Nigel Slater – culinary hero

For most of my twenties I had the unadulterated luck to work in a bookshop, sadly now gone but in its day one of the biggest and best in the world. In the course of my job I got the chance to meet many authors but the person I was most excited about meeting and getting to sign my books was Nigel Slater. He writes about food passionately but in such an unpretentious way that it feels accessible to all and my well thumbed copy of Appetite was one of the first cookbooks to get me really excited about cooking. He visited the shop to do a stock signing for Toast which I had read in one sitting and had loved for its humility and humour. He was very kind to me as I babbled at him and good naturedly signed all my grease-spotted, floury copies of his books, as well as writing a dedication in a copy of Toast I was getting my dad for Christmas. He was and is a culinary hero of mine.

My good friend, Fi, seeing that I had started this blog, gave me a copy of the film of Toast which inexplicably I have never seen. So today I made a version of Nigel Slater’s lentils with sausages (I scaled it down a bit because there’s only two of us here) and tonight, while Barry’s out, I’m going to sit and watch Toast.

There’s something very beautiful about green lentils, uncooked they remind me of chips of some exotic semi-precious stone. Cooked they promise something hearty but not heavy and the contrast between the orange of the carrots and the green of the lentils in this dish satisfies my long neglected artistic side.

Lentils and sausages after Nigel Slater

  • Olive oil
  • 4 rashers smoked streaky bacon chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped finely
  • 1 carrot, diced roughly
  • 1 stick of celery, diced roughly
  • 200g green lentils
  • 750ml chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 big pork sausages
  • Chopped parsley

Fry the bacon in a heavy pan with a lid over a medium heat until it’s lightly coloured. Add the onion and let it soften for a minute or two while you chop the carrot and celery. Add them in too and let them soften but not colour. Add the lentils, stock, bay leafs and sausages. I made each of the big sausages I had into two smaller ones first by squeezing them in the middle, twisting them then cutting them in half. Bring it to the boil then turn it down to a simmer and cook it with the lid on for half an hour, stirring occasionally. Add the parsley, season and serve.

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Sunshine and scones

It’s a beautiful crisp autumn day here, my favourite kind. I took a wander along to the farmers market along the road and couldn’t resist one of these amazing fruit scones. I love butter, I could probably sit and eat it with a spoon (I don’t, I do have some restraint!). One of my favourite ways to eat butter is slathered thickly, cold from the fridge, on top of a fruit scone. It has to be thick enough that you leave teeth marks.

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Steak strip chilli

This summer, towards the end of my pregnancy with the littlest of my two sons I started to worry about what we would eat once he arrived and I had no time to cook. I started a campaign of cooking ‘for the freezer’ as is traditional at such a time. It’s a habit that has stuck and I love the convenience of doing a big batch of something and having a meal for now and a portion (or two!) to freeze for another time. It’s always cheering to have decent home cooked food after the kind of busy day where you haven’t had a chance to cook.

The recipe that follows freezes well and after making a big batch will feed us for a few meals. We almost always have a package of flour tortillas in the cupboard(they keep for ages) and half-fat creme fraiche stands in for sour cream and is an ingredient I use in lots of different dishes. You could make this with steak mince instead but it’s really good with beef strips. I buy them ready prepared at the supermarket but if you cant get them then any cheap steak cut into strips or small chunks would do. It doesn’t have to be amazing quality as it’s getting cooked for a decent amount of time. Everyone has their own chilli recipe I’m sure, I don’t know how authentic this is, but currently it’s mine.


Steak strip chilli

1 large onion, chopped finely
450g beef steak strips
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon hot chilli powder
1 finely chopped red chilli
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons of tomato purée
2 medium peppers, diced
2 tins of beans – I used black beans and pinto beans but use whatever ones you prefer

In a big pot that has a lid, fry the onion in a little oil until it is soft and translucent.
Add the beef and brown.
Add the dried spices and the chopped chilli and give it a good mix about so the beef is coated in the flavourings.
Add the tin of tomatoes, the tomato purée and the peppers.
Bring to the boil then reduce to a low simmer.
Put the lid on and cook for an hour or so or until the beef is tender.
Add the drained, rinsed beans and cook for another ten to fifteen minutes.

We usually have ours burrito-style, in flour tortillas with grated mature cheddar and big dollops of half-fat creme fraiche.

Freeze any leftovers in meal-sized portions (the size of these would depend how many of you there are). We are two adults and a five year old and we usually get two further meals out of this amount. If you’re new to the whole cooking for the freezer game then this article on BBC Good Food has loads of helpful information.

Chicken double chickpea curry

I’ve been making versions of this dish for a few months now since I discovered the original recipe on the BBC Good Food website. We love chickpeas in our house and I am particularly fond of kala chana or brown chickpeas. If you’ve not tried them, you should – they are smaller and have a bit more bite to them and a slightly nuttier flavour. Supermarkets tend to stock them these days, sometimes in the ‘international’ food section or just in with the other pulses. The original recipe only contains one tin of normal chickpeas but more and more often these days I find myself adding an extra tin of pulses to recipes like this. It’s economical as the dish goes further and I just prefer the less meaty result. I like to think my husband is coming round to my way of thinking.

I’ve made this recipe using chicken breast as originally suggested and it was lovely and probably very low fat but I think all in all I prefer the result you get when using chicken thighs. I’ve tried cooking it on the bone with the skin on but we’re trying to lose a bit of weight round here so skinless, boneless thigh meat is our happy medium – moister and tastier (to my mind) than breast meat but without the skin a reasonably low fat option.

Making my own curry paste always struck me as too much hassle in the past but using the food processor it’s really very straightforward and the whole dish can be made in under an hour. You can adjust the spiciness by leaving out some of the chilli – the boy, who is 5 and not mad keen on very spicy food enjoyed eating this.

  • 2 onions, quartered
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 3cm piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of medium curry powder
  • ¼ teaspoon of turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons of paprika
  • 1 red chilli, seeded and roughly chopped (or less if you prefer less heat)
  • Fresh coriander
  • Chicken stock cube/powder
  • 425ml boiling water
  • About 500g of boneless, skinless chicken thigh fillets
  • 1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tin kala chana/brown chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • Small pot of natural yoghurt

Put the onions, garlic, ginger, chilli and spices into a food processor and blend them into a paste. Add a tablespoon of water to help it blend if you need to.

Cook the paste in a large heavy based pan over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring it frequently.

Add the stock and the boiling water and mix it in.

Add the chicken and simmer for half an hour or until the meat is tender.

Add the two tins of chickpeas and cook for another ten minutes.

Serve with basmati rice and naan or chappatis. Drizzle with the plain yoghurt and sprinkle some chopped fresh coriander on top.

“Turning the Tables” and a tasty tea

I’ve not posted in a couple of days as things have been pretty hectic round here. It was the boy’s fifth birthday party on Saturday so we were getting prepared for that and then afterwards – recovering.

Friday started off relaxing enough with a visit from my friend Jo and her daughter. We caught up over coffee and some of the mint chocolate cookies I made and froze for later the other day. Jo has a lovely blog called Binds You to Me where she writes about family and interiors(and lots of other stuff) and makes me jealous with her impeccable taste and gorgeous home. She brought me an amazing book as a present “Turning the Tables” which contains recipes and reflections on food and cooking by fabulous women like Angela Carter and Miriam Margoyles. It brought back fond memories of childhood when my mum’s bookshelves were full of books from feminist publishers, few of which sadly survive today. I’m looking forward to reading it and attempting some of the recipes.

Later on Friday was taken up by making up party bags for Saturday’s festivities and then suddenly realising it was nearly 5.30 and we hadn’t thought about tea*. The recipe below (so simple it barely qualifies as a recipe) is a quick and tasty tea that we quite often fall back on. If you don’t have chorizo, smoked streaky bacon would be nice too.

*A note on the use of the word tea – tea is used here in the good Scottish sense to denote the evening meal.

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Pasta with chorizo and tomatoes

  • 200g chorizo, chopped into small pieces
  • 200g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Garlic purée or a crushed clove of garlic
  • Salt and pepper
  • Long pasta – spaghetti or similar
  • Tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
  • Olive oil

Fry the chorizo in a little oil until it has begun to crisp at the edges.
Add the tomatoes to the hot pan along with the garlic.
Allow to cook down until the tomatoes are collapsing and you have a sauce-y consistency. Add the balsamic and let it cook off.
If the sauce is a little dry looking then add some of the hot pasta water.
Once the pasta is ready, drain it and add it to the sauce in the pan. Toss it around until it’s all coated and then serve with plenty of Parmesan and black pepper.

 

Easy lamb steaks with aubergine

I’ve made this a few times recently because it’s very simple and makes a tasty tea for nights when you don’t want to spend much time in the kitchen. My husband likes it because it has a big bit of meat in a starring role which he considers one of the essential qualities in any meal. It’s vaguely based on a Delia recipe which I remember involved all sorts of complicated aubergine salting which I don’t bother with in my version. It’d probably be better with fresh herbs but I quite often don’t have any so dried is what I used.

  • 2 lamb steaks
  • 1 medium aubergine
  • 1 vine tomato
  • A generous handful of cherry tomatoes – I’m loving the multicoloured ones some of the supermarkets are selling now
  • Some dried rosemary and oregano(or whatever dried herbs you fancy)
  • garlic puree
  • salt and pepper to season

Preheat the oven to 200/gas mark 6. Chop the aubergine into cubes and fry in an ovenproof dish until it is beginning to brown at the edges and soften. Put the dish into the preheated oven.

Chop the cherry tomatoes in half and roughly chop the big tomato. After ten minutes or so, add them to the aubergine in the oven along with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, a squirt of garlic puree and the dried herbs.

If you have a griddle pan, use it to griddle the lamb chops so they are just sealed and marked, if not just brown them in a pan.

Add the lamb to the vegetables and put it back in the oven for 5-10 minutes depending how you like your lamb.

Take it out the oven, season, and let it rest for a few minutes before serving.

Serve with nice bread to mop up the juices.