Sunday, 6 December 2009

Gooseberry Cream Crumble (sort of...)

(How to Be A Domestic Goddess)

'Sort of' might be stretching it, given that neither gooseberries nor cream featured anywhere in the dish. I did nick the crumble bit from this recipe though, so surely it vaguely counts?

Of course I have made crumble for decades and decades, sometimes straight, sometimes with a handful of oats or a sprinkle of cinnamon thrown in and other variations on the theme.

But the crumbles of the past pale into insignificance in the face of this beauteous beast.

It's the simplest of tricks. Not the use of half light muscovado, half vanilla sugar. Not the forking through of the sugar (though admittedly, I haven't done it this way before and it's rather good)

The success is all down to one straightforward switch, swapping plain flour for self-raising.

I could spend the next three weeks writing "wow, wow, wow..." but even that would surely be inadequate to pay homage to this lightest of toppings that positively melted in the mouth.

Thank you Nigella. A triumph that will be repeated over and over.

Meatballs With Pasta

(Nigella Bites)

It was a meatball kind of day. Cold, wet and in need of comfort food. And with family to feed ranging from one to seventy plus it seemed like a winner for all concerned.

It may have been an error on my part to double the quantities. I had a kilo of meat in the fridge and it seemed silly not to use it all. On the plus side our freezer will be well-stocked which is always a bonus. On the minus...soooo many meatballs. I lost count at 97 when the phone rang but by then every point of my horizon was studded with herby, meaty little orbs.

If you're making in that quantity I would recommend you take everything out of the fridge a while before mixing - my hands were so submerged in frosty gloop that I lost the sensation in two of my fingers.

I used 100% beef rather than the 50/50 beef and pork mix. I can't imagine that's an issue. I also skipped the parmesan for a number of reasons, not least because I can't stand the stuff. And while we're in the confessional, I omitted the milk from the sauce on several of the same counts. I'm sure that does make a difference to the final dish - but what the heck - it tasted great in any case.

Admit to going for the easy option of packaged spaghetti on the grounds of less time, less mess. But all in all a great success

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Stay Strong...

No, noooooo. I must not be distracted by Jamie's tray bake salmon, even if I have made it so many times that I can do it with my eyes shut and my hands behind my back - which frankly would be useful right now.

I must refocus, remain loyal and brave the freezing rain for ingredients

Thursday, 26 November 2009

The Best Laid Plans...

I stand with my recipe books spread before me. The mind is willing - but the flesh is on the brink of collapse.

The words swim before my eyes and my best intentions disappear as I gaze at the sofa and imagine lying on it. NOW

Today the baby, the sunny-natured child who smiles and laughs all day long, screamed for five solid hours. Our long-planned shopping trip was abandoned midway through, with nothing achieved. I tried distraction, pointing out all the twinkly Christmas lights - but all that did was provoke requests to sing "Twinkle Twinkle" ("again again").

26 renditions later, without a break, she fell asleep in her buggy. Unable to extricate my thumb all I could do was sit there, at a slightly ungainly angle, in the middle of the heaving shopping centre, staring longingly at my only purchase (a large bottle of red) and wishing I didn't have to drive home.

More misery back at the ranch, me unable to fathom whether it was teeth or tummy behind the wails (the pleas to "rub it better/kiss it better" were somewhat non-directional. Though at 19 months I guess that's fair enough). A brief rally, clinking her water and milk bottles together and shouting "cheers" before asking to go to bed. And now asleep.

Realising a jacket potato is as good as it's going to get tonight I have returned my exotic ingredients to the fridge and put the books away. Tomorrow is another day. Hopefully a happier and healthier one.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Cous Cous

(Nigella Bites)

Cous cous might sound overly simple, even if it is a Tuesday night. But given my day started at 4.30am (teeth - not mine) and involved flat out work and meetings before putting the baboushka to bed, frankly it's a miracle I didn't just dial the local takeaway instead.

And of course, it wasn't just cous cous. This is cous cous Nigella style, toasted almonds, pine nuts, bruised cardamom pods. It did occur to me, as I dutifuly crushed pistachios at 8.15pm , that I too may be nuts - but by then it was too late to turn back.

My accompaniment? Not the suggested lamb shanks (I am not big on lamb shanks) but Evelyn Rose's biblical chicken. A recipe chosen mainly because I had all the ingredients. And partly because it involved slaking cornflour and I thought slaking might be more fun than it actually was. Biblical chicken, therefore, though with boneless breast fillets because that's what I had. And no oranges thrown in at the end because I hadn't read that far in the recipe and had therefore forgotten to purchase.

Served with fine beans, and proving to be altogether a finer supper than a rainy Tuesday evening deserves

Note: Cous Cous - a post script

I should mention that for the non nut fan there is an alternative recipe in Feast. But it features ground cumin.

Loving Indian food, Moroccan food etc etc, I know I should like ground cumin. But i don't. So there you go

Monday, 23 November 2009

Old Favourites (No 3) - Thai Yellow Pumpkin & Seafood* Curry

(Nigella Bites)

You can tell by the state of the pages that this is one I've made again and again. And again. Our dinner party staple (at least, it was in the pre baby days when entertaining was something that we managed more than once in a blue moon) and a hit every time.

I've lost count of the requests I've had for the recipe. And one of the best bits about it? No side dishes to prepare, no extras to rustle up. It's meat and two veg (ok, fish and...) all together in one colourful and steaming pot. Just add some steamed rice and your guests will love you forever.

Whilst I'm eulogising...worth adding that it's also super easy and you can prepare it all in advance, just chucking the fish and pak choi in at the last minute.

* We omit the prawns and double the salmon. And we go for the butternut squash, rather than the pumpkin option because it's so much more readily available. Only one other tweak: never remember to buy fish stock - and many are made from bits I don't eat in any case - but you can use veggie (eg: Marigold) without taking anything away from this king, queen and emperor of curries.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Cop Out...(again)

Long day. Nursery run, traffic madness, work, nursery run, play date, meals, nappies, washing, massive food shop. Way too tired to cook - so went for a pizza with the girls instead. Marvellous.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Old Favourites (No 2) - Chocolate Cheesecake

(How To Be A Domestic Goddess)

Face it - it's chocolate, it's cheesecake. How could it be anything other than utterly delicious?

Have only one complaint with this (and all the other cheesecakes for that matter...) in that they are so big and so rich you need loads of visitors to have a decent excuse to make one. (Either that or book into the obesity clinic in advance. Will-power is nothing in the face of such unctuous delights)

It's obviously simple enough to recalculate the ingredients to make smaller or individual ones...but then the cooking time would be trial and error plus there would be decisions to make about what to use instead of the cake tin... Oh well - anyone free for tea at the weekend? I feel a spot of baking coming on

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Saffron-scented Chicken Pilaf

(Forever Summer)

Mmmmmmmmmmm. Sublime. Cinnamony, saffrony, lemony loveliness with added crunch from four different types of toasted nuts. Might be a summer recipe, but just the job for a warm winter glow.

Skipped the yoghurt for various reasons, adding a little garlic oil to moisten the marinade instead. Seemed to work a treat. Halved the recipe to make dinner for two and a lunch for one that we can fight over tomorrow.

For now we shall enjoy the warm, snuggly feeling inside as we settle down for an evening of X Factor, Come Dine With Me, I'm A Celeb... Highbrow it ain't - but surely that's what Sunday nights in are all about

Chicken Soup (2)

Skimmed, boiled and devoured by all including enthusiastic baby.

Must admit that when it came to the KNEIDLACH I deferred to my late grandma Leah whose matzoh balls were the best in the world and very probably the known universe. Measuring of ingredients using the traditional "little bit of this, little bit of that" method and additional ingredients: pinch of cinnamon and a smidge of ground almonds.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

A Busy Day

It didn't set out to be a Nigella kind of day. The winds and rains were howling round the house, the baby was under the weather and miserable and a trip to our local Tesco was as exciting as it was going to get.

To be fair I had planned to progress my project this weekend, picking out two recipes and duly noting the ingredients for my supermarket dash. Hadn't realised, however, that both Puy lentils and saffron count as "speciality ethnic" and were both "two grades above" what our local and very large Tesco can offer. Had the weather been more clement and the baby less unwell I'd have made the effort to go further afield, but making do was the only option.

As it happened, we had an eclectic selection of ingredients around the house already. So lunch was GOLDEN JUBLIEE CHICKEN (from "Forever Summer" - perhaps I was subconsciously trying to bring a little sunshine to our day?) Mango, lettuce, cold chicken, spring onions, lime juice and a number of other condiments. Yes, yes, salad on a day like this is probably a mistake, A reasonably tasty one - but a steaming bowl of soup would have been a much better bet.

And thus a logical step to recipe 2: CHICKEN SOUP (kneidlach to follow - the soup is always best the day after (or the one after that) plus chilling overnight means skimming the fat off the top is a whole lot easier). This comes from "Nigella Bites" but is almost identical to the recipe I've used forever (as has my mum, my grandma and a whole line of female relatives before them right back to the days when chickens were invented). No freezer should ever be without an emergency stash, and with the bairn ailing it seemed now was the time to replenish supplies.

And finally - baby perked up enough to request baking. VANILLA SHORTBREAD ("Forever Summer: again...) today's choice (admittedly mine not hers) but she did a fine job of helping to sieve the flour, cornflour and icing sugar. Using the hand method, I figured it was best to do the dough bit myself, but had enthusiastic assistance in putting it into the tin ("patting" is the newest word in our ever expanding vocabulary..)

Very quick, very easy. Will we make it again? I consider myself something of an aficionado when it comes to shortbread (many holidays North of the border is my excuse...) and this did well on texture. It was as light and crumbly as you can get - demonstrated by the baby trying the fruits of her labour and most of it ending up all over her, the table and the floor - she hasn't really grasped the fact that not everything has to be held tightly in each fist... But taste-wise? Bland and a bit disappointing.

Lack of energy and ingredients mean I've now officially given up for the day and it's cold pizza for tea. Blame Tesco...

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Rocky Road Bars

(Nigella Express)

When I started this project I spent a happy couple of hours marking up all the recipes I wanted to include with some nifty mini post-its. Yellow for the ones I have already made, white for the ones I plan to make, with brief notes where relevant.

The white post-it on the Rocky Road page reads "for Sam". My very first request - and as we're off to Sam's for dinner, I have the perfect excuse to oblige.

One of Nigella's tips is that a lovely box of something sweet and home-made is the perfect gift - and looking at the carton of rich, chocolately deliciousness I think she's absolutely right (though perhaps I should wait and see what the recipient says..!)

It's quick, it's easy and in terms of licking-out-the-bowl-ness scores a perfect 10.

I must admit to one deviation: in my book chocolate refrigerator cake - for that is basically what it is - is digestives every time. I'm sure using Rich Tea, as suggested, would have been equally tasty but hey - I'm a traditionalist at heart...

One purely self-inflicted hiccup. Forgot to turn off the gas when the chocolate had melted so when I added the mini marshmallows they essentially melted too. Whoops. Taste-wise I don't think it's a disaster. But it did mean missing out on the pink and white pockets of gooeyness - at least I'll know for next time. To compensate I threw in a handful of raisins - not strictly (or even loosely) part of the recipe but nice nonetheless.

Now I've found somewhere local to buy perfect-sized pretty cartons I'll definitely give it another go. So should you fancy trying it you'd better invite me for dinner...

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Old Favourites No 1 - Home-Made Instant Pancake Mix

Sitting in a traffic jam (one mile in 32 mins - the joys of London) I realised that it may look as though my Nigella books have sat pristine and unused on the bookshelf until now - which, of course, is not the case at all.

So as well as trying all the recipes I always meant to try, perhaps it's time to give a nod to a few old favourites too.

First up - Home-Made Instant Pancake Mix (Nigella Express)

Whenever I have travelled to America, I have always made a point of a visit to a diner. My sole purpose - the consumption of a vast stack of pancakes, dripping with maple syrup and slathered in fruit. Can there be a finer start (or middle, or end) to a day?

However, now I have discovered these little golden beauties I can save myself the air fare

Great idea to make the mix in bulk and store it on the counter. How fast a gloomy moment is lifted by the prospect of these fluffy treats - just the whisk of an egg away.

Easy, delicious, more-ish, we make them again and again. Have tried the blueberry syrup (recipe on same page) once too - nowhere near as sickly sweet as I expected and rather delicious - specially with some sliced bananas atop the pancakes. But actually a decent maple syrup will do you just as well, so why not save on the washing up by sticking the fruit alongside the bananas instead?

Monday, 2 November 2009

Roast Poussins with Sweet Potatoes

(Nigella Express)

Seduced by the picture - though when you read on it seems the best way to cook this is with the poussins and veg in separate dishes which doesn't offer quite the same visual wow factor.

Other than that, simple as a-b-c.

We're not watercress fans in this house so used rocket instead - worked a treat. Be generous with the salt and lime juice, tip the juices from inside the birds onto the plates as you transfer them and hey presto - an easy, tasty, and pretty healthy supper that's less effort than a bowl of pasta. And surprisingly good value to boot. Win-win in my book

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Glitzy Chocolate Puddings

(Nigella Express)

A weekend of chicken (on offer...economy drive etc etc). New recipe (biryani) so-so, old recipe (apricot chicken with cinnamon couscous) - fab.

Treat for pud.

Recipe - super easy. Looks - fabulous. Went down - a treat.

A dinner party winner: try serving on a large plate with berries scattered around the edges. It's light-as-a-feather and the choccy topping/Crunchie glitz makes the whole thing just perfect

Only downer was that I discovered midway through mixing that husband had ebay-ed the ramekins so had to use utilitarian mini pudding basins as emergency stand-in. Did not match up to Nigella's sparkly dishes. Could not ask for better spouse but he has yet to come to terms with my collection of kitchenware. And my love of cushions. A girl thing apparently.

Suffice to say I'll be making this again and again - and there are gleaming new ramekins (Tesco special - surprisingly smart for the price) in our kitchen cupboards

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Fairy Cakes

(How To Be A Domestic Goddess)

A rainy Saturday afternoon, a bored baby...what better activity than making fairy cakes?

Mummy measures out ingredients, small child tips them into bowl (mostly into bowl...), we share the stirring. Fifteen minutes in the oven and hey presto - twelve light-as-a-feather, fluffy fairy cakes and the kind of aroma that would sell your house in seconds (yes, I know it's meant to be baking bread but this is every bit as good).

Just one tip: do not answer the telephone in between icing and pouring on the hundreds and thousands. As I have now discovered, the result of this fundamental error is sprinkle-free cakes and small, brightly coloured sugar balls bouncing (in their aptly named hundreds and thousands) into the furthest reaches of the kitchen.

And now I am off to remove them from the toy bucket,,,

Friday, 23 October 2009

Hokey Pokey

(Nigella Express)

After trying to resist for too long, finally succumbed.

Three ingredients and three minutes seemed too good to be true for such a tempting looking treat. And it was...

Where did I go wrong? I measured with accuracy, buttered my foil diligently, melted, bubbled and stirred as directed. Only thing I can think is that I left the ingredients on the heat just a fraction too long. Won't go into too much detail, but essentially baby, nappy, and an odour that was masking the delicious smells wafting from pan. Couldn't I have waited those three short minutes to deal with it? Er - no.

Nonetheless, the mixture did what it said it would when I added the bicarb, and looked pretty promising as I poured it out to cool...

Turned my back for a minute and instead of the rich, crunchy honeycomb that tantalised me from Nigella's description was confronted by a sticky solid mass that refused to part company with aforementioned foil and would have been a challenge for even the strongest set of teeth.

Refusing to admit defeat, set about it with the rolling pin in the hope that bashing it would somehow turn it into the delectable chunks in the photo before me... Rolling pin simply stuck to it and was only released after soaking in copious amounts of hot water.

Next time will buy a Crunchie instead

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Cop Out...

So the experiment is not going as well as I'd hoped...

But my excuses are: not had time to shop for ingredients, two play dates today so on my knees, Masterchef final fast approaching within the hour

So M&S fish cakes from emergency freezer stash it is - with a resolution to do better tomorrow...

Wednesday, 21 October 2009


Am infidel.

Thirty minute window to create delicious patisserie for visiting neighbours and have gone for tried-and-tested Rachel Allen recipe.

If books could glare, "How To Be A Domestic Goddess" would be doing it right now

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Steak Slice with Lemon and Thyme

(Nigella Express)

The recipe - easy. The result - delicious. But, but...

Made this for the first time last week and it was fantastic. Aside from the fact that stray thyme leaves are still turning up all over the place despite copious sweeping, it went down a storm. As the word of Nigella is law, served it with the 'broccolini' she suggested (tender stem broccoli in Tesco-speak) and this was definitely a good move. Some roasted sweet potato (hey - all my own idea) set it off a treat. But by the time the meat had sat in the marinade for the 8 minutes suggested, then been sliced a la recipe it was somewhere between tepid and stone cold. Still delicious, but slightly odd with piping hot veg.

So tonight I tried again.

Inspiration - cover the marinating meat with foil to keep it toasty. Result - no difference at all.

How it all began...

Around three years ago, on a trip to New York, I bought a book called "Julie and Julia" to read on the journey back to Blighty.

Well, technically this is a lie: my deep-rooted aversion to aviation meant I was never actually going to read it on the plane. As we bounced over the Atlantic, I was far too busy squeezing the blood supply from my husband's hand or waving my arms about my head in a state of panic to think about holding a paperback. But the book was in my hand luggage so there you go.

"Julie and Julia" is the story of a blogger (Julie) who vows that over the course of a year she will recreate every single one of the 524 recipes in Julia Child's classic "Mastering the Art of French Cooking".

That sounds like fun, I thought. Not the French cooking per se, given I do not eat rabbits or lobsters or cream or oeufs en cocotte or half the other things necessary to complete the task.

So I considered the UK equivalent.

However, arriving at the conclusion that I could be faced with a year's worth of Fanny Craddock's "Common Market Cookery" I decided to abandon the project and grill, bake and fry my way through the works of Nigella Lawson instead.

I am aware that "Cari and Nigella" doesn't have quite the ring of "Julie and Julia", but as I am loathe to change my name to Nigel it will just have to do.

So - dietary exclusions and aversions permitting - this is it...
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