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Monthly Archives: November 2012

All You Need Is Custard

Popular music, or more specifically, The Beatles, would have you believe that all you need is love. I’m going to stick my neck out and disagree with those mop top boys from Liverpool and say that actually no, love is not all you need. Had they never eaten custard? If they had indeed eaten custard, what were they thinking making such a claim and not giving custard it’s rightful place in music history? Outrageous. I’m not someone who’s down on love, I get emotional listening to Beyonce singing about how awesome Jay-Z is (if those two ever split then I will lose all faith in humanity) and I’m pretty crazy about The Boyfriend, but a life without custard in it is not one I want to even consider. Custard, or Creme Anglaise if you’re running a gastropub, is easily my favourite topping for a dessert. It takes me back to being little on a Sunday night where after tucking in to a roast, me and my brother would anxiously await the cooking of the custard to go on top of the crumbles made with rhubarb grown in our garden. I know it isn’t culinary or very foodie, but I won’t hear a bad word said about Birds custard powder or the nuking of it in the microwave, it’s the taste of my childhood, and very likely if you’re English, the taste of yours too. Watching it bubble away in the microwave always seemed to take hours, and then being told by my mum to wait five minutes for it to cool down was pure torture. Was always worth waiting though. Since then though I’ve made custard from scratch (best recipe is from Jamies Cook, absolutely heavenly) and bought those fresh pots from the supermarket that are flecked with vanilla seeds and it’s hard to disagree that these are miles better than the powdered stuff. I certainly wouldn’t turn down Birds custard anytime soon though. Or a carton of Ambrosia. Which nicely leads us to the crux of the matter, last nights dinner.

Last night I had some friends round for dinner, and the one food that we can all agree on and eat is Italian, leading me to naturally cook from Nigellisima. Nigella is a friend to any cook who has invited people over for dinner on a work night as her recipes don’t require much faffing around and are designed to be easy to cook and tasty to eat. Italian sausage and chicken tray bake with gnocchi gratin certainly did the trick, although the Tesco near my work had no Italian sausages so I had to sub with pork and red onion sausages (red onion seemed the most Italian out of all the flavoured sausages) which I recommend you try as they were mighty tasty and went pretty well with the lemon zest and rosemary that I chucked all over them. Add in some chicken thighs and olive oil then cook on a high heat in the oven and hey presto, crispy chicken skin and a tasty, easy dinner. The gnocchi gratin was simple too, the boiled gnocchi is cooked in the oven in a mascarpone and Parmesan sauce and emerges from the oven with a beautiful golden crust and soft, spongy gnocchi that have soaked up the rich sauce. You don’t need me to tell you it’s good, but really, it is. If you were to give me the whole tray of gratin,a spoon and some privacy, this would be gone in approximately five minutes. I’d have to work out all day every day for the next year to work the calories off, but it would so be worth it. If there’s one thing you take away from this blog, let it be that you must try this dish.

For dessert, I went with a variation on the classic English crumble, which was plum and Amaretti crumble, again from Nigellisima. This looks beautiful even before it goes in the oven, with the cooked, sugary plums nestling in their ruby red juices and the sandy rubble with Amaretti crumbs sitting on top. While this dessert wasn’t perfect (plums weren’t quite ripe enough so weren’t as soft as I’d like them) it was pretty darn good and the almond-ey taste of the crushed biscuits went really well with the sweet yet sharp plums. The Boyfriend did make a genius suggestion of replacing the plums with cherries in future, which I would be more than happy to try one day. All this was naturally served with custard, I’d never serve crumble with anything else. Having made everything else from scratch, I didn’t have the willpower or indeed the ingredients to make a custard so I went with Ambrosia, which although lacking in vanilla seeds, does still taste delicious and totally hit the spot. On a cold, wet, windy day, nothing says comfort and home like custard does. Perhaps one day there will be a song in the charts paying tribute to the mighty custard, but I don’t hold out much hope.

PS- We were so hungry that everything was eaten up before I remembered to take a photo, so you will just have to make do with a beaming Nigella instead.

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Lip Smacking Ribs

This Sunday has felt very much like I’ve been in an episode of Man vs Food. For those who haven’t seen Man vs Food, have you been living under a rock for the last few years? Get yourself in front of the telly and find it (it’s on practically every day), then be amazed as the presenter Adam Richman eats enormous amounts of food in food challenges across America and explores regional specialities in the many restaurants/diners he encounters. It’s totes amazing and if you love American food then prepare to love the show. Watching him attempt these challenges gives me a virtual heart attack but at the same time I can’t watch it without wanting to book the next flight across the pond. America no longer needs a tourist board, just Adam Richman. While I haven’t eaten copious amounts of food today, the food I have eaten has been distinctly American. First up, brunch. The Boyfriend and I got in this morning after staying out overnight for a friends birthday and while I was thoughtfully making the bed, he ate the last of the Crunchy Nut Clusters (best cereal ever by the way). Undeterred by the lack of cereal and the stale bread, I raided the cupboards and realised I had all the ingredients needed to rustle up some pancakes. Crunchy Nut who? Using the only pancake recipe anyone ever needs (from Nigellas HTBADG, naturally), adding some ground cinnamon for that extra reminder of holidays in Florida and some slices of banana to fool myself into thinking brunch was healthy, I felt quite smug looking down at The Boyfriends empty cereal bowl. While not quite as cinnamon-ey as I’d like, the bananas were sticky and caramelised, the pancakes fluffy and drowning in maple syrup. Not too shabby for a breakfast that came about from rummaging through the kitchen cupboards.

For dinner I took inspiration from the Jamie’s America cookbook which I highly recommend you buy. Unlike the lies and deception contained in the pages of his 30 Minute Meals book, this cookbook is much more realistic in its approach to food and is one of my favourite books to just flick through for the fun of it. Yep, I read cookbooks in just the same way I would a fiction book and I’m not ashamed! My only condition is that there’s a bit of waffle from the author, I like knowing where recipes come from, who or what inspired a dish and the like. Nigella is the Queen of this, but Jamie does a good job of telling the story behind a dish too. I made his 5 Star Pork Ribs, with a side dish also from the book called Best Baked Beans, and some homemade fries. It’s safe to say I was being a touch ambitious cooking all of this, and while easy to make everything individually, it took a lot of time, a lot of washing up and a lot of effort to do all of them together. Not that I’m one to give up easily when it comes to satisfying my hunger and greed, they’re motivators that never fail. For the ribs, I had to make a rub, a BBQ sauce, steam the ribs in the oven with apple juice then glaze them in the sauce, all while prepping the beans and making a crumbly topping for them. In short (or more accurately, long) the whole meal took 4 hours to make and needed constant babysitting. Not that I am one to complain because it totally paid off. After slow cooking at a low temperature and basting in glaze, the ribs were stunning. The meat came away from the bone with no effort whatsoever, and the glaze was sweet, sticky, spicy and utterly gorgeous, tasting a little like hoi sin sauce which is never a bad thing. Our cheeks and fingers were covered in the BBQ glaze, a sure sign of deliciousness and there were happy faces all round. The beans were a different story. Smoky from the chipotle chilli and with a crunchy topping made up of breadcrumbs, cheddar and streaky bacon, I really liked them but The Boyfriend was less than impressed. We’ve come to the conclusion that unless beans come in a blue Heinz tin, The Boyfriend ain’t interested, whereas chuck in some smoky heat and cheesy breadcrumbs and I’m interested. There’s no accounting for taste I guess! Looking back, I’ve had this cookbook a few years and whatever I’ve cooked from it has been a success. Favourites include meatballs stuffed with cheese, potato and mackerel latkes, peach ice cream, gumbo and chocolate tart. Regardless of your feelings on Jamie and his slightly irritating cheeky chappy persona, his food is always packed with flavour, easy to recreate and satisfying. You can’t say that about every celebrity chef, and as someone with one or two cookbooks, I feel perfectly entitled to say so. We’ll end today on The Boyfriends concise and simple review of dinner: “great ribs, shit beans”. Goodnight!

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Chineasy Chicken

The best Chinese chicken I’ve ever had came tucked in a baguette from a sandwich shop just round the corner from the furniture shop I used to work at as a teenager. Every Saturday without fail I’d take all the staffs orders, nip down to the bakery and grab our huge order, and my order would always be Chinese chicken baguette. It was so tasty and the baguettes were always the perfect combination of crunchy crust and soft, doughy interior. Teenage lunch heaven. So you can imagine my grief and heartbreak when they took the Chinese chicken off the menu one sorry, sorry day in the early noughties. Distraught I was! I had to downgrade to a chicken tikka filling which while still being tasty, was not a patch on the Chinese. What does this have to do with today’s blog? Well, nothing really to be honest, except that today’s dinner reminded me of this early experience of grief and betrayal, and I got to use a pun in today’s title from one of my favourite movies ever, Ratatouille (the plot of which can be easily summed up with ‘there’s a rat in me kitchen, what am I gonna do?’. Get it to cook you a Michelin starred meal, that’s what).
Tonight I went with Gordon Ramsays’ newest book Ultimate Cookery Course and made Sichuan chicken. As the title suggests, it’s Chinese and its really easy, all you need to do is marinate the chicken then cook it in the marinade with chilli, garlic and ginger until the chicken is cooked and is covered in the reduced, sticky marinade. The marinade contains one of my favourite ingredients to say, which is Shaoxing rice wine, and really tickles me every time I say it. Don’t ask why because I don’t know, I just like the way it sounds. Try it then maybe you’ll understand. This is definitely a recipe which is better when used with chicken thighs, they don’t dry out in the same way breasts do and have a lot more flavour. Plus, if you’re on a budget they are so much cheaper, although I’d go with them over breasts even if they were more expensive. It can take time to reduce a sauce so you don’t want the meat to dry out and become barely inedible, so if you’ve not done so before, give thighs a go in a curry or casserole to see the difference. I served the chicken with some straight to wok noodles in Singapore flavour (I know what you’re thinking, how mental am I serving Sichaun and Singapore cuisine on the same plate? It’s risk taking like that that’ll get you noticed in culinary circles) which I had to hand and meant less washing up for the other half. The result? The glaze wasn’t as sticky and thick as I’d have liked it, but it had a nice spicy ping to it and coated the chicken really well. It did taste a bit too strongly of sesame oil which Gordon advised me to drizzle over the finished dish so perhaps I was a but heavy handed in the oil department but the flavour of the marinade and chillies fought there way through it. But enough about my opinion, I know you all really want to know what The Boyfriend thought about it, my toughest critic. I think it’s safe to say food critics A.A Gill, Jay Rayner and Kate Spicer can rest easy tonight, as when asked for his review his thoughts on dinner were, word for word, “I liked it, 3 out of 5. A perfectly acceptable midweek meal”. If he were to be paid by the word he’d soon find himself bankrupt, sleeping on the street and offering sexual favours for a sandwich. But I’ll say this, at least he’s concise, no waffly preamble about something completely unrelated to dinner before spending all of 3 sentences on the entire point of the article. Something to comfort him while he’s on the park bench and Gill is in his trendy London home.

So we had a successful dinner tonight, nothing groundbreaking but tasty, filling and involving very little effort and minimal washing up. Plus it was a lot healthier than a takeaway, although nowhere near as satisfying after a long day. You’ll notice that once again my presentation is less than impressive, Monica Galletti would tear me apart were I to present her with such a plate, but I’d rather a hot dinner that looked a little shabby than a good looking dinner that was lukewarm after all the faffing. Saying all that, I do love how she can destroy a chef with just a grimace and a stare on Masterchef, more uncomfortable to watch than a Bush Tucker Trial.

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Posted by on November 21, 2012 in Chicken, Chinese, Cooking, Food

 

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Lemon Drizzle Fo’ Shizzle

Is there anything better for a lazy, hungover Sunday than a day in front of the telly, a roast dinner and a slice of cake? Not actually suffering from a hangover certainly helps, especially when you consider the amount of margaritas/jaeger bombs/vodkas consumed, so I consider this a most successful Sunday. Knowing the in-laws were coming over today I put it upon myself to bake a cake so we could be most civilised drinking tea and chowing down on some cake, which is how I found myself tackling the mixing bowl and wooden spoon at 10 this morning. I may still have been drunk while making it but that just added to the baking experience. I was looking for a recipe that was simple, comforting, familiar and a tried and tested crowd pleaser, and who else but Nigella could provide such a treat? If you’re sick of me banging on about Nigella, read someone else blog as my reliance on her isn’t ending anytime soon. I picked lemon syrup loaf cake which everyone else knows as lemon drizzle cake, from How To Be A Domestic Goddess. It’s simple as anything to whip up (no actual whipping required) which is a relief to know if you can still taste tequila while making it, complicated techniques and lengthy procedures are definitely not on the cards in such a situation. While the cake’s in the oven I made a lemon syrup which is just icing sugar and the juice of 2 lemons heated up, and poured this over the cake as soon as it came out of the oven. Like practically everything I’ve ever made from this book the lemon cake was a roaring success. Soft as a cloud, sharp from the lemon, moist from the absolute drenching of syrup and with a crunchy, zingy, sugary topping from the remains of the syrup. Textbook. Loaf cakes don’t look particularly fancy but what this one lacked in elegance it completely made up for in taste and texture, proving that sometimes the most simple of things are the most satisfying. I must disagree with Nigella on one point though, and that is the suggestion that this cake serves up to 10 people. I say 6 tops, unless you want to serve up a minuscule sliver to people which to me does not suggest welcoming or generous. If you’re going to have your cake, you may as well eat it too. Other than that, I’ve no complaint with Nigellas recipe. I know I’ve said it before and no doubt I’ll say it again, but HTBADG is an awesome cookbook, filled with a wide array of baking recipes both sweet and savoury that are simple to make and delicious to eat. The Boyfriend, who has no interest in baking whatsoever and little experience in it, even found it a doddle to cook from when he made the chocolate mousse cake for me one Valentines Day. Perfect for beginners but enough in there to keep die hard baking fans busy. As Paul Hollywood (and indeed The Boyfriend who having seen Bake Off once has picked up on the catchphrase) would say, that’s a good bake! (Please excuse my pathetic attempt at a photo, we gobbled most of it up before I realised I needed some photographic proof).

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Posted by on November 18, 2012 in Baking, Books, Cooking, Food, Nigella Lawson

 

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Mint and Chilli – Bellisima!

It’s been a good couple of weeks absence, but unfortunately for you guys I’m back cooking and blogging with a vengeance. There’s not a great deal that could happen to me to stop me doing the three things I love (that’s cooking, eating and writing) and what are the chances that I’d catch something that would put me off all three? Well in the cold, wet, miserable British winter, the chances are actually quite high and so I was struck down with the flu. It’s likely you’ve all had it at one stage or another so there’s no need to go into detail, but the one thing that troubled me greatly over everything else was the severe lack of appetite and the willingness to make do with ready meals for sustenance. I know, shit just got real, it must have been serious! Welcome to the flu blues, where even chocolate can’t save you. And I should know, the Lindt collection brought back from South Africa by The Boyfriend didn’t get touched or even sniffed once while I was ill. So you can imagine my relief come the weekend when I felt the flu lift and my appetite and urge to cook return, until then I was genuinely concerned that I’d only be eating ready meals or takeaways for the rest of my life, such was my lack of interest in food. First world problems and all that. Predictably, I turned to my idol Nigella to pull me out of the rut that I was in and as ever, she did good. I’ve not cooked a lot from her latest offering Nigellisima (which of course will be rectified in the next few months) and I’m not as fond of it as I am her other books but its still got the Lawson magic that pulls me in to the pages and has me dreaming of living in her fridge. Wanting to keep The Boyfriend on side (he puts up with a lot of random meals from me when all he really wants is a chilli or a roast, bless him) I went for lamb cutlets with mint, chilli and golden potatoes as lamb chops are one of his favourites. I’d seen Nigella cook these on her TV show while I was stuck drinking Lemsip and shivering under several layers and a duvet and my passing thought had been ‘they look nice…. If I ever want to cook or eat again I will make those’. So here we are. First off, lamb cutlets are really just lamb chops but with a trendy bit of bone sticking out the top, so don’t feel too bad if all you can find is chops as they will do just fine. Marinate them in olive oil, dried mint, chilli flakes and celery salt, fry and serve with cooked new potatoes that have been fried for a few minutes in the lamb juices. I’m not a huge fan of lamb chops myself, but these were just delightful. The meat was tender and juicy, with a fresh flavour coming from the marinade that complimented the meat so well. Don’t be silly like me and rest the lamb on a separate plate, rest it on the plate you’ll be eating off instead as the resting juices are seriously tasty. Combine the meat with the crunchy, salty fried potatoes and you’ve got yourselves a little plate of heaven. I also served this with some peas because when you think about it, what gels better than lamb, mint and peas? Probably a lot actually, but you see my point that it just sounds (and tastes) right.

Following this lamb triumph I persevered with the cooking and finally decided, after years of forgetting, to make a traditional Christmas cake. Thank goodness for baking mad friends Facebook updates serving as a reminder. Yes, it’s nearly Christmas and yes, I am excited so keeping to tradition I made my cake several weeks ahead and am now gagging for Christmas to just get here already. I used the recipe for traditional Christmas cake from Nigella Christmas which instructs me to make the cake well ahead of time to ensure maximum flavour and also to keep to the traditional ways of Ye Olde Worlde Christmas. Just call me Mary Berry. At this very moment it is wrapped up snugly in several layers of tin foil and an old Celebrations tub absorbing brandy and I can’t ice and decorate it for at least another three weeks which is killing me. As soon as the tree is up I am marzipanning and icing that bad boy, even though I was brought up never to eat anything in the Christmas larder until everyone has finished work for Christmas. I’ll stay true to this (even if I do have to work in between Christmas and New Year) but will want to have a pretty decorated cake in the kitchen to stare at while the countdown to Christmas is on. Don’t worry, I’ll cover the cake up, I’m not having a cake gather dust, not on my watch! I’m certain you will hear plenty more about this cakes progress in the coming weeks, but at the moment it’s hibernating. It’s safe to say my cooking mojo is back, and as for the eating mojo, lets just say that the Lindt collection has taken a hammering in recent days. All is well again!

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