Nigella’s new book provides my husband’s favourite home-cooked meal – ever!

Ah the bliss of the autumnal and pre-Christmas foodie book releases! This year is a particular treat: not only is there a new Nigel Slater, but Ottolenghi’s Sweet is just FAB and of course, Nigella Lawson has released At My Table.

My love for the one and only domestic goddess Nigella Lawson isn’t something I have hidden from this blog! From her first book How to Eat, I’ve admired her wit, knowledge and her ability to come up with an absolutely amazingly tasty family meal. I turn to her books more than those of any other famous chef / cook. Every time I have made her American breakfast pancakes from Domestic Goddess for anyone, they have requested the recipe. And that’s just one example.

Reviews of her new tome At My Table have been hugely positive, many fans harking that it marks a return to form. Personally, I have always tried to contextualise as far as the release of the books are concerned. Simply Nigella may not have been up there with her greatest hits, but she’d just been through something incredibly difficult in her personal life (again), and it smacked of someone’s search for something. And I understood the pink and green obsession.

Anyhow, enough of my armchair analysis. I would agree that At My Table is classic Nigella. I took it to bed, read it thoroughly, covered it in post-it notes, made my list of new bits I’d need (coconut milk yoghurt, black venus rice, aleppo pepper etc) and I had made 3 of its evening mains in the first week I owned it.

One in particular was a stunning hit! Having not previously given my Nigella seeds the attention they deserved, I thought we’d give the Indian-spiced chicken and potato traybake a go. Obviously any working parent loves the word traybake, implying as it does a minimum of mess and a minimum of fuss. Its blend of spices also included lots of things I already had there by the kitchen counter waiting for an opportunity to shine, including fennel seeds, mustard seeds and rapeseed oil – sad culinary dreamer that I am, I’d recently treated myself for my 40th birthday by buying a bottle of the gloriously golden Leckford Estate oil from Waitrose.

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Being Northern Irish, I always have potatoes in the house, so we were sorted on that score. We’re also budgeting hard at the moment, and chicken thighs, treated right, are tasty and affordable. We just needed a few limes and we were good to go.

When my husband returned from work, made delighted noises and swiftly wolfed it all down,  he declared that it was the best thing I had ever made for him. We’ve been together for 14 years and I’ve been cooking for him all of that time, so that’s quite the statement.

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It really was delicious, so full of flavour and so, so satisfying, yet so simple. I know already that it will become a regular fixture, as will the chicken and pea traybake (divine!) and the orzo and meatballs. I’m looking forward to tucking into them, and more from the book, as the autumn and winter progress. Nigella, you’re still – and you’ll always be – my queen of the kitchen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chicken Caesar Salad with ‘heel’ croutons

Being strapped for cash, I try whenever possible to cook with what’s in front of me in our fridge and cupboards. Even if what I’m cooking demands a certain something, I might try instead to think of a way to replace / omit it rather than have to dash to the shop or re-plan the whole meal completely.

Cooking like this is, I’m sure, pretty common, and it’s also a good way to come up with something a little bit different. And so it was last week, when I optimistically found myself with salad ingredients including romaine lettuce (the weather betrayed me, yet again) and some cooked chicken. I took a glance around, spotting parmesan, olive oil and white wine vinegar and thought, yup, a sorta chicken caesar it is.

Then I came upon my stash of loaf heels in the freezer, you know, the thick ends which no-one in our house will eat. I tend to keep them for making breadcrumbs and I end up with quite a few as we go through a lot of sliced bread. And I thought, croutons? Yup. Why on earth had I gone this long without making my own? Surely it couldn’t be hard.

It turned out to be brilliantly simple, and I will never buy croutons again. I simply preheated the oven to 180 degrees C and took out 3 frozen heels and left them for about 20 mins on the side to defrost. I removed their crusts with a v sharp knife, gave the birds the crust crumbs, and then cubed the bread – about 2/3 cm. I tossed the cubes (quickly, otherwise the bottom ones end up saturated) in approx one tbsp of olive oil per 50g. I’d added some crushed garlic and a little bit of dried thyme, too, and obv the possibilities are endless: you could add crushed chillies, dried herbs, whatever would croutonly complement your recipe.

After 10-15 mins, they were ready, so I left them on the side to cool while I assembled everything else.

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Next up, the romaine lettuce, which I cut into long thin-ish strips with a sharp knife…

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followed by lots of nice big chunks of cooked chicken (I’m a real fan of Asda’s £5 extra tasty bagged roasts) which I scattered liberally under and on top of the leaves.

Then it was time for something super-tasty, some smoked pancetta slices, which I had dry-fried and crisped up on the griddle.

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For the dressing, I got a suitable bottle and shook together olive oil, a clove or two of crushed garlic, two anchovies (I mash them in my pestle and mortar), 2 tbsps grated parmesan, black pepper and some white wine vinegar. A liberal casting of the croutons and a generous drizzling of the dressing later and it was all done. Very simple and very tasty.

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Now all I need is the sunshine so I can sit outside eating it, accompanied by a nice glass of vino…

When life gets in the way…

It has been a while, that’s for sure. When I first started this blog, it was as a bit of fun after a rough few years after the birth of my first daughter. I’d always been obsessed with cooking and baking, and Baps & Buns was a welcome escape from post discectomy chronic pain and the perils of parenthood. What I didn’t expect was that quite a number of other things were about to happen to us which would push updating this blog very much to the back of the queue. It’s only now that I feel that I am able to, and that I want to, write about it in any public way on this blog. I must warn you that it’s all got nothing to do with cooking!

First up was the death and subsequent delivery due to late miscarriage of our baby at 17 weeks gestation. The post mortem and myriad blood tests revealed that I suffered from the autoimmune condition Hughes Syndrome / APS, and it was this syndrome which was to blame for the loss of our precious son. Needless to say, it was a horrific shock and a terrible trauma to go through, something which altered us permanently from that point on.

We were encouraged to try again, during what then became a horribly stressful time because our then 4 year-old daughter was in the process of being diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, specifically Aspergers. The process of her starting school, something which should have been wonderfully exciting, was full of dread, and quickly became disastrous.

And in the middle of all that, we were expecting another baby. Despite a treatment programme centred around Clexane, we lost the child, again at 17 weeks. The delivery and subsequent funeral (just me and my other half in the crematorium) were nightmarish in a new way. Those people who had struggled to find things to say to us first time reaaaalllllly didn’t know what to say when it happened all over again and the isolation we felt hit very hard. It was like a sucker punch just when you’d started to drag yourself up from the floor. It was hard to go on, but life relentlessly insists that you must; there’s no other alternative, especially when your only living child needs you.

Despite our assumptions, our consultant was adamant that she could achieve “a successful outcome”, and batted away our fears about it all going wrong for a third time. One of our bereavement midwives had previously remarked that the only thing which made anything bearable for parents was the subsequent birth of a healthy baby and we had begun to feel that she was completely correct. Thus, with a very deep breath and no optimism whatsoever, we agreed to give it one more go.

Life wasn’t about to let up. Our next shock was the loss of my beloved job. As I began the search for something new, there was always the thought in the back of my mind ‘but what if I get pregnant…’ – what a burden for a new employer. Looking back now, however, I am drawn back to the old cliche that everything happens for a reason. At the risk of boring you, I can sum up what came next: new job (amazing new boss), pregnancy (longest 9 months of my life filled with Clexane, aspirin and steroids), live birth at 37 weeks.

I sit now in the living room of our new home and feel every single atom of my good fortune. We have an almost 6 month-old daughter, and even though we never ever felt safe enough to dream for even one second that she was going to make it – I’ll apologise to her for that in the future – I am beyond grateful for the healing and the peace she has brought us. Complications and losses absolutely do enhance the miraculous joy of a baby.

Life is still testing and complex, and I can still find myself overwhelmed by the grief for the loss of the two precious children we will never have the opportunity to get to know. As our daughter’s personality emerges, I often wonder about just who we and the world have lost. The legacy of our troubles is varied; courtesy of 2 self-administered Clexane injections per day for 41 weeks, I now have a phobia of needles. But I am very glad to have been exposed to the work of the charity Sands and support groups for those with APS / Hughes, and will fundraise for them for the remainder of my life.

So that’s what’s been going on. I now hope to be reporting from the frontline of our new oven a bit more regularly. And it’s a beauty. Seven rings on the hob…good things come to those who wait?

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Jus-Rol’s easy peasy Bake-It Fresh cinnamon swirls

When I spotted these bright yellow packets in the supermarket, I instantly thought of those moments when we as a family fancy a homebaked sweet treat.

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And these would enable us to indulge in just that – without me having to do a lot of cooking and messing around, especially at the weekends when I prefer to sleepily stagger around in pyjamas for a few hours.

I gave the husband the option of which we’d try first and he quite fancied a cinnamon swirl so off I went to preheat the oven.

The instructions are incredibly easy to follow and it all works just as it should. You open the tin as directed…

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and expose the log of dough inside –

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Then you cut in into six sections and lay them evenly on a lined baking tray or baking sheet.

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Then all you need to do is bake them for 11 minutes or so on the middle shelf of the oven.

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Final touch? A drizzle of icing, easily done thanks to the little pot of icing sugar which was also included in the packaging! The three of us demolished them in seconds.

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We will definitely be trying the rest of the products in this range: pain au chocolat, pains aux raisins, croissants and chocolate chip brioche. Treats at weekend brunches are going to be a doddle 🙂

Easy chutney – and we’re onto our third batch of this recipe already

Once we finished picking blackberries this year, almost immediately we made the move to apples. Friends passed on a bag of the first fruits to fall from their tree and so my mind turned initially to crumbles and tarts and then to chutney.

Chutney is one of the nicest things to pass on as an edible gift and one recipe in particular seems to get most favourable feedback from those we give it to. Another plus is that it’s extremely easy to make in one pan on the hob.

It’ll be no surprise that it’s a Nigella recipe, given my devotion to the domestic goddess, and it comes from her excellent Christmas book. It’s a simple mix of cider vinegar, onion, cranberries, apples, seasoning, sugar and spices, and takes just 45 minutes or so to cook.

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Once the apples have broken down, it does turn into a lethal spitter – watch out for those volcanically hot sparks flying out as the chutney simmers – but given the rest of its qualities, we can let it off with that!

I love this chutney so much that its page in the recipe book is pretty dirty (always the sign of a favourite) and I have made it three batches so far this autumn.

Practically every jar (we have eaten a few ourselves) has gone to a happy recipient and, once I get my hands on some windfall apples again, I’m sure it’ll be on the boil and bubble again.

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Nostalgic foodie souvenirs from Spain

We’ve just got back from two weeks on the Costa del Sol, and, as ever, a highlight of the trip was my usual trip to the supermercado to see what interesting or quirky things I could bring home.

I don’t mean serious stuff like the finest serrano ham; I’m talking more about silly nostalgic treats, and anything else interesting.

i was most keen to source the two items which remind me of the couple of trips I made to Spain as a child. I can vividly recall swimming up to a barstool with my dad for a treat of chocolate milk and a doughnut and I can also clearly picture the packaging of both items as they were handed over.

The milk I remember so fondly is Cacaolat, not the seemingly more popular Spanish brand Cola Cao and I was delighted to get my hands on it, and on a multipack of the doughnuts, in a larger store. To my eternal delight, neither the appearance of the milk nor the doughnuts has changed much in the 30 or so years since I devoured them as a child – and that taste, oh that taste, was just the same.

The divine Cacaolat

The divine Cacaolat

I couldn’t resist eating and drinking them throughout the holiday – and bringing a few back packages and cartons back to help with the post-holiday blues, too.

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Among the other treats in my shopping basket were wonderful Inez Rosales tortas, chorizo and two little 47c mineral water bottles with cutesy Anna and Elsa wrappers for our daughter.

And then I came upon the trump card of the trip, a trio of perfection in the form of three Royal reposteria tins: cacao en polvo (cocoa powder), crema pastelera (custard powder) and azucar glas avanillado (vanilla icing). My mother laughed at how excited i was when I spotted them in the baking section, but all I think of was my little red Royal baking powder tin at home and how delighted it would be to be joined by such beautiful little tins.

DSC00515I’ll have to get someone to translate the back of the tins for me so I can fully appreciate them, but I know that, once their contents are gone, I will be able to refill them and reuse them for years to come.

Thank goodness for modern hot cross bun options

All my life, I have had an absolute hatred of mixed peel.

As a result, I don’t enjoy traditional festive favourites such as Christmas pudding, or cake when it has the afore-mentioned peel in it.

I make Nigella’s recipe instead – she’s no fan of MP either, and therefore rises in my estimation yet again! 🙂

It has also meant that I have never eaten Easter favourite the hot cross bun – until recently.

Supermarkets have woken up to the possibility of this bun, and have released different flavours, quite a few of which contain no MP at all. Yippee!

This year, I have mostly been eating two varieties of hot cross bun, Sainsbury’s cranberry and golden raisin option and Marks & Spencer’s toffee fudge and Belgian chocolate version.

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The latter –

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– are particularly moreish. I prefer them lightly toasted (and therefore heated) with some butter.

It’s not the healthiest option, but it is a treat, and we are in the season of chocolate eggs and oodles of marzipan for the Simnel cakes, after all.

Happy Easter everyone!

I add yet another kitchen timer to my collection…

I know, I shouldn’t have – but I couldn’t resist.

Even though I promised myself and my husband that I was not going to buy any more bits and pieces for the kitchen – the countertops and cupboard-tops of our tiny kitchen are already groaning with my tins and pans and jugs and assorted kitchenalia –  I spotted something online and knew that it would be purchased, swiftly, and welcomed into our home.

I have had a long, long obsession with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. And I love the brand so much that I have kept the tub from every new flavour I have ever eaten. Most of them are in my parents’ home but I have quite an extensive collection round our way, too.

It all started over 5 trips to America, where the flavour combinations are many and varied – and AMAZING. Here in the UK we’re stuck with the same old ones, but at least peanut butter has finally been embraced by the market.

As all fans of the brand will know, they kill off flavours now and again and send them to the ‘flavor graveyard’ so I like that I have a little reminder of them here on earth! Especially when they were weird and wonderful like Concession Obsession, which I bought in Washington DC in 2002 with my friend Tamlyn.

All I have to do is look at that tub, and I’m taken back to our little wander out in search of ice cream one hot summer night.

So when I spotted this…

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on the UK Ben & Jerry’s site, it was a no-brainer.

It’s cute, functional – I love kitchen timers, and use up to four at a time depending on the culinary task at hand – and it has taken up position alongside a few of my current favourites.

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It looks right at home, and was just a few quid – no buyer’s remorse here, that’s for sure!

 

I almost meet my kitchen waterloo peeling quail eggs

I recently had the pleasure of hosting three good friends for lunch. It was the birthday of one of the guests, so I thought a three course spoiling of the person was in order.

I planned everything as usual, and on the day itself, thought that everything was running smoothly. Nigella’s ham in Coca Cola was all done and dusted, the veg were ready, the chocolate pear pud was just waiting for the oven and all that was left to be done was the starter.

My chosen starter, for ease of hosting and service on the day, was smoked salmon with wheaten bread, quail eggs and a rocket salad.

I started to assemble it on the plates, laying out the salad, portioning up the smoked salmon and cutting up a lemon wedge for each person, before finally turning my attention to the removing the shells from the eggs.

Having never previously attempted this task, I had no idea that it would turn out to be a complete nightmare. Despite removing them in a bowl of water, each egg’s shell fragmented into tiny bits and it was almost impossible to get hold of large sections in order to remove it.

Even worse, sections of egg remained firmly stuck to the shell and so I started to lose bottoms, tops and expose yolks all over the place – no good for presentational purposes.

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I ploughed on – there was no getting away from the necessity of the task – hoping that I’d end up with at least a few usable eggs.

FullSizeRender (1)As you can see from the above, I got away with it – just. I halved the best ones and placed them on the salads, and, of course, none of the guests were any the wiser. And in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t such a big deal – presentation mattered for only a few moments before everyone tucked in.

FullSizeRender I consider myself forewarned and forearmed for next time, should I ever use them in this way again!

How to cook two easy family meals – at once!

More about mince in this post – it’s such a staple and we’re one of those families who eat spaghetti bolognese once a week. Ah, what a cliche, but it’s easy and tasty and healthy, especially when you ram it full of veg.

I like to cook things from scratch as much as possible. I am therefore always on the lookout for a shortcut of some kind, albeit one which still results in a proper home-cooked meal, one which we will also be able to tempt the four year-old to eat (part of at least).

And last week I developed a new plan, one I think I’ll be putting into action quite a bit because of its ease and how happy I was with the end result.

Our shopping usually includes a 750g pack of lean minced beef and as I was deciding whether to make bolognese or chilli for dinner with it, I looked at the ingredients and realised I could make both simultaneously, thus taking care of a few evening meals at once.

I split the mince into two pans and turned it on to brown, breaking it up as it began to cook.

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While this was happening, I prepped all of the veg, dicing onions and chopping up carrots, celery, red pepper and some mushrooms for the bolognese. After draining the fat from each pan, into each went some onion, celery and garlic (press out cubes from the freezer) to cook for a while.

The bolognese then came together with tomato puree, basil, mixed herbs, the mushrooms and half of the carrot and red pepper – I like to chuck as much veg as possible in there – while I added the other half of the c and rp to the chilli pan, plus some chilli powder, cinnamon, ground cumin and coriander.

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For each pan, then came the chopped tinned tomatoes,  a can of water (swirled round in the empty tomato tin to get all the good stuff) and, for the chilli, a can of chickpeas.

No kidney beans were harmed in the making of this chilli. I am afraid that I am one of those people who hates them with a passion (oh, the number of times I have had to force them down when I’m a guest somewhere and the food on offer is chilli). I can’t quite explain why, except to mention that they remind me of beetles. Not sure how much sense that makes but whatever the reason, they make me shudder.

Chickpeas? No such problem, so in they went. Both pots cooked for an hour or so before they were perfectly ready.

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We ate the chilli with wraps and rice, and some sour cream on the side, had the spag bol and next night, and leftovers the night after that.

Three of our meals for the week sorted in one semi-industrious session at the stove.