I seem to be recapturing and reliving my childhood with my son.

All of this from the smell of a baking potato. Who’d have thunk it?!

Gluten-free Welsh rarebit loaded potato skins

There’s nothing like toasted cheese to warm you up on a chilly Autumn day. My recipe makes for quite a creamy centre – if you prefer yours a bit more solid, cut down on the quantity of ale – I’d say, probably to 190-200ml.

Makes 6

3 medium baking potatoes, washed and dried
220ml gluten-free ale (I used Green’s Golden Ale)
30g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
30g butter
150g mature Cheddar, grated + a little extra for sprinkling
2 tsp English mustard powder*, made up with 2 tsp water
1 tbsp gluten-free Worcestershire sauce (I used Life Free From, which is also fish-free and, therefore, vegetarian)

Preheat the oven to 180°C (mine is fan-assisted, so adjust accordingly). Prick the potatoes all over with the tip of a sharp knife and place directly on the oven shelf. Bake for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the skins are brown and crispy and the flesh within appears to have shrunken away slightly. Remove the potatoes from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

While the potatoes are cooling, make the Welsh rarebit sauce: place the gluten-free ale into a small saucepan and bring up to a gentle boil**. Meanwhile, place the flour and butter into another small saucepan and place over a gentle heat. Stir with a whisk until the butter has melted and the flour has become incorporated to make a roux: you’re looking for the consistency and colour of lemon curd. Allow to bubble away for about 30 seconds or so, still stirring. Now pour the hot ale into the roux, whisking all the time, to create a thick, golden-brown sauce. Add the grated cheddar and whisk to combine. Finally add the mustard and Worcestershire sauce, stir to incorporate and take off the heat.

Carefully, using a tea towel to protect your hand if necessary, slice each potato in half horizontally. Using a spoon, scoop out the soft insides and put in a bowl. Place the potato skins, cut side up, in a cake tin or on a baking tray. Roughly mash the scooped-out potato and stir into the Welsh rarebit sauce. Pile the potato and cheese mixture into the potato skins and sprinkle with grated Cheddar. Return to the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the tops are golden-brown and the cheese is bubbling.

* Make sure you use English mustard powder and NOT ready-made English mustard. The former is just mustard powder, whereas the latter is produced using wheat flour.

** The hot liquid going into the hot roux should ensure a lump-free sauce.

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