~ Recipes ~

well, not exactly - but enough detail to get you started, I hope

~ home ~ to explain ~ links ~

oven-baked mackerel

Take two nice fat, shiny mackerel. Slice half an onion and half a lemon very finely and lay them across the bottom of your dish. Sit the fish on top, with a couple of tablespoons of cider vinegar sprinkled over, and bake them for half an hour. All those sharp things cut through the oiliness of the fish and it is very simple and fine.

Thai mussels en papillotte

Speaking as a mussel-cooking novice, these were a revelation. You do have to scrub and de-beard them, of course, but that doesn't take too long (besides, it is deeply satisfying to know that you are Making An Effort). I had so drummed it into myself to throw out the ones that didn't close in the cold water or open in the hot that I was quite expecting to lose half the batch - but they were all healthy and died obediently when told to. The sauce was made by softening shallots, lemon grass, ginger, fennel, star anise and coriander stalks, then adding the mussels, a handful of tiger prawns and a splash of white wine. Cover and steam for a few minutes (until the mussels open). Then a bit of a palaver, take the mussels and prawns out with a slotted spoon, add a little coconut milk and reduce by half. Stir the sauce back into the seafood and divide into two squares of greaseproof paper, tie them into money-bag parcels and bake briefly. Spare sauce was eaten with a spoon in my house, but perhaps we lack imagination.

fennel and mushroom soup

Sweat one onion; two bulbs of fennel; two cloves of garlic; one potato - that bit for a while, until everything is shiny and soft - two rashers of bacon and a punnet of chestnut mushrooms. As the bacon opaquifies and the mushrooms shrink, you can add a small spoonful of fennel seeds and a larger one of herbs; and some finely chopped reconstituted mushrooms if you have a packet of dried porcini or chanterelles in the back of the cupboard. I took so long doing all this that by the time I put the stock in (one litre of homemade chicken stock) everything but the potato was more or less cooked. So it only needed another fifteen minutes or so simmering to be ready to whizz. I don't think there's any remedy to the off-putting subfusc colour of mushroom soup - but once garnished with a large dollop of crème fraîche, black pepper and the fronds from the fennel, it looked a lot more appetising.

mushrooms with chilli and oyster sauce

I only had ordinary mushrooms, but this is very nice with a mixture including oyster, chestnut and shiitake. The mushrooms are roughly chopped, and marinated in two parts soy sauce, two parts rice wine, one part sesame oil, a pinch each of salt, pepper and sugar, and a teaspoon of cornflour (I said a teaspoon! That's enough!). They don't need to sit for very long - it's not as though they need to be tenderised. Ok, leave the mushrooms for as long as it takes to chop a couple of spring onions, a clove of garlic, a chilli, and some fresh ginger, and to start them frying (in that order). When they're soft - a minute or so - add the mushrooms, plus a dollop of oyster sauce and a little hoisin sauce. They only need to fry for a couple more minutes. You can add the leftover marinade if things seem too sticky. Last night I made rice to go with this (with a sachet of miso, mmmm), so of course that needs to be started before anything else; but actually this is nicest as a starter, scooped up from a communal dish into crisp little lettuce-leaf cups.


My recipe for tapenade goes: three anchovies, two teaspoons of capers, as many black olives as are left in the jar, a good number of basil leaves and a slug of brandy. Whizz but leave chunky, adding oil only if necessary.

fish pie

Last night I made fish pie, which I was afraid was going to be too stodgy, but it was ok. You start by making the sauce, ie browning some onion, and in this case a chopped leek. I do cheat by doing this in a little oil, because it won't burn, and then - because it's white sauce and I want the taste of butter - adding a knob when I'm ready to stir in the flour and milk. I used lots of lemon juice, too, which made me stir nervously, but it all held together. Finally a big handful of chopped dill and lemon zest, seasoning, the pre-poached haddock, flaked, and some prawns. Then I made a rösti topping, which was *so* easy - and was why the end result wasn't as stodgy as the mashed-potato pies I've made before - because you don't have to pre-cook the potato (one was enough for my two-person pie), just peel, grate, toss in melted butter and spread over the filling. As always with these things, it was much improved by a blast under the grill before serving.

spinach and feta pie

Now this, I like. It is a spinach and feta pie, made on Nigella's pattern of lining a springform tin with filo pastry. I made a filling of rice, cooked up with an onion and some mint and thyme; a tin of chickpeas; a bag of young spinach (torn up and wilted a little in the hot rice); and a lump of feta crumbled in. You scrunch the filo up over the top and bake for quarter of an hour, and then of course it can be turned out quite impressively. Infinite possibilities!

thai green chicken curry

I wanted something Thai before all the turkey and stodge sets in, so I made green curry: chicken portions marinated in soy sauce, lemon grass, lime juice etc, then browned with an onion, one sweet pepper, one chilli pepper and a handful of mushrooms. It's a bit imprecise but I use Thai green curry paste, the remaining marinade, a little brown sugar and nam pla fish sauce (possibly tautologous, anyone speak Thai?) and add a bit more of everything until it tastes right. Right at the end I stirred in some coconut milk so everything was luscious, all smooth and beige: and threw a few chopped cashew nuts over the top. Yes, that's right, if you were doing this you'd have had some fresh coriander.

roasted tomato soup

A warming roasted tomato soup to remind the summer to come back. A very good use for the punnet of tomatoes I bought in an optimistic plan to make chutney - forgetting that it is the week before Christmas and frankly, there's enough to do already. Tomatoes roast for about an hour on a low heat, with some slices of onion, all rolled around in a bit of olive oil. Towards the end of the hour start frying the rest of the onion, and when it is soft add a spoonful of sugar (tra la) and finally tip the contents of the roasting pan into the saucepan. Oh, the skins will have loosened on the tomatoes so it doesn't actually take long to pull them off, if you're so inclined. Anyway, assess the quantity of soup. My punnet of tomatoes (750g I think) made two fair portions of soup: if there are more of you you can either start with more tomatoes or add some stock at this stage. Either way the crucial ingredient is a good glug of balsamic vinegar. Season, vibrate, tear in some basil: slurp.

mushroom tartlets

A handful of leftover mushrooms from the bottom of the fridge, sautéed with a generous chopping of onion and a couple of pre-soaked dried porcini (literally a couple, I thought that was plenty sufficient for supper), seasoned, herbed, and finally allowed to have some madeira, m'dear. The above piled up on two squares of puff pastry and adorned with the oozy scrapings of a petit langres (a cheese of the stinky, liquid kind, utterly delicious but of course substitutable). Glaze the edges with egg, if you can be bothered, and bake for 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted, the pastry risen and everything golden. Do not burn your hand on the edge of the oven and throw the tarts in the air...

almost venison pie

The leftover venison spread quite well to feed us both. I made a basic red wine sauce by frying off the meat with plenty of chopped onion, quartered chestnut mushrooms and a few juniper berries, stirred a spoonful of flour into the fat, then added a good slug of red wine and topped it up with a herby stock. A sauce that is mostly red wine has a bit of an edge - and is disconcertingly purple. Both problems can be resolved by the addition of a squeeze of tomato puree and a dollop of redcurrant jelly. While that was bubbling away, I made cheat's pie lids - just circles of puff pastry baked in the oven - to sit on it. Somehow, even the illusion of pieness made me feel cleverer than casserole!

chicken with clementines

The main course was chicken with clementines on couscous, comme ça: 1. brown the chicken; 2. fry some onion; 3. add garlic, fresh root ginger, cumin, cinnamon, chilli; 4. return the chicken to the pan with the juice of a lemon; 5. add stock with a spoonful of saffron in, to cover, boil and simmer for half an hour; 6. add chopped black olives and segments of clementine (since I don't know the difference between clementines, tangerines and satsumas, I'm prepared to consider them interchangeable here). You can leave the skin on and some people will eat it - without noticeable ill effect!; 7. boil some more until fairly reduced; 8. heap up in a bowl and cover with chopped coriander; 9. serve with lots of buttery, peppery couscous. Could that be easier?

red rice salad

At least the salad worked, and by popular demand, here it is: cook red (Camargue) rice for as long as it takes (30-40 minutes) and leave to cool. Make a vinaigrette of 2 tbs balsamic vinegar, tsp wholegrain mustard and 4 tbs extra virgin olive oil per four portions of rice. I find raw garlic in salad dressing is usually a bad idea (and my boyfriend is French, so I'm no vampire), but if you like it, go for it. Season the vinaigrette and add to the rice. Chop rocket leaves pretty finely (quite a lot, I used a whole 100g bag for my party-sized portion) and stir them in. Finally add cubed (or crumbled, let's face it) feta cheese; taste; adjust seasoning; and garnish, if so inclined, with sliced spring onions.


Ramble over; I did cook last night; in fact, I used my nice new present to experiment with making frittata. I boiled some sliced potatoes, then fried onion and bacon in my amazing hob-to-grill dish? pan? tin? (Also essential for tarte tatin, can't wait!) Next the potatoes, some randomly Mediterranean stuff (sun-dried-tomatoes, olives, feta, basil) and finally four beaten and seasoned eggs over the top. That cooks more slowly than an omelette, maybe for ten minutes (the egg was basically set all through), then goes under the grill for a couple more minutes to brown the top. Very good indeed, with a salad. I see many variations on that in my future...

mushroom device

As promised. I don't know what to call this - it is a little more exciting than the title 'pie' or even 'bake' would imply. It is a mushroom device. Make up a pan of polenta, stirring in crumbled goat's cheese while it is still volcanic. Pour it out into a thin layer on a baking tray and leave to cool and set. Meanwhile, you're sauteéing a couple of leeks and thinly sliced fennel bulbs. It's all a bit pan-intensive, this, but you can probably find efficient ways to do it. I set the leeks and fennel aside when they were done so I could do the mushrooms in the same pan. I had a couple of trays of mixed wild mushrooms - chanterelles, pieds bleu, hedgehogs etc - and a few dried ceps that had been soaking in hot water. Once the ceps were drained, chopped and added to the butter with the other 'shrooms, I reduced their liquor by about half and added crème fraîche, garlic, thyme and nutmeg. So then you're ready to assemble: first a layer of celeriac, finely sliced and dipped in the cream; then the mushrooms and other veg all together. The sauce goes over the top of that, and then you can make a sort of tiled roof by cutting the polenta into strips. A handful of grated parmesan, and bake for half an hour.

smoked haddock chowder

It seemed like an easy way to provide something warm and starchy to slob out with in front of Star Wars. Here you go: poach some smoked haddock in milk for ten minutes. Fry a chopped onion, sweat some diced potatoes, season with fennel seeds and a little salt (only a little because smoked food is salty). Stir in a spoonful of flour. Sieve the milk and add it a little at a time (you are making a sort of thin white sauce, do you see?). Cook without boiling until the potatoes are soft; flake the fish and throw it in. Optionally you could add some cream or something at the end, but it's fairly rich already. And if it does boil and split, the blender/whizzer/vibrator will fix it. Just feel the force...

chicken noodle soup

Anyway, I jointed henny-penny, put the breast aside for another day, the carcass on for stock, and used the legs, first poaching them with spring onions, root ginger and dried chilli. When they were cooked I shredded the meat, skimmed the poaching liquid and made a broth with some fresh spring onions, garlic, Chinese five-spice powder, a bit more ginger and sweetcorn shucked off the cob. Finally I added the chicken and a shattered block of egg noodles: three minutes to the pure, golden, fragrant heat of noodle soup.

wild boar

At last, something interesting and edible. This was my recollection of what Mother used to call wild boar - for no particular reason (beyond the use of juniper, which does seem to be traditional), I think, than that we were all mad for Asterix as kids. So this is how I did it yesterday, from memory! Sliced a couple of potatoes and boiled until mostly cooked. Layered the slices across the base of a dish, followed by a layer of thin apple slices, with slivers of garlic tucked between. Wrapped each pork chop in a piece of bacon and sat them on top of the apple. Seasoned with salt, pepper, a few crushed juniper berries (they are quite strong so you really only need half a dozen) and some sprigs of thyme. Poured a glass-full of white wine over it all and finished with another layer of potato slices. Spread a bit of butter over the top so that it would crisp up nicely and baked for three-quarters of an hour. By Toutatis, that's good...

lemon chicken

Mmmm, this was lovely: I have forgotten where I found my recipe for lemon chicken, but this is how it goes. Marinate some chicken in the juice and zest of two lemons, lemon grass, root ginger and a dollop of honey, for as long as it takes to phone your mother. Finely slice a couple of onions - well, two would be enough but I do three or four - and fry them for ages with a spoonful each of soft brown sugar. Pour off most of the marinade and put the chicken in the oven. When the onions are very sweet and mushy, add the reserved marinade (baste the chicken with a little more of it, too) and let it reduce. This is good with rice, plain or with something green in it to contrast with the sweet stickiness of the onions.

end-of-the-month tart

Hurrah, I'm back. Easy when you know how. And the same goes for end-of-the-month tart. This is what this Mother Hubbard had in the fridge on help-no-money-can't-shop day: your mileage may vary... Shortcrust tart case: butter and flour, or ready-made of course - here, let Delia show you... Three onions, sliced and cooked in oil and a teaspoon of brown sugar until very soft. Add a handful of halved cherry tomatoes and the dregs of the balsamic vingar, and let the tomatoes soften. Spread this across the base of the tart case. Follow with a layer of crumbled cheese - I had feta; a crumbly goat's cheese would be equally good. In a bowl, beat together one whole egg, one yolk and 200ml of double cream or crème fraîche with whatever looks healthy on the windowsill (my life is a constant battle with the basil plant), season with salt and black pepper and pour over the cheese. Finish with a little grated parmesan, if there's a lump looking miserable at the back of the fridge, and cook for half an hour until the surface is golden, as the real chefs say. The tart will still wobble a bit. Serve hot or warm with salad, if you're organised enough!

sunday night pasta

Sunday night pasta: finely dice one bulb of fennel (hang on to the dill-like leaves at the top); sweat in olive oil until soft. Add a handful of sliced mushrooms. Splosh in some white wine if it's open, otherwise wine vinegar of either colour - just enough to deglaze the pan and make sautéd vegetables start to look like sauce. When the pasta is cooked, stir in a dollop of crème fraîche and some black pepper; serve over the pasta, with the fennel fronds scattered over the top. Nice enough to prevent me feeling nostalgic for toast and marmite - the habitual Sunday night supper when we were little, coming home sleepily after evensong.

mozarella salad

Last night was hot, heavy and humid, with thunder in the air... sometimes there's nothing like a mild feeling of threat to give a girl an appetite. I thought about tuono e lampo - 'thunder and lightning' - the Italian for pasta with chickpeas, but as I hadn't had the foresight to soak any chickpeas, that might have taken rather too long. Instead I made a mozarella salad: just fresh buffalo mozarella sliced and scattered with grilled peppers (darling baby orange ones), basil and olive oil. Certainly the prettiest supper I've had in a while, and utterly delicious too.

lentil soup

I softened a chopped onion. I browned bacon with it and stirred in two crushed cloves of garlic. I added lentils and when they were glistening and sighing I ladled in the gorgeously savoury lamb stock which the leftovers from Friday night had - as if by magic - turned into. And we ate lentil soup, described by the divine Nigel Slater as deep, dark, earthy and swamp-like.

persian vegetable cake

Well, it's Friday, so in the traditional manner, and despite it being August (ie Cambridge is empty of people and full of tourists), I have managed to find people who are prepared to come to dinner. The terrine is in the freezer, the wine is in the fridge, and there are piles of vegetables on the kitchen table waiting to be scrubbed, sliced, diced, boiled, baked and somehow transformed into something astonishing. The plan involves a Persian recipe I picked up at the Aldeburgh Cookery School - a layered cake of thinly sliced (from the bottom) onions, garlic, aubergines, apples, sweet potatoes, courgettes, tomatoes and potatoes, baked slowly in a tomato and cinnamon sauce and decorated with dried apricots and pistachio nuts. Sadly I will be omitting the optional dried rose petals.