Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries is both an entertaining read and a fabulous cookery book. Join me as I journey through the year cooking along with him...
Do buy the book from Amazon or your local book store. It's not just the recipes, its the gentle writing style and the importance of food provenance which strike a chord with me.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Week 12 - Demerara Lemon Cake and Prawn & Coriander Rolls

This looks like a straightforward cooking session, you would think - a cake, and some chopping and frying.  Brill.  Unfortunately, there was a too-large glass of wine somewhere in the mix, which really did not make for a successful evening.

Starting with the cake (p91), I realised I had not got the same size loaf tin as Mr S, so some maths to cut down the ingredients to fit the tin size was in order.  All easy enough except when it comes to eggs, but I made what I thought was a reasonable guess, and weighed everything out.

Firstly cream demerara sugar and butter 'until light and fluffy - you can expect this to take a little longer than it would with caster sugar.' Too right!  I was there with the beaters for ages, and still don't think that either light or fluffy are adjectives that I would use.  Oh well - onwards and upwards.  Add beaten eggs a little at a time 'the mixture will probably curdle a bit but don't worry.'  Too right!

Then fold in flour, ground almonds and baking powder.  Again 'fold in' would not be an expression that I would use at this point, and by the time the mix was all together, it still looked a bit separated and not overly smooth.  Put in the tin.  Top off with a sliced lemon that you have heated with sugar and water form a thick syrup and left to cool.

So this was not looking great, and once cooked, the cake is - er - dense, and the candied lemon slices had sunk.  Tastes nice, mind.

The second of tonight's dishes looked pretty foolproof, though - prawn and coriander rolls on p94. Lightly blitz prawns, garlic, spring onions, lime leaves, coriander leaves, hot chilli and a bit of flour, then put the resulting mince into the fridge for the flavours to develop. So far, so good.

Whilst that's happening, make sauce by heating sugar, rice vinegar, dark soy sauce, a finely chopped chilli, finely chopped coriander leaves and some lime juice. Leave to cool and thicken.

At this point, do not, emboldened with a glass of white, decide that it should be a bit thicker than that, and 'I'll just give it a bubble up for a minute'.  Even more importantly, do not wander off, unless you want the syrup to undergo a chemical transformation and weld itself to the base of the pan, and leave a revolting all pervading and lingering niff.

Split the prawn mix into patties and shallow fry - I used sweet chilli dipping sauce to serve instead - it was probably much the same in any case.  Nice, bit bland if we're honest, and so much washing up, despite having a dishwasher.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Week 11 - Chicken Salad and Smoked Mackerel on Toast

Well this week I have had great success with at least one of my dishes - a salad with not one ingredient that I would normally put in a 'salad' - extraordinary!

So start with Mr S on p85 - he calls this 'a refreshing chicken salad', and he's spot on.  Start off by dry frying some pumpkin seeds in a sprinkling of soy, put to one side, then dry fry some whole skinned almonds.  Make a dressing with virgin olive oil, whole grain mustard and red wine vinegar (I used balsamic as it was in the cupboard).

Peel carefully an orange, and slice, adding to the dressing, making sure that any juice is captured too.  Put a handful of watercress on a plate, add cooked chicken pieces, add dressing-with-orange and finally sprinkle over the almonds and pumpkin seeds.  Easy peasy and utterly delicious. In fact, so delicious that I ate in two days running, and both times scoffed the lot before I remembered to take a photo.

Next up is a simple supper dish of smoked mackerel on p87.  Skin then flake smoked mackerel into a bowl.  Add some chopped chives, cream and Parmesan cheese & mix.

Lightly toast some nice bread (he uses sourdough, I used a malted wholemeal), pile on the mixture, drizzle with extra cream and Parmesan and grill until golden and bubbly.  Yum.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Week 10 - Pork Burgers and Lamb Marinade

I am noticing that Mr S does not have a particularly sweet tooth, and so there is only the odd cake or pudding recipe that has made it onto these pages.  Just an observation from one who finds the biscuit tin unexpectedly empty at this very moment.

Anyway, this week's recipes have been fine, so no complaints there and we join Mr S on p81 for pork burgers.   It's not often that I have to source something unusual for my cooking evenings - one of the things which makes these recipes an attractive proposition - but this week I needed lime leaves.  I've never heard of cooking with lime leaves, let along seen these in the supermarkets, so was very pleasantly surprised when the local Sainsbury's turned up trumps.

Chop spring onions, chillies, garlic and coriander, grated ginger and lime leaves then whizz them into a paste in a food processor.  Whizz pancetta (I used fatty bacon) in the processor & add to the spice paste. Mix well with minced pork.  Leave to rest in the fridge, then make into patties.  Fry in a shallow pan with a little oil.

Our second dish is a lamb steak marinaded in various spices.  Mr S raves about it on p84, but if we are being honest, it didn't do a lot for me - the faff outweighed the result in my view.

Make a marinade out of gently fried mustard seed, fennel seed, cumin and coriander, with added chopped shallots, a chilli, crushed garlic and grated ginger.  Add a couple of chopped tomatoes and simmer to reduce.  Take of the heat and squeeze in some lime juice and chopped coriander leaves.  Once cool, marinade the lamb steaks overnight.  Grill or fry.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Week 9 - Taramasalata and Chicken and Bean Stew

Well a disaster had to happen sometime, and having got into March without having to actually chuck anything out is quite good going, I guess.

For a start, I have never eaten Taramasalata (p77), so I'm not sure (a) whether I like it or (b) what the heck it should taste like.  No matter, in for a penny, in for a pound and I scoured the borough for cod roe.  I eventually found a fish counter which had it on ice (although re-reading the recipe it called for smoked roe - no idea whether this is the same thing), and I bought the smallest piece I could so I could make a reduced portion of the recipe.  No point making tonnes of the stuff in case it turns out to be vile.

The roe looked like the result of a lobotomy operation, and languished in the fridge from Saturday until Wednesday.  So now I have something that looks like brains that I am going to eat raw that has been in the fridge for four days.  Bit concerned about giving myself food poisoning.

Come Wednesday, I got it out the fridge - can't tell if it's off or not - and scooped the roe out from the skin. Put in the processor with some bread that has been soaked in water & squeezed out, and a crushed garlic clove.  Run the processor drizzling in olive oil until it is the consistency of thick cream.  Stir in lemon juice.

I think I put in too much oil - it's all I could taste, having gingerly dipped a cracker into the result.  Hmm.  I have to confess that I didn't get too much further than that - but on the plus side, I didn't get food poisoning.

Next up is a hearty chicken stew.  I'd soaked some beans overnight, and marinaded chicken pieces in a mix of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, bay leaves, herbes de Provence and the pared rind on an orange.

The next day I browned the chicken, then put in a pot with the cooked beans.  I softened some chopped leeks in the pan, added the garlic from the marinade, then a litre of water.  Any extra marinade went in, and the orange rind.  Cover and cook for a couple of hours in a moderate oven.

Very tasty with mash - although the orange could have done with being fished out at the end of cooking.  No pic as I ate it before getting the camera out!

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Week 8 - Oxtail Stew and Treacle Tart

It's good stick-to-your-ribs fare this week!  We start with braised oxtail with mustard and mash (p63).

I had some trouble buying oxtail - of course you are tripping over it in the fresh meat section in the supermarkets when you don't want it, but even a trip to the normally reliable Morrisons didn't come up trumps.  So I went up to the butchers instead - oddly enough, we don't have a butcher in the town (literally at the end of the road), so although I'd love keep things local and patronise the small businessman, it involves getting the car out, or over four quid on the bus, or getting the bike out, which I'm less inclined to do in winter.  Anyway.

At the butchers, I was shown a tray of wonderful oxtail and asked the butcher's advice as to how many pieces to go in a stew to feed four.  He bagged four lovely pieces up, handed the bag over and asked for £8.80.  Oh.

At least you can look at all the individually cling film wrapped joints in the supermarket and spend some time choosing, and do all your muttering of 'blimey - I'm not paying that much!' in the privacy of your own trolley. As opposed to being told a price which you can either accept, challenge, or dither with a queue forming behind you and ask for the bag to be opened again and a bit taken out as it is more than you thought it would be.

Did I say what was going through my mind?  'Oh dear, Mr Butcher - are you sure?  I thought that oxtail was a cheap cut of meat, but nearly £9 is rather more I wanted to pay for a midweek stew'.


I made the world's smallest consumer protest, however, by saying, 'I was going to buy some sausages too, but I think that I'll leave it for now', as I handed over my tenner.

So back in the kitchen, the oxtail goes in a bag with flour, ground chilli and dry mustard powder.  Once it's coated in the seasoned flour, it's browned in a casserole dish.  Fish them out an set aside and put chopped onions, carrot, celery, garlic and mushrooms over a low heat to soften.  Put the oxtail back, as tomato puree, bay leaves, thyme and a bottle of 'ballsy red wine' - Mr S's words, not mine.  Bring to a simmer then put a lid on and but in a low oven for ages.

Once quite tender, strain off the gravy, cool overnight and remove the fat.  Add the gravy back to the stew and warm through, stirring in some grain and dijon mustard, and chopped parsley.  Serve with mash.

For pudding, it's treacle tart (p65).  Once I had the knack of the pastry base, and blind baked that, it was easy peasy to add breadcrumbs, syrup and lemon juice.  Whizz filling together and put in the pastry case, cook in a medium oven for half an hour.

Serve with ice cream and a smile. Yum.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Week 7 - Kipper Patties and Hot Chocolate Pudding

I was spoilt for choice with what to cook from this week's recipes - lots of lovely things - but decided to forego the stew and pork chops to go for something fishy and something sweet.

So we're with Mr S on p48 with a simple smoked fish recipe.  It is certainly simple, and it turns out to be not only very tasty, but also very cheap.  Ticking all the right boxes here. All we need are kippers, floury potatoes (I used the baking potatoes 'picasso' which I grew last year), dill, flour, garlic and mayonnaise.

I boiled the kippers in the bag, then drained and scraped the skin off and mashed them in with the cooked potato (& a knob of butter) and chopped dill, then made them into patties, and left them to cool in the fridge.

Meanwhile I mixed the rest of the chopped dill and a crushed garlic clove into the mayo.  Finally, the patties are dusted with flour and fried for a few minuetes on each side.  Job done.

I followed this with the most delightful rich chocolate puddings (p52).  Easy to make, but impressive enough for entertaining, I would think.

So we're melting chocolate, and adding butter and - secret star ingredient - nutella, meanwhile beating egg yolks and caster sugar until really creamy.

Then clean the beaters and whisk up the egg whites. Fold the melty chocky mix into the eggs & sugar, and then fold the eggwhites in.  Put into buttered ramekins & bake in a moderate oven.

They puff up to the top of the ramekins and crack along the top leaving a slightly gooey middle.  Excellent with cream - yum!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Week 6 - Lamb Shanks & Mustard and Smoked Haddock & Beans

Anything involving lamb shanks is likely to be good - I think that lamb is my favourite meat.  And I don't eat nearly enough fish, so I'm looking forward to this one too.

We're with Mr S on p44, and the good news is that all the ingredients - even including the lamb shank which I happened to have in the freezer - are already to hand. That is something that I really can get on with - most weeks I am finding that I'm cooking with things I have in the cupboard/fridge and rarely seem to have to get in anything special.  Good.

Brown the lamb shank in a pan and add onions, bay leaves, rosemary, garlic, stock and red wine. Cover with foil. Cook in oven for ages.  Simple enough - my only deviation from this was to put the whole lot into a roasting bag.  Halfway through, stir in grain mustard.

I had this with boiled potatoes, but Mr S suggests mash with mustard.

Next up, the haddock.  Cover the skinned haddock with milk and water in a shallow buttered dish and bake the oven until cooked.  Drain & wash dish.  Mix cooked beans with cream, milk, chopped parsley, grain mustard.  Spoon the beans into the dish, lay on the fish, cover with more beans and bake for 40mins.

This dried out rather, so it would have been sensible to cover with foil.  I added extra cream at the end to compensate which improved matters.

And I scoffed the lot forgetting to take a pic. Oops!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Week 5 - Baked Lime Cheesecake and Broth

This week we are with Mr S on p32, where we're baking a lime cheesecake.  Not something that I've done before, and perhaps I should have taken heed of the fact the Mr S confesses to a disaster with this, and treated it as an omen.

I certainly travelled a rocky road making it, but it seems to have come good in the end.

The trouble is with the pastry.  Mr S gives a number of warnings about the pastry needing chilling to stop it shrinking, to VERY CAREFULLY line the flan case to leave NO HOLES AT ALL or else the filling will leak out, then chill again; blind bake and then you are are eventually ready to put in the filling.

So I processed the flour, icing sugar and butter along with an egg yolk and a smidgen of water, bound it together, and following the instructions for preparing the pastry for the case.  I moulded it into the flan case and blind baked.

Well, the pasty case did shrink and came out the oven with huge cracks, looking like those pictures in wildlife documentaries of dried up watering holes in Africa.

Clearly, the filling would dribble through the base and all over the floor of the oven before I'd closed the door, so I had to have a rethink.

There were a number of options (try again, try again with a different flan dish, buy ready made pastry, buy a pastry flan dish ready cooked) but my colleague came up with the best, suggesting I bashed the pastry base into crumbs, binding with some melted butter and pressing into a flan dish as you would a crushed biscuit base.  Marvellous.

I did just that, and poured in the filling of lightly beaten egg, lime juice, cream, sugar and lime zest.  I baked it, and ate it once chilled.

By contrast, the broth (p. 41) was simplicity itself - chopped up carrot, celery, garlic, shallots and leek were softened in goosefat, then added to a big casserole dish with chicken stock, cooked pearl barley, bay leaves and thyme.

Potatoes were sliced and added on top and the whole thing cooked with the lid on in the slow oven for hours.

Tastes delicious - and sticks to your ribs!

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Week 4 - Herb Butter for Chops and Pheasant Pot Roast

The first outing from The Kitchen Diaries tonight is not so much a recipe as putting a few bits together. Excellent - my sort of cooking.

We're on p24, and Mr S is making a herb butter to put on grilled chops.  It involves mashing together butter, blue cheese, dijon mustard, cream and thyme, then making into pats (they turn out quite large) and putting in the fridge until you're ready for them.

I cooked pork chop in the oven on a bed of sliced potatoes and onions then slipped a pat on the top of the cooked pork chop and let it melt for a couple of minutes in the oven.

Very tasty and I could use any herbs I have around too.

On to the main event of the evening - I haven't eaten pheasant before so this was rather exciting.  I bought a brace of pheasant from the farmers' market a week or two back, and popped them in the freezer.

I got one out for this recipe on p25, which works on the principle of cooking the pheasant in it's own juices in a pot with a tight fitting lid.  I had the bright idea of using a roasting bag, into which I put the browned pheasant, celery, garlic, sliced potatoes, sage and the magic ingredient of vermouth.

The pheasant took longer to cook than Mr S thought (I assume that like chicken and turkey, the juices should not run pink when the flesh is pierced) - perhaps my pheasants are bigger than his.  The taste of the meat was superb - the leg more so than the breast, as it was more moist.  Perhaps it could have been served pink after all.

However, the vermouth stock/gravy with celery I did not take to at all - and the leftovers were picked out and heated through in a beef stock the next day, which was far taster to my mouth.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Week 3 - Spaghetti Bolognese and Mackerel with spiced breadcrumbs

With Mr S on p21 this week, and I'm making a slow cooked Bolognese.  Anything which includes a great slug of wine is likely to be a winner, and this is no exception.

By the time I'd fried up chopped pancetta, carrots, celery, onion, garlic and mushroom, the kitchen was smelling divine, then the mince went in the pan to brown, and finally the wine, passata, stock and bay leaves. Cover. Cook for ages on the hob.  The dish is finished off with full fat milk stirred in, and served with spaghetti and parmesan.

My word, this is good.  Again, a sizeable portion - it's so rich and meaty that it's no problem cutting down on the portion size.

Mr S is very keen on mackerel - and at just £1.50 or so for a fresh fish which is two portions (which the fishmonger kindly filleted for me), so am I.

We join him on p24, where we put the mackerel fillets in a dish, then cover with a mixture of fried up thinly sliced onion rings, parsley, garlic, breadcrumbs and paprika then the dish baked in a moderate oven.  Give the fish a squeeze of lemon, and you're done.

Very tasty indeed - although next time, I'd take the skin off the underside of the fillets before putting them in the dish.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Week 2 - Onion Soup and Cheesy Smothered Potatoes

I'm joining Mr S this week on p16 for a bowl of soup.  I don't appreciate soup enough - if there is one thing that I have in abundance, it is vegetables from the allotment.

I can't think of one time of the year when there is not a soup that I can make - yet rather than a delicious and nutricious soup, I tend to have something-on-toast instead for lunch.  Hmm.

Having said that, the one thing I do not have at this time of the year is onions, and the one thing that onion soup calls for is - well - onions.

So I bought a big bag.  Of course, when I scrutinised the recipe properly I found that a couple of potions of onion soup do not require an entire sackful of onions.

This was a marvellous recipe which involved roasting the peeled onions rather that crying away onto the chopping board, and when soft, boiling with stock and wine.  The crouton on the top is a french stick with Emmental cheese, the whole lot grilled to melt the cheese. Delicious.

Tonight's second recipe - on p17 - is a comfort eating dish of fried potatoes and cheese - a more sophisticated version of cheesy chips.

With the potatoes scrubbed and cooked on the hob with plenty of butter and oil, this is never going to be a dish to win approval with Rosemary Conley, let alone when the Emmental cheese is laid on top and left a minute or two to melt, but it was very tasty.  I had it with cooked chicken and veg.

Lovely! But it does want eating straight away - if the cheese goes cold it stops being decadently gooey and reverts to plastic and tasteless.

I'm noting after just a couple of weeks, that Mr S does have a feel for a generous portion - the soup went into three, and not two; using a half a pound of potatoes per the recipe meant that the second dish went into two comfortably rather than being a single portion.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Week 1 - Lamb Stew and Orange Cake

This week I'm joining Mr S on p10, when he puts together a lamb stew.

I love a good stew, and think that I've pretty much got the idea - lots of root veg, cheap cut of meat, cook for hours.

But the first ingredient on the list is pot barley, which I rather assumed was the same as pearl barley, but apparently not - pot barley is not milled and polished as much as pearl barley and so is 'nuttier'.  Probably healthier too with all that roughage - however, Sainsbury's could only furnish me with pearl barley, so that's what went in the pot.

The other ingredients were added with no further surprises except one - I'd halved the ingredients so that my stew should be for two, yet as everything was added to my big casserole dish, it was soon apparent that the two people in question would have to have extraordinarily hearty appetites.

It did cook down a little after a few hours in slow oven, but even so.  I strained the gravy off in order to remove the fat, and the next day heated the stew through for a substantial and delicious dinner.  A hit.

Mr S has a cake down on p10 too - an orange sponge cooked in a loaf tin and topped with icing drizzled over the top.

A twist with this cake is the addition of some orange marmalade, which adds a real zing.  I'd make less icing next time, I think - by the time I'd licked the bowl out, and eaten the spare icing that dribbled onto the board, I think I'd had as much icing as the cake had. Moist and tangy, the cake is a hit too.

A very pleasing start to the year!