Thursday, November 30, 2006

Fifteen chocolate tart

I might as well own up: I don't have a very sweet tooth. This seems to be something of an oddity in the world of people who like food: food blogs tend to include a lot of elaborate sweet concoctions, the like of which I would probably be unable to reproduce anyway. I would love to be able to surprise people with my culinary and artistic flair but I can barely draw in 2 dimensions, let alone produce three-dimensional works of edible art. I am reassured by Jamie's intro to the desserts chapter, where he suggests to the over-ambitious home cook that it is best to start with understanding the basics and not to be too clever. I think that this is particularly true in desserts because you can go to a shop and buy professional desserts - it's nice to see something a bit homely too, the kind of thing you want to eat as well as gaze at. My problem with desserts is mainly that I like the idea of them and not the reality - I am not keen on meringue (and thus pavlova), pannacotta, cheesecakes full of fruit, sticky toffee pudding, Bakewell tart... the list goes on. It isn't that I don't like them - I just can't really be bothered to eat them, as I explained to my brother yesterday. We are engaged in a friendly battle as to which of us is the pickier eater: his dislikes include various vegetables and offal; mine, apart from raw tomatoes, mainly involve desserts, but in fact it's only raw tomatoes that I actually wouldn't eat (and even then I have done...). Conscious that Simon has eaten scallops and mussels as part of this project, I hereby solemnly declare to try all the desserts in this book - who knows? - maybe it will make me a dessert-lover. (This in itself is a bit worrying - I have enough vices already).

I don't need to make myself eat chocolate though - on the contrary. I have already raved about chocolate and I don't need to repeat myself ad nauseum; suffice it to say that there is always chocolate in the house, always dark, and usually Green and Blacks or Cote d'Or. It is unsurprising that Fifteen chocolate tart attracted me immediately when I opened the book. The problem was a) I didnt have a large enough tin and b) OK, I'll admit it -I was scared of making chocolate pastry. I have made pastry before, but I usually make shortcrust; sweet short crust is somewhat scarier already and as for a chocolatey version... Still, I didn't let the tin size deter me - I just used my smaller tin and didn't use all the pastry and made less filling - and I decided to forget the possibility of disaster and just make the tart, no-fuss.

Pastry: to make the pastry, I mixed unsalted butter, sugar and a pinch of salt, then folded in flour, orange zest (this is optional but I love the choc-orange combo and couldn't resist), eggs and cocoa powder, worked it into a dough, wrapped it in cling film and refrigerated it for an hour. I then rolled it out and lined the tin, leaving it in the freezer for half an hour.

While I blind baked the pastry for 12-15 minutes, I made the filling. I brought milk, cream and sugar to the boil, stirring gently, took the mixture off the heat and added broken-up dark chocolate, whisking till smooth, then 2 eggs, and whisked again. I filled the pastry case and baked for 15 minutes, at which point the filling was still a bit wobbly. I obeyed Jamie's instruction not to overcook it and ignored the wobble - it firmed beautifully as it cooled down.

You can see from the above pic that my tart is a bit rustic-looking (home-made, one might say). That is probably because I didn't line the tin particularly fussily - I could have done, but I was in something of a hurry because I needed to make the tart to use the oven for something else. Anyway here is a piece:

I can hardly begin to describe how good this tart is. The orange really comes through in the chocolate pastry and makes it oddly refreshing as well as chocolatey - the pastry is delicious indeed. The filling is a sort of tart version of ganache and thus is unsurprisingly gorgeous. I would say that this tart is pretty rich; Jamie suggests serving it with creme fraiche but I only had natural yoghurt and it was a magic combination. This is an absolutely divine tart and everyone should try it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Whole baked cauliflower with tomato and olive sauce

Cauliflower is, according to Jamie, 'an honest, humble, no-frills vegetable'. I would agree with that - cauliflower is a basic sort of vegetable that tends to be forgotten about nowadays in the general rush to serve out of season asparagus, broad beans, and the like. I can't remember the last time I went to someone's house for dinner and was served cauliflower, which is a shame because cauliflower cheese is one of the best comfort foods around and it tastes really good with roasted meat. I will confess that I rediscovered cauliflower last year when we were receiving organic vegetables from a local farm every fortnight, and the bag frequently contained cauliflower and cabbage - vegetables I had hitherto tended to dismiss a bit. I realized that cauliflower is lovely mashed with potato and that it makes for very tasty soup, and I started to make cauliflower cheese, and also to roast florets dusted with cumin in a hot oven (idea courtesy of Nigella). Just recently I loved Jamie's potato and cauliflower dauphinoise. I am, in short, happy to extol the virtues of this humble flowered vegetable.

Jamie's recipe for whole baked cauliflower with tomato and olive sauce intrigued me because the photo makes the dish look quite exciting. Jamie says he made it up; my mother claims to have eaten similar-style dishes in France in the 1990s, although perhaps not with olives. Anyway, to make this, first you find a pan in which the whole head of cauliflower will fit and leave an inch around the sides. The first saucepan I pulled out of the cupboard fitted, which was a good start. Put the pan on the heat, add olive oil and chopped garlic, red onion, the chopped up cauliflower stalk and parsley stalks, and fry for 10 mins or so until softened. Add pitted olives, and sliced anchovy fillets and fry for another couple of minutes before adding tinned plum tomatoes, water, and red wine vinegar and bringing to the boil. Push the cauliflower gently into the middle of the pan; if the pan is the right size, half the cauliflower will be in the sauce and half above it. Drizzle with olive oil, put the lid on the pan, and simmer for 50 minutes. Serve sprinkled with parsley leaves.

My cauliflower was more stressful than the above method might suggest, because I seemed to have bought an inordinately squat cauliflower, so more than half submerged into the liquid. I then began to obsess about the cauliflower sinking into the liquid, but it thankfully didn't - possibly because I kept the heat incredibly low. So low that in future I will simmer the tomato sauce a bit before adding the cauli, so that it begins to thicken and reduce at the start. That said, this was very nice and tasty. You could taste the olives, so olive-haters (who seem to be even more ubiquitous than fennel-haters) should probably miss them out; I'm sure it would still taste okay, though I like the taste of the olives.

I served this with a pork chop that had been rubbed with a dry spice mix that my brother gave me a while ago.

Another yummy dinner! I'd never have thought of cooking cauliflower like that but it is tasty and probably better for you than cauliflower cheese. The vegetables in this book are a real revelation.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Summertime tagliarini

'Summertime tagliarini': perhaps not the dish you would expect me to make near the end of November. I have noticed that quite a few of the recipes in the book are implicitly summery, less perhaps in name than in the ingredients that they include (broad beans, asparagus, and so on). I confess that I have a bit of a thing about eating seasonally; I am also prepared to admit that this is a relatively recent concern of mine, and more, that until a few years ago I honestly couldn't have told you what was in season when. I was and still am in some ways a child of the supermarket era; I can still think of nothing nicer than a huge French hypermarket, but I probably equally spend more time in Tesco than most and I see a trip to Sainsburys as a treat. Nigel Slater would be horrified; Hugh F-W would punish me with a trip to his farm and the sight of slaughtered animals, and Joanna Blythman would give up on me in disgust. In my defence, I have the same reaction to all shops, with the exception of those tedious DIY places where men can inexplicably loiter interminably, and which don't even have a decent in-store magazine. I like shopping and I hate dirty fields, and people always try and make out that makes me a worse person - as though your morality is directly related to how much time you spend in mud. I would be prepared to accept that supermarkets are evil empires of economic fascism, that they exploit farmers and small producers and damage the environment, and I buy vegetables and meat from a local farm shop but I still go to the supermarket because let's face it everyone does - and because I am a possible shopaholic. I try to make a difference to how I shop though, and one way is refusing to be unseasonal as far as possible, so thus far I haven't decided what to do about the recipes with unseasonal ingredients. Watch this space.

Long preamble over, this recipe had no unseasonal ingredients and could easily be eaten in November (in my opinion). It is basically pasta with pesto, but the pesto is made with parsley rather than basil and is also more textured because only half of the pine nuts are ground up. It is as easy as pesto: smash up half your pinenuts and put in a bowl with parmesan, pecorino, the remainder of the pine nuts, chopped parsley, lemon zest and juice. Season.

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta. Sit the sauce bowl on top of the pan while the water heats up to warm the sauce slightly. When the water boils, remove the bowl and add the pasta to the water. Cook as usual, reserving a little cooking water, then toss the pasta with the sauce; if it is too claggy, add some cooking water (I added a bit). Serve with shaved Parmesan and parsley leaves.

This was a nice, clean-tasting dish, which in retrospect is pretty summery, although it was still good in November. I liked the creamy texture of the sauce - I think I will try the old faithful of pasta with basil pesto this way next time. It was an easy weekday meal - easy and tasty, and nice to eat too; not something I would rave about, but I would definitely make it again for a good weeknight supper, and I am determined to try a basil version. I have to say that pasta and pesto usually bores me (I think I overdosed on it at university); I love pesto, but not plain with pasta. This way, with pine nuts whole as well as bashed up into the sauce, is much more interesting to look at as well as eat - and all made with store-cupboard ingredients, so I didn't have to make a special supermarket visit and don't have to feel guilty. Result!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Mad Moroccan lamb

'Mad Moroccan lamb' is a very intriguing title for a recipe. I love Moroccan lamb tagines, and I liked the idea of making something a bit mad; moreover, shoulder of lamb is right up there in Simon's hit-parade of preferred dishes. I was a bit hesitant about making this dish though, because it seemed somewhat odd - the lamb roasts for two hours in a pretty hot oven and then another hour under a couscous crust. I had a vision of incinerated, blackened lamb waiting to greet me when I opened the oven door, reminiscent of a time I stupidly ordered blackened chicken in one of those naff but ubiquitous pseudo-American bar/restaurants and got something, frankly, burnt. I was torn between worrying that this recipe would fail (by trawling through my library of books and comparing it with other recipes - ultimately a fruitless quest because it seems to be unique) and eager to try it because it looks and sounds so inviting. Greed won out, so yesterday we finally got round to mad Moroccan lamb.
Jamie describes this dish as 'a bit of a palaver' - but worth it. I didn't find it that much of a palaver, because it was easy.
First, I scored the shoulder of lamb in criss-crosses, then ground up cumin, fennel and coriander seeds with black peppercorns, dried chillies and salt, and rubbed the mix into the lamb, before pushing rosemary leaves into the slits and roasting in a conventional roasting tray for 2 hours.
Meanwhile, I fried onions, cinnamon and marjoram or thyme (I used both...) with a pinch of seasoning until softened, before adding chickpeas, water and a surprisingly large quantity of balsamic vinegar (which seems to be another of Jamie's preferred ingredients) and simmering until the sauce thickened, before removing from the heat.
I brought vegetable stock to the boil and added chopped dried fruit (Jamie suggested a range, of which I chose apricots and cranberries) and simmered until the fruit plumped up slightly, before adding olive oil and couscous, removing from the heat and leaving to soak up the liquid. Once the couscous had guzzled all the liquid, I poured it onto a large flat baking tray and drizzled with olive oil.

After 2 hours, I took the lamb out of the oven and turned the oven down from 220 to 200. Or at least that is what I was told to do. I confess that fear of incinerated lamb meant that I had had the oven at 200 anyway - my excuse is an over-exciteable convection oven, the weakness of my excuse being that I had turned the convection option off. Anyway, leaving aside my nervous recipe-breaking, I put the roasting tin on the hob and scraped at the sticky bits on the bottom (in the way you do to make gravy). I found a pot that would snugly fit the lamb inside and spooned an inch or so of couscous onto the base, before spooning over my chickpea mixture. I put the lamb on top, poured over the pan juices, and completely covered with couscous.

Jamie's pic didn't have any noticeable fruit in it but I kept most of the cranberries whole and ensured I scattered some over the top because I liked how it looked - sort of festive. The recipe said to put lemon halves on top but his pic clearly showed slices not halves, and slices looked better, so - more recipe-transgressing - I used slices. I then draped over damp and oiled greaseproof paper and foil and put back in the oven for an hour. Here it is, cooked:

Another anomaly: Jamie refers to the couscous as a crust that can be cracked, and his pic shows the couscous unevenly browned. Mine wasn't browning or hardening so I took off the foil and greaseproof, and then it did brown slightly and hardened a bit, forming a crunchy, rather than crackable, crust.

Jamie doesn't really say how to serve it apart from suggesting you serve it at the table, cracking it open. This would have been a potential disaster for us because our couscous crust came right up to the top of the pan; as we delved in we risked spillage. In the end we served it rustically, tearing off meat and scooping out chickpeas and couscous, before adding a generous dollop of natural yoghurt and drizzling over coriander and chilli.

This might have been my favourite savoury dish so far - I don't know; there has been a lot of competition. But it was truly divine. The couscous, the lamb, the dried fruit, the spices, the yoghurt and coriander, and balsamic-y, cinnamon-y, thyme-y chick peas - it was fantastic. I loved it and so did Simon. We had enough left for lunches for days, which means I had more for lunch today and still loved it. I do suspect that 220 in my oven could have been disastrous; I think lemon slices as Jamie has in his photo, but not in his text, look better than halves; and I think I was right to take off the greaseproof and foil at the end, but I could be completely wrong! What matters is that this is a grade A dinner and (the acid test) it is still making my mouth water now. Hurrah that there is more for lunch tomorrow!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Roasted chicken breast with lemony Bombay potatoes

A confession: I love chicken. I could probably eat it every day and in my teenage years I did - I insisted on having for lunch on every school day, sandwiches made with those pre-roasted chicken breasts that cost a small fortune at the time in Sainsburys. That stopped when I went to university and realized that I had developed a habit that was much too expensive for my student budget. My chicken obsession has never really gone away but it has been moderated by my growing taste for other foods; I have also become increasingly aware of the horrific conditions in which battery chickens live and have switched to free-range or organic, which necessarily means eating less chicken because it is twice the price. Anyway yesterday we went to York for the day - it was the St Nicholas Fayre, an annual four-day event with food and Christmas gifts on sale around the market square; mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and carol singers. When we arrived, it was less than festive: the rain was pouring down and everyone was sporting an umbrella like a weapon, so that as you advanced slowly through the assembled throngs, you had to beware of having your eye poked out by a passing umbrella spike. Trolley rage has nothing on umbrella rage. The weather, thankfully, cleared up; we managed a nice lunch in Cafe Rouge and a good mooch around the shops. I found a lovely chocolatiers shop and bought some little Christmas presents there, and I found several bookshops as well as a cardigan in Mango and trousers in Next (both black, the cardigan short with pretty buttons, both for work) and then we went to the market and tasted a few cheeses, most of which we ended up buying (and more besides). We walked around most of the day and returned home shattered but happy, eager for a dinner that would be easy but tasty - a sort of TV dinner without the additives. Jamie's roasted chicken breast with lemony Bombay potatoes, made with mainly store-cupboard ingredients, fitted the bill. Jamie included four chicken breast recipes for one person in the book, all one-tray oven-roasted recipes, all easy; I had already made the chicken breast with creamy butternut squash and chilli which was delicious. This dish was slightly more effort as it involved par-boiling potatoes, but it is as easy as can be - a ready meal without the spooky parts. Perfect.

To make it, I peeled and diced some potatoes, brought them to the boil in cold salted water, simmered for a few minutes, drained and allowed to steam in a colander. I put turmeric, lemon zest, ground cumin, chopped coriander, chopped red pepper, and matchsticks of fresh ginger, into a bowl with lemon juice; to the bowl I added skin-on chicken breasts and the potatoes. I tossed the ingredients in the bowl with a splash of olive oil and seasoned, before removing the chicken, putting the potatoes in an oven-proof tray, and topping with lemon slices and chicken (skin up). I drizzled with olive oil and cooked for 25-35 minutes (oven pre-heated to 200).

For a reason that I can't fathom, Jamie's version of this looks orange. In fact, when I first looked at his picture, I thought his potatoes were sweet potatoes or squash, or even carrots, because they look so orange. Mine, as you can see, is decidedly yellow (which is what I would expect from the turmeric...). Anyway the important thing is that ours was delicious, yellow or orange. The potatoes had inhaled the lemon, chilli and spices and had lovely flavour; the chicken was also very tasty from its brief fling with the spices and lemon. All in all, this is a good, easy, homemade version of a ready meal: you can shove it in the oven and do something else, which is just as easy as putting one of those spookily long-lasting readymeals in the oven/microwave. On his recent programme where he welcomed ready-meal junkies to River Cottage, Hugh F-W's scientific analysis of one ready meal found a ground-up beetle inside, which should be enough to put the nation off, but a nosy peek into other people's trollies in Tesco earlier suggests to me that people are still mainlining them. My way of converting them probably would be less extreme (and maybe less effective) than Hugh's, when he had them witness the slaughter of his animals and preparing dead animals from scratch for dinner. I would suggest that people learn to cook their own fast food, their own ready meals - that way you get the best of both worlds: you skip the additives but you still have time to watch The X Factor.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Black angel tagliarini

Black angel tagliarini sounds - and looks - really beautiful; the photo is as striking as the name. Apparently this dish is so-called because the white scallops look like angels atop the black pasta - Jamie ascribes it to Italian romanticism. I have eaten pasta with squid ink before, once, at university but never since, and I hadn't, until yesterday, made pasta with squid ink (I am not sure if Tesco sells squid ink...). Anyway I went to Carluccios a couple of months ago and brought back two sachets of squid ink with the intention of making black pasta, but we only got round to it yesterday. This is the second recipe in the fresh pasta section; the first was the papperdelle with a ragu of tiny meatballs that I made last month. We got a pasta maker with wedding vouchers and I love it (apart from the first stages of turning the dough into a pasta sheet, when you run it through the machine on its widest setting. It is amazing how quickly the ball of dough is flattened, but our machine wobbles madly at that point and one person has to hold it down tightly. When I am that person, the wobbling tends to be worse). Fresh pasta is so much easier than you could imagine - and fantastically good - and it makes you feel like a proper foodie. If I am honest, it wasn't making the pasta that has stopped me from suggesting this dish sooner - it is Simon's seafood problem. He has always eaten prawns and crab, and fish of all varieties, but until October he positively despised other forms of seafood; in October, thanks to the Jamie project!, he tried and liked mussels. Earlier in the week I tentatively suggested he might try scallops, and to his credit he was pretty keen. I love scallops. When I lived in France, I was sometimes fed coquilles Saint-Jacques, which would probably be my desert-island dinner; I haven't, sadly, eaten that dish for years...

Making the pasta is exactly like making usual egg pasta, only you add squid ink with the eggs. The scallops (which I bought at a fishmonger in town) were halved and scored, seasoned, then fried quickly in extra virgin olive oil, with chopped red chilli, garlic and parsley added after a minute. I put the pasta on to cook, added white wine to the scallops and let it reduce a little before adding butter and reducing further. Finally I tossed the pasta in the pan with the scallops and a squeeze of lemon juice, and served with more chopped parsley. This is a truly beautiful dish to eat as well as to gaze upon - even though before they are cooked, the pasta strands look like a cross between cobwebs and witches' hair! It tastes as good as it looks, and it is very quick and easy to cook (even if you make your own pasta, it still isn't arduous). The flavours are quite simple - chilli, garlic, wine, lemon - and the scallops of course are divine - angelic, one might say... Simon loved this too, which means Jamie has now converted my seafood sceptic husband to scallops as well as mussels. There are more scallop recipes in this book - I really look forward to the next one.

This is a truly beautiful dish to eat as well as to gaze upon - even though before they are cooked, the pasta strands look like a cross between cobwebs and witches' hair! It tastes as good as it looks, and it is very quick and easy to cook (even if you make your own pasta, it still isn't arduous). The flavours are quite simple - chilli, garlic, wine, lemon - and the scallops of course are divine - angelic, one might say... Simon loved this too, which means Jamie has now converted my seafood sceptic husband to scallops as well as mussels. There are more scallop recipes in this book - I really look forward to the next one.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Leftover stew risotto

I must confess that leftover stew risotto isn't a very appealing title for a recipe - you wouldn't invite people over and offer them leftover stew risotto. Which is a shame, because, I discovered yesterday, leftover stew risotto is a fabulous weeknight dinner. You may remember that on Tuesday, home alone, I made enough risotto base for three meals, using a third, roughly, to turn into mushroom risotto. Last night, we went for a couple of after work drinks with some friends, and even after two glasses of decidedly ropey pub Pinot Grigio, I managed to feign Domestic Goddess status by whipping up the insanely easy stew risotto.

I used leftover meat from Sunday's beef stew (which we've also had for lunch - this stew goes a long way... which can only be a good thing). I heated that up in a pan, added stock and the risotto base, and stirred until the liquid was absorbed, before adding more stock ladleful by ladleful. Finally I turned off the heat on the hob, added butter and Parmesan to the risotto, and let it sit for a minute, before adding thyme and a drizzle of olive oil.

Risotto isn't all that photogenic, I have decided; looking at it, you need to imagine how lovely risotto with its usual wine and Parmesan and onions and celery, plus leftover melt-in-your-mouth meat, really is. I really liked this risotto and you don't need much leftover meat to make it, which is another bonus. Usually I eat leftover stew as... leftover stew! Converting it into a risotto makes it taste like a completely different dinner, a dinner which I could whip up after the two dodgy glasses of wine and some curry and coriander flavour crisps (hello - who invented curry and coriander crisps? don't they sound revolting? scarily, though, they were pretty good...). I wasn't sure how this recipe would work out, but I will certainly be trying it again; it has got to be the best way of eating leftover beef stew ever.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Mushroom risotto

Mushrooms definitely rank quite highly on my personal vegetable hit parade (which is in a state of constant flux because even when I was picky, I always liked vegetables, and my tastes tend to vary according to the season). This caveat notwithstanding, I have always liked mushrooms a lot, even those rubbery button ones, but particularly the more exciting varieties. Unfortunately Simon, who isn't picky except when it comes to mushrooms and some forms of seafood, doesn't share my penchant for funghi - he will eat mushrooms in other dishes as long as they aren't the star ingredient, but mushroom pasta or mushroom risotto would definitely be off the cards. I knew, then, that I would have to make mushroom risotto on a night when I was home alone, which happened yesterday.

This project has changed how I see risotto. I used until recently to forget about risotto because it seemed like too much effort. Now I see that the labour it requires is effortless: you stir repeatedly, so you can't possibly be required to do anything else, which means that your mind is free to wander. I have discovered that cooking offers a privileged space and time for day-dreaming, and risotto is a perfect example of this. Yesterday I made enough of Jamie's cunning risotto base recipe for three, chilled it in the porch (well away of any potential passing feet, this time) and then extracted a third, which became the basis for Jamie's mushroom risotto recipe.

Mushroom risotto is one of the classic risottos; it needs little preamble from Jamie, let alone from me. Jamie does suggest finding the best mix of mushrooms possible - in my case, I doubt the best I could find was good enough. My search covered the huge local Tesco, M and S, a deli in town and the farm shop, and the best I could find was a mix of oyster and chestnut mushrooms, boosted by dried porcini (hurrah for dried porcini!). My mushrooms were hardly the fresh chanterelles and porcini that Jamie hints at, and thus my risotto could only ever be good, never great. I won't go through the recipe because everyone knows how to make mushroom risotto; added to the mushrooms and basic risotto base here were chopped garlic, thyme, and lemon juice, which all cut through the creaminess of the risotto and gave it added flavour.

The risotto was nice. It wasn't as good as it could have been, had I had a more interesting range of mushrooms, but it was nice. Risotto is a good meal to eat on your own because it is hardly any effort to eat it; it is like baby food, because it comes in a deep bowl and oozes into your mouth. Next time, I am going to scavenge for more exciting mushrooms - but I think I've missed my seasonal window.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Superb sweet and sour squash

I have already raved about my love for butternut squash. Jamie's preamble to the squash section of the vegetable chapter emphasizes the health benefits of this wonderfully golden vegetable which has it all: folic acid, energy-enhancing carbs, fibre - and, luckily, flavour. There are three squash side dishes in the book and if I haven't got round to them earlier this can only be because I have had too much to choose from. I had half a squash to use up and wanted fish for dinner, so I went for the recipe that Jamie suggested could be eaten with simple fish or meat amongst a myriad of possibilities (on crostini, with salad, with mozzarella...). Just looking at the ingredient list makes it obvious that it has masses of flavour, so I decided to team it with poached smoked fish and curly kale - I promise I am not paid to promote curly kale, I just bought a huge bunch at the farm shop at the weekend, and I like how it keeps its deep green colour!

This squash dish is pretty easy. I heated olive oil in a casserole type pan and added squash, cut into roughly finger-sized pieces, bashed-up coriander seeds and chilli, sliced red onion and water, and simmered with a lid on for about 10 minutes before removing the lid. When the liquid had cooked off, I added salt and pepper, chopped garlic and thyme, and fried slowly until the vegetables turned lightly golden. At this stage I added raisins, parsley stalks and pinenuts, and fried for a minute before adding balsamic and white wine vinegar and a pinch of sugar. I fried for 3 or 4 more minutes while the sugar glazed and the vinegar cooked away, before stirring through some parsley leaves.

I knew I would like this even before I cooked it, because I love all the ingredients (particularly squash and pinenuts). I did, unsurprisingly, like it a lot. The colours are great and it is an interesting dish, with contrasting flavours and textures, that works fantastically well. I made it as a side dish for poached smoked fish, which worked well - check out the colours on the plate - orange and green - fabby. I think this was probably a pretty healthy dinner, all told - poached fish; vegetables with no hint of fat: an easy and tasty way to feel a bit virtuous.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A rather pleasing carrot cake with lime mascarpone icing

The title of this recipe is a bit odd. 'A rather pleasing carrot cake' sounds more like Delia than Jamie to me! Nonetheless the accompanying picture whets the tastebuds even if the name doesn't (and let's face it - Delia probably does make a mean carrot cake). I have never made carrot cake before, it being yet another of the banned foods in the Picky Years; I admit that since I began to bake (shamefully only in 2001), I have focused mainly on chocolate cakes. In my defence I should say that I don't have a particularly sweet tooth, but I absolutely love dark chocolate. Recently a lovely woman called Lotta sent me some chilli chocolate from Finland; I think it was the nicest chocolate I have ever had. I love all dark chocolate, really, and some milk; I am not so keen on white chocolate unless it comes with frozen berries, and my idea of heaven is a square of 70% cocoa dark chocolate after a lovely dinner. I am digressing, though - I was intending just to justify my poor baking repertoire, not to start lusting after a square of chocolate (not the whole bar. The kinds of chocolate I like only work in moderation). Anyway, carrot cake always sounded a bit too stodgy for me - and frequently was. I hate stodgy cakes; they remind me of school dinners (and I still have nightmares over school dinners), and carrot cake always has that potential.

I had faith in Jamie though, not to provide a recipe for a Carrot Brick, and I have had my eye on this cake for weeks, but circumstances have militated against my making it. I intended to make it for visitors last week but cheesecake always seemed safer. Yesterday, though, liberated from my usual Sunday roast slavery by the easy beef stew, I came home from shopping and set to making the carrot cake. The process was easy - cream butter and soft brown sugar, beat in 5 egg yolks and zest and juice of one orange, before stirring in self raising flour and baking powder, ground almonds, chopped walnuts, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon, and grated carrots. I used a packet of ready-ground almonds but chopped my own walnuts, just because this seemed practical. I whisked 5 egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff and folded them into the cake mix; the cake was cooked for about 50 minutes until golden and risen. Here I nearly goofed: my tin was a 23 cm round tin, as opposed to the 22cm square tin suggested; I am a cake-tin ignoramus, but suspect that my tin was of smaller capacity than the proposed tin. My cake, despite my over-excitable convection oven, was not ready in 50 minutes; the cake skewer remained sticky until 65 minutes or so, which of course made me neurotic (it doesn't take much..).

I am happy to report that despite the unexpected delay, the cake came out moist, not burnt. After an hour of cooling, I iced it with the requisite mixture of mascarpone, full-fat cream cheese, icing sugar and zest and juice of two limes.

The cake was delicious - quite dense; possibly too dense for some, but I liked it a lot and it certainly isn't stodgy. I absolutely adored the icing though - lime mascarpone; utterly delicious and moreish. I would call this cake 'a rather pleasing carrot cake with FANTASTIC lime mascarpone icing', because that icing is to die for (I write as one who doesn't like icing sugar much...) ; I could eat it straight off the cake with a spoon. I admit to being a bit obsessed with limes (I always squeeze more lime juice into Thai curries than recommended...) but even so - lime icing; wicked! I am already wondering how it would work on other cakes... Thankfully, this cake makes enough for leftovers several times over; even so, I have to stop myself from doing a Nigella (remember the cringe-inducing yet compelling final scene of all the episodes of Nigella Bites?) and sneaking downstairs at night to lick off the icing.

Melt in your mouth shin stew

Stew is one of the meals that shows how far I have come since The Picky Years and even since my student days. When I was a student, I wasn't actually that picky, but I lived on bastardized versions of Chinese, Thai and Italian food (aka pasta and stir-fries) and I suppose I despised stew as the sort of food your grandparents would eat, rather than the kind of food an upwardly mobile pseudo-sophisticate might go for. There may well have been a foodie revolution going on, sparked off I would guess by the rise of the gastropub, which made sausage and mash trendy, but I lived in Cambridge and I missed it (Cambridge is rightfully known for greatness in many areas - food is not one of them...). By the time I cottoned on to it, more through reading (and craving!) Nigel Slater's deliciously comforting Real Food than through frequenting the 'in' eating establishments of the time, I was hooked and I haven't looked back. I still love spicy food and I still eat a lot of pasta, but I also eat sausage and mash, lamb shanks (okay, so everyone likes lamb shanks these days, but I really, really like them), slow-cooked, gently warming casseroles, and shepherds pie. Somehow these dishes make the world feel safe; you can lock the doors and close the curtains and shut out the freezing darkness outside, and allow yourself to be comforted, cocooned by the reassuring, honest simplicity of that sort of food. It is this sort of food that makes the cold weather and short days not only bearable, but even in some ways desirable; if it really were 'forever summer', as Nigella put it, we would have to live on salad, and that is enough to make me welcome the autumn.

Jamie's shin stew is a fairly typical beef stew, with the usual ingredients - onion, celery, carrot, garlic, rosemary and bay, plum tomatoes and red wine - with cinnamon and dried porcini. Like all stews, the only effort it requires is chopping the vegetables - otherwise it is as easy as can be. Yesterday we started Christmas shopping, which for me tends to involve prolonged browsing in book shops and cook shops fantasizing about my ideal presents and then trying and failing to imagine what other people might want. I confess that I almost always buy people books; this is probably because that is what I want, and I find it hard to imagine that other people are less keen. I also have to resist the temptation to buy everyone a kitchen gadget that is essential to my life and utterly foreign to theirs. Anyway yesterday I did start Christmas shopping, while the stew simmered gently in the slow cooker (I increased the cooking time and used the slow cooker rather than the oven for convenience), which seemed like a highly productive way to spend a Sunday. I served the stew with mashed sweet potato and steamed curly kale (both from the farm shop).

Mmm. This really is as Jamie says 'fantastic comfort food', easy, simple, but certainly not to be despised or scoffed at. Oh and the best thing about stews is that you make far more than you need so that you can have leftovers when you are feeling down/tired/grumpy, and need a bit of food therapy - by which I mean food that warms you up inside without making you feel guilty afterwards. They should prescribe beef stew on the NHS.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

April's rosemary straw potatoes with lemon salt

In my picky days, I mostly hated burgers. I did eat them, as a teenager, occasionally when I went into Newcastle on Saturdays to shop with my friends. We didn't have much money and lunch was either a big Mac or a sandwich in Oliver's, where you chose your fillings and they made the sandwich up for you as you watched; Oliver's was a hundred times nicer than McDonalds, so we tended to go there, but McDo was much quicker. Anyway I was never keen on burgers - I didn't much like the ubiquitous gherkin, and I wasn't a fan of beef (even the nice kinds, and certainly not the spooky cuts that make it into commercial burgers). I started to eat burgers with enthusiasm in 2004, trying out a variety of home-made burgers with different flavourings - an Asian vibe with coriander and chilli sauce; a cheeseburger with Roquefort; lamb burgers in pitta with hummus and tzatziki... burgers that were a world away from the cardboard commercial version. Yesterday I had a burger craving, and decided to try out Tessa Kiros's hamburger with pink sauce from Apples for Jam, along with Jamie's recipe for rosemary straw potatoes with lemon salt. Jamie's recipe comes from April at the Spotted Pig gastropub in New York, which I googled and found has one of those menus that make you salivate. April serves her rosemary straw potatoes (which she calls shoestring fries) with a blue cheese hamburger, so I felt I was in the right vein in teaming them with Tessa's hamburger with gorgonzola.

For the burger, I mixed good beef mince with chopped parsley and seasonings and moulded into burgers to grill. The burger itself is pretty basic, but Tessa's accompaniments are to die for: red onions fried with thyme and a little salt until sticky and a wonderful pink sauce made with ketchup, mayo, paprika and lemon juice which is exceptionally delicious, as well as tomato slices and gherkins.

Simon made the straw potatoes because he is the designated potato-preparer in this house and because I was watching the X factor. This seemed to involve slicing peeled potatoes into fine matchsticks and patting them dry, before deep frying them; unlike chips, they only need one deep-frying phase because they are so thin. Rosemary sprigs are added in the last 30 seconds or so. Simon also made the accompanying lemon salt by bashing lemon zest and sea salt together.

I can hardly begin to describe how good these fries are. Really crunchy, a sort of cross between chips and crisps, but nicer than either, and the lemon salt is delicious too. These was a massive hit. As you can see in the pic some of the matchsticks are thicker than others and they didn't go as crunchy, but they were still really nice; the thinnest ones were the best chips I've ever eaten, though, and I am not even much of a chip fan! The whole dinner was absolutely perfect, and it is rare that I would say that about burger and chips.

I think the picture sums it up- Saturday night food heaven.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Kylie Kwong's Chinese Feast

In our house, Friday night is very often Curry Night - it's as though I have a physical need of spicy food to mark the beginning of the weekend; I have no idea why. Often, I cook the curry myself - making curry is incredibly easy - but many curries taste better after sitting for a while or after a spell in some sort of marinade, so ideally I need to be a bit organized and sometimes I frankly am not. Anyway, last week we had an Indian takeaway, trying out a new takeaway that our friends rated very highly - and we were given the wrong curry: a hideously hot chilli masala instead of the medium garlic we had ordered. This week I wanted to cook and decided to make use of my (yes, another) new book, Kylie Kwong's Simple Chinese Cooking, which had come highly recommended.

I decided to make sung choi bao of pork (basically - spiced-up pork mince in lettuce leaves) to start, then chicken and cashew stir-fry with steamed rice. The pork mince was stir-fried with ginger, garlic, red onion, shao hsing wine, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar and sesame oil, then tossed with julienned carrot and spring onions (I was also meant to use celery and beansprouts but didn't have any of the latter and forgot to include the former).

This was served in iceberg lettuce leaves that had been soaked in cold water, crunchy little boats to hold the spicy filling

I have made various sorts of mince-in-iceberg starters (my favourite being Nigella's Korean beef from Forever Summer) but this one had better texture than previous versions I have tried; the mix of raw and stirfried veg and mince worked really well, and the flavours were good too.

To follow I made a simple chicken and cashew stirfry from the same book - very simple indeed, since it contained only chicken thigh fillet, garlic, shao hsing wine, cashews, cucumber and salt. The chicken was marinaded for 30 minutes in shao hsing wine, cornflour, cold water and sea salt, and then stirfried with the other ingredients, adding chopped spring onion to garnish.

This dish was incredibly disappointing. It wasn't nasty, it was quite nice, but it lacked oomph. I can see why in retrospect: it could have done with some soy or oyster sauce, or some other flavouring as well as the Chinese cooking wine; ginger, for instance, would have helped. It was okay; it just wasn't fantastic, which was a shame after the very tasty pork. I am not going to give up on Kylie, but I think the next dish I try will have more ingredients (beef in oyster sauce looks delicious, as does Mongolian beef and the pork with honey and ginger; the prawn dishes look divine too). Perhaps I should be wary of too-flavoursome starters, that build up expectations in the taste buds of treasures to come, and lead to disappointment when the main course arrives.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Buttered peas with crunchy bacon

Peas are, apparently, the preferred vegetable of the picky eater brigade. I was reminded of this recently when some colleagues came over for dinner and I asked them if there was anything they wouldn't eat; one of them said no seafood, no fish, no green vegetables (except peas), amongst other things in a list too long to recall here. She seemed to take it for granted that I would understand that peas were an acceptable green vegetable, which I found odd because in my picky-eater days, peas didn't really feature on my food radar. I didn't dislike them as such; I just found them profoundly dull, and I suppose I still do, although now I always keep a bag of frozen peas in the house to add to curries or pasta dishes or, occasionally fishcakes, or as an emergency if the fresh vegetables need to be eked out. The problem, I think, is that frozen peas don't have a lot of taste on their own; they are (to my mind) almost pointless when served with a plain piece of meat or fish, but they go very well indeed with shepherds pie and other dishes with sauce because their sweetness seems to cut through rich sauces.

Jamie has several ideas for serving peas in Cook with Jamie. It is worth pausing to describe his vegetable chapter - I think that it is the best vegetable chapter of any cookery book I've ever bought (I suppose I should except Jane Grigson's Vegetable book, but then the whole book is devoted to vegetables, which is probably cheating). I've noticed a tendency in cookery writers to include an impressive array of meat recipes and fish/seafood recipes, as well as, say, pasta, and a token few incredibly complex layered vegetarian dishes, but to skip vegetable side dishes altogether. Where they do figure, the vegetables seem for some reason to be laden with cream or overpowering sauces, which means that they take over the whole dish and can only be served with the plainest of white fish or chicken fillet. When I entertain, I tend to make curries at least partly because I don't have to mess about steaming some veg, boiling others, roasting others, at the last minute, and so that I don't have to worry about whether steamed broccoli or wilted spinach, like we have on an almost daily basis, are too boring for words. I need a wider side-vegetable repertoire, and Cook with Jamie offers just that.

I have already tried the rosemary roasted potatoes; the braised white cabbage with bacon; the broccoli with soy and ginger; dinner lady carrots; Savoy cabbage with Worcestershire sauce (and maybe more). Yesterday I had decided we needed to eat fish, so we had hake fillets dusted in seasoned flour and fried, with carrot puree (I love any sort of mashed root veg, and carrots, sweet potatoes and squash have such fabulous colour) and with one of Jamie's pea recipes: buttered peas with crunchy bacon. These are simplicity itself: cook the peas in boiling water for 3-4 minutes until tender. Meanwhile, fry thinly sliced rashers of smoked streaky bacon (I admit I used pancetta...) until golden and crisp, then remove to a dish and keep the pan with its bacony juices. Drain the peas, reserving a little of their cooking water, and add them to the pan that the bacon was cooked in, with a knob of butter, a squeeze of lemon juice and some seasoning; add a glug of cooking water to coat the peas. Serve with the bacon bits scattered over.

These peas were absolutely delicious - I could have eaten a huge bowl of them for dinner on their own! They didn't overpower the hake; instead, they added flavour and oomph to the whole dinner. Jamie suggests that as well as a side dish, they could be added to pasta dishes or risottos - the thought makes my mouth water. Like the broccoli with soy and ginger, this take on a humble vegetable (and a frozen vegetable here, to boot) is fantastically tasty and simple; it could even become addictive.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Squash, sage and amaretti risotto

I love butternut squash. To me, it is up there with aubergine and asparagus; it is obviously much less sexy than either of those, but it has a gentle warmth that makes it a delight to cook with - not to mention its beautiful colour and smooth flesh. I decided to make this risotto because I had mascarpone that needed using up and because I wanted an excuse to eat squash; it had rained all day and risotto seems perfect for a dark, wet November evening.

Making the risotto was easy - I don't know why I had it in my head before embarking on this project that there was anything tiresome about making it. Stirring is quite therapeutic; it gives you time to think, while you watch the grains of rice plump up and soften. While I made the standard base risotto recipe, I pounded cinnamon and dried chilli with salt and rubbed two quarters of a butternut squash (unpeeled) with olive oil, before smearing over the cinnamon and chilli mix, and roasting for 45 minutes at 200C.

Once the base risotto was made, I tried Jamie's cunning trick of spreading it over an oiled baking tray and putting it in the porch to cool down (that was nearly a disaster as I put it on the floor, assuming noone would go out there, but Simon did go out there when a pushy Talk Talk salesman rang the bell; luckily he didn't step in my risotto). Meanwhile I had some me-time - not that long, but enough time to make a difference. When I was hungry, I returned the risotto to a pan with half the remaining stock required and the squash flesh, brought it to the boil, and simmered, adding more stock gradually in the usual risotto-making way. When the rice was cooked, I turned off the heat, beat in mascarpone, butter and Parmesan, seasoned slightly, and put the lid on the pan for a minute or two while I fried sage leaves in olive oil until crispy.

The risotto was served topped with the sage leaves; I put Parmesan and crushed amaretti biscuits on the table for each of us to add as we wished.

The photo, above, doesn't do it justice; this was delicious. The amaretti biscuits added a lovely sweetish contrast; too many of those would have ruined the dish, though. Jamie suggests adding roasted chestnuts or pancetta near Christmas, which seems to me like a good excuse to make this again. Simon had read the recipe and asked if we were having the version with a twist; I said no, and clocked his disappointment. He didn't seem disappointed when he ate it though! I have to say that risotto, the meal I never remembered to make, is definitely going to become a weeknight regular in this house. I will have to take tips from Ilana's 'I love risotto' blog... There are 6 remaining risotto recipes in Cook with Jamie - I look forward to more risotto!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Macaroni cheese

I suspect that macaroni cheese was one of the dishes that made me hide behind the settee when I was a little girl refusing to go to school on account of the vomit-inducing meals. In retrospect the dinners themselves may have been okay - I was horribly picky - but they were semi force-fed and (as far as I recall) dripping in watery grease. I could, of course, be projecting erroneously here - I will admit that my school dinners were probably way better than the dinners we saw on Jamie's programme (turkey twizzlers...). Nonetheless, they instilled in me hatred of certain foods that it has taken me years to combat - milk (it always had a skin); rice pudding (ditto); suet (not sure why); watery mash. I am convinced that stodgy macaroni cheese, clagged up with bechamel, was on our school menu; I can almost remember trying to tip it off my plate before a scary dinner nanny force-fed it to me. It returned to haunt me at university, again in its most stodgy form (and served with chips, would you believe) but at least there we had a choice (which could be delicious but was mainly vile food under pretentious pseudonyms - imagine florets verts et blancs, which was actually cauliflower and broccoli cheese...). Since then I have never, ever, ordered macaroni cheese out of the house but I have eaten it, thanks to one of Jamie's 'quickies' in Delicious magazine a couple of years ago. That version had butternut squash in it and was topped with rosemary breadcrumbs and pancetta - dolled-up macaroni cheese with a real kick! I really liked it but somewhere along the line I seem to have forgotten about it - that happens with recipes; I go through phases of cooking certain dishes and then forget they exist.

The macaroni cheese in Cook with Jamie attracted me because the photo bore no discernable resemblance to the stodgy macaroni that my primary school served up (or to the university's adult equivalent). This is mainly because Jamie doesn't make bechamel; instead, the pasta is cooked until almost al dente and tossed with a mixture of mascarpone, parmesan, and fontina/taleggio (taleggio seems to be easier to find round here), herb butter (made by frying marjoram or oregano in foaming butter) and some of the pasta cooking water to loosen. The pasta mixture is then baked in the oven in an earthenware dish, topped with extra grated Parmesan, nutmeg and mozzarella, before being whacked under a hot grill to brown up the top.

This macaroni is very nice. Not at all stodgy, just silkily cheesey; an easy, comforting sort of a dish. There are no strong flavours here, nothing to object to, just a gentle pasta supper with no pretensions (and no bechamel).

This is the kind of food you eat curled up on a sofa, rather than sitting up at a table, when you don't want uplifting and inspiring conversation; you just want to relax. It is I think, a gently warming, relaxing, definitely easy dinner.

Bloomin' easy vanilla cheesecake

Everyone likes cheesecake - don't they? The assumption that cheesecake enjoys pretty universal popularity led me to decide to make this for our visitors the other night to follow the lamb, bread and salad. I liked the simplicity of the recipe - lots of cheesecakes now are gimmicky, which is not to say they aren't good, but after a rustic Italian-esque lamb dinner I really wanted the equivalent sort of pudding - tasty, pleasing but not too difficult to produce. There is nothing worse than a host who has prepared something ridiculously over-elaborate, sort of Heston Blumenthal-esque, totally out of synch with the context of a kitchen supper, and hovers anxiously while the guests feel pressurized into fulsome and exaggerated praise. As someone who over-invests in cooking, I need to beware of placing that kind of burden on my guests - luckily, Jamie's food seems to be perfect for the kinds of social occasion I like best.

The cheesecake, then, is a simple vanilla cheesecake, with a digestive-biscuit base and a topping made from full fat cream cheese, eggs, vanilla, orange and lemon zest, sugar, and cornflour. The base is cooked briefly and cooled; when the topping is added, the cake is baked for 45 minutes or so until golden brown and set. I made the cake some hours before we were going to eat it and kept it in our porch, which isn't insulated and is like a hot-house in the summer and almost fridge-cold in autumn, before becoming more like a freezer in winter - yes, I know, we need to sort that out, but it's one of those things that you say you will do and then forget about. Anyway, before we ate the cake, I made the cherry compote that Jamie suggests to go with it: that is, simmered cherries and sugar with an optional splash of port or whisky (I sloshed some whisky in). When the compote had cooled I served the cake and a generous dollop of compote. Unfortunately, after a fair amount of champagne and red wine, I forgot about taking a photograph (actually I also find it odd to imagine taking pictures of food while guests are there. It must make me look completely batty and I am honestly not) and had to take a photo of the remaining cake the following day.

Mmm. The picture doesn't really do it justice; it was delicious. You could really taste the vanilla and there were strong hints of lemon and orange. This cake is dangerous because it seems really light and more-ish; it is incredibly easy to eat and has a lovely flavour. So, I should add, did the cherry compote, which is a fantastic accompaniment... but as someone who had a sneaky second slice yesterday, I should say that this cake works well on its own too. Mmm.

Roast leg of lamb with aubergines and onions

To me, a roast leg of lamb suggests a feast, a celebration, a reunion, a family party. I don't buy a leg of lamb for the two of us - when we eat lamb we usually choose shoulder or shanks and slow-cook them in one form or another (Simon is particularly partial to the slow-cooked shoulder in Jamie's Dinners, followed by shepherds pie the next night; we also, as I have said somewhere before, went through a prolonged obsessive phase of cooking shanks Gordon Ramsay-style). Jamie's Italian recipe for leg of lamb with aubergines and onions might thus have had to wait to be tried out, except that Simon's godfather and his wife came to stay and we haven't seen much of them recently (they now live in the south of France, which should be a good enough reason to visit..) and it seemed like a celebratory occasion to try out the leg of lamb. I love aubergines - they look sexy, they have a lovely name (sorry, but eggplant doesn't have the same appeal - whereas zucchini sounds more exciting than courgette) and they absorb flavours beautifully. This recipe appealed because it sounded tasty, celebratory but relatively straightforward - served with bread and salad rather than the usual British round of vegetables that can really tip me over the edge in the kitchen just before serving up dinner.

To cook the dish, I roasted the lamb for half an hour in a hot oven, before removing it and tipping off the fat. I scattered chunks of aubergine and red onion seasoned with salt, pepper and oregano and tossed in olive oil around the lamb and returned to the oven to cook for another hour.

While this was cooking, I made the tomato sauce. I fried garlic and chopped parsley stalks (as an aside, I have noticed that in this book Jamie makes good use of the stalks of various herbs - basil, for instance, as well as parsley, as the base for sauces) and then added tinned plum tomatoes, pinch of seasoning, a 'good swig' of red wine vinegar dried chilli and drained anchovy fillets (again, Jamie uses a lot of anchovy fillets - fussy eaters need not be wary, as they disintegrate into the sauce and lend it flavour); the sauce then simmered for 30 minutes.

When the lamb was cooked, I removed it from the baking tray to rest on a plate. I poured the tomato sauce over the roasted aubergines and onions and put the tray over a medium-heat hob, scraping away at the sticky bits at the bottom of the pan as best I could without mashing the vegetables up. I added parsley leaves and simmered gently until the sauce reached the desired consistency (which is hard to describe, and which Jamie suggests be measured against the photograph in the book; you can sort of see it in my picture below).

The picture probably shows how tasty this was: a rich tomato sauce, aubergines, tender lamb - delicious. What I liked about it was that it felt like an unctious but kitchen table type supper, much more relaxed than the English roast (which is not to say that roast lamb with mint sauce isn't wonderful too).

I served it with warm bread and salad as suggested. For the bread part, I made rosemary and garlic focaccia which was lovely too - my first focaccia from scratch attempt and it worked. Hurrah - there is nothing like homemade bread to make me feel like Nigella.

This was a fun dinner to eat, tearing off bread and helping yourself to more mustardy salad (I tend to make salad dressing as I was taught to when I lived in France, very classically, but with a lot of mustard), which worked so well with the lamb and veggies. It was a very happy evening, eating and drinking and chattering, and the food was generous but informal. A perfect sort of evening, really. Oh and we rounded the meal up with Jamie's vanilla cheesecake, which I will report on later....

Monday, November 13, 2006

Poussins agro-dolce

The title of this recipe sounds much better in Italian than in English: sweet and sour poussin sounds unpleasantly close to sweet and sour chicken, that vile battered aberration with the sickly, MSG-laden virulently red sauce in Chinese takeaways across the country. That said, Gordon Ramsay has a lovely sweet and sour poussin recipe: the poussin is roasted and served with a sauce made from red peppers and vinaigrette and served over tagliatelle. It is stunningly easy and remarkably tasty and most surprisingly, it pre-dates Gordon's attempts to reach out to the common cook, featuring in one of his earlier recipe collections. Jamie's recipe for pot-roasted poussin is quite different - in Jamie's words it is 'comforting, deep and dark'. Just the thing for a November Sunday evening, a twist on the traditional roast but with losing none of its trademark comfort.

Firstly, I stuffed each poussin with an orange quarter, half a cinnamon stick and a sprig of rosemary, before browning them lightly for 10 minutes or so on the hob and removing them to rest on a plate.

To make the sauce, I fried chopped onion, celery and rosemary in the pan that the poussins had been in until soft. Meanwhile, I blitzed sun dried tomatoes with Chianti in the Magimix. I returned the poussins to the pan, turning up the heat and adding vinegar and sultanas plus the mixture of tomato and red wine. After reducing the sauce slightly, I covered the pan and tranferred it to a preheated (200 C) oven to pot-roast for 30 minutes. At this stage I removed the lid, turned the poussins breast-side up and scattered them with pine nuts, before draping over strips of pancetta. I had used a pan that was border-line too small (it fitted the birds very, very snugly, almost too snugly) so I couldn't arrange my pancetta with much artistic dexterity - never mind! I returned the pan to the oven for another 10 minutes, lid off, until the pancetta had turned golden and crispy.

You can see from the picture how close my two poussins got in the pan. In retrospect I should perhaps have used a larger pan, but my larger pans are laughably larger and the little birds would have been lost inside the space. You can almost see the deep red sauce that the poussins are sitting in, which is utterly delicious.

I served this dish with olive oil mash, another recipe from the book that I have previously made with steak - mash with olive oil and Parmesan which is as yummy as it sounds.

The picture above was taken before I poured over the deliciously tomatoey, red winey sauce, and before we tucked hungrily in! This is the sort of dinner that warms you from the inside out, that you should eat with the wind howling outside and a log fire in the hearth (we don't have a fire, and it wasn't even that cold, but it didn't matter; the dish created that kind of atmosphere). Since someone is bound to ask me to compare this recipe with Gordon's (probably my sister-in-law, who is a bit of a Gordon fan secretly), here goes: Jamie's is a sultry, mysterious sort of dish, whereas Gordon's is brightly showy; Jamie's is winter and Gordon's is summer. I have to say though that the poussin itself has more depth of flavour in Jamie's recipe - you can really taste the orange, cinnamon, wine, vinegar and tomatoes, not all at the same time, but fleetingly, intriguingly. I really liked how this dish came together - it just seemed to work, perfectly and utterly satisfyingly. Comfort food with a touch of mystery - what more could anyone ask for?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Mayonnaise and my favourite coleslaw

Mayonnaise... I am sure that every proper foodie person whips up mayo with no effort in between baking a few hand-made loaves and a variety of cakes with intricate layers. In my mind real foodies fit into two handy stereotypes. One is the apple-cheeked woman with the house in the country and the inevitable Aga, with beautiful, Boden-clad children, and animals aplenty, who makes everything from scratch (even filo pastry) without turning a hair. The other is a townie, sharply dressed, time-poor and money-rich, who frequents chic Italian delis and survives on artichoke hearts and real Parma ham. I am neither of these images of foodie perfection: I live in a three-bed terrace in a suburb, can't abide dirt, don't really like the country, would love an Aga but couldn't fit one into my kitchen. I can't afford, or more importantly, find, deli-chic in central Newcastle; I don't wear suits and my mobile is three years old, so no chance of me becoming a smart foodie. Instead, I am a true amateur and as such almost everything has the potential to go wrong, although touching a lot of wood it rarely seems to. Today, however, it went spectacularly wrong.

Mayo. I have made it before - the first time I made it, I ruined it; I still don't know why. After that though, I have had success, which meant that when I read Jamie's mayonnaise recipe I was a bit over-confident as I launched into it. It didn't work. I was using my Magimix, the mini-bowl, and I think in my defence that my machine couldn't cope with just one egg (hitherto I have used two...). Jamie's recipe seems odd to me: a survey of my impressive library of cookbooks suggests that most people use 2 egg yolks with 300 ml olive oil; Jamie's recipe is one egg yolk but 565 ml olive oil. Mine curdled way before I had added all the oil (mercifully); I blamed it on the fact that the processor blades weren't picking up the one egg. In something of a huff, I started again, my way (i.e. using 2 eggs). This time it worked. I will have to try Jamie's recipe again, but I was too bruised to do so immediately and I am still puzzled as to why it is so different from the usual recipes and what makes it work. If anyone has tried it and succeeded, please tell me - in any case I will try again.

Some of my mayo - it is such a lurid colour because my Dijon mustard smelt odd so I used English mustard, a suspiciously bright yellow colour...

With the mayo, I had planned to make Jamie's favourite coleslaw. The mayo had, however, thanks to the first flop, taken considerably longer than planned; lunchtime was not only looming but passing us by (and we needed the coleslaw for lunch). Somewhat stressed, I fed a quarter of cabbage through the slicer attachment on my Magimix before realizing that it didn't look much like Jamie's cabbage in the picture; the phone rang and Simon was talking to my mum, who obviously wanted me, and I was hungry... so I took the lid of the processor to inspect the cabbage at closer hand and sliced my thumb on the slicer. It bled impressively, as Magimix-induced cuts tend to, but it doesn't seem too bad (two plasters are more or less keeping the flow under control...); that said, I was quite jolted (I hadn't anticipated losing my thumb in the quest to cook with Jamie). Simon was luckily on hand to finish the coleslaw, while I oversaw his efforts in slicing carrot, red onion and apple, and probably annoyed him to death. In any case, it was utterly delicious - completely unlike bought coleslaw, because it isn't at all mushy, and the individual flavours remain quite distinct; it is so much less heavy, and so much more like a salad.

Homemade coleslaw is so much nicer than the bought stuff, even the decent bought stuff, that I feel that this could become a habit. I really will, however, have to learn not to huff in the company of my Magimix and try to become a more sanguine foodie, someone who genuinely just knocks up a batch of homemade mayo and coleslaw without half slicing off her thumb in the process.

Ultimate rib of beef with rosemary and garlic roast potatoes

In my picky years, I didn't eat beef. I blame the brisket that was served up on Sundays from time to time, slowly braised but still, to me, tough and tasteless, particularly when compared with juicy roast chicken with its crispy skin or pork with its crackling. I didn't care for burgers, either (which is probably a good thing given what was in those bought in burgers that my friends went crazy for). Since I stopped being so picky (and it was less a gradual process than a sharp culture shock: I went to live in the south of France for a year, aged 20, and discovered that I loved seafood and fish and rabbit, not to mention almost any cheese you could care to mention; had I not, I would probably have starved), I have more than got over my issues with beef (although I continue to reject commercially made burgers). In fact, I now crave beef occasionally: juicy steaks, melt-in-your-mouth slow cooked stews, home-made beefburgers not made with spooky mince, and preferably with Roquefort too, roast rib with horseradish, Indonesian curries with lemongrass and coconut milk... I like the look of all Jamie's beef recipes and this latest one (rib of beef with rosemary and garlic roast potatoes) seemed like a celebratory Saturday night with the X factor sort of dinner (I haven't managed to see any dancing. I know the rest of the nation is watching the dancing for the campness and the bright dresses, but I am a sucker for Simon Cowell demoralising people..).

This meal was easy. The steak took the form of a single rib of beef on the bone, my favourite roasting cut, but usually a larger piece. It was marinaded with lemon zest, garlic, rosemary and oil, browned in an oven-proof frying pan and then oven-roasted for up to 20 minutes, turned over and basted with marinade every five minutes. When the steak was ready, I squeezed over some lemon juice and drizzled olive oil and let it rest.

Meanwhile, I peeled and cubed some potatoes, covered in cold salted water and brought to the boil, and then tossed them with rosemary and garlic in an oiled baking tray that had been pre-heated in the oven. These little cubed potatoes are also a separate recipe in Jamie's book; I have made versions of these countless times before, originally, I think, inspired by Nigella in How To Eat. They are deliciously crunchy and flavoured - so much more so than the usual larger roasties (which nonetheless go much better with Sunday roasts).

The combination of rosemary-scented potatoes and rosemary-infused steak was divine. I cooked the steak to medium-rare and it was delicious, sliced into generous chunks and served with the baby roasties.

Mmm. This is really easy but satisfying home cooking at its best. I think the instructions read slightly oddly, because Jamie keeps saying 'steaks' not 'steak' as though you have already cut the meat up, although clearly this is not intended; this wouldn't really constitute a problem for anyone other than pedantic me, because the whole dish is really very easy. I think that using beef on the bone rather than the usual steak cuts works really well because rib is so tasty and because you can put it in the oven and baste occasionally, rather than having to worry about over-cooking two pieces of steak on a griddle pan on the hob. It feels rustic and warming and somehow it is; another success.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Jamie's black cod with steamed pak choi and cucumber

The Japanese food revolution, I must confess, seems to have passed me by. There are Japanese restaurants in the area and I have of course seen the trays of sushi in M and S, not to mention the ad-hoc Japanese section in our local Tesco, sporting a plethora of oddly-named ingredients in red packets and including instant miso soup and sushi sheets. For some reason, though, the only Japanese ingredients I have bought have been Kikkoman's soy sauce and wasabi paste (originally for a Nigella recipe I have forgotten about, but it has a kick like horseradish...). Consequently I didn't really know what black cod was, nor was I particularly bothered about finding out; black cod didn't sound all that appealing, to be honest.

This recipe is Jamie's take on Nobu's black cod and it is pleasingly simple - in fact, it is incredibly easy. The fish (cod or other white fish fillets) is marinaded overnight in a cooked and cooled mixture of honey, miso paste, sake or alternatively white wine, ginger, red chilli and lemon grass. The blurb suggests that you 'might have to duck and dive' for the miso paste (which is a soya bean paste) but that it is in any good Asian store or supermarket. Needless to say it wasn't in the giant Tesco Extra near our house, at least, it wasn't in the main part of the shop, but I found it in the healthfood shop that seems to be inside yet curiously separate from Tesco itself. I didn't bother buying sake and used white wine.

After the fish has marinaded for 24 hours, it is simply grilled until the top of the fish has caramelized slightly.

Jamie suggests serving this fish with steamed pak choi and cucumber; the cucumber is peeled, halved, deseeded, and sliced into strips, while the pak choi is roughly quartered.

The fish and steamed greens are served with leftover miso marinade loosened with lime juice and a few drizzles of soy sauce; I wasn't sure how much flavour the fish would have so we just put the soy and the miso marinade on the table to serve ourselves. As it turned out, the fish had an incredibly rich flavour - the miso is already strong and salty-sweet in itself, but it is enriched further by the chilli, ginger, lemongrass and honey. The steamed greens offered a lovely fresh contrast. If this is Japanese food, even Jamie's take on Japanese food, then I would love to try more. This fish dish is the sort of food that wakes you up, zesty, heady, invigorating, without ever being overpowering or heavy. Again I am so glad to have embarked on this project or I would have overlooked this completely; instead, I am eagerly anticipating venturing further down the road of Japanese (or pseudo-Japanese) cooking.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Honeycomb cannelloni

Honeycomb cannelloni is a wonderful, original recipe title; while the accompanying picture in Jamie's book is simply stunning. I wanted to make this dish from the first time I opened the book, mainly out of curiosity, but also because it appeared to be a simplified yet cool way of cooking cannelloni without spending hours filling the tubes. Initially I couldn't locate a suitable pan but my lovely husband bought me one last week (not just for this particular dish - we didn't have a nice pasta pan...) and I was eager to be able to test this intriguing-looking recipe.

First I made a vegetable ragu, of celery, carrot, onion, leek, Portobello mushrooms, porcini, garlic, tomatoes and basil, which simmered until thick, filling the house with a happy Italian-esque aroma.

Then I wilted some spinach and seasoned it with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Next I made a quick white sauce of creme fraiche, cream, chopped anchovies and Parmesan.

Finally it was time to assemble the dish - cheese sauce first, then spinach, then half of the ragu, into which I plunged the cannelloni tubes - upright, whereas conventionally they are lying down, if that makes sense. I added the remainder of the ragu then covered the dish with the rest of the white cheesey sauce, before baking in the oven until browned.

Mmm - another delicious dinner. The sauce tasted rich and warming and the pasta and cheesey sauce complemented it perfectly. There are loads of vegetables in there so I can feel proud of having exceeded my recommended five a day. And best of all - there are masses of leftovers for our lunches tomorrow and Friday, which I'm looking forward to already.

Proper tomato salad

When I told my brother that I was going to cook my way through Jamie's new book, his reaction was, perhaps predictably, 'are you really going to cook everything?' 'what about the food you don't like?' This sort of project is probably best not undertaken by fussy eaters; nonetheless, there are always going to be types of food that you like better than others and food that you don't much like at all, not to mention the food that almost makes you retch. I am not keen on bananas, flavoured yoghurts (I love natural and Greek yoghurt, but it has to be plain) or pineapple on pizza, or some desserts (meringues, for instance), but I eat all of those if necessary. The only food that makes me retch and thus the only food that I really, really don't like is raw tomato. I can eat tomatoes cooked, in fact I love cooked tomatoes; I love tomato-based sauces, but I detest raw tomatoes to the point that eating them makes me retch. I can eat them, if accompanied by a huge hunk of bread and if they are ripe (those watery orange British tomatoes are the worst; I can manage cherry tomatoes, just about). Jamie's book has a few recipes which contain raw tomatoes: a Greek feta salad, which I will make (and I will just not eat the tomatoes...) , a red mullet dish with raw tomatoes which I might manage to eat and finally a 'proper tomato salad', which I couldn't face.

I went out last night for cocktails and pizza (had a Misty Cooler, with melon and white wine and soda, and then the usual boring but lovely Cosmopolitan) and Simon was home alone, cranking up the stereo as he does when I'm not there to protest, watching yet another football match (is it me or does having Sky sports mean that there is a match every night?) and - yes - making Jamie's tomato salad to have with his (bought-in) pizza! By rights this post should have been written by the self-designated sous-chef who became chef for the evening yesterday. Although I hate tomatoes, I think he did a great job.

The salad is simple: the tomatoes are cut irregularly and drizzled with salt to draw out their watery juices, then served with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chopped chilli and garlic and then basil leaves. It looks delicious. I want to like raw tomatoes; I really do, but I just can't. Simon, however, really enjoyed his unusual opportunity to feast on tomatoes like this and to promote himself from sous-chef to chef. He also, in my absence, turned the mattress, changed the sheets and made a loaf of bread (albeit in the bread machine). What a domestic god...

Monday, November 06, 2006

Perfectly cooked crispy duck with spicy plum chutney

Crispy duck with pancakes and hoisin sauce has to be one of the best treats in a Chinese restaurant. Apart from in Chinese restaurants, I have seldom eaten duck - I remember a decidedly iffy duck a l'orange in France and that is about all. I did make a homemade version of duck with hoisin in the summer, following a recipe from Alistair Hendy's Home Cook, which involved braising the duck gently in a potent brew of soy, ginger, rice wine and star anise, amongst other ingredients, before roasting the bird to crisp up the skin. It was delicious. I had intended to make it again, but the three-fold process of braising, draining and roasting has seemed like a lot of effort in cooking terms ever since, not because I am a lazy cook but because the recipe required planning ahead.

Jamie's crispy duck doesn't really need much forward-planning, which is good because we were out most of the weekend and didn't have time to spend in the kitchen. I rubbed the duck with sage salt (obtained by bashing sage and salt together...) and stuffed it with more sage leaves and two halves of an orange, before sitting it on top a bed of the usual vegetables (carrot, garlic, onion, celery...) and roasting it. Meanwhile I made the plum chutney - a delectable mix of plums, sugar, water, cinnamon, star anise, orange zest, ground cumin.

The duck was served with the plum chutney and watercress (I've noticed that Jamie uses a lot of watercress. Is watercress the new rocket? or the new sundried tomato?). I know I've used a lot of superlatives during this project but I can't help myself: the duck was good, but the plum chutney was heavenly. We ate leftover duck and chutney in our sandwiches today but happily there is more chutney left. Some chutneys are too sweet; this one is absolutely perfect.. and the duck was very tasty too. Jamie suggests an alternative to the sage salt - that is, rubbing the duck with five spice and sticking a lump of ginger into its cavity. I suspect I will feel the need to try this alternative, if only as an excuse for more duck and more chutney...

Scotch Stovie

Until I read through Jamie's book, I had never heard of a Scotch stovie (despite not living so far from the Scottish border, and despite my dad defining himself as Scottish rather than English - wishful thinking on his part). It seems to be a curious cross between mashed potato and pommes boulangere (that is, more mushy than the latter and more solid than the former...).

Scaling down Jamie's recipe to serve just Simon and me, I sweated a sliced onion very gently in butter and olive oil, then added chunks of peeled floury potato and a half-pint of water and simmered with the lid on until the potato was tender, scraping the stuck bits of potato from the base of the pan occasionally. In fact there were very few 'stuck' scraps of potato; it seemed very liquid (I was worried that it was too liquid...) until the last minute when it came together, albeit in a slightly mushy way (Jamie does say you can mash the potato up completely, or leave it as a mixture of mash and lumps, which is what I ended up with). Finally I scattered chopped celery
leaves and watercress over.

OK so the picture makes it look like mashed potato. I promise it had the requisite lumps in it to be a Stovie! It didn't go orange-coloured in the way that Jamie's appeared to from the photo in his book (I expect I was economising on the butter again...!). It was, however, extremely tasty and winningly easy, which is a great potato combination as far as I am concerned. It also went very well indeed with the duck (above).

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Pan-fried sirloin steak with simple Chianti butter sauce

Last night's dinner: steak, red wine, butter. Sounds like an Atkins diet dream - and sounds delicious. It nearly wasn't, through no fault of the recipe. I had been out with my parents and managed to leave my handbag in their car; when I realized, we had to drive to my parents' house to retrieve it, only they weren't there and hadn't got their mobiles switched on and we had to wait. We returned home incredibly hungry and eager to make dinner as fast as possible. This meant that instead of making the olive oil mash that Jamie teams with the steak first, then doing the steak, as he suggests, I was doing both at once, as well as chopping shallots, making a lemon dressing for the salad and tramping round the garden for thyme leaves. It is not so surprising that I succeeded in over-cooking the steak (I think it was medium; I like it more rare than that), because I was distractedly following the instructions like a sheep and not using my brain. Jamie suggested 8 minutes frying for medium-rare steak; I did 8 minutes, but my steaks were clearly, from the image, thinner than his, so 8 minutes was that bit too long. I would have noticed, if I hadn't been doing about ten other things at the same time and swigging a glass of (medicinal!) wine into the bargain. Anyway apart from the steak being overdone, this was delicious. I liked the Chianti butter sauce; I have made this sort of sauce before and it is a winner. The olive oil mash (which also has butter and Parmesan in it...) was also delicious, although ours didn't look anything like as creamy as Jamie's does in his picture. Either he used a lot more olive oil than we did, or he uses electric beaters to mash his potatoes, or... I don't know! Still, even if our dinner didn't look like a carbon copy of Jamie's, it was still very nice indeed. Weekend comfort food - yum.

Tonight I also did some baking - peanut butter choc chip cookies from Bill Granger's new book. I had vaguely intended to make Jamie's carrot cake but we have been out all day today and there is a duck roasting in the oven now, so there wouldn't have been time. The cookies were quick and easy but delicious.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Cookbook personalities...

I have been doing this project for a month now-my first post was 7th October. I vaguely intended to count up how many recipes I'd made from each section of the book, but I am not going to do that because I don't think I see the project in those terms. What I mean is: I am cooking through Jamie's book to have fun and see what happens, not to tick recipes off lists like those awful tourists who tick countries off their list of the world: 'done Thailand, Australia, Singapore, etc'. This book isn't just a collection of recipes - few cookery books are - they usually have their own personalities, and engaging with them doesn't mean just cooking every recipe once and ticking it off. I fully expect to make a lot of dishes again (I've already made the shortbread twice); moreover, to me a cookbook is to read as well as to cook from.

It occurred to me yesterday evening while making mango sherbert (a sherbert is a delicious cross between sorbet and ice cream - and no the recipe isn't one of Jamie's) to take to some friends for dinner last night, that the best cookbooks very definitely have their own personalities. I am not talking about the '1000 Chinese recipes' or '1000 low-fat recipes', or whatever; there is a place for them, but they don't really speak to me. To explain. Delia, for instance - her books are written very carefully, with clear instructions not littered by chatter or parentheses, in a tone that reminds you perpetually that she knows what she is doing and you need to follow her. Delia seems like a teacher, enunciating slowly so that you don't get confused, both chiding you gently and holding your hand through. Nigella, meanwhile, reads like your glamorous older sister who is more beautiful, more domestic, more articulate than you, who you should by rights hate but who is appealing because she has a naughty side (as evidenced by her tendency of dipping her fingers into everything she cooks and her penchant for kitsch). Hugh Fearnley-W is like someone you went to school with and never quite managed to shake off: slightly mad but incredibly well-meaning, eloquently reminding you of where your food came from in a way that makes you slightly uncomfortable even though you know he is right (but come on. We couldn't all make a living from TV and book tie-ins that allow him to live the Good Life). I could go on ad infinitum - there are so many cookbooks out there, all competing to seduce the unsuspecting shopper into taking them home. I want to mention Nigel Slater, though; he has a gift, it seems to me, of writing warmly and honestly about food in a way that makes it clear that it matters to him, but without preaching; Nigel has an endearingly self-deprecating manner combined with a genuine love of real food (as opposed to restaurant-style food) that makes him, to my mind, the best food writer for the home cook to read in bed.

I went off onto this tangent because I was thinking of Jamie and this project. Jamie is the fun celebrity chef with a conscience; he dreamed up Fifteen and pushed Tony Blair on school dinners, but we also saw him hungover in Italy. These two sides of Jamie emerge in this book: on the one hand, he is very serious about where we source our meat and fish, about eating more adventurously, about cooking instead of eating cardboard ready meals; on the other, he sounds incredibly enthusiastic, child-like almost, about his recipes and there are some trademark wacky recipes (like the Moroccan lamb with the couscous crust, which I haven't tried yet, or indeed the honeycomb cannelloni). I am enjoying this project because Jamie's food is good, not too difficult and fun to cook as well as to eat, which is the whole point of this, not to tick recipes off a list and then forget about them.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Fantastic fish lasagne

I must admit that this recipe intrigued me from the first time I flicked through Cook with Jamie. Apparently it is a Venetian dish, a sort of Italian fish pie, with the pasta replacing the usual potatoes. For some reason, the name 'fish lasagne' conjures up - for me, anyway - the sort of thing you might find in a diet ready-meal; meagre pieces of white fish floating in watery tomato sauce with chewy low fat cheese on top. Thankfully Jamie's fish lasagne is in a totally different league. It does, however, take time to make and on reflection, this dish should probably not be attempted after work on a Thursday unless you have a short working day. Needless to say this is precisely what I did.

Firstly, I sweated chopped onion, carrot, celery and fennel in butter, adding a bouquet of parsley stalks and bay leaves tied together with a rasher of pancetta (and a piece of string), as well as the heads of a few prawns. This was gently cooked until the vegetables were soft, when I added wine and let it boil until reduced, before pouring in milk and bringing it slowly to the boil.

The next step was to make a roux with butter and flour, to which I added ladlefuls of the milk and veg mixture (from which I removed the prawn heads and bouquet of herbs); this was then brought to the boil and simmered, before being seasoned.

Finally, the assembly of the lasagne, where I deviated from instructions. I had already halved Jamie's quantities to make this for two people; now I noticed that he uses three layers of lasagne sheets. When I make lasagne, I always use two, just because I don't like too much pasta, so I just did 2 layers of pasta. I spread the dish with sauce, then fish and halved cherry tomatoes, scattered with parsley and Parmesan, then lasagne sheets and repeated this process once. I poured the last of the sauce over the top level of lasagne sheets and added a mixture of parsley, breadcrumbs and lemon zest. Before:


It looks so appetising! This would be a great dinner party dish. My breadcrumbs were less delicate than Jamie's. This is possibly because my bread wasn't that stale (I don't eat plastic bread, as Nigella calls it; we make our own bread courtesy of a bread machine, but I keep a cheap white loaf in for breadcrumb purposes. This one was bought 9 days ago in M and S and was still spookily fresh. What on earth do they put in these white plastic loaves?). And possibly because I didnt really halve the recipe for the breadcrumb part of the dish; I used a bit more than half. I don't think it matters - it was delicious.

I have to say that this dish was delicious - I reckon it would be great to serve to guests. The only downside is that making the sauce takes a while; it isn't prohibitively slow but it is pressured in terms of time if you want to make it after work (the sous-chef had to do a lot more work than usual helping me prep...). If I made it for guests I think I would make the sauce in advance; the actual layering is really quick, and it only takes 45 minutes to cook. One final point though - I still don't like the name. I have tried to think of a nicer-sounding name, but all I can come up with is 'Venetian fish lasagne', which is basically a more pretentious version of the existing name but to my mind does sound better (I must be pretentious myself...). Oh and another thing - I used the fresh lasagne sheets I made a couple of weeks ago and froze; before putting them in the lasagne I plunged them into boiling water, and they worked perfectly. I have always felt a bit of a food fraud because as a kid I was so picky and I hated cookery at school - I was useless at it and I don't think I ever ate what I cooked - but I am starting to feel as though I am getting there.