Showing posts from November, 2010


Stollen is my 'alternative' Christmas cake. I don't like Christmas food, and have always had a particular aversion to dried fruit, especially raisins, sultanas and currants. People seem to find it hard to comprehend that I really do not like Christmas cake, mince pies or Christmas Pudding. "Oh, you must like mince pies!" they insist, pressing the dread things upon me. When I was growing up, my mum used to make about a million mince pies for corporate events at my father's office: she did classic mince pies, iced mince pies, and, her piece de resistance, mince pies with a frangipane topping. She also made her own Christmas cakes and puddings (one year she forgot to add the flour to the pudding and it came to the groaning board like a dark, flaming cowpat), and something called Eyemouth Tart which hails from the Borders. I do admit to liking the icing and especially the marzipan from Christmas cake. When I got married, my mum made a special layer of my wedding …


As her TV series draws to its thrilling climax, it seems that Nigella's double-entendres and suggestive asides grow ever more ridiculous. Or maybe I am just reading too much into the Buxom Goddess's comments? Or perhaps there are just certain words which sound faintly risque, even if they are not: damp, moist, flange, and clematis spring immediately to mind....

Thus, I curled up with laughter when She described this cake as "tender and damp". In the previous episode, her comment "I always like to keep a few chicken thighs somewhere" had me in tucks. Like Harry Hill in his show TV Burp, I am becoming adept at reading far too much into her perfectly innocent vocabulary.

This cake is both Italian and English in its ingredients and inspiration. The polenta and almond mixture is all Italian, producing a tender, crumbly, slightly grainy texture, while the lemon syrup, which is poured onto the cake as it emerges from the oven, makes its interior damp and redolent …


Following on from the success of my Deconstructed Chicken and Mushroom pie, I decided to attempt another. I have always liked the classic combination of steak and kidney, and have never been squeamish about eating things like liver and kidneys: my mother cooked these, and hearts and other offal, and what are now called "forgotten cuts" when I was growing up. I know some people can be fussy about kidneys, but to be perfectly honest, when they have cooked for 2 hours in a Guinness-enriched sauce, you hardly know they are there. Because the pie mix has mushrooms in it, it seemed logical to pile the filling into the broad cup of a Portobello mushroom - as I did for the chicken and mushroom pie - and then top it off with a crisp disc of puff pastry.

The filling mix is from Nigella's How to Be A Domestic Goddess, and it is definitely best made a day in advance as it gives all the flavours a chance to deepen and meld together. The long cooking time contributes to this too. I u…


After my success earlier in the week with Nigella's wheaty soda buns, and the happy memories they evoked of my summer holiday in Ireland, I had a go at a whole loaf this morning, as I fancied a slice of straight-from-the-oven-hot soda bread for breakfast. As I said in the Nigella's Buns post, the great thing about soda bread is the speed of its production. Admittedly the circumstances were not ideal this morning, as I was simultaneously mixing the ingredients and trying to unblock the sink (what an exciting life I lead!), while dressed in my most unsexy nightie, and Ugg boots.

The resulting dough mix looked decidedly dodgy: far too liquidy, so I chucked in some more flour and then poured the mixture onto a sheet of Bake-O-Glide. It spread alarmingly and immediately took on the appearance of a pale brown cow-pat. I decided I would have yoghurt for breakfast instead.

However, after 20 mins cooking, a lovely aroma was rising from the oven and the cow-pat was now cooked, with a lo…




Not a reference to the buxom one's ample bust (sorry to disappoint you) but a recipe for delicious wheaten rolls. Unlike yeasted bread, which can be tiresomely time-consuming especially if one is in a hurry, soda bread is quick to make and delicious to eat, especially still warm with a thick slathering of unsalted butter. It is the action of bicarbonate of soda which gives soda bread its name, and its distinctive texture. This recipe includes stout and honey, and the resulting buns have a lovely depth, both of colour and flavour. I knocked out a batch while listening to the 5pm news programme on Radio 4, and making supper. The ingredients require only a good stir before shaping into rolls (in fact, I just spooned fist-sized dollops onto a baking sheet) and cook in only 15 mins. It was hard to resist a hot bun straight from the oven when they were done.

Makes about 12

400g wholemeal bread flour
100g rolled oats (not instant oats)
2 tsps flaked sea salt or 1 tsp fine table salt
2 ts…


As regular readers of this blog will know, I am not overly keen on fussy or 'cheffy' food. Thus, I surprised myself when I decided to make a recipe which featured on the recent TV series 'Masterchef: the Professionals' (a sort of culinary 'The Apprentice' - and judge Michel Roux Jr bears more than a passing resemblance to Alan Sugar!). It worried me, watching 'Masterchef' the other week, as two contestants were told they were not going through to the next round. Witness their faces, crumbling in disappointment. If I were the makers of the programme, I would hide the knives and meat cleavers....

I am rather fond of pies, individual or communal, though will avoid like the plague anything with the words "Nursery"  in the title, for example "Nursery Fish Pie" or "Nursery Chicken Pie", which just scream "BLAND!!!" at me. And Grown Ups should not be eating nursery food anyway (it's like reading Harry Potter books, i…


Wikipedia, that fount of knowledge, states that Bubble and Squeak is "a traditional English dish made with shallow-fried leftover vegetables from a roast dinner. The chief ingredients are potato and cabbage..... The name comes from the....sound it makes as it cooks."

In reality, bubble and squeak is any combination of leftovers, chucked into a pan with some oil, and fried. Potatoes are a crucial ingredient, either mashed or whole, and bacon can be used for flavour. One could add an egg.  My version today comprised chorizo sausage, leftover baked potatoes, and a handful of Cavolo Nero darling. I fried the chorizo until it was just turning crisp around the edges, then flung in a baked potato, sliced, and finally the fancy cabbage, which, when fried, began to take on the texture and flavour of that Chinese restaurant standby starter - crispy fried seaweed (which, as we all know by now, is not seaweed but dark green cabbage). I added a small amount of chopped garlic and a pinch …


Twenty-odd years ago, when I was in my third publishing job in London, two "themed" restaurant chains were born: one, a Japanese noodle bar/canteen, was Wagamama, and the very first was in Streatham Street, Bloomsbury, just round the corner from my office on Great Russell Street. The other was a Belgian restaurant, called Belgo, which specialised in Belgian food, particularly "moules frites" and had a beer menu longer than the longest long arm. They both had two things in common - aside from the uncommonly good and tasty food, and lively, buzzing atmosphere - the minimalist decor and the exposed kitchens.

The first Belgo opened in 1992 in Chalk Farm, next door to the design studio of archiect Ron Arad, who designed the interior. It was well worth the schlepp up the Northern Line to eat there, for Belgo was truly a dining 'experience'. The staff were dressed like monks, in long, dark habits, Gregorian chant played soulfully in the background, or jaunty Jacque…


These clever and stylish photos are by Italian photographer Fulvio Bonavia. My particular favourites are the Parmesan handbags, the lettuce G-string (below), and the aubergine pumps.....


This intriguing book was given to me as a birthday gift by fellow foodie and Waterstones manager, Nick. We had talked about it when it was first published, and I admit I was curious, though felt it might be just another food book to clutter up my already groaning bookshelves..... In fact, it is a thoroughly good read - well-researched and entertaining, and, like a proper Thesaurus, useful.

The author, Niki Segnit, has taken 99 flavours (including coffee, chocolate, earthy, spicy, cheesy, meaty) and grouped them into hundreds of pairings, each with an elegant mini-essay, some containing concise recipes embedded within the text, others with fascinating and often very entertaining information or anecdotes relating to the foodstuff being described. Many of the pairings are nothing new, especially to a keen cook like myself, but it is the witty, fleshing out of these pairings which makes this book such a gem. I read it in bed last night, and actually laughed out loud at some of the descrip…


Do not on any account make these. Do not even read this post. Don't be tempted. Do not succumb to the luscious charms of this salty-sweet confection. Shut down your computer and go for a run. Whatever you do, please DO NOT read on....

Nigella's  Sweet and Salty Crunch Nut Bars
I thought I'd entered foodie heaven when I made the chocolate and peanut butter slices from Nigella's earlier book 'How To Be A Domestic Goddess', but these are far, far better. They are reminiscent of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, which I got hooked on when I was a student in the 1980s. At that time, Reese's confectionery was not readily available in the UK. An American girl on my corridor in the hall of residence where I lived in my first year had Peanut Butter Cups shipped over from New York in box-fulls, and was generous enough to share them with her fellow students. I loved - and still do - the combination of salty and sweet, the cloying peanut butter and the smooth chocolate.



Dinner with friends to celebrate my birthday (though I would prefer to ignore it this year - how depressing to admit to being officially "middle aged"!), and I'm cooking Nick's favourite dish: Indian Leg of Lamb, or Raan Mussallam. As Nick said last week, if anyone asked him what his favourite meal was, he would reply "Fran's Indian Leg of Lamb!". I don't cook it very often, because it takes a bit of preparation and fiddling about a few days beforehand, and maybe this adds to its cachet.

I use Madhur Jaffrey's recipe. For me, she is Mistress of the Masala and all things curried, and I still have her first book, 'An Introduction to Indian Cooking', a Penguin paperback with no illustrations, and turmeric-stained pages. She was in a series of adverts for Indian condiments some years ago - the catchphrase being "She's so bossy!". This has become one of my own kitchen catchphrases (and could equally be applied to me when anyone …


It is no accident that my ultimate cooking heroes are both called Nigel (male and female equivalents!). They both share my love of straightforward, tasty, unfussy, non-cheffy food, and are not afraid of ingredients like butter, cream, good-quality chocolate, and wine. They also see food as something for sharing (like music!); as Nigel Slater says on his website:

"There is something quietly civilizing about sharing a meal with other people. The simple act of making someone something to eat, even a bowl of soup or a loaf of bread, has a many-layered meaning. It suggests an act of protection and caring, of generosity and intimacy. It is in itself a sign of respect." 

I have long been a fan of Nigel Slater's cooking - and it was Nigel who first introduced Nigella to our screens, as she appeared in one of his earlier television series. Like Nigella, he writes beautifully and enthusiastically about food, and I always find his books a pleasure to read - in the kitchen and in…


I can't remember where I first came across this recipe, though I do recall that it included monkfish. The first time I made it, I decided the fish was an unnecessary addition to an otherwise delicious roasted vegetable tagine. This is another of those lovely comforting dishes, full of robust flavours and the colours of autumn, and it can be assembled in advance and then finished off when required.

Autumn vegetable tagine

Serves 4, or 2 pigs

1 aubergine, cubed
1 red or orange or yellow pepper, cut into approx 1 cm square pieces
Half a butternut squash, deseeded, peeled and cubed
1 red onion, cut into rough quarters
a whole head of garlic, cloves separate, skins left on
approx 200g cherry tomatoes
1 large carrot, cut into rough discs
approx 1 tbsp whole cumin seeds
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin chickpeas, drained of liquid
zest of 1 orange
a little chilli or Harissa paste
a handful of black olives
half a block of Halloumi cheese, sliced
chopped fresh coriander to garnish
olive oil


I fancied something quick and tasty to sustain me ahead of an afternoon teaching piano in my cold conservatory (and it will be cold in there come 5pm when the sun goes down!). This omelette is a great alternative to the classic version, full of interesting, piquant flavours and spices. It's simple and warming. It can be served with, or without a chapatti, roti or similar Indian bread. I like to make an accompanying green coriander relish (also a Nigella recipe) to go with it, but I went easy on the garlic today as I did not want to breathe garlicky fumes over my students.....!

An omelette joke:
- Why do you need 2 eggs to make an omelette?
- Because one egg is not an oeuf

The ingredients given here are a basic suggestion to give a reasonably authentic Indian "flavour". You could add chopped fresh mint leaves, or fresh ginger, finely sliced, or some green or red pepper slices. Eat the omelette flat on a plate, or wrapped up in a chapatti.

This recipe comes from Nigella&#…


I might have called this 'Pig Cheeks in Mulled Wine' since the sauce contains many of the same ingredients - red wine, cinnamon, orange peel - and has the same spiced-wine Christmassy aroma. And when I purchased the ingredients this morning, I happened upon bottles of ready-made mulled wine in Tesco and wondered if I should buy half a case in readiness for my Christmas concert.....

I have a great fondness for Middle Eastern food, though I have yet to travel in this region. I love the combination of fruit, meat and spices in a tagine, cooked slowly so that all the flavours meld together perfectly. I like mezze, little dishes to eat with a hunk of pide (Turkish flatbread) and a group of friends, and I love Middle Eastern sweetmeats like baklava and halva. Much as I love the food of India (and I travelled around northern India when I was a student), I think Middle Eastern food is far more interesting - and less likely to blow your head off with its chili content! The ingredients …


Not an Italian opera singer, but a dark-leafed cabbage that, for a while, was frightfully exclusive and fashionable, especially with afficionados of The River Cafe. Hard to obtain, and, when found, fiendishly expensive, it was once the vegetable de jour. Then Waitrose started to stock it, when in season, and suddenly it stopped being quite so trendy and instead became an interesting vegetable that's worth taking the trouble to seek out and cook. It hails from Tuscany and has a pleasantly tangy, slightly bitter flavour which sweetens with cooking.

My neighbour, Jenny, who has a big garden AND an allotment, grows Cavolo Nero, and when she has an excess of it, she leaves a bundle on my doormat. (She also grows courgettes, potatoes, tomatoes, rhubarb and other delicious fruit, veg and herbs.). I had a recollection of a recipe for it, stir-fried in olive oil with garlic and chilli. I made it and it was delicious. Cooked like this, it makes a great Italian-style side dish for meat or fi…


The clocks have gone back, and I drove back from Waitrose in the dusk. I had to remind myself to turn the headlights on as I left the carpark. It was pitch dark outside by house by 5.30pm. The evening air, when I opened the front door to let the cats out, smelt of damp leaves and bonfires.

This recipe, which I will call Coq au Cidre, since it's a take on coq au vin, with the wine replaced with cider, was in an article on slow-cooked food by Nigel Slater in The Observer Food Monthly supplement a couple of weeks back. The apple flavour of the cider gives it a lovely, autumnal flavour. The addition of potatoes and mushrooms make this a one-pot dish, though Nigel suggests steamed brown basmati rice as an accompaniment.

Serves 4

chicken 1, jointed into 8 pieces, or 8 chicken thighs, skin on
butter or olive oil 30g
olive oil 1 tbsp
small chestnut mushrooms 250g
small potatoes 400g
cider 500ml
double cream 150ml
dill a small bunch

Melt the butter in a casserole, add the oil then, when it starts…