Friday, 27 April 2007

Kitchen Diaries: Mustard Chops

There aren’t many great shops in the areas I shop, so it’s doubly annoying that the few there are shut at the time I’m leaving work across town. This leaves the palace of Mr Sainsbury’s glittering delights responsible for filling my sorry cupboards.

As I leave for work this morning, I flick through the Kitchen Diaries and go for Mustard Chops – it’s just garlic, lemon, grain mustard, olive oil and lamb chops. But this evening there is no lamb whatsoever in Sainsburys. I decide not to be meatist and go for pork instead.

It’s a kids play recipe, bash the ingredients into a marinade, leave the meat in it for a bit, and cook. Nigel says grill, I read barbeque! We have it with bbq veg in pesto couscous and announce the beginning of summer.

If you'd like to, you can buy Nigel's Kitchen Diaries cheap through our Amazon store.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Kitchen Diaries: Pork and Lemon Polpettini (April 20)

Pork and Lemon PolpettiniHaving been raised as a non-pork eater (read Hindu), and lacking much experience cooking it or even eating it, when it comes to cooking a dish that calls for pork, I don’t feel very confident in the kitchen. I worry it is not seasoned properly, does not smell right and never sure if it I’ve cooked it for long enough, despite what recipe says. Despite the simplicity of this recipe, all of those thoughts were galloping through my head.

Anyway, this is the first time trying a Kitchen Diaries recipe where I have every single ingredient and did not have to improvise and skimp on anything, so I put my self-doubt aside and get stuck in.

Pork and Lemon PolpettiniI make fresh breadcrumbs out of half a ciabatta roll I baked the day before, chopping this up into the smallest crumbs possible, then make quick work of some curly parsley; chucking both of these into a large bowl along with all the other ingredients. The only thing that took any time at all was stripping the thyme leaves from the stalks and opening the tin of anchovies - yep, it was that quick.

The mixture comes to 19 balls, which I flatten slightly as instructed, dust with flour and leave to stand on a floured baking sheet until I’m ready to cook them.

Instead of pasta, I decide to serve these with a sweet potato and parsnip mash, and wait for their pot to boil before I start cooking the neat little patties. I’m extremely sensitive to the smell of chopped anchovies on my hands and despite washing them three times, twice with fresh lemon I can still get a faint whiff of fishiness. I wash them a fourth time while the meatballs bubble away in the butter and oil – success.

Once the patties are cooked I deglaze the frying pan (no heavy bottomed like Nigel's, unfortunately, but did the job just as well) with a little marsala wine before I pour in the stock, letting it bubble down to a shiny brown gravy.

Pork and Lemon PolpettiniNow, while these little meatballs are tasty – all lemony and slightly anchovied; delightlfully crispy on the outside but greatly textured within, I hesitate to descibe them as the the most delicious ones I’ve ever eaten - as much as I'd hoped I could. Sorry Nige. You see, the mother-in-law is Swedish, and they've spent centuries perfecting their's!
food nobody

You can buy Nigel's Kitchen Diaries cheap through our Amazon store.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Kitchen Diaries: A Tale of Three Cakes

Lemon and Orange Cheesecake (April 22)
Really Fast Cake with Blueberries and Pears (May 15)
Strawberry Mascarpone Tart (June 24)

Three cakes? Well, it was my birthday party /baby shower at the weekend, and I'm one of those people who get as much or more pleasure from making my own cake as from eating it. So why stop at just one?

I've been a little suspicious of Nigel's baking recipes in the past - totally unwarranted, but I've had some rotten luck every time I try them out. Oven too hot, broken mixer, etc. But he's proven his cake chops with these rich, springtime puds.

I made the cheesecake and blueberry/pear cake the day before the party just in case my streak continued. Fortunate also because what time I saved in making the 'really fast' cake is totally taken up with the cheesecake. While combining the ingredients and making the crumb base is extremely simple, cooking the thing gets a trifle more complicated.

American cheesecake (my preferred style) is baked long and slow, to a consistency which could doubtless be used to smother a man. Last week, at the one good restaurant in Wood Green, we were served something in the European quivvery, moussey style that was tasty but unsatisfying. I worried, what with the gentle cooking in a bain marie, whether Nigel's would fall into the latter camp. Though it doesn't quite splinter and flake as a real NY brick, the mascarpone/egg/cream/cream cheese blend provides the desired suffocating density. It ends up being the favourite from those greedy enough to try all three.

While the oven cooled with the cheesecake inside (for a good hour or so), I set to work chopping pears and blitzing batter for the 'emergency' cake. The 'classic "equal butter to sugar to flour" base' recipe Nigel quotes isn't known to me, but I'm willing to try it out in the next few months. It makes a much stiffer dough than the sponge batter I would expect. I also increase the ingredients slightly to stretch it for more people. I don't know what the egg part of the ratio is, so I stick to two - might account for its texture.

The batter is pretty thin in the tin so I don't skimp on the fruit - squishing it into the batter in the hopes it raises up during the baking. It doesn't disappoint, but I expect it would taste nicer warm with a dollop of Greek yoghurt for breakfast.

Saturday morning is time to make the strawberry tart. I can't get behind the base as suggested. I use all butter shortbread rather than the super posh biscuits - I assume he means the Duchy ones? - to save pennies. And it is impossible to shape in the tart dish without really squishing it together, so no crumbly pebbly texture. This does help in serving it later, except for the first piece which came out looking more like an Eton mess (sorry, Dave).

The only problem with the recipe is that he underestimates wildly the amount of strawberries. I sliced closer to 500g onto the top than the 250g suggested. I doubt he was really paying attention at the time, just adding until it was covered. Oh, and could a tart look that good in a rectangular tin? I can't imagine it, and anyway I don't have one. Round is pretty enough.

Secretly, everyone's pleased that a few people haven't shown up. One person actually said, 'I had four helpings, and I'm not even a pudding person.' Well, if that's not praise enough for Nigel's cakes, I don't know what is.

Buy the book, be a domestic god(dess). Preferably through our Amazon shop.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Kitchen Diaries: Asparagus and Lemon Risotto

I have never been able to list risotto making as one of my superpowers, but after this outing, I'm definitely going to have to update my CV.

Anyway, Nigel's Asparagus and Lemon Risotto (May 26) calls for arborio rice, but seeing as I only had a handful of vialone nano and full bag of carnaroli hanging about in the back of the cupboard (Yawn. Don’t I sound like the uncontrived foodie), there were to be no arguments on that Italian frontier. I also only had 200g of asparagus which is seemed like a crime to chop up into bits, but that amount worked out much better. I think 400g of asparagus for only 200g of rice would have been like having some rice flecked with asparagus.

Now let’s talk about quantities - for two people, one with a Viking appetite (well he’s Swedish), 200g was not going to be enough, especially for a main course, so I ingeniously upped this to 280g and added garlic steamed cod fillets on the side.

I also reduced the lemon to one, another ingenious decision because it would certainly have been far too lemony for our tastebuds, even when fillets of fish swam into the picture. I also used shallots instead of ordinary onions and these added a subtle sweetness, and chardonnay left over from the weekend’s heatwave.

Nigel recommends using a chicken stock over vegetable, saying it would be devoid of soul without the glutinous chickeness, and lack a silky texture, but I disagree. I used a rich vegetable stock, with a dark colour and deep flavour (in concentrated liquid form from S’bury’s Taste the Difference range), and the texture was by no means unrefined. One thing about the stock, though, I found Nigel’s recommended 1 litre was too much - I only got through about 750ml of the liquid.

Another thing, Nige does not go into risotto making technique much, so I adopted what I’ve seen done on the telly, and instead of adding just one ladle of stock at a time, I used a few generous ones at once, and that probably saved me from having an outbreak of risotto arm this morning.


Monday, 16 April 2007

Kitchen Diaries: Chicken and mustard seed and coconut milk

Wednesday night seems to call for chicken curry and I have most of the things Nigel suggests for “Chicken and mustard seed and coconut milk” (1st April, aka “A fragrant chicken supper”), apart from curry leaves. Obviously I’m not going to find them at 7.30pm in any Sainsburys.

Chicken browns, spices fry, my sister calls and the sauce simmers a little too close to black… But it’s a forgiving dish, I’m rough with quantities, use tomato puree for half the toms and dissolve coconut cream instead of using milk, but it’s still delicious. Subtle coconut, chunky onions and fragrant spices mean that I end up eating way too much and having to waddle upstairs with a glass of white.

Notes: Nigel’s offer of cooking an entire chicken this evening feels a little generous as I’m cooking for a lonely one, but I halve the recipe for 3 so that I get leftovers, and it seems to work fine. I also added a little sugar and black pepper at the end. I eat it with steamed edimamie on the side and they’re beautiful together.

You can buy Nigel's Kitchen Diaries cheap through our
Amazon store.


Kitchen Diaries: Salmon and Dill Fishcakes

This weekend's magnificent sunshine got me racing ahead to the summer months of the book, so here's one from May10. Much as I wanted to put the barbecue on at 10 in the morning and add sausages to it every hour on the hour, the reduced salmon fillets from Morrison's needed using up.

I instantly loved the idea of these fishcakes without the glutinous potato that in my hands often ends up a sloppy, greasy mess, rather than a light crisp shell. (Back in my student days, I used to make fishcakes with a tin of tuna and some Smash. There's an admission.)

I chop the fish in a large-ish dice to avoid cakes that are too uniform in texture - like those frozen Thai ones you get in cheapie restaurants, which could be any number of fish reduced to a paste and then fried.

There's not much dill in the fridge, so I mix in some chopped parsley. The mustard available is a fiestier Dijon, as opposed to the wholegrain in the recipe. The effect is probably a tad less delicate, but zingier. It's not a delicate lemon sole we're cooking - the salmon can handle it.

I'm in a hurry - the effect of pregnancy being a jump from zero to ravenous in 2.4 seconds. So I skip the cake forming and resting step, just spooning the fish directly into the pan like drop scones. They're fine. Just watch the temperature, so they don't burn before they're cooked in the middle - and don't skimp on the oil.

A few lettuce leaves and some thinly sliced fennel partner what are surprisingly rich fishcakes. The yoghurt with more dill, parsley and mustard cuts the richness, as does plenty of freshly squeezed lemon. Out in the garden with the Sunday papers, it smells of lemons, fresh fish, and coconut sunblock - just like being on holiday.

You can buy Nigel's Kitchen Diaries cheap through our Amazon store.


Thursday, 12 April 2007

Kitchen Diaries: A roasted chicken with new garlic and a fresh pea pilau

Roast chicken with pea pilauHaving recently purchased this gorgeous book, I have been paging through it for days on end, obsessing over which recipe I was going to try first. It's been driving my husband crazy. Something chicken related seemed most likely, and I was planning on the chicken with mustard seed and coconut milk, but it was actually a roast chicken with a pea pilau (June 3) that materialised in the kitchen last night. 'A roast on a week night?' you might exclaim, as I’ve heard a work colleague politely enquire of a friend a while back, making out it is a little ambitious – crazy even - for a work consumed Londoner to contemplate.

Anyway, Nigel recommends just olive oil, salt and black pepper to season the bird, but I could not resist adding a few pinches of fresh thyme to the freshly ground spices, nor prevent plunging a few sprigs into the birds inner recess. I calculate the time it would take to cook seeing as my chicken was 200g lighter than the 1.5kg he recommends. My calculator says roughly 54 minutes in total. I whack it into the oven – breast side down, as instructed and start on the garlic.

roast chickenNew summer garlic was out of the question seeing as it's only April, anyway two whole heads of standard garlic sounded like a bit much, so I reduce this to one small head; separating the cloves and tossing these into a pan of boiling water before adding them to the roasting tin. I was a little heavy handed with the salt on the chicken and feel a little nervous about what this is going to taste like. I check my watch – Nigel says to turn over the bird for the last 20 minutes.

Five minutes before I need to turn it over, I check the bird. It's looking all golden and smelling divine. I shake the tin a bit to move the garlic, which look like they’re browning a bit too fast, burning even. Perhaps more garlic in the pan would have prevented this. I turn the chicken over and see the breasts are all delicious golden as well. A few minute later, feeling really pleased, I start on the pea pilau.

Nigel does not say what rice to use, but I’ve got a bag of basmati and measure out a cup. I cook the onions and add the cinnamon bark and cloves. I guess that just a few is best to prevent being overpowered by clove. I also add a sprinkling of turmeric for a hint of colour – I've grown up with pilau that has a hint of yellow and just had to do the same as my mum does. I boil up some frozen peas in readiness. After two minutes I realise the rice has absorbed all the water Nigel recommends and is starting to stick to the bottom of the pot. I end up adding two more cups of water, but still have a very sticky situation once the pilau is done. Smells fabulous, though.

garlic gravy The gravy was really easy to make. I didn't have any vermouth and substituted a glass an a half of white wine instead of two (I did not want too runny a gravy), and that worked well. Most of the garlic was charred through and only three fat cloves were squishable. Anyway, I think two whole heads would have been too garlicky for a week night.

The chicken was delicious, if not slightly dry on the legs and the thyme was a good idea in the end. The salt was perfect. Definitely one of the most stress free roasts I've ever made.

I purchased Nigel's Kitchen Diaries cheap through Cook the Books' Amazon store.

Kitchen Diaries: Chickpeas with harissa, basil and ham

The warmest day of the year so far and I briefly venture out from my weekend of splendid isolation in flip flops, their first wear of the year. After a day of working and listening to mentally bad jazz I go for May 4's "Chickpeas with harissa, basil and ham". Light and tasty and warm, I hope.

Toms and aubergines are roasted in olive oil, red wine vinegar and cumin seeds for an hour. A tin of chickpeas, a harissa dressing, basil and crisped prosciutto (or, for me, some random cured French meat bought on holiday) are added.

Sounds great... Did I get the amounts wrong? Were my tomatoes too small? Did I misread Nigel's careful instructions? They sounded easy enough. Far too many chickpeas and veg on the oily side did benefit from my addition of lemon juice, but somehow I was left entirely cold. Where was the cumin? Where was the jazz? Perhaps I mistook a support act for a headliner, who knows. Anyway, Nig, you're one down.

You can buy Nigel's Kitchen Diaries cheap through our Amazon store.


Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Kitchen Diaries: Bramley Apple Shortcake

My first day of maternity leave and to commemorate my new role as 'housewife' (can it be true?) I mean to make a pie for the man of the house. I also need to try out my new uberblender on some pastry.

The last hand blender went smoking into the afterlife on another Nigel recipe: the lemon demerara cake which couldn't get a fair write-up what with the butter-sugar creaming ending abruptly. I'm not a natural at making pastry by hand, but this monster has an engine the size of a powerboat so I should be able to get it all combined before the butter goes greasy.

This pastry is unusual for it's cakey-style ingredients - heaps of sugar, an egg and baking powder. It doesn't fall into my experience of 'shortcake' which in America consists of a sweetened scone dough, soft inside and crunchy on top, cut in half like a sponge, filled with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. (Oops, drooling...) But the cookie taste and texture with the hot apples is gorgeous.

I don't ordinarily bother pre-cooking apples for a pie with a top crust - normally they steam inside, and the juice bubbles up through pretty slits on the top. But to ensure the crust stays light and crispy, it pays to take the extra time. And the smell of apples cooking in butter may be the smell of heaven.

I wish I'd erred on the side of generosity with the apples to balance it a bit more. Go for five Bramleys, even if it seems a lot for such a little pie tin. I'm surprised Nigel doesn't insist you serve this piping hot with ice cream, but I'll step in and recommend it.

On assembly, Nigel warns of the pastry's delicacy, and he's not wrong - keep your surfaces very well floured and work quickly. Roll it out fairly thickly... I ended up with a massive crust on the outer edge, while I could have had a more substantial middle. And don't roll your eyes when he says to brush the crust 'tenderly' with milk - once you've laid the pastry on the warm apples, it starts to melt!

The end result is lovely, even with its massive biscuit crust. Just don't eat too big a dinner beforehand! You can buy Nigel's Kitchen Diaries cheap through our Amazon store.


Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Kitchen Diaries: Roast chicken wings with lemon and cracked pepper

My self-imposed finishing book deadline looms heavily on the horizon and I have a compulsory weekend of anti-sociability to try and make headway. But I write lists of other things to do, I try to make easter eggs, I think about cleaning the garden and wonder whether my CDs need reorganising. I decide on something easy for diner and for some reason, the sunny day, the need for comfort food, I settle on "Roast chicken wings with lemon and cracked pepper" (April 26).

The chicken wings at the supermarket look so pathetic, 12 bits of skin and bone squashed in together for £1.89 (how can that be financially viable?), that I can't bring myself to buy them and go for infinitely happier looking drumsticks. There are still no bay leaves in stock and the smell of a middle class uprising lingers around Camden Sainsburys herb section.

I squeeze lemons and crack pepper corns and mix olive oil and chuck the chicken in the oven to sit down and get sucked into About Schmidt. 45 mins later they're lemon fresh and peppery hot and roast chicken gooey. Cosy and pretty much perfect for a lonely Saturday night in an empty house. Nigel wins again.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Kitchen Diaries: Roast Pork With Lemon And Potatoes

My favourite style of cooking is the archetypal lazy bloke method – shove a load of meat and vegetables in a pan, with some other tasty bits and pieces, apply heat and some minimal supervision. The key is the choice of ingredients: not too many, keep it simple stupid, etc. This is a great meal for that: potatoes not even parboiled or peeled, just cut in half and thrown in along with some lemon wedges and fennel seeds. I didn't even know what fennel seeds looked like before yesterday but fortunately A (my better half) is working through a mild fennel obsession so we had some handy. Anyway, preparation time about two minutes. Top stuff.

I actually cooked it for half an hour longer than recommended, due to the roast being a bit slow to cook through (our oven isn't great), but it didn't seem to do any harm. Normally I'd parboil potatoes before roasting but these little new potatoes came out with a perfect texture: just the right amount of waxy resistance, and flavoured beautifully. I'd be tempted to do more than the recipe suggests just because they're so great and work well in salads the next day.

The fennel flavours the potatoes and lemons very nicely, but not so much the meat, as it's not swimming in the fennelly lemon juice. The recipe states that basting the pork isn't necessary but I'd actually recommend it as the flavouring on the pork by the end was perhaps a little on the subtle side, and though the juices left over made a fantastic gravy some could have been spared for the meat.

I ate the lemons as well. I wouldn't recommend eating more than a quarter of a lemon's worth of chunks as they get a bit sour, although the texture is great. Mr Slater doesn't say whether eating the lemons is expected, but this sort of decision is best left to the eater: I liked them, A didn't. Maybe rather than eating them in big chunks they could be chopped up and put in a little bowl as a relish (with the uneaten going in a jar in the fridge).

By the way, the smell from this meal cooking is amazing – if you're lucky enough to have a big kitchen/dining room, make this for guests while they sit around chatting: they will be drooling in anticipation (put some kitchen roll down or something) as the rich lemony aroma pervades the kitchen.

Buy Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchenfor cheap from our Amazon store and make some of this very easy and tasty Roast Pork with Lemon and Potatoes for yourself.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Kitchen Diaries: Lemon Ice Cream

So when I was preparing what I was to serve on Friday night earlier in the week, it appeared as if summer had arrived. The weather was balmy and, I thought, lamb meatballs (not from Nigel I’m afraid but delicious nonetheless) followed by Nigel’s lemon ice cream would constitute a perfect meal. Perfect for late (warm) March. Then the weather turned so we ended up eating ice cream at the end of a cold, miserable pea-souper of a day. But the meatballs definitely needed the zing of a light, refreshing desert, and this definitely did what was required.

An added bonus was that making this ice cream was an absolute synch. Ten minutes of whisking and the cream lay in “slovenly folds” (a beautifully apt, and beautifully sexy description for cream don’t you think?)

The rest of the ingredients – a tiny list of lemon zest and juice, yoghurt, store bought meringues and curd – simply folded into the cream before pouring the lot into a tub and bunging it in the freezer. Nigel suggests it only needs to be left 4-6 hours in the freezer. I left it overnight. It did need to be taken out a good 45 minutes before serving, however.

The ingredients, whilst a straightforward list, all available from my local supermarket at 8pm on Thursday evening, are not for the faint of heart in the dairy department. You need a whopping 500ml of the aforementioned whipping cream. And Nigel says you need “artisan-made” lemon curd. Well sorry Nige, but Painsbury’s (nice one, Nairn) don’t really run to artisan-made food. Prince Charles’ Duchy range was the best of a mediocre bunch and I’m sure it was good enough. Essentially, I assume you need to aim for a curd that actually tastes of lemons because that’s a lot of cream that you have to influence with flavour. Although you do use an entire jar of the stuff plus the juice and zest of two actual lemons, so it’d be quite difficult for the end product not to taste of the fruit. A final note on the ingredients: Nigel mentions 4 small meringues. Don’t go by this instruction – weigh them out. I actually used 8 of the medium sized meringues I had bought.

Apparently, this makes enough ice cream for 4 people. That would be 4 people who had either not eaten for a month or particularly craved dairy products or were just greedy. 4 people who had just eaten lamb meatballs ate about a third of the entire tub and that was in generous portions.
It’s not terribly exciting to look at – sometimes no bad thing – but I added pomegranate seeds and sprigs of mint which I think looked quite pretty. And quite Christmassy. Like I said, perfect for late March.
Naomi x