Friday, 30 March 2007

Kitchen Diaries: A Fiery Way With Lamb

I have a rare lamb fancying moment on the tube home and invest in a small neck fillet, hoping that Nigel and my cupboard will lend me further inspiration. Happily, I have the lion’s share of things for “a fiery way with lamb” (March 11). It’s one of those meals he describes the idea of rather than directs, so I don’t worry about using puree and water instead of real toms and I reckon I’ll survive without coriander.

The frying whole spices (mustard, cumin, fennel and coriander) smell beautiful in our lonely kitchen and after the marinade’s done I leave my lamb cosily wrapped in it for an hour before grilling. Nigel uses chops and offers no cooking times, so mine (done for just under 10mins on each side) is a little over done unless you don’t like pink, then it’s perfect. I don’t think I reduced the tommys enough, they’re still pulpy and so blacken under the grill. But it’s fresh and hot and vibrant and the whole spices work considerable magic.

I have it with roast sweet potato and fennel, mushrooms and spinach (sweated with lemon and pepper, but they’re definitely the weakest link) and it works well together, good colours too. Once again Nigel wins my night, but took a little longer about wooing me than I’d hoped for.

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Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Nigel Slater : Prawn and Coriander Rolls

We're just back from a skiing holiday which consisted of a week of only three things - looking intently at the ten feet immediately in front of you, sleeping and refuelling the body with food and wine. And so after a slightly depressing Sunday back in London (at least it was sunny) we planned some dinner. A quick trip to a proper Painsbury's (while I watched Noel Edmonds on Deal or No Deal - sadly not this clip) produced the required ingredients for prawn and coriander rolls. The only slightly odd ingredient being rice vinegar.

These proved to be absolutely delicious and very easy to make (although I mainly watched The Best of Top Gear during the cooking - the one where they make a soft top people carrier) .

Anyway, this was one of the most tasty things we've ever eaten. I think we might have discovered my new favourite thing - and we used the cheapest of the cheap and nasty prawns. The sauce was loaded with flavour, sharp with sweetness and some sour.

Things to watch out for:
Not sure if this is meant to be a starter but we had to double the recommended amounts to get decent portions. We chopped the lettuce and had brown rice with it which worked very well. If you like coriander and strong flavours this will be your new favourite thing too.

Buy the book cheap through our Amazon store and you can make your own prawn and coriander rolls. Yummmy yummy in your tummy.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Kitchen Diaries: Lime Tart

We’ve got a few relationships which involve swapping desserts, and last night we went to one couple’s house for beef. Last time Sallie came 'round she made the most incredible blueberry cheesecake, so it was the perfect excuse to make Nigel's Lime Tart.

Nigel says it’s easy, but it’s rather a lot of work. I thought I’d be able to do it without a problem in the two hours between when we got back from a visit to Arundel Castle and when we were supposed to be at their house, but it took about two and a half hours to make and cook.

The pastry is very very delicate, like homemade sugar cookies without the baking soda, so it needs loads of resting time. It can’t be rolled, so it gets logged and sliced and pressed.

The lime innards are very eggy, reminding me of a Bakewell tart, and yes, they are easy to prepare, but it takes 45 minutes to bake. I bow my head in shame at my lack of reading ahead.

The crust Nigel says to prepare is extremely buttery, and takes at least 10 minutes longer to pre-bake (and become “dry to the touch”) than he recommends. By that point, the edges were browner than a discerning pie crust maker would like, and there was still another chunk of time in the oven with the insides. I had to rush through this part, which means that the tops were overly cooked and the crust’s insides were still too soggy to stand up on their own.

At least two cookbooks have assured me that pie crusts do not burn after being pre-baked. They both lie.

As for the tasting, the tart came after a particularly lovely pot roast and was a huge success. There were general calls for seconds all around. We practically licked the tin clean. It was a perfect mixture of custardy and sour. Very moist and not too gooey. Next time, and there will be a next time, I’ll plan ahead and clear my schedule for the afternoon.

Buy the book cheap through our Amazon store and you can make your own Lime Tart.

Kitchen Diaries: Sweet and sticky chicken wings

M was upstairs putting the finishing touches on his first (and last) schoolwork essay in a decade and our house was practically devoid of any foodstuffs. I’d discovered a couple of chicken wings in the freezer which I was glad I hadn’t thrown into the last pot of stock I made. Those plus the remaining tortellini from the night before (plus the leftover bacon from the haddock dinner a few nights ago) made a dinner-like meal.

I was really surprised to see chicken wings in Kitchen Diaries. It’s not normally a part of the bird people eat in the UK (although in the States they’re practically a staple). I liked the idea of sweet and sticky, calling to mind my favourite US treat, buffalo wings, and once again a quick rummage assured me I had all the ingredients. Marvellous.

This is preposterously simple recipe. It’s almost embarrassing: Honey + Mustard + Garlic. Mix n’ Pour. Shove in oven. Flip once. Remove and eat. Delicious. Really good. I wished I had more. I can now do this in my sleep.

Nigel admits that it’s not got any spice and I would have liked a bit of heat, so next time I’ll throw in some cayenne or a sliced up fresh chilli from the plant. Because I only made 4 wings, I didn’t need to put them in for quite as long as he suggests. I’d have liked a bit more gooeyness, but that could have been remedied by pulling them out about 10 minutes earlier.

Really good – and tasty. Unfortunately it comes with a price. The cleanup is an absolute ‘mare.

Buy the book cheap through our Amazon store and you can make your own sweet and sticky chicken wings.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Kitchen Diaries: Baked haddock with bacon and parsley

I OD’d on salmon late last year, and while I still love the fish I have tried to branch out into other sub-oceanic wonders recently. Haddock is one such foray. But, like Elvis, once I find a foodstuff I like I don’t wander too far off the rail. Sadly, I’m beginning to have my fill of this fish too.

But bonus, the last fillet in the fridge gave me the perfect excuse to nose around the new Sainsbury’s which opened last week to great fanfare within the Brighton community. Hey, we’ve got the Pier, we’ve got the Pavilion. We’ve got Gehry towers growing, and a virtual pier rising. We get excited about things.

The fish was blindingly simple, yet ridiculously easy to overcook on all (fish, bacon) accounts. It’s not got much in it other than the fish, the bacon and the parsley, and which I’m not a sauce-fanatic, it was a bit dry. The bacon and parsley element, for example, could have used a smidge of white wine or something to pad it out. Still, unfettered and - yes - tasty.

I’ve noticed Nigel’s not so keen on carbohydrate accompaniments to his dishes, and this one is no different. He recommends a watercress, pear and fennel salad to go with it, and if that hadn’t been there this would have been a “meh” – tasty, but not spectacular. The salad, however, was divine. I mean, really excellent.

I don’t experiment with my greens course very often, but this has inspired me to move away from the Romaine and cucumber and towards the spicier leaves, the sweeter fruits and fennel – oh, fennel. The dressing he recommends – a very simple lime and olive oil concoction – deserves another half a lime than he suggests, to give it a bit of ting, but this is what saved this meal. I’ll be visiting the salad many times again.

Buy the book cheap through our Amazon store and you can make your own baked haddock with bacon and parsley.

Friday, 16 March 2007

Kitchen Diaries: Treacle Tart

My book arrived two days ago and I immediately noticed how heavy the thing is. Seriously heavy.

The baptismal recipe was created for last night’s Girls’ Night pot-luck and clothes swap at Ruth’s house. Bonus: except for the white bread, I already had everything I needed for it in the house.

I had no idea that there was 200g of white bread in treacle tart. I thought the treacle was made of, well I don’t know what I thought the treacle was made of, but not bread. I don’t eat much bread so was bothered by the fact that the only bread the local shop had on offer was an 800g loaf. After the tart’s share, that’d leave me with a whole 600g of waste. Rubbish. So I bought 400g of the Polski Sklep's finest. Only problem – it wasn’t so fresh.

The pastry was easy. I used some of the stuff I’d already made from The Joy of Cooking ‘cause the recipe was the same. Processing the bread into crumbs was easy. Adding the lemon (a rather antiquated lemon-like specimen I found in the door of the fridge) was easy. Getting 8 tablespoons of golden syrup out of the tin was not so easy. Verrry messy.

The bread/lemon/syrup mixing went much more smoothly than I imagined it would, but the resulting goo was rather shallow in the pie tin. There was about a half an inch between the beginning of the crust and the top of the treacle.

When I pulled the tart out at the agreed time, it looked damp and squalid, and too "formed". pulled a few bits off to taste and they just tasted like a bit of hot sweet bread. Not like treacle tart, in other words.

treacle tartI added another two tablespoons of golden syrup to the top of the tart, shoved it back in the oven for 10 minutes, and then it looked more like something you’d want to eat. However, the "treacle" was still a lump of self-contained product inside the crust, and it was toasted on top. Just like in the book. Reared on Mr. Kipling, I had expected it to be much more gooey.

I took it ‘round to Ruth’s with a tub of vanilla, but because no one had organised who was bringing savoury or sweet we had five desserts to eat after a dinner of garlic bread and crisps. My treacle tart unfortunately didn’t make the cut.

So re-warmed today and eaten with a cup of rooibos tea, the tart is OK. I honestly don’t think it would have made a difference if we’d eaten it last night or not. M thinks it's good, but I’m convinced it’s not great. It definitely needs ice cream or something else cold and creamy to go alongside. Worst feature: you can taste the bread. Best feature: the golden syrup sticks to my teeth.

Things I’d change next time:

Lemon rind to replace 1/4 tsp of the juice
More golden syrup
Really really fresh plain white bread. It shouldn’t be too salty ‘cause that comes out in the finished product.
Maybe some cinnamon or nutmeg to add depth
Thicker crust

Buy the book cheap through our Amazon store and you can make your own treacle tart.

Kitchen Diaries: Stir-fry for a spring day

Before even the crack of dawn is a twinkle in Saturday’s eye we’ll be heading off to Gatwick and this means I’m trying to run down fridge supplies. Today I am looking to Nigel to use up the best parts of a packet of mushrooms and spinach. The man does not disappoint.

A well put together index (multiple listings for each recipe) leads me straight to page 100 - March 29 in the Kitchen Diary and before leaving for work I realise that I only really need some lemongrass to try out “a stir-fry for a spring day”. On the way home I try a hit and run on Sainsburys. Can I manage to leave with only one purchase? I fall at the first hurdle and have to carry my scallops on the long walk of shame home.

Preparation is monkey work though. Chop all the stuff and chuck it in a really hot pan (I forgot about spring onions but they’d have added to fridge stocks anyway – and I don’t care that my mushrooms aren’t chestnut and that my chilli is the wrong colour). I worry I’m over cooking my slightly misshapen scallops because I thought it would all be more complex. And then I worry about the stir-fry because the scallops take longer than I’d anticipated…

But it’s all fine, white rice soaks up the extra soy from the stir-fry and the scallops’ sweetness and firmness goes well with the spinach and mushrooms. The “stir-fry for a spring day”, to be fair, isn’t a show stopper though and not really worth following a recipe for. It’s nice nonetheless, salty and smoky and would be a good supporting role to many a fresh and lemony dinner star. Perhaps I add too much soy but the lemongrass is overpowered and I suspect Nigel’s suggestion of a hot red chilli would have been better than my medium green one, it’s not hot at all. Maybe the spring onion was all important after all. I’m afraid that Nigel loses the battle for my Wednesday to a few showy griddled scallops.


Buy the book cheap through our Amazon store and you can make your own stir-fry for a spring day.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Kitchen Diaries: Chicken broth with noodles, lemon and mint

Tuesday is traditionally my rubbish day for cooking. Taichi after work means that even in these days when my after-class drinking partner seems less inclined to share a bottle than usual, I still don’t get home until 9ish. And even after 2 and a half years my eating plan so-as-not-to-be-famished-by-the-end-of-class is still hit and miss at best, so leftovers or tortellini seem more appealing than usual for speed alone.

Even though I see an ad on the tube for the possibly reprehensible and for a second think all my meals delivered right to my door sounds quite nice (surely just really, really posh meals on wheels though?, I realise as I come to my senses), I decide to take the opportunity to see if Nigel Slater and his simple/quick dinner philosophy can offer me anything helpful when I’m knackered and about to eat my own arm.

I go for chicken broth with noodles, lemon and mint (p.22 - Jan 19 for NS) because, honestly, it sounds like something I’d make anyway and can’t be bothered with a real challenge. And I like the idea of something fresh and liquidy after a packet of Maccoy’s saltiest crisps in the world (see failed plan to stave off starvation detailed above) which have sucked all the water out of the top half of my body in the intervening hours.

I approach Sainbury’s Camden with trepidation because Nigel lists “very good chicken broth” and I don’t really know if that means stock or not. There’s no way he’s talking about Campbell’s questionably “very good” “chicken broth” in a can, is there? I go for stock and get home to see I’d missed his detailed information about being lazy and getting his stock from the butchers. If only we all had time to be so “good-for-nothing”, Nigel. I go for a cube. He also lists cooked chicken, so by way of a personal first I get some rotisseried from the counter (3 drumsticks at 45p each, can that be right?), there’s no way I’m cooking it tonight before even starting.

The meal is so quick to make I hardly have time to steam spinach to go with it. In 10 minutes the summery smells of mint and lemon are mixing with cosy chicken stock. In 20 minutes I’ve managed to eat three times as many noodles as he suggests (at least twice as many as I should have). It’s zingy, sour and minimal, but quite lovely. I have it with steamed spinach which I squeezed out into the stock, then drizzled with soy and sesame oil. I’m so full I can only manage a glass of wine for afters (Vina Maipo Sauvignon Blanc – fruity but not too sweet so it actually goes happily with the broth and, essentially, on offer). £2.50 and 10 minutes max. He’s right about it being warming, uplifting and satisfying and I’d cook it at any time of year too (although are lemon, mint and coriander in season in January Nigel?) I concede that Nigel wins my Tuesday.


Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Kitchen Diaries: Chickpea & Sweet Potato Curry

It seems like substitution may also become a bit of a theme. Personally, I don't think that's a problem. I like to think that one doesn't always need to follow a recipe to the letter unless, of course, one is making pastry or mayonnaise in which case I, at least, do as I'm told.

A good case in point for not doing what I'm told however is Nigel's recipe for chickpea and sweet potato curry. I've made this on a number of occasions and it's always turned out well - as have variations on the theme.

The substitutions I made this evening, to no detrimental effect, were:

  • Butternut squash instead of pumpkin (a rather significant ingredient, despite the recipe's title)
  • Dried chilli flakes rather than fresh (I don't know about you, but cutting fresh chilli makes my skin burn and I'm not sufficiently suburban to own a pair of washing up gloves...)
  • Tinned tomatoes and passata not 500g of fresh toms
  • Tinned chickpeas rather than fresh (life being too short and all that)
I've also found that no harm comes to the curry if you play around with the spices. Whilst shelling cardamom seeds may be a slightly irritating exercise, cardamom is a fantastic spice so I added a few more than Nigel suggests.

And one final note on this recipe's flexiblity: if you're a committed carnivore, adding chopped lamb to the curry around the same time that you're frying the onions and garlic should satisfy.

With or without meat, what results from 20 minutes easy cooking is a delicately flavoured but robustly textured curry. My preference is to serve it with brown rice. And despite all the messing around that I do with the recipe, it is worth taking on board one piece of Nigel's advice: the curry definitely tastes better the next day.

Naomi. xx

Kitchen Diaries: Sausage and Lentil Stew

Though it's been an unseasonably warm March, I chose the recipe from January 30 - primarily because the ingredients were inexpensive, readily available, and it was easy to make after work.

It's doubtful the thought of expense crosses Nigel Slater's mind too often, any more than he cooks strategically to minimise washing up, but a good selection of reasonably priced recipes definitely makes or breaks a cookbook. Even if like me you're a lefty-liberal type who insists on free range sausages, I think the total spend on this dish is about six quid.

I suspect another thought that rarely crosses Nigel's mind is, 'Really, I should cut back on meat'. This recipe called for 350g of sausages (about five medium snags), plus 200g of salami - which was an entire Ficele, maybe 8 inches long and 1 1/2 inches in diameter. And this for two people. For lunch. Uh huh.

Guest and photographer Rowan was joining G and me, so I had intended to increase it by 50%. But it just looked silly. I realised how little I pay attention to amounts in cookbooks anymore (except for baking) and just go with what feels right. I halved the salami quantity, used two snags per person, and kept everything the same.

If I didn't love Nigel quite so much, I might also take issue with his instruction to cut the salami into 'fat matchsticks'. What does this mean? Baton-style 'matchstick' size, which would be an awfully big mouthful of salami? Or 'fat matchstick' like Nicole Kidman after an egg custard - still pretty bloody thin? My knife wasn't sharp enough for the latter, so I ended up with squat salami oblongs.

But true to his words, after half an hour of cooking, we had a beautifully hearty dish that looked as if it had simmered on the Aga all afternoon. I made mustardy mash to go with, rather than the rocket salad suggested - which might account for just how full I felt on less than a whole portion. On consultation with Oddbins, G brought home a fruity Rioja - the Campo Viejo Crianza. A true sausage wine.


Monday, 12 March 2007

Kitchen Diaries: Chicken with mushroom and lemongrass

Cooking from a recipe book is going to be hard. I say this because we often have to depend on Sainsbury's Locals. You have to go into these shops with an open mind - if you want anything specific for dinner you'll be disappointed. If you want seasonally pertinent over-packaged chocolate then you'll probably go home happy.

And so last night after the first pleasurable outdoor pint of 2007 on the Thames by Tower Bridge we decided to cook Nigel's Thai style chicken with mushrooms and lemongrass. The only Sainsbury's busting ingredients being lemongrass and thai basil. R was convinced lemongrass usually comes in so much plastic that there might have been a chance... ha. Turns out that Chalk Farm Sainsbury's Local doesn't even have chicken on a Sunday night (unless you want it packed with chicken tonight sauce). Basil and lemongrass obviously don't get shelf space, but if you want some 'Brunshettas' there's actually variety. It's going to be hard for our cook-the-books entries not to turn into rants against the utter crapness of Sainsbury's Locals. But we can improvise, this is real life after all.

Anyway, with some enforced substitution (turkey & some lemongrass paste from the fridge, cupboard lime leaves instead of basil/mint, onion as opposed to spring onions, plus some fridge neglected sugar snap peas) we whipped up dinner. Took 30 mins and that was mainly spent waiting for the brown rice to think about cooking. Actually it was very nice and very easy to cook, I'd forgotten how nicely turkey browns. I wouldn't leave your washing drying in the kitchen while you cook this though. R's flatmates made a good show of trying not to cough when the chilli went in, but the fish sauce cleared the kitchen.

We reckon: you don't need 3 chilli peppers, we had two and that was still pretty hot. Add in any veg you can or have a side of green something-or-other, ours felt rather meat heavy.

Chicken with Mushroom and Lemongrass - March 18th