We were under siege. While Lil Lassie and The Scotsman went prancing about their daily lives and taking their good health for granted, Lil Loon and I were in a state of misery. And as misery loves company, we huddled most of the weeks under fleece blankets, watching How to Train A Dragon (dang I love that movie), peppered with Ice Age. Slowly we’ve emerged out of the smog of groggy vision at best and things-better-left-unsaid at worst, which means the kitchen has become a hive of activity again. At times like this, I revert to my cookbooks, with blinding loyalty. I don’t want to think, just tell me what to do. Simple, yes, delicious? Absolutely. Facebook Likers may have seen some of these before. What follows has proven to be a carb fest (links provided where applicable, for the others, Google will be your best pal in most cases)…
Nigella’s Rigatoni Al Forno from Feast
It’s pasta, ragu and bechamel. You’d be daft to turn your nose up at this. I am the world’s most incompetent lasagne maker, so this, a simplified version of it, is a compromise that’s entirely desirable.
From the hefty, well thumbed book Feast: Food that Celebrates Life, Nigella has offered this as a party catering solution, providing sustenance to those stragglers who stay behind after the revelry to help with the aftermath. Indeed, the sheer volume of this recipe would feed the five thousand. In our house, half the specified recipe would feed us for two days straight.
Made, mixed and portioned, it freezes superbly, to be winged out, defrosted and bunged into the oven at a later date. Also, kids are mad for it, which goes far in appeasing a frazzled mother.
Fat tubes of rigatoni (I used Penne) are marbled with long simmered beef ragu and a simple bechamel. Bake the lot, heap into generous bowls, carpet with Parmesan and eat cross-legged on the sofa while watching Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Or Downtown Abbey. This works any which way.
Listen, a dhal to an Indian is the culinary equivalent of being a child, climbing into your mother’s lap and getting wrapped in her arms. If I feel like I need some serious internal bolstering, dhal’s the way to kick start proceedings.
The Scotsman doesn’t share my enthusiasm, since his version of such comfort is mashed potatoes and gravy. Or Mac n’ Cheese. Fair enough, I get that and indulge in it myself. However, to keep his enthusiasm afloat, I fry up some form of sea animal, be it prawns, cuttlefish, squid or fish with a spicy masala paste to serve alongside. On the table there might be crispy papads, spicy-sweet date pickles, tangy yoghurt and a tomato and cucumber salad. Make no mistake though, the dhal’s the real business end of this meal.
This particular version comes from the wonderful Prashad Cookbook: Indian Vegetarian Cooking and features the recipes from a celebrated vegetarian restaurant specialising in the delights of Gujurati food. Every page has the my stomach doing greedy flips. Once I get my teeth firmly entrenched in the vast repertoire on offer, a review shall be posted. In the meantime, they have a colourful, food filled blog to tempt you.
Triple Cheese & Onion Strata
I see a theme emerging. This is another of Nigella’s offerings from Nigella Christmas: Food, Family, Friends, Festivities and I have to say, the woman knows how to cook ‘comfort’.
If you have a forgotten baguette lying about (like I often do) and cheese, spring onions and milk are the only residents in your fridge (as has happened with me), then this is a bit of a life saver. Think of it as a savoury bread and butter pudding. You drench the sliced, stale bread in a cheesy, eggy, onion-y custard, leave to soak overnight and bake.
This Strata is wonderful served for brunch and should you need an acidic kick, with a sharp vinagrette dressing over pungent rocket leaves. I tend to make this when I have friends staying over as it can be done well ahead of time and thrown into the oven come morning without much thought, while coffee sears itself into my system. It’s a fabulous recipe to have in your armoury. Also, it’s open to so much fiddling – add whole grain mustard, ham or herbs, change cheese, add cream…you get the idea.
This pork speckled number comes from Rachel Allen’s book Bake. Now, I will admit, I don’t often get along with Rachel Allen, as some of her recipes haven’t worked out for me. However, a blogger and friend, Thanh, with excellent taste, not to mention skill, told me of this gem years ago and blogged about it herself.
It’s called a bread, but it’s unyeasted. The method is the same as you would do for muffins. Quick to come together, this bake has a dense crumb and mild cheese flavour, making it perfect for dunking into the sweet potato and lentil soup I made to go with. However I think the base recipe is open to as many interpretations, as Rachel Allen has suggested, one being Pumpkin Seed and Gruyere. You could add herbs fresh or dried, change cheese, fold in some nuts etc.
Get all the information from Thanh’s post here.
You know those recipes that come with baking tins? My friend Alison, lugged a friand tin for me all the way from Australia. Metal tins can’t be found for love nor money on the UK sites. The recipe included was Apple Friands and since it is autumn, it was only fitting. Didn’t quite rock my world but then I am spoilt after trying out Thanh’s Lemon Friands.
Know that you can still enjoy these little French nutty almond pastries if you don’t have a Friand tin or mold. Just bake in muffin tins, adjusting the time accordingly. Mini muffin tin sized friands would be absolutely darling!
Should you wish to try out these Apple Friands, here’s the link.
Bill Granger’s Mango, Coconut and Lime Puddings
I made these wee pretty cupfuls ages ago but never got around to posting about them. These set puddings finished off a curry meal and it worked splendidly. Bill Granger is the king of easy, healthy, Asian inspired food, that doesn’t compromise on flavour but won’t keep you camped out in the kitchen for too long either.
This soothing, cooling, tropical pudding of soft set Mango with tart Lime was a clean, gentle end to a very spicy dinner. I added some finely crushed cardamom to the mix as well, just to tie things in and added slivered pistachios for a waxy crunch. This recipe is incredibly simple to make and can be done well in advance, so true to Granger’s form, it’s easy on effort.
Cocoa Brownies by Alice Medrich
Last but not least, are these chewy, dense brownies. Unlike your conventional melt-in-the-chocolate types, this is made purely with cocoa powder. Which is what intrigued me since I haven’t been all that impressed with the cocoa only brownies I’ve tried. That and the fact that the recipe comes fromAlice Medrich of Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies fame and more besides.
This recipe comes from her book Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate. The method is a bit uncoventional, in that it’s almost like you are making your own chocolate, rather than melting a bar. Alice Medrich directs you to place butter, sugar and cocoa powder into a bain marie, to melt and amalgamate the above before adding to flour and then, beat the heck out of the batter; for precisely 40 strokes. Every part of my baking instinct was screeching, ” Gluten!! Gluten!!”. The quantity is so little though, it doesn’t get overworked.
The result? A dark, fudgy, quite dense brownie, with a thicker, candy crackle like crust. You wouldn’t believe it was made purely from cocoa.
Does this replace the traditional chocolate type for me? Perhaps not entirely. If I need a brownie fix and there are no bars left, this is undoubtedly the only cocoa brownie recipe I would ever use. And that’s saying a lot.
So there you have it. A roundup of what’s been happening foodwise over the last few weeks chez moi. It’s good to breathe without the fug of Vicks rubs and more importantly, have my sense of taste restored. Lil Loon has been making up for a serious lack of appetite with no small degree of determination. The lad’s head is permanently in the fridge.
It’s all back to business!