Wednesday, 1 December 2010

When Madhur Met Nigella

My love of entertaining has been somewhat curtailed by the dreary healthy eating regime. Not only is it not much fun creating sumptuous dishes from nothing but mung beans and salad leaves, but also it doesn't go down a bundle with the guests. Can't think why...

But the very welcome gift of Madhur Jaffrey's new book, Curry Easy, persuaded me that it was time to dust down the apron, throw caution to the wind and get cooking. Dinner for six? A breeze.

I'd like to say that I made the starter myself - but toddlers and time constraints being as they are, frying bhajis and patting pakoras all afternoon was never going to happen. Nonetheless, the supermarket version did rather nicely - and went down well with the popadoms and chutneys (that I didn't make either).

Yes, yes, I hear you say. Isn't this meant to be a COOKING blog? So I offer as consolation the fact I did at least rustle up a raita (of sorts) from scratch. I'm not big on creamy stuff so I am unable to confirm how good it was, but the fact it was polished off in thirty seconds flat suggests not bad. And... 'this is fabulous' said one of the diners. 'Could I have the recipe?'

I felt that to admit that I had simply chopped up half a cucumber, poured one carton of yoghurt on top, stirred twice and forgotten to season might have taken something away from the allure so I muttered something about delicate blends of spices and slunk off to sort out the main course.

Grilled Masala Salmon was the star attraction. Ludicrously easy to make, but oddly I forgot to mention this fact to the assembled throng. You simply rub a mix of spices onto the fish and refrigerate for 1-4 hours. Beat together a paste of olive oil, mustard, lemon juice and fresh coriander, slather over the top, grill briefly then finish in the oven.

Madhur suggests serving with Basmati Rice With Lentils - I went for plain only on the basis that I'd already knocked up quick batch of Bill Granger's dhal and, with health and safety in mind, thought one lot of pulses was possibly enough for six people eating a large meal in a confined space. Had we been dining al fresco I may well have gone for both but with snow forecast I figured caution was wise.

To add some colour I did go for Madhur's other suggested side dish - South Indian-style Grean Beans. Again, incredibly simple, although I never do seem to learn to stand clear of seeds (on this occasion cumin, sesame and mustard) popping in hot oil.

I had intended to take a series of beautifully lit and artily angled shots of all these dishes coming together on the plate...but sidetracked by the delicious aromas I forgot and by the time I remembered there wasn't very much left (and even this vanished before I could make it look pretty).

The verdict? Dhal - great. It's become a staple for me - easy, quick and healthy. What's not to like? Salmon - delicious (and requests for recipe can only reinforce this). It didn't taste as spicy as I'd thought - possibly because I skimped on the cumin (not a fan - I tend to leave it out of the dhal too) but more likely due to the piquancy of the mustardy emulsion. Moist and tasty though and will definitely be done again soon.

The beans were pretty good too. This time I'd followed the spicing to the letter - cumin seeds somehow not offending me in the way that the ground stuff does - and the balance of flavours was great. Overall a little oily for my taste but that's easily fixed.

So all in all an excellent first foray into the book - and there are already several people who are looking forward to the next one.

Dessert by Nigella of course. I resisted temptation to try out her Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecake on the basis that I could not be trusted to be left alone with it for longer than 30 seconds. So Butterscotch Fondue did the job instead - rather well I thought (though at 525 calories a portion I guess it doesn't strictly, or even loosely, tie in with the regime. To clutch at straws I can say that I served half portions - it's so rich that even that's a lot to get through. And, er, we dipped a lot of very healthy fruit in as well... I admit that drinking the leftovers was possibly my downfall. But it IS served in a cup...)

Blame the soft focus on the sugar rush.

And thus I shall return to the gym. I may be some time...

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Carrot (mini) Muffins

Still on a health kick. It is exceedingly dull. And I miss cooking things that don't contain lentils.

So I've come up with a compromise - make things that aren't really my cup of tea (to avoid temptation) but that will be greatly enjoyed by my nearest and dearest nonetheless (still get to bake)

It's a start

With friends coming for brunch the toddler and I figured that muffins were the way to go. Now it must be said that I rather like a muffin - so adhering to above guidelines was somewhat tricky. But Domestic Goddess came up trumps once again and we came formulated a plan to create something to delight our guests, yet keep me on the straight and narrow

I have no idea why I don't like carrot cake. I like carrots. I like cake. I like cream cheese frosting... but somehow all these things together has never quite been my thing. So carrot cakey muffins were perhaps an obvious choice and the child and I lost no time in pulling out our aprons and getting cooking.

In order not to over face little ones I halved the recipe - and used regular fairy cake cases instead of the larger muffin ones. (This also meant they didn't need to stay in the oven quite as long)

If the cakes weren't quite as carroty as they should have been it is because a small girl of my acquaintance was placing much of what I grated into her mouth and not the bowl - but no matter. She took great joy in smearing on the icing and while the snowy topped buns were never going to win a beauty contest they still went down a storm - with old and young alike. Compliments to the chefs - and a new favourite for our household.

Even if mum didn't actually have so much as a nibble (*polishes halo*)

Sunday, 12 September 2010

The Wilderness Weeks...

I am on a health kick.

Not only is this exceedingly dull, but it is also largely incompatible with pretty much every Nigella recipe I have yet to tackle. Detoxing, butter and sugar do not mix (more is the shame) and so my culinary endeavours for the foreseeable must rein themselves away from all that I hold dear and confine themselves to lentils, legumes and the like.

I can offer a nod to the redoubtable smoked trout pate mentioned previously on this blog - skimp on the oil and swap regular cream cheese for Philly Extra Light and it still tastes mighty fine (and it works just as well with a tin of tuna to boot).

But fear not - while the cake tins are in exile I shall instead scroll through some of the many dishes I have tried but not yet had a chance to write about. And as I describe to you their delights I shall enjoy them anew, albeit vicariously. In the meantime do pass the alfalfa...

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Sweet and Salty Peanut Biscuits

It should be said that my passion for baking is somewhat at odds with the healthy eating regime newly instituted at home. And so it is that the merest hint of a visitor is taken as a welcome excuse to divert from the straight and narrow and sends me scurrying to the kitchen to get my pinny on.

I had been meaning to try this recipe for a while, a whim based somewhat tenuously on my addiction to Peanut Butter M&Ms (thankfully not widely available in the UK otherwise I would end up looking like Giant Haystacks circa 1974). Nonetheless in my book salty peanut/butter plus sugar is a winning combination so how could I resist?

As there were to be just four adults consuming said treat (toddler participation vetoed on grounds of nuts = potential choking hazard) I figured I'd halve the recipe. But then the very thought of having to work out what constituted half an egg sent me all gung-ho and I threw caution to the wind and went for it verbatim..

Thirty biscuits? No prob - we'll get through 'em in no time (close eyes to try to block out Giant Haystacks images that are back to taunt me...)

There were unexpected issues in tracking down Trex - which, when finally sighted in a local megastore appeared to come only in industrial quantities - but it was worth the hunt (trek/s?!) for the texture was as light and crumbly as any biscuit lover could desire.

Quick to cook - and easy to make too - at least bar the sugar dusting, a practice at which I appear to be largely incompetent (bear witness to the not-very-sugary-topping on a number of my efforts)

I could blame the recipe for not spelling out in words of one syllable that this step needs to be repeated from scratch for each and every biscuit - or I could admit that my cack-handedness and desire to grab a quick kip while the tiddler slept was more probably the reason for my undoing.

To anyone flicking enthusiastically through Domestic Goddess in search of the details (page 55 since you ask) I would counsel that unlike me you ensure a more-than-liberal sugar pressing on every biccie. Otherwise they just aren't sweet enough.

Will I make them again? Had the visitors not cancelled last minute (unforseen lurg) leaving all 30 cookies to be consumed by the two of us alone I would have said yes. As it is I think it's going to be a very, very long time til either of us will be able to face another peanut in any form whatsoever.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Fairy Cakes - The Final Chapter

I am aware that I must repent both for my lack of posts and what appears to be an obsession with fairy cakes. And so I shall bid the beauteous buns farewell in this valedictory entry.

First - may I present to you a creation that I had intended to call "The Towering Inferno" - but then the sparklers refused to light so it was less conflagration, more damp squib. We got there in the end, although the stress temporarily affected my ability to capture the moment on film, hence a picture with strange and inactive grey sticks dotted about the buttercream. (They are sparklers I tell you, sparklers...)

I had puzzled long and hard over what to make for my mum's special birthday. I wasn't sure she'd want a Peppa (current speciality - see earlier entry). Nor a monkey come to that. I wasn't convinced that traditional royal icing would make it 200 miles up a motorway unscathed, although I am (if memory serves me right) a dab hand with a bit of lattice work so perhaps another time.

And so this is the end result. As you can see - it went down a treat.

My final foray into fairydom is a gift for a reader of this blog. I had promised to make something for her and the birth of her second beautiful son seemed the right occasion on the basis that new babies = lack of sleep = lack of energy = need for calories.

Honourable intentions perhaps, but making them half asleep on a Wednesday evening proved that the old adage is true:

S/he who bakes when not awake is likely to leave the sugar on the scales. (And let me tell you - cakes without sugar are rank...)

Take two - and this time success. White chocolate buttercream whipped up between breakfast and the nursery run. A treat for a new mum - and a day spent removing hundreds and thousands from the far reaches of the kitchen for me (will I never learn..?)

Monday, 24 May 2010

Burnt Butter Cupcakes

To celebrate the visit of my dear twitter (and real life) chum @blueberryathome it seemed fitting to not only roll out the red carpet but also to bake, bake, bake.

A perfect opportunity to try out one of the many recipes I had earmarked to try. And a perfect lesson in how NOT to press ahead without giving it a proper read through first...

I admit it was ambitious to plan biscuits and cakes given I had just an hour in which to prepare them - an hour which also included tidying the house and occupying the toddler. A flawed plan borne of over ambition.

To be fair, had it been your bog standard fairy buns it wouldn't have been an issue, but the clue to my undoing lies in the title of the recipe. Burnt butter.

So - how come if you are NOT intending to burn butter it blackens in seconds and yet here, as I stirred and stirred and waited and waited, it seemed to take an eternity. Not only this - but I came further unstuck when I read on to discover that after this lengthy process it was essential to allow the butter to resolidify before incorporating with the rest of the ingredients. It goes without saying that it was an unseasonably warm day and this took forever. And a couple of days.

I knocked up the biscuits (old faithfuls, Rachel Allen - sorry) while I waited and managed to get the cupcakes into the oven in the nick of time.

And then I read the rest of the recipe.

Buttercream icing? No sweat until...the same process again with the butter????? Why didn't it just tell me that at the beginning and let me get the whole darned process over in one go? (Or - to be fair - why did I not actually read the recipe that has been sitting on my shelf for the last year and work this out for myself)

Time was against me and bog standard buttercream it was, cakes barely iced before the doorbell rang.

I was possibly too frazzled to provide an in-depth assessment of the results but the golden colour and nutty taste were duly noted by the rest of those who consumed them with gusto and the whole lot vanished so fast I figure I'm going to have to do them again (and properly!) - but perhaps not against the clock next time...

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Girls Night In (& Guilt...)

There is much to feel guilty about...

...telling the toddler that a mouse ate the chocolate from her party bag (in my defence it was a) delicious and b) surely this is ok for the sake of her teeth?)

...neglecting my blog for too long (though to be fair I have been cooking - just not writing about it til now)

Oh so many things.

And then a girls' night in, a week or so ago, when I turned to a Delia standby even though the post it notes sticking out of the top of my Nigella collection (yellow for 'made', white for 'still to try', orange for 'ran out of yellow') seemed to taunt me with my disloyalty every time I turned my head.

To be fair, between work and the toddler there was no time for shopping so it was a case of what's in the fridge? And what on earth can I do with that little lot?

The answer is roasted vegetables with couscous and a harissa style dressing - though (as is my wont) I didn't so much follow the recipe as use it as a guide. The veg were aubergine, sweet potato, red onion, field mushrooms and baby plum tomatoes, as that's what I had and that's what I like - oh and a stray red pepper found its way into the mix as well. I'm not sure what the recipe advises but I do this bit pretty often (great with a piece of salmon) so I went slightly off piste, learning my lesson at the end when I went for the traditional slug of balsamic to bring out the flavour of the caramelised veg - and realised that n a fug of exhaustion and absentmindedness I had accidentally used sake instead. Um...Japan meets the Med anyone? Er...fusion?

Luckily you couldn't really taste it and the rest was easy. Chop some feta and mix into the cooled veg (Delia says goats cheese but a) there was none in the fridge and b) feta seemed a safer bet as goats cheese seems to provoke strong and not always positive reactions. Plonk (not a culinary term I have heard Nigella or Delia use but hey ho) on top of a bed of couscous and whack some rocket on top. Whip up a dressing of olive oil, lime juice, tomato puree and cayenne pepper (you are meant to use cumin too but I'm not a great fan - so I didn't) and hey presto. Supper for four, demolished faster than you can say "sorry Nigella, promise to use one of yours next time...honest."

For pud fresh strawberries and a batch of Ms Lawson's Rocky Road (see earlier entry - this time I remembered to turn off the heat before adding the marshmallows so they didn't melt - hurrah). Made enough for a small army - but hey, it was a girls' night and hey, it was chocolate.

My husband was singularly unimpressed with what we left him - just one little teeny tiny little square. Oops

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Birthday Biscuits

Some time ago the child and I experimented - unsuccessfully - with Butter Cut Out Biscuits (Domestic Goddess)

We followed the instructions to the letter - and yet the resultant dough was saltier than a salty thing dripping in sea water. I checked the recipe - yes, 1 tsp of salt. I checked the measuring spoon in the sink to check I hadn't accidentally used a tablespoon instead of a tea spoon - but no - all present and correct.

The biscuits and the remainder of the dough went straight in the bin and we moved on to rolling out recipes new - in every sense. But with a party to prepare for and requests for "cutting shapes mummy" we gave it another go. This time I added just half a teaspoon of salt and the results were perfect.

The tiddler and I rolled and cut and rolled and cut experimented with hearts, stars and numbers. Twelve minutes in the oven, a few minutes to cool and on with the decorating. For the sake of expedience I did the icing. The child was put in charge of sprinkles (100s and 1000s - huge mistake - they roll and bounce everywhere. Next time we'll try a slightly more tameable vermicelli variety).

Before the entire house got covered we instituted a dipping procedure (iced biscuit into sprinkle bowl and hey presto) although the child quickly discovered the joy of decorating her own sticky fingers (dip, lick, dip some more...carnage).

But by hook or by crook, the end product was delicious and much admired (plate of spares for mums and dads vanished so fast we got the insect spray out and went in search of a plague of locusts...) And better still - we've got more dough in the freezer to try it all again

Sweet Treats For A Happy Birthday

The child turned two last week. When we asked what she wanted for her birthday her answer was "a cake and a candle". How could mummy refuse?

We celebrated with a family tea on the day itself followed by a party for her friends at the weekend. I don't need much of an excuse (OK - I will use any excuse) to get the baking gear out so not surprisingly this presented me with an opportunity to really go to town.

First up the cake. The wee one loves monkeys so a monkey it had to be. I hummed and ha-ed between Nigella's Victoria Sponge and a tried-and-tested-so-much-I-can-do-with-my-eyes-shut one-bowl chocolate cake. The latter won on the basis that monkeys are brown...

So the cake itself was super simple to make. I trawled the net for piccies of monkey cakes til I found a couple I liked and based on those photos drew a template on a piece of A4. Sounds simple but you should bear in mind that I failed art O-level (yes, I am that old...) not once but twice. Whipped up chcolate fudge and regular buttercream icing then mixed the two together fot the lighter brown.

The cake making was interspersed around a vital Champions League tie, one that ended badly so at least making a monkey face provided some form of distraction and I managed to avoid getting tears of frustration in the icing. Instead I took out my angst on the ready-to-roll (black and white - used to make the eyes and surprisingly satisfying in terms of bashing)

On the big day itself the child received many amazing gifts but when asked what she had had for her birthday the reply was always the same - a monkey cake with candles. Bless.

I had been planning the cake for the party for - ooh - months on end. A farmyard scene with animal cupcakes (based on Nigella fairy cakes - natch) all around. The cupcakes did indeed come to fruition (and went down very well as going home gifts) but despite tinkering with varous designs for barns I never quite got what I wanted. So - last minute change of plan - a Peppa cake instead.

Given my ineptitude in the artistry department I found it surprisingly simple to make - though colouring the icing pink left my hands looking like I had single-handedly murdered at least a dozen people. Hey ho - the birthday girl and her friends all loved the result and I guess my hands will return to normal at some time in the near future.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Pancakes, Pans and Parenting...

Didn't get the chance to post this yesterday but better late than never...

Cold, wet and a Cup Final to go to. A proper breakfast is called for.

Luckily the bottomless jar of Instant Pancake Mix - see earlier post and/or (although preferably not 'or' now I come to think of it...) Nigella Express.

Give the jar is essentially filled with 600g flour and you use 150g a time, even non mathematicians such as myself will not have too much trouble in working out that is four lots of pancakes. Except this particular jar seems to have gone on for ever. Mind you - why would I complain about that?!

The reason I am revisiting this recipe is twofold:

1) when Nigella says use whole or semi skimmed milk, it is possibly advisable to use whole or semi-skimmed milk. Except we had run out and as I had already got the egg in the bowl and the whisk in my hand I wasn't going to let such details thwart my lust for fluffy pancakes. And to be fair, skimmed is not a total disaster - just makes it all a little limp.

2) no matter how tired please pay attention to your cookware. Foolishly grabbed the first pan I found, not clocking it was the casualty of the mirin salmon debacle (see previous). Even though it has been utterly and throughly cleaned it clearly harbours a grudge for within seconds the house stank of the ghost of aforementioned fish and this is not an ideal accompaniment to maple syrup. Had to start all over again with a friendlier skillet...

The baby rubbed her hands with glee at the thought of a breakfast that didn't involve Hovis or Shreddies but was strangely reticent when it came to tucking in (yes, yes, the salmony reek probably played its part)

A little psychology soon solved that though - "I bet you can't get the pancake on mummy's big girl are so clever" repeated until the plate was clean.

Delicious and warming though the repast may have been at the time, within minutes of arriving at Wembley I was frozen solid (indeed, I am only now regaining sensation in my toes). I was also ravenous and having mislaid my essential football-match Fruitellas before they had even been opened, rued the frying pan debacle that cost me that extra serving of brekkie.

But hey - we won. And what a great afternoon it was. And the jar still isn;t empty! So hey Mr Rooney - my next batch is for you

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

More Fairy Cakes

Yes, yes, I know we've got these covered already - but as a rainy day activity what better than these little spongey treats? ("more mixing mummy").

Pop them in the oven ("Ot, 'ot - burn your wingers" (we sometimes have trouble with the letter 'f'!)) then slather in white chocolate butter cream and go to town with the Barbie sprinkles.

A little too rich for small folk (shame eh? all the more for mummy...) but she was easily placated with a more suitable alternative so all's well that ends well...

Monday, 22 February 2010

Victoria Sponge (with a 'helping' hand)

"Come to our tea party" said a good friend.

"I'll bring a cake" I replied, conveniently forgetting my free time is currently in overdraft and finding the time to do baking would mean bumping the 101 other more urgent tasks even further down the to-do list.

But hey - no surprise that I didn't take too much convincing to forgo Tesco and laundry in favour of floury delights.

What to make? No time for pontification - ingredients for Victoria Sponge all present and correct - so Victoria Sponge (Domestic Goddess) it was

The wee un volunteered her services but I soon learned that babies are absolute rubbish when it comes to creaming butter and sugar to a mouse like consistency. Thanks heavens for the Kitchen Aid...

Fancied something different for the filling: not keen on cream (and nor is my host) so whipped up a white chocolate buttercream and studded it with juicy fresh raspberries.

The photo doesn't do its majesty justice (alas courtesy of a mobile phone) but suffice to say - all (guests) impressed and all (cake) devoured with relish.

Rich and calorific - yes - but then surely that's the point of good old English afternoon tea?

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

How I Destroyed My Pan Collection (Part 2)

Once again my pursuit of the perfect oriental salmon has cost me dear

This time Mirin Glazed (Nigella Express)

Ludicrously simple to make: mirin, soy and soft brown sugar (which within minutes of opening the bag always seems to become rock hard brown sugar and a right bugger to decant without coating the rest of the kitchen in fine muscovado scented particles...but I digress). Slosh the salmon around for a few minutes and cook, adding some rice vinegar to the sauce at the end. How could that possibly go wrong...?

By doubting the great sage is the easy answer.

The method clearly states that one should cook the salmon for 2 mins on each side but being an infidel - albeit a fleeting one - I thought that didn't sound very much and went for 3 mins instead. Result - well depends who you ask...husband said 'burnt to a cinder' though I preferred the more poetic "heavily char grilled". Semantics perhaps, but add the sticky sauce factor to the overcooking and another pan past its prime.

It is worth noting that the bits that were still edible were delicious - so much so that I made it again, following the instructions to the letter and using an old and slightly unloved pan just in case. And as is the way of such things, this hardware lives to fight another day...

My dinner was too delicious for words. Husband's raw in the middle. I assure you - and him - that this was not deliberate on my part and now I guess I just have to hope it will be third time lucky

Monday, 15 February 2010

Teething and a Dinner Party...

My inclination towards domestic goddess-hood has been severely impaired by the baby's dentistry - namely the molars that are causing her untold misery and bother (we were lucky with the rest - hardly any hassle at all - and now it is pay back time...)

So what do you do when you have had no sleep for a week, are so tired that you can't remember your own phone number and have even stopped eating toast cos frankly heating up the bread is way too much effort? That's right - you throw a dinner party.

Cursing the gene that is scientifically known as the "if you are going to do something you may as well do it properly" chromosome it was an all-out assault on the kitchen. And this was a tricky ask...

Six people - two veggies (proper no fish veggies), one person who doesn't eat cheese, one person who doesn't eat fruit or nuts in savoury dishes, one person who doesn't eat ginger or cinnamon, one person who is allergic to peppers...takes some planning let me tell you.

A simple starter seemed the best way forward - a platter of halloumi, vine leaves, hummous, pitta etc

For the main course a recipe I have been meaning to make forever but as it's something that serves 6-8 and is not easily altered had been hitherto untried...

Pretty easy to make - nothing more arduous than a load of stirring. Past practice in the art of filo made the assembly relatively unstressful too. And it looks way more impressive than it ought to so lots of 'oohs' and 'aahs' and even a 'wow' (though wasn't sure whether the astonishment displayed by guest was a genuine compliment or more of a 'blimey, who'd have thought it?'). Make of it what you will...

Off piste (in Nigella terms) for the accompaniments: Ottolenghi chargrilled brocolli salad, a green bean and sesame salad and a nifty combo of roasted new potatoes, butternut squash, sweet potato and cherry tomato. And not a morsel remained.

Desert - and the trusty apple crumble (as per previous post) plus Chocolate Raspberry Tarts (Domestic Goddess again...)

The latter was possibly the bridge too far, the straw that broke this very tired camel;'s back. Looked great, tasted good - but not enough to warrant the time and effort that were already in short supply and ended up in overdraft.

The chocolate pastry was easy enough to make (by hand) but incredibly short - and so by the time it had chilled in the fridge it was more like a big rock-hard lump of crumbliness, rather than a dough you had any hope of rolling. Disloyally perhaps, I recalled a Jamie trick of cutting and pressing slices into the little tins which worked pretty well. But then there was freezing the cases for 30 mins, then baking, then cooling, then filling - all around bath and bedtime and lots of comforting cuddles and teething powders. ..

Went my own way on the filling (when did I ever follow a recipe to the letter?) and mixed melted milky bar with marscapone which was so delicious had eaten half of it before it got near the tarts. One tip - keep at room temperature for while before serving otherwise it's not quite as soft and sumptuous as it should be...

Anyway - lots more wows, replete and happy guests - and another long, long night. We're back on the butties for a while...

Thursday, 28 January 2010

How I Destroyed My Pan Collection (Part 1)

Once upon a time I had a fragrant home and a drawer full of lovely shiny pans. Alas no longer: the house reeks and the bin is full of cookware - and it's all down to my pursuit of the perfect oriental salmon.

I write this in loving memory of my griddle.

Let us begin this sorry saga with the tale of Salmon Marinated in Den Miso (How To Eat).

I should have known better: miso and I have history. For many years I had heard folk eulogise about the mythical black cod in miso. I was not tempted for cod is not a fish I hold any fondness for. It works in fish fingers but otherwise it is bottom of my list of piscine delights.

But then, at a family function, everything changed. Black cod in miso set before me and I too discover that this is surely the most delectable dish on the planet.

Suddenly my dreams were filled with oriental delights and with a trip to taste the fabled Nobu dish out of my impecunious reach, I looked up their recipe on the internet and figured I'd do it myself. First the purchase of all the necessary ingredients: white miso paste, mirin, sake. Then the fish - and with Tesco not exactly having the great range of Japanese exotics I plumped for the poor relation, the bog standard cod. A major error on my part.

I boiled my paste. I anointed the fish. I covered and marinated for several days. I prepared the accompaniment of sushi rice and green vegetables and then I cooked.

Two mouthfuls later the whole lot was in the bin and we were making toast. Bleurgh.

Many months later, when I could once again contemplate miso without feeling faintly nauseous, I came across Nigella's aforementioned recipe and loving salmon as I do, figured this could be the answer.

Trouble is, the oriental supermarket round the corner had now closed down and miso paste was no longer so easy to find in this neck of the woods. The salmon sat slowly decomposing in the fridge throughout my search and then triumph! In the nick of time, on the very day of the "use before" I proudly bore home my trophy and poured, mixed and bubbled to make my sweet smelling marinade, following the instructions to the letter. Until... "marinate the fish for 48 hours"???????

Perhaps I should have read the recipe in full before starting my labours for now I faced a conundrum - leave the fish another two days but risk killing ourselves? Or speed up the process to five hours, 35 minutes? I chose the latter.

That evening I griddled as instructed and a heady aroma filled the house. And stayed. For three days.

The fish itself? Sublime, divine, and any other complimentary adjective you care to throw at it. But the pan was history, congealed with sweet stickiness for just too long (the salmon took a good 10 mins to cook through). No amount of soaking or scrubbing could save it and so I bid it farewell, with grateful thanks for many years of service and the realisation that by the time you factor in a replacement, it would have been cheaper to go to Nobu after all.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Bad bad bad (and good good good)

Am very bad person. Blog has taken a back seat to more glamorous projects (new book!) though the cooking has continued. So time to play catch up with the results.

First up - oooh, let's go for Smoked Trout Pate (Nigella Express)

I was asked to provide a starter for 17 for a festive meal. The instructions were "not soup, you're coming late so not something that needs a lot of heating". Helpful eh?

I was thinking canapes - trays of glam bites that would wow everyone in sight. But on a practical level (not least in terms of reheating/assembly/transportation/gradual soggification) that plan ended up in the bin.

So taking a gamble that no one had anything against fish I went for two simple options. One: tiny squares of pumpernickel topped with cream cheese and smoked salmon (a winner). And two: the aforementioned pate.

Simple is an understatement: shove cheese, olive oil, fish, lemon juice and cayenne pepper into a processor. Whizz it around for a bit and hey presto. Delicious in the extreme and plaudits all round.

As appears to be my wont, I omitted one ingredient. Didn't put in any horseradish because I figured the rest of the jar would rot at the back of the fridge and in my new, improved, waste-not regime that's a no no. But it was mighty fine even without and indeed the baby and I made it again yesterday, she sampling each ingredient first (bar the cayenne pepper - she may be too young to call Child Line but I figured it might be classed as cruelty nonetheless).

"Oooh salmon" she said enthusiastically. "yum yum bubblegum"

I did start to explain the difference between salmon and trout but a) figured at 20 months it's not up there on her need-to-know list and b) ran out of things to say after "one's a bit bigger than the other".