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