Meeting My Hero: When Tom Met Nigella

I’m scarcely believing I’m writing this down, but I shall never forget All Hallow’s Eve 2017.

They say you should never meet your heroes. And that day I met mine.

I’ve gushed shamelessly over Nigella Lawson and how she has been the reason I’ve sustained an interest in cooking and food writing before, but I honestly never thought I would get to meet her, let alone have a small conversation with her without becoming tongue-tied or saying something hideously embarrassing. She was giving a talk about her newest book At My Table, and audience members were invited afterwards to the microphone to ask her questions or simply get a chance to tell her a story.

I don’t want to pontificate too much with the details of my day, such as my poor meal planning resulting in only having time to cook supper but not actually EAT it – incidentally on the menu that night was the Chicken, Leek and Pea Traybake from At My Table, which already seems to be a very popular recipe from that book as it featured in the premiere of the new TV series (I abandoned Bake Off in September after the technicals got too stupid and relied on specialist equipment *cough* waffle cone machines *cough*). And I chose to travel by train as it worked out faster than driving to Ely at that time of night. So a snatched cold cheap mince pasty and a boost bar from the Tesco adjacent to Ely station were all that I was sustaining myself with for a night with Nigella. Not the best start.

I’d promised myself that every meal on that day was to be from At My Table…breakfast was the Turkish Eggs, albeit without the key ingredient of Aleppo pepper (I must order some soon) instead with paprika and chilli flakes; lunch was the pasta with anchovies, tomatoes and mascarpone; and dinner the aforementioned traybake with apple gingerjack for dessert….it almost worked out – I just reheated a large portion of traybake when I arrived home that night and I still have some of the gingerjack left over. But anyway, I digress.

Thankfully I managed to not fall asleep during what was a very engaging talk (I’d worked a night shift Monday night and had stayed up all day owing to a doctors’ appointment at 1:30); though admittedly I was focusing more on the fact that I WAS IN THE SAME ROOM AS NIGELLA at times…and as soon as Nigella announced she wanted to hear from us…I made a beeline to join the small throng of fans.

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This was a surreal moment. In front of me is the aforementioned vintage-attired food writer whose name I’ve forgotten (I’m so sorry!). I was petrified I’d lose my nerve…

I had to really bite my tongue and hold my side-eyes when the first person to speak, an American woman, decided to criticise Nigella for how much salt she uses in her cooking (yes, I know. Some people). Nigella’s response was perfectly gregarious yet meticulously tore apart this ridiculous criticism  – salt is always to taste and most with half a brain should know that. The others, including a very glamorously-vintage-attired food writer, thankfully had much more interesting things to ask and say. I was panicking as the line shrunk – had I thought this through and what the HELL should I ask her? I’m not as well read as I should be….and I really could not think of an original question regarding food….at last…heart racing…I gingerly looked across the ornate cathedral aisle at the lady whom I’ve idolised, been inspired and captivated by since the age of 12; fiercely defended against yawnsome detractors….tweeted frequently…and all in all, the main reason I’m even in this game….and introduced myself as the guy who cooked her late sister Thomasina’s favourite food (hear more about it in this interview and trust me, you should try it. It’s a killer breakfast, especially if you, like me have a severe umami tooth)

I had indeed made this two weeks prior and tweeted it to Nigella…who replied that it moved her (and made my entire weekend in the process).  Her spoken response to me couldn’t have been better….I did feel a bit of an idiot though…like I’d used this time to inflate my own ego and get that prized ‘recognition’. I now understand why meeting a public figure means so much to folk…I wanted to tell Nigella without being creepy or cliched just how much she means to me and the sheer impact she has had on my life, and cooking this dish that was deeply personal to her own past was in my mind, the best way of thanking her….much like my fervently making of her chutney recipes in 2013 when the entire world seemed fiercely determined to demonise her. And because this combination of taromasalata, crispy bacon and sharp scallions on a soft doughy pitta bread is KILLER. It may not be gourmet or refined but boy does it taste good. I’d even recommend it as a hangover cure.

Then came the long glacial queue to get my book signed. All the time I was quivering and shying up. I wanted to get in one final chat with her as I may not ever get the chance to again. I was one of the tail end of the line and I was worrying about getting the last train from Ely but I knew if I left too soon, I’d always regret it. It was time. I handed my cracked rose gold iPhone 7 to a very friendly lady who was taking on photography duties for the fans and shuffled over to the radiant Ms Lawson (who incidentally is absolutely exquisite in person and every bit as warm as you think). She thanked me again and I knew that it was time to be the cliche and tell her just how much she means to me; that I first saw her on Bites in 2001 when I was 12…and how she’s the reason I’ve remained so interested in food and cooking. I also dropped what could be seen as a clanger by some and told her I was an aspiring food blogger and should she wish to, she could read it…and gave her the name of this blog.

Her reply?

“The cooking petrolhead? I will never forget that!”

Accompanied by that luminescent smile.

Well Nigella, I will NEVER forget meeting you. My life was made. And should you decide to read this insignificant blog updated with appalling irregularity….thank you. For everything.

T x


Curry In A Hurry: Lamb And Pea Keema

This is essentially mince curry. You can call it what you like, but that’s what it is.

The mere notion of of ‘mince curry’ conjures up 1960s horrors made with stale curry powder and garnished with hardboiled eggs, but, if you peel off the mask of stubborn ‘authenticity’ for a minute, you’ll realise that this has as good a place at a south Asian table as any – because the term curry simply implies a gravied dish. And this is stewed minced lamb served in a spiced gravy with peas. Admittedly if one was to use beef mince then we’re back in the Sixties, as of course beef isn’t eaten in India (the cow is sacred), but calling it keema satisfies the culture-appropriating food snob within us. But nobody’s going to sue you if you do use minced beef.

This originated from Delicious magazine’s website and I combined it with my own recipe for chicken balti to make it a bit more worthy of talking about. It won’t set the world on fire and it’s certainly not Instagrammable, but it is imperative for the middle of the miserable working week when the extra step of making mash for shepherds’ pie just seems like climbing Everest in the fog.


Lamb and Pea Keema



250g lamb mince

1 tbsp beef dripping

1 onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp garam masala

100g frozen peas

1 tbsp tomato puree, diluted in 200-300ml boiling water

Lemon juice

  1. Heat dripping (or oil) in a saucepan over medium heat. Add diced onion and fry until softened. Add garlic and cook for another minute or so.
  2. Add lamb mince and turn up heat – fry until browned, and then add all ground spices except the garam masala. Reduce heat back to medium and allow to cook out for 5 minutes.
  3. Toss in the peas and cook just until the frozen look leaves them before pouring in the tomato ‘stock’.
  4. Bring to boil and simmer rapidly for 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated. You want some left but not much. Think shepherds’ pie base.
  5. Taste for seasoning and then squirt in a good dash of lemon juice and the garam masala and stir through.
  6. Serve with naans, boiled rice and whatever your heart desires.

Cupboard Love: Chorizo and Pea Pilaf

It’s becoming a dangerously repetitive maxim on here, but honestly, its amazing what you can make by just scrabbling around in your fridge, freezer and store cupboard and applying a little knowhow.

I appreciate that this looks like an Eastern Mediterranean zig-zag; we begin in Spain and end up in Persia – this is not me purposely being globetrottingly eclectic in the kitchen, but merely hunting for a fast supper which creatively used some leftover chorizo sausage that was too little to do anything else with. It has some roots in a couple of Nigella’s recipes, but really, most of us will have these things in these days. I didn’t weigh the chorizo but it was the ends of two sausages that I’d bought and used for Nigella’s Chorizo and Chickpea stew and refused to waste.

It’s super easy and fast to make, one pot as well, so it’s perfect for anyone so harried in the middle of the miserable working week when the idea of cooking just makes you want to shriek. These measurements serve one, but you can of course double or quadruple. Just remember it’s one part rice to two parts stock.

I suppose you can also add chopped dried apricots (or indeed ANY dried fruit) to ramp up the Scheherezade exoticism of this dish but it’s perfectly good as is. Indeed you could also add saffron to the stock…..

Chorizo And Pea Pilaf


approx 80g chorizo, cut into small chunks

80g frozen peas

100g basmati rice

200ml chicken stock

Splash (1tbsp) dry sherry


  1. In an oilless pan over medium heat, fry the chorizo pieces until the orange oil runs out.
  2. Remove from heat and add sherry, it will sizzle a bit.
  3. Add peas and cook until frozen look leaves them.
  4. Add rice and stir until slicked in the orange-tinted oil and sherry remnants.
  5. Pour over stock and bring to a bubble.
  6. Clamp on a lid and reduce heat to very low. Simmer for 15 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.
  7. Once the rice is cooked, stir briefly (with a fork) and don’t panic if there’s any crispy bits – in Persian cooking this is very desirable and known as the tahdig. Serve immediately into a waiting bowl.

Vegan and sugar free : Chocolate Coconut Brownies

I have been meaning to publish this recipe for a while now, as the source I obtained it from back in 2012 (an American granola girl mom blogger whose name I’m sorry to say long forgotten) has seemed to have vanished into the ethers.

I felt with all the talks of sugar tax (please, for your own sanity do NOT start me off on why this is wrong) that publishing a recipe that contains zero of the evil white stuff was rather timely….actually….I’m doing so because these are FREAKING GOOD. They are deeply, darkly resonant with chocolate without children’s party sweetness, and are as squidgy, and fudgy as even the most butter-laden slabs of decadence.  And most importantly of all, they do not feel like a compromise. You can happily serve these to the most committed animal product eater and their mind will be blown. Their intense fudginess also means they can be served as a pudding too.

Plus, all the plant-derived ingredients and use of wholemeal flour makes you feel like these are SO healthy….it does use one whole bottle of agave syrup though, I am sorry.

You can use any dairy free milk you can find, though obviously please check whomever you’re serving it to isn’t allergic to nuts or soya first. With the coffee, I happily use instant as it’s added in liquid form and just make it strong, but you can use leftovers in your cafetiere; espresso…whatever you want. Don’t leave it out – , they don’t taste of coffee -it is crucial for enhancing the chocolate flavour as of course there is no melted chocolate in these.

You can use an 8×8 or small roasting tin to bake these in. Just keep an eye on the cooking time as you do not want these to dry out and they don’t take long to bake.

Due to the recipe’s Stateside origin, this is in US cup measures. But you can obtain all the ingredients from any large supermarket without needing to go to Holland and Barrett. I do apologise for the irregular changing of measures in my recipes – some are in imperial, others metric – I’m well aware of this!

I tend to only make these once a year – a close friend is a vegan, and these have become my annual birthday present to her as some kind of tradition. Their making signals the end of summer and the start of my autumn-Christmas baking calendar. But please don’t let that stop you from making them whenever you desire.

Chocolate Coconut Brownies



1/3 cup coconut oil

1 cup agave syrup (about 1 bottle)

1/2 cup coconut milk (not the canned stuff but the carton e.g Koko or Alpro) or any dairy free milk alternative

1/3 cup strong coffee

1 cup cocoa powder (raw if you really want to be good but it’ll cost you)

1/2 cup desiccated coconut

3/4 cup wholemeal flour

1/2 tsp salt

  1. Preheat oven to 180C/170C fan, and grease and line your chosen tin with parchment for easy lifting out later.
  2. In a bowl, combine flour, cocoa, coconut and salt. Fork or whisk to mix and set aside.
  3. In another bowl, beat the coconut oil and agave syrup until combined – this is easy enough by hand and a wooden spoon. Beat in the coconut milk and the coffee. It may split and curdle but don’t freak out if it does.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until just combined – don’t over mix it. It will make a fairly thin batter but that’s fine – it’s what makes the brownies so fudgy.
  5. Pour batter into the tin and bake for 16-18 minutes. Ovens do vary so it’s recommended you start with the shortest time as you don’t want to overcook them.
  6. Leave to cool completely in the tin before lifting out and cutting into. They’re surprisingly rich so small squares is fine….plus you get more brownies. And if I’m saying that……….


Ginger Loaf

Cold. Wet. Dark early. Are we really in August?

Seeing as the weather is much more reminiscent of late autumn/winter than summer, it’s only natural to gravitate towards unseasonable food to accompany said weather. In my world, at any rate.

You’ll know by now that gingerbread in its many forms has a huge hold on my heart. I’m too aware I have been in this territory before (the Yorkshire Parkin and the regular slab-style gingerbread I created in 2015) but if my cookbook collection is anything to go by, there’s infinite ways to bring sugar and spice together in pleasurably sticky harmony.

This is gingerbread as I like it – heady with black treacle, which has the bitter sweetness of burnt toffee, and packing a fierce hit of peppery ginger. Preferably left at least a day before eating as it only gets stickier.

I can’t take the credit for the recipe though – it comes from the Domestic Princess and is an adaptation of her fantastic (and pretty damn accurate reproduction) recipe for McVitie’s Golden Syrup Cake, itself a guilty pleasure of mine and one of the few mass-produced cakes I have no shame in buying, along with it’s Jamaican Ginger sister – which, I suppose you could say, I was aiming for with this.

This also has the added bonus of being easily veganised – just substitute the butter and milk for non-dairy versions, and it of course contains no eggs. If you wanted to be ambitious you could use gluten free plain flour too.

Ginger Loaf



75g soft dark brown (or even better, dark muscovado) sugar

75g softened salted butter (or vegan margarine)

150g black treacle

75ml water

75ml milk (or dairy free equivalent)

200g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160C, and grease and line a 1lb loaf tin.
  2. In a bowl, combine the flour with the bicarb, baking powder, ginger and cinnamon and whisk or fork to mix.
  3. In either a free-standing mixer or in a bowl with a hand whisk, cream together the butter and sugar until you have a manila-toned cream- if using dark muscovado the sugar will always have a slight bit of grit to it.
  4. Place the milk and water into a saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat.
  5. Once boiled, and with the motor still running on the mixer, carefully pour the hot milk/water mixture into the creamed butter and sugar, followed by the treacle, scraping the sides of the bowl if necessary. This is very liquid, so don’t panic! Also be careful of splashes.
  6. Add in the dry ingredients and continue until combined, being careful not to over mix and once more scraping the sides of the bowl.
  7. Pour the mixture into the lined tin and bake for 40-45 minutes. Check after 40 though as ovens do vary – a tester should come out clean.
  8. Once the cake is cooked, leave to cool completely in its tin on a cooling rack.
  9. If you can bear to resist, leave for a day at least before cutting as the stickier the better.


Real Men DO Eat Quiche: Four Cheese And Sherry-Caramelized Onion Quiche With Chutney

I really need to up my game of finding inspiration everywhere so I can produce more recipes. This one was borne out of financial hardship and the prospect of what to serve my visiting brother for lunch. Which going by the title doesn’t sound like pauper’s cooking but I already had four different cheeses in the fridge including two impulse buys from one of Waitrose’s perpetual 2 for £4 offers and were all open and needing use. You can of course use any 4 cheeses your heart desires, though cheddar is recommended for grating atop. Don;t feel confined by weights when it comes to the cheese….I go purely by eye here and don’t get hung up on proportions of each kind.  As long as you are precise for the pastry and custard, you’ll be fine.

Same with the chutney layer – I had some homemade ‘rag bag’ chutney – so-named for its ludicrous combination of fridge, cupboard and freezer-raid ingredients – that was sat in the fridge and felt was perfect to cut through all the cheeses. You can use any good bought chutney from a jar; anything you’d serve with a cheeseboard will do (though not mango – think Branston pickle or ploughman’s relish. Yes you can use Branston if you want…just don’t tell me about it).

Quiche is a fantastic thing to have in any savvy cook’s repetoire – its basis is simple with its easy pastry base and simple custard filling, and, like a frittata or omelette, you can throw in any leftover vegetables hanging round your fridge drawers though I recommend cooking them first. Caramelised onions are a fabulous addition, which is why I’ve gone for them, though obviously they take time to cook; this is weekend cooking at its finest…pottering about the kitchen unharried and serene. This is also much better made one day ahead to allow the filling to settle and makes for easier slicing.

Four Cheese And Sherry-Caramelised Onion Quiche With Chutney Layer




For the onions:
2 regular onions, peeled and sliced lengthways

Oil or butter, or a mixture of the two

A good few splashes of medium dry sherry

For the pastry case:
280g plain flour

70g lard

70g butter

Water, to combine the dough

For the filling:
2 large eggs

284ml double cream

A mixture of:
Cheddar, grated
Blue Shropshire, crumbled
Double Gloucester With Onion And Chives, crumbled
Parmesan, grated
Or indeed whatever combo of cheeses your heart desires.

About 3-4 tbsp (enough to make an even but thin layer) good piquant chutney, either home made if you’re super domesticated or any bought one from a jar.

You will need 1 x 20cm sandwich tin, greased, as well as some baking parchment and beans.

  1.  Heat the oil (or butter, or both) in a thick bottomed pan over a medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion slices and stir to coat with oil. Spread them out in an even layer and allow to cook for 10 minutes. Turn heat down to medium if your hob is particularly fierce.
  2. After the 10 minutes, sprinkle some salt over the onions, and optionally, a pinch of sugar to help the caramelisation process. If they catch a bit as they cook, just splash in a bit of water and stir to loosen.
  3. Cook, stirring every few minutes for at least 30 minutes…as soon as they start sticking..let them stick a little and brown, but stir before they burn.
  4. Continue to cook and scrape until they are a rich brown. Taste for sweetness. Once you’re happy, deglaze the pan with the sherry and stir to loosen all those crucial brown bits off the bottom. Turn heat up to cook off and reduce the sherry right down – you don’t want any excess liquid but they will take on its’ spicy-sweet, bosky flavour.  Decant into a bowl and set aside.

  5. Now you can get on with the pastry (or indeed you can do this before you cook the onions if you’re super organised). First, preheat oven to 200C (180 fan). In a stand mixer or food processor; or indeed by hand if you’re not a lazy bum; rub/mix the fats into the flour until it resembles medium oatmeal or breadcrumbs, and then gently pour in the water. As soon as the dough looks like it’s about to cohere, turn the machine off and squidge together to form said dough.
  6. On a floured surface, roll out the pastry to a round about the thickness of a £1 coin. You want it strong enough to prevent leakage but not too thick. Use your rolling pin to lift it and drape over the sandwich tin so there’s an overhang, pushing into the edges. Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly neat. You’re not a factory. Pull away scraps but you want it slightly above the height of the tin to allow for shrinkage. Chill in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.
  7. Lightly prick the base of the tart with a fork; line with parchment and fill with ceramic beans or dried beans or rice if you’ve not got the ceramic ones. Bake blind for 20 minutes; remove the parchment and beans, and then continue to bake for 5-10 minutes until biscuity. Remember to not go overboard here; it’s going to be baked again once it’s filled!
  8. Whilst the base is cooking, beat the eggs in a jug or bowl with the cream and season. When the case is ready, spread it carefully with the chutney (or pickle), trying not to cut it, before sprinkling with the parmesan, Shropshire, double Gloucester – I layer the parmesan over the chutney and dot with the crumbled Shropshire and Gloucester. But do this your way; as long as the chutney is the first thing to go on.
  9. Arrange half the cooled, caramelised onions atop the cheeses, before pouring over the eggs-and-cream-mix and finally, scatter with the grated cheddar and the other half of the onions.
  10. Bake for 20-25 minutes until set and golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool completely in the tin.

    Don’t be alarmed…once its completely cooled and ready to serve, you can trim away those ugly dark edges.
  11. When the quiche is cooled completely, trim away the ugly (and possibly darkened to inedible) edges of the pastry and carefully remove from the tin, before cutting into wedges and serving with whatever you like.



The closest I got to taking a photo of the quiche served…

Courting Controversy: Sauce Béarnaise

I am going to get heat from purists and food snobs for this. But does my face look bothered?

Seeing as Nigella Lawson copped hate for publishing HER VERSION of that Italian classic , spaghetti carbonara, I thought I’d join in and publish my sacrilegious version of the ultimate accompaniment to steak (or indeed any flash fried red meat).

It’s not that I don’t respect the classics, it’s just a case of making something work for you depending on factors like budget or natural ability. I am extremely clumsy in the kitchen, for example, and sometimes cook off the cuff without planning ahead.

I don’t need to tell you what sauce béarnaise is…an emulsion of egg yolks, butter, flavoured with white wine vinegar and tarragon, a ‘child’ sauce of that liquid primrose river of dreams, sauce hollandaise, one of the five ‘mother sauces’. My way plays fast and loose with the traditional method as given by the greats such as Escoffier, and I realise I’d be committing high treason by calling this authentic sauce béarnaise, but it’s authentic to me and carries the key flavourings of tarragon, spiked with the sharp tang of vinegar.

If you were making this the proper French way, you would begin with a reduction of white wine, wine vinegar, shallots, chervil and fresh tarragon, and you would whisk your butter into the egg yolks in a bowl barely touching some simmering water. Me? I do away with the reduction bit, use dried tarragon and distilled malt vinegar (yes, the clear stuff you’d use to clean your house), and I cook the sauce directly into a saucepan. I served this to a guy on a sort of date with venison and kale (as the pictures show), and this guy was very into cooking himself and he described it as excellent. So, go figure.

The method is based upon Felicity Cloake’s How To Cook Perfect Hollandaise, and you can scale it up or down depending on how many you’re cooking for. Mine serves two generously (or even one greedy person) or up to four delicately.

Sauce Béarnaise



2 large egg yolks

1 tbsp water

125g cold salted butter, cubed

Dried tarragon, to taste. At least 1tsp as you want its flavour pronounced

Generous splash distilled malt vinegar (or whatever vinegar you have)

  1. In a pan over a very low heat, place all ingredients except vinegar and begin whisking. DO NOT leave the pan, or be tempted to turn up the heat to speed things up. This sauce waits for nobody, not checking Twitter, replying to WhatsApp or making a brew. You have to whisk CONSTANTLY.
  2. As the butter melts, the sauce will begin to thicken. Do not stop whisking. Don’t be afraid to remove from the heat briefly as you whisk. If by any chance it does start to split, you can place over cold water and whisk like crazy, hopefully it should return to homogenous joy…but just take great care to not overheat.
  3. Keep whisking, be patient, and it should thicken up. Think of this as hot mayonnaise. When it is thickened to your liking, remove from heat and season to taste before splashing in vinegar, again to taste. You want some sharpness but not overwhelming acid.
  4. Béarnaise is fine at room temperature; in fact it’s preferred, unlike it’s more sensitive to heat mother, hollandaise, so make this up before you cook your steaks. Serve with your meal and bask in the smugness of making one of the greatest classic French sauces ever invented.