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
In an oilless pan over medium heat, fry the chorizo pieces until the orange oil runs out.
Remove from heat and add sherry, it will sizzle a bit.
Add peas and cook until frozen look leaves them.
Add rice and stir until slicked in the orange-tinted oil and sherry remnants.
Pour over stock and bring to a bubble.
Clamp on a lid and reduce heat to very low. Simmer for 15 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.
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.
Firstly let me just own up: I have never been to any country in South East Asia. But I do know that their cuisine – huge on flavour yet low on calories/guilt – is often the first port of call to any foodie who has to exercise a modicum of dietary restraint. I am a bit of a greedy pig, which I know is not news (and certainly not fake news), but even I have to reel in my desires. My low-carb diet took a hiatus to accommodate Easter, and lately I’ve decided to relax it more at weekends (especially if copious alcohol consumption is planned).
I don’t know whether to call this a salad or not as the kale is steamed, but isn’t served hot. It was yet another result of a fridge raid today when I needed a low carb but filling lunch and some cooked chicken breast to use up. It is a mutation of Nigella Lawson’s gingery hot duck salad from Bites, which in turn was a spin off from Cambodian beef salad so, I guess you can call this recipe the next stage. This is the beauty of cooking – evolution.
I am not naturally a salad person so if I do make one, it has to deliver on taste and not feel like a punishment. My salads usually have heat in there somewhere, maybe fruit, herbs, and certainly something sharp and pickled. Vinegar or citrus juices tend to be my choice of dressing, I loathe those claggy bottled ones.
Kale I genuinely enjoy eating (don’t convince me a kale smoothie does not taste absolutely vile though. Just cook it and eat it as a veg, stop inflicting such horror on your soul) as it is beefy and meaty for a leafy green and still fairly cheap to buy and is always grown in the UK all year round, and I had half a bag to use up and no salad leaves in the fridge.
I nearly always have a bought roast chicken in the fridge (because sadly I don’t roast birds nearly as often as I would like to these days which is madness as it would work out SO much cheaper) but I tend to prefer the dark meat (think a drumstick torn off the bird like an island savage when post-work hunger pangs hit) whereas my ex partner/good friend favours the breast. But on those occasions when I do have cooked chicken breast laying about, I have to anoint it with some seriously spiky, punchy flavouring. But I do tend to leave the skin on as it’s a small sacrifice of virtue in order to up the flavour stakes.
The dressing is hot, salty, sour and even a little sweet – if the idea of sugar appalls you, then just use granulated sweetener or agave syrup instead. You do need balance here. I have done it with half lime, half sweet orange before, but this time I wanted the full acerbic hit of the lime. The ginger is to taste, don’t get your ruler out. In truth, I find it easier to just grate the whole root and go by eye. And I don’t bother to peel because I’m lazy.
This is a fiercely hot salad, not for the faint hearted (and if, as I often do, you go for full geographical authenticity and use those fiendish Thai birds-eye chillies or go EVEN hotter up the Scoville scale, then it’s strictly professionals only time) but if you do like the food that bites back, it’s an easy summer lunch or light supper. If you’re as much of a heat junkie as I am, you will love it.
1 cold cooked chicken breast, skin on (either from a leftover roast, bought packet or rotisserie chicken)
2 tbsp fish sauce
Juice of 1 and a half limes
1 tsp sugar or any sweetener you desire
Few drops toasted sesame oil
1-2cm piece ginger, grated.
1 green chilli, chopped (de-seed if you’re of a more timorous bent, or use 1-2 birds-eyes if you think you’re hard enough)
Place kale in a steamer, either electric or one set over boiling water, sprinkle with salt and steam until tender. Alternatively you can boil in salted water.
Slice chicken breast on the diagonal, going for that 80s Chinese takeaway fan-style carving but if some of the meat crumbles, spoiling the perfect slices, don’t get het up. Please leave on the skin. You’ll thank me.
In a bowl, mix together fish sauce, lime juice, sesame oil, chopped chilli and grated ginger before tumbling in the sliced chicken. Stir to coat thoroughly. Think of this as a quasi-marinade as well as a dressing.
This can be served with the kale hot or at room temperature, so don’t fret about timing – when kale is tender, (and drained if you boiled it), decant it onto a plate before topping with the chicken, making sure to scrape out any remnants of the dressing with a spatula and dive in.
Risotto is classic comfort food in my eyes. It contains all the necessary items that bring solace and protection from life: carbs (yes the C word) and fat. Like a savoury rice pudding without the divisive tarpaulin of skin, this classic staple of Italian cooking is one of those foods you can feel hugging you from within.
It comes in many different forms, but surely there is no finer take on this most sinful of rice dishes than the Milanese version: Lit up with the deep gold bleeding from strands of that most magical of spices, saffron, risotto alla milanese is resplendent in its simplicity. Like many classic dishes, it is steeped in the mythology that there is this one great authentic recipe that all cooks must obey, but this simply isn’t the case….as Nigella Lawson once quipped, cooking is alive, like language…so I don’t proclaim this to be an authentic take on the perfect accompaniment to osso bucco veal, but merely my version of it.
I have no time for snobbery in the kitchen and I used whatever was to hand, including rosé wine (it was dregs of some trashy Gallo White Grenache left in the fridge and needed using up) and stock from a cube (because the most pretentious foodies of course deem any stock not home made as disreputable and not the thing), as well as grated cheddar instead of parmesan. Not that I’m going out of my way to be rebellious here; I just used what was in the fridge and on the shelf. By all means use parmesan and white wine as well as homemade chicken stock if you have them. If you’re opening a bottle of wine especially for this, obviously drink the rest with the meal! Vermouth would also be good here if you can’t justify buying a bottle of wine just for this.
I will be bossy about one thing – you MUST use saffron otherwise this isn’t Milanese risotto! It’s better value to buy saffron online than the little jars from the supermarket, and you get more for your money. It keeps for ages so do invest. No turmeric please. The flavour is quite different and would be invasive here.
You could even use cheap long grain rice if you wanted if that’s all you have/budget is tight, but you won’t get the same creamy texture – risotto rice is short grain and can absorb more liquid, but I used to make risotto using long grain from my old student cookbook years ago and it does work in a similar fashion – ris = rice after all, so I can vouch for that as a commendable alternative. Just don’t serve it to a discerning Italian.
This recipe serves one happily, but can easily be doubled for two.
Risotto alla Milanese per uno
60g butter (go by eye if that’s easier)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
150g short-grain/risotto rice – I used arborio but if you can find Vialone Nano rice, please use that.
125ml (small glass) rosé or white wine
500ml chicken or vegetable stock – I recommend Knorr chicken cubes as it helps with the yellow colour
Grated parmesan (or cheddar if you haven’t got any parmesan) to serve
Generous pinch saffron threads
Mix saffron into the stock and pour into a small saucepan set over a medium heat. It is important to keep the stock hot.
Over a medium heat, melt half the butter along with the olive oil and tumble in the finely chopped vegetables. Cook for about 5 minutes, sprinkling with salt to stop colouring, until soft.
Tip in the flat pearls of rice and stir until they are shiny and slick with onion-celery oil – this is known as tostatura in Italian.
Pour over wine and stir, allowing the rice grains to absorb it.
Once the wine is absorbed, ladle in the stock one ladleful at a time, stirring constantly and not adding the next ladleful until the previous has been fully absorbed by the rice. Keep going until all the stock is used up and the rice is al dente…it should have some bite but be creamy and tender; this should take around 20 minutes.
Don’t leave the stove during this. It’s hard to be precise as different bags of the same rice can differ in their thirst, so you may not need all the stock, or you may need to add extra water from the kettle.
Once the rice is ready (do taste and check the texture) get ready to make the mantecatura; the all important finishing touch. Dot the risotto with the remaining butter, along with the grated cheese (Use roughly 2 tbsp but it’s to taste), and, should you have some on standby, a little cream (no more than 1 tbsp otherwise you risk muting the brilliant summery yellow of the risotto) and stir until melted in and creamy – the Venetians call this all’onda which means ‘with a wave to it’. You don’t want a rock-solid mass.
This is scarcely a recipe but I felt like I had to post it, partly because this meeting of old British classic and modern uber-trendy ingredient actually makes for a killer combination. Trust me.
The intensely salty, beefy Bovril provides a solid underpinning to the cool mashed avocado, spiked with fresh ginger and chilli with the zing of lime (essentially the method from Simply Nigella sans the fresh dill and that was only because I didn’t have any in the house – if you have dill, please use it in this!), and the poached egg is the finishing touch to make it a light meal for one. Any bread will do, I’m more than happy to use plastic white but I’m sure some good sourdough will be even better.
And why else am I posting this? Simple – because I want to get under the skin of the professionally-permanently-outraged who got SO riled up about Nigella Lawson sharing her take on the ubiquitous avocado toast last year. Seriously…if a cooking show angers you because the recipes have simplicity, it may be time to change the channel and re-evaluate your life. So come at me, Twitter! Hit me with your best trolling! I’ve even given it a stupid portmanteau name to really make the hackles on your neck stand on end.
Serves 1 for a light breakfast, lunch or supper.
Bovrocado Toast With Poached Egg
1 ripe avocado
2 slices bread of your choice – even plastic white is good here
Small piece ginger
1/4 tsp chilli flakes (to taste)
1-2 tsp lime juice
Pinch sea salt flakes (to taste)
A few squirts Bovril (to taste)
Optional: Chilli oil, to drizzle on top
Set a small pan of water on to boil.
Peel avocado and remove pit. Scoop the bright jade flesh into a small bowl and mash roughly with a fork. Mix in the lime juice to prevent it browning and season with salt. Grate in ginger and add chilli. Stir to combine.
Toast your bread.
When bread is toasted, spread with bovril thinly. You don’t have to perfectly cover it, it is just there to add an intense saline underbelly to the sprightly-flavoured avocado.
Spread the bright green avocado mash onto both slices of bread
When water is boiling, add the vinegar and stir with a fork to create a whirlpool.
Crack egg into a small dish and slide in the whirlpool and turn heat down to medium and poach until just cooked through. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on one of the slices of avotoast.
“As nutty as a fruitcake”, as the idiom goes. It’s a popular one, but I always wondered where it came from, as the most nuts you’d find in a fruit cake in Britain is the almonds atop a Dundee cake, or maybe the ground ones in a Christmas cake. Turns out this comes from the United States, coined 80 years ago.
Fruit cake isn’t exclusively a British thing. Cakes with fruit in have been around for centuries, and appear in many different cultures. I mentioned the American cousin to the British Christmas cake in the recipe for the latter, and true to form, I am sharing with you the recipe I use, which I’ve lightly adapted from the original. This is authentic as it gets, as it comes from Betty; (a home cook from Kentucky who can be found on Youtube and has her own site) via her sister Barbara.
So what’s so different about this? I hear you ask.
The American fruitcake is a long-standing holiday tradition. In 1913, across the US, cakes began to be available via mail-order. Some well-known American bakers of fruit cake include Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas, and The Claxton Bakery in Claxton, Georgia. Both Collin Street and Claxton are Southern companies with access to cheap nuts, especially the pecan, and this in turn, in 1935, led to the creation of the expression “nutty as a fruitcake”.
Unlike our version, the fruitcake has long been ridiculed in American popular culture. Johnny Carson famously joked that there is only one in the world, passed from family to family.
The main difference between the American fruitcake, and the traditional Christmas cake, apart from the lack of marzipan and fondant atop, is the fruit itself. Whilst ours (and many others around the world) use dried fruits, the American version is stuffed with candied, or glacé fruit. And not just that, artifically-coloured ones. Think those bright red and green cherries you can buy.
As you can see, very different! I happen to think they’re really pretty. The glacé fruit inside look like jewels, especially when they’re chopped and put atop the cakes for decoration. They’re perhaps more fruit, than cake!
It’s difficult to say as a Brit with a pash for all things American why it’s become such a national joke, but I’m pretty sure the blame, as always, starts with horrid mass-produced versions which are inferior to a proper home-made one. I’ve researched these long and hard – the trashy holds dear to me – and can certainly sympathise with fruitcake haters. Some store-bought ones use candied TURNIP (no doubt cheaper than cherries) to bulk them out, whilst others are bulked with the bitter citron (which I like but can see why many wouldn’t, I was a candied peel phobe for many years). And indeed Betty, creator of this recipe, slates the mass-produced ones, saying they’re inedibly chewy and said that the ‘fruit’ barely qualifies as such.
‘Fruitcake tosses’ are a popular holiday game to get rid of unwanted ones, and it is also often the standard gift for a relation you don’t like very much; or the one you ‘regift’. Or use as a doorstop.
The mail-order cake still exists, one particular example is made by the monks of Trappist Abbey, Oregon, and these for the most part are superior in quality to the mass-produced crap – my late paternal grandfather was a long-term customer of Collin Street Bakery, who do deliver to the UK.
After reading about the American fruitcake in December 2013, I was so charmed by their colourful appearance I tried to make a spin using a bara brith recipe. Went OK but got lost in the Christmas baking shuffle that year. I’ve also made ‘fruitcake scones’ (cherry scones using tri-colour cherries) with some success. But last year, I decided in addition to the trad Brit Christmas cake, I was going to go Stateside too (which was another reason for making a smaller one!). And I discovered, not only do I love the look, but also the taste. I’d be a bad American.
This recipe is as good ol’ Deep South as it gets and Betty’s video is charming (and Betty herself is achingly glamourous, a real Kentucky gal). it’s a very easy recipe if you don’t mind a bit of chopping.
If you have a large bundt pan or tube pan, make it in one, or use two 2lb loaf tins as I do. If you find pecans (there is a lot but remember this originates from the Deep South where they’re local produce) too costly, use walnuts instead.
This is cooked long and slow so set aside a half day for this. Same as you would a Christmas cake.
Finally, I absolutely INSIST no ‘natural colour’ glacé cherries please! You can easily find the multicoloured, artificial red, gold and green ones online or on wholefood market stalls at this time of year! For the mixed fruits, use whatever you can find that won’t break the bank (you may not want that fancy box of French glacé fruit from Lakeland here!). Those red pears and angelica would be ideal, as well as the gold cherries. If however you don;’t want to spend too much, just replace with another 8oz of chopped dates. The original recipe from Betty was in fact 1lb dates, I just replaced half this amount with the extra chopped glacé fruits to make it mine because I’d bought other fruits such as candied pears, peach halves, melon, kiwi and angelica, and I thought that 1lb of cherries and pineapple wasn’t enough! Actually, I just wanted more coloured bits to make it even gaudier (go hard or go home!). Do as you wish.
8oz dates, chopped
4oz green glacé cherries, halved
4oz red glacé cherries, halved (not ‘natural colour’!)
4oz glacé pineapple rings, cut into chunks
8oz mixed glacé fruits (available online from various sources – Amazon is good, or from wholefoods stalls) e.g red pears, gold cherries, angelica, melon, whatever you can find. Candied peel would be good, or just use another 8oz of dates.
1lb pecans, chopped in the processor. (or walnuts)
1 US cup caster sugar
1 US cup self-raising flour
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground nutmeg
Some more coloured cherries, halved
Handful or two pecans
Preheat oven to 130 degrees Celsius (250 Fahrenheit). Grease two 2lb loaf tins and line with a sheet of greaseproof that comes out over the sides for easy lifting out later.
Chop dates if not using ready-chopped, halve cherries and cut pineapple into chunks. Chop up the mixed candied fruit (or whatever you’re using e.g extra dates, peel, cherries etc) into small, even-ish pieces. Blitz pecans in a processor or bash in a freezer bag with rolling pin.
Place all fruit and nuts into a large mixing bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk flour, nutmeg and sugar to combine and add to fruit.
Beat eggs with the vanilla in another bowl and add to dry ingredients and fruit before mixing well to just combine.. This is a heavy mixture as the eggs are the only liquid. It is easier to just roll your sleeves up and use your hands – it will come together fairly quickly.
Divide mixture between the loaf pans, or a large tube pan if you have one, and use a spoon to compact it down as hard as you can. You don’t want any air bubbles.
This is an option – you don’t have to – decorate as I have with more halved cherries and pecans before baking, as this welds them to the top and the low heat ensures the sugary fruit won’t catch.
Bake in the oven for 1 and a half hours -1 hour 45 minutes (ovens vary); if using a big tube pan, it may take up to and over 2 hours -until firm and a tester comes out clean – you will find a small bit of stickiness on it because of the high amount of syrupy glacé fruit in- and the top springs back upon light pressure.
Place tins on a wire rack and cool COMPLETELY. They will harden up more as they cool.
Once completely cool, loosen ends with a pallet knife and gently lift out using the surplus parchment. Peel it away.
If using straight away, slice thinly with a serrated knife and serve. If not, pierce top a few times and feed with a few spoonfuls approx of bourbon whiskey. Then, soak some muslin in bourbon and wrap around cake before wrapping again in foil and storing in a cool dark place. Remember to check periodically and refresh the muslin as this helps preserve the cake.
I have made this a few times now. I can’t recall how I found out about this curious German bake but I’m so glad I did. Like many regional specialities regardless of country, there is often, in foodie circles, this celestial hope for the One Great Authentic Recipe, but the truth is, there is as many recipes for this as there are Teutonic cooks. Nigella Lawson stated that cooking is alive, like language and this is very true. I cannot take credit for this recipe, which comes from the Cafe Seilbahn, in Rüdesheim am Rhein. I have translated it and adapted it slightly (I’ve changed the flour and baking powder to self-raising, and replaced the butter in the original with margarine as I prefer it in cakes, but you can of course, use these instead!)
Red wine cake can take many forms – loaf, bundt or layer, but they all share some conventions – red vino in the batter along with cocoa powder. The addition of the wine helps to create a light yet gloriously damp, moist cake. The pinkish-golden batter does bake to a rather dull brown but the flavour more than makes up for it. It’s hard to describe the taste – dark, spicy, aromatic and bewitching. This is definitely a grown-up cake. The kind of flavour it has I think makes it ideal for the winter months, especially Christmas.
My research found that these cakes tend to be garnished 3 ways – chocolate coated, simply dusted with icing sugar, or topped with a simple red wine icing. I have gone for the latter as I rather like contrast of the vivid lilac against the soft, tender chestnut-toned cake.
My only insistence is pick a wine you would enjoy drinking. Any red would do, no need to break the bank. Full-bodied are preferable, so for example a cabernet or rioja. I’m not a big red wine drinker so my wine knowledge is limited, sorry!
If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can easily make this cake using the all-in-one method. I have done it both ways now and had great results. The beauty of recipes like this are that they can be taken so many routes – this would make some fabulously mature cupcakes for those of that inclination, for example; you could use dark brown sugar instead of plain caster to really bring out the darker flavours (though I feel the bland sweetness of white sugar allows the fruity aromatic wine to really come to the fore, and the intense treacliness of dark brown would maybe mask the wine flavour a bit especially with the spicy warmth of the cocoa and cinnamon but light brown or golden could work); mix dark chocolate chips into the batter…or, in the festive season, use mulled wine…..as Laura Vitale says, the world’s your pickle, my friend!
Anyway, enough waffle, here’s the recipe.
Many thanks to Kevin at the Crafty Larder for the beautiful photo! I took him some of the last batch I made.
Preheat oven to 175 degrees celsius/160 fan/350 Fahrenheit.
Add cocoa and cinnamon to flour and lightly whisk to combine and break up any lumps.
Cream margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add eggs 1 by 1, with a tablespoon of the dry ingredients each time to prevent curdling.
Beat in flour mix, and then slowly pour in the wine. It’s important to gradually add it as it may split the mixture! I make it in a stand mixer.
Pour into either a greased and line 900g/2lb loaf tin or a traybake tin and bake for 55 minutes (will take less time in a tray) or until a tester inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Cool in the tin for a few minutes and then finish cooling on a wire rack. It’s a very damp cake so feel free to cool completely in the tin if you’re worried about breaking it!
When cake is fully cooled, mix icing sugar with more red wine until you have a thick, pale purple frosting, just thick enough to spread. I haven’t given exact measurements as I tend to do this by eye. Of course, you could also merely dust with icing sugar, or as the Seilbahn café do, melt 150g chocolate and thinly coat the cake, garnishing a-la Jackson Pollock with melted white chocolate (50g). Leave frosting to set.