I’d planned another Nigella Diaries update today, but in the early hours of Tuesday morning, I woke to a BBC news update on my phone. The fact that I woke in the middle of the night isn’t unusual – I’m a dreadful sleeper – nor is the BBC update as these days I get a lot of my news from them and when I wake in the middle of the night I tend to take notice of any updates that have come through. It was the subject of the news that was of concern – Notre Dame was on fire.

We’ve visited Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, to give it its full title, a couple of times – but then so do over 12 million people a year. The most recent was a fabulously blue day last May when Grant and I spent 3 weeks in France. Sitting down showing Sarah the photos the other evening reminded me of a few things:

  • the grandeur of the structure
  • the magnificence of the art (and artefacts) within
  • the presence of Notre Dame on the pointy end of Île de la Cité and
  • in contrast to every other church we’d visited – and we visited a lot of them while in France – how noisy it was inside. Yes, it was awe-inspiring, but in a different way to the cathedrals at Reims or Orleans or the basilica at Lyon. Despite their size and grandeur, those still had a sense of peace and quiet. Notre Dame felt too important for that – and too busy. Notre Dame also had a feeling of power and might which the others didn’t have.

It also reminded me that I’d never blogged the Paris part of that trip and, therefore never published these photos. So here they are…some of them, anyway…

The outside

The inside

The artifacts

The stained glass

From the water

From Shakespeare & Co

Okay, it’s Thursday and that means it’s time for the Lovin’Life linky brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishWrite of the Middle, and me. Feel free to share your happy…

 

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The week in pics

Okay. it’s the end of another week, what’s brought smiles my way?

I know this is titled 5 things, but who keeps count? It was another tough week in the day job, the rain came down up here on the Sunshine Coast, but there was still plenty to smile about.

Christmas at Curlew Cottage…

I’m on target – word count wise. Not only am I on target but the story is making sense to me, my characters are coming to life and I think I might just be glimpsing how it’s going to end…which is probably a good thing when you think about it.

Weirdly for me, there is no playlist for this book, no music that’s brought certain scenes to life and no songs that really are what this novel is about. Every time I hear Elton John’s “Something About The Way You Look Tonight” I think of Happy Ever After. WithWish You Were Here it was Ed Sheeran’s “Photograph”. With this novel, there is no song…yet. There is, however, a collection of photos, pictures, images, and scenes. And I have an image in my head of what my hero, Owen Gallagher, looks like…more on that later.

Home-made Pizzas…

Something that always brings a smile to my face. As did the young guy at Woolworths who was so diligent about slicing the prosciutto as finely as he could for our homemade pizzas.

The Thong Tree…

I’m just a couple of weeks away from sending Christmas At Curlew Cottage to my editor so that means my schedule is pretty manky at present. I’m up before 5am to write, out the door for a walk by 5.45, another half hour of writing before I log in to work at 8.30, more at lunchtime, and then again when I knock off from the day job.

A few hours away from my desk on Saturday wasn’t only welcome, but necessary. So down the Bruce Highway we went to Bribie Island. For fish and chips on the jetty. Naturally, we went for a look across at the surf beach and took photos of these trees that had thongs (jandals/flip flops if you’re not an Aussie) hung from the trees.

Snoring dog…

The soundtrack to my day is this one snoring beside me. I love it (both the snoring and the dog) more than I can say – although do occasionally have to apologise when I’m on teleconferences and she gets just a tad too loud…

Making friends with aubergines…

I’m not a massive fan of aubergine – even though I feel as though I should be – which is why I bought some at the markets this week and made a dip out of them. I also made a tomato and roasted capsicum sauce with the red peppers to go over ricotta dumplings (gnudi) for a meatless Saturday night dinner – recipe to come.

As for the dip – there’s a little bit of palaver associated with it, but not too much. You prick the aubergine all over with a fork & pop it in a hot oven (about 220C) for an hour. Leave it to cool and then scoop out the (now soft) insides into a bowl. Smash it about a bit and pop the mashed aubergine into a sieve while you get on with the rest. As an aside, it’s the water that comes out at this point that makes it all quite bitter.

Dice an onion finely and grate (or chop finely) a few cloves of garlic. Cook it slowly in olive oil until the onion is soft and sweet. I sprinkled in a little ground coriander and cumin – just because I felt like it. Stir in the mashed aubergine and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Set it aside to cool slightly and then stir in some yoghurt. I used 2 large eggplants and a 200g tub of Greek yoghurt. Scatter some mint and toasted pine nuts over the top and serve with flatbread or pita crackers.

 

I have to admit to not being a lover of either chocolate cakes or birthday cakes. I know, shock horror, who is this woman? But I have been known to make both because apparently, and more believably, other people are lovers of both birthday cakes and chocolate cakes.

The last birthday cake I made was for my daughter’s 18th birthday party. It was a cake that I’d made a few times before and one that if asked, I would have said was the failsafe chocolate cake in my repertoire. That cake was an Annabel Langbein recipe and had, surprisingly, a cup of boiling hot black coffee in it.

And the best part about that cake is that it takes literally 5 minutes to make. I’ve timed it. The longest part of the preparation was boiling the water for the coffee – which, incidentally, you don’t really taste…a good thing in my opinion – and cutting out the little paper circle for the bottom of the baking tin.

The recipe is here. You’re welcome.

I topped it with the best chocolate ganache slash sauce you’ll ever make too. This one takes some trust. You use equal quantities of double cream and chopped chocolate, bring the cream to a near boil, drop the chocolate in, let it stand for a few minutes and then whisk the living daylights out of it. Although you might doubt, persist…whisk through it…the result is a glossy creamy chocolate sauce that you’ll want to eat by the spoonful.

Don’t worry, the recipe for that is here too.

This cake, Nigella’s birthday cake, is also good. It also contains an unexpected ingredient – condensed milk. Yes, you read that correctly. Nigella calls this one her birthday cake because that’s what it’s usually made for. Indeed, it’s what I made it for – to celebrate Sarah’s 21st birthday – albeit a week after the event given that she didn’t want the fuss of a cake and candles on the day. She had some friends up from Sydney and it was raining so they were sitting around the kitchen table playing Monopoly. As everyone with even a tiny bit of life experience knows: Monopoly rarely ends well. Chocolate cake, however, does.

This cake takes a little longer than 5 minutes to put together, but it was still iced and ready for that part of the game when people are landing on Regent Street with a hotel and going straight on to land on Mayfair with a hotel – if you’ve ever played Monopoly you’d know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s usually at that point in the game when tempers fray and boards begin to fly.

Anyways, the cake. It’s rich – that goes without saying – so you only need a small slice. Also, this is a cakey-cake, not a moussey or puddingy cake – which I happen to think is a good thing.

I used 2 lined and greased sandwich tins for this so I could pop ganache in between and over the top. As for the ganache, I used 250g each of cream and chopped chocolate. The chocolate needs to be chopped quite fine so either smash it with a rolling pin or toss it in a food processor – although the latter option does create washing up. I like dark chocolate for this but also had some light chocolate too because there was some left in the fridge that needed to be used. The method is the same as above – heat the cream, drop in the chocolate, leave it, trust, and whisk like the blazes.

Okay, to the cake…

  • Sift 225g self-raising flour, 30g good cocoa and a pinch of salt into a large bowl and set aside.
  • Into a saucepan place 200g caster sugar, 100g unsalted butter, 200g condensed milk, 100 g good dark chocolate that has been broken into little pieces. Heat until melted and smooth. You might need to stir it about from time to time to make sure that the condensed milk doesn’t catch and burn.
  • Stir this melted chocolatey mix into the flour-cocoa and then when it’s all nicely amalgamated, beat in 2 eggs.
  • Pop the tins into the oven that you’ve remembered to preheat to 180C and cook for about 25-30 minutes – checking after about 25. When cooked the top should feel firm. If it’s cracked on top, cover with ganache.
  • Leave to cool in the time for 10 minutes before cooling completely on the rack.
  • When it’s cooled and you’ve made the ganache – and let that cool a bit as well – use some to stick the 2 cakes together and pour the rest over the top. While you might think that it’s way too soft, it will firm up.
  • Present to Monopoly players and watch as peace descends once more.

I’ve taken on the challenge to cook my way through Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat. You can find other episodes here.

Okay, it’s Thursday and that means it’s time for the Lovin’Life linky brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishWrite of the Middle, and me. Feel free to share your happy…

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The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed that I’m no longer calling this a wrap-up post.

My mother – she of the “put a jumper on, I’m cold” wisdom – taught me that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. Or talk about the weather. She also used to say that if there’s someone out there who you think is being super nasty to you behind your back then be extra nice to them – it makes them feel guilty and makes you look like Pollyanna. Well, she didn’t say Pollyanna, but you get the idea. Plus I truly believe there are some people who don’t feel guilty, but that’s a whole other story.

So, instead of wrapping up my week I’m looking resolutely instead at things that make me feel cheerful – and please, don’t take from that any hint that the week has been bad. Sure, it hasn’t been great, but we’re not going there. This is about smiles, not frowns…and a little wrap-up as well.

Okay, five things…

Autumn…

Or what passes for autumn here in South East Queensland. Last Monday, which just happened to be April 1, was cooler overnight than it had been for months. Cool enough that I almost needed a jacket for our 6am walk. Okay, we’re only talking a few degrees and overnight temps of about 18 or 19C, but when you combine that with the fact that the humidity also left on that day and we haven’t seen a cane toad all week, I’m thinking that autumn has arrived.

As an aside, I love this Instagram post I saw this morning from @debs_world

Sunrises…

They’re back. Well, strictly speaking, they never stopped, it was just that they were too early, but now the sun is rising at 6am I’m getting to see it again. That means more sunrise photos on Instagram (sorry…).

Also, daylight savings has ended down south so I’m now on the same time zone as my work colleagues – which means a shorter working day for me. Wins all round.

Sunshine Plaza…

The final stage has now been completed on our local shopping mall and it feels as though we now really do have the best of the city and the coast. David Jones has opened, as has Sephora and a massive new Mecca – plus heaps of other new stores.  We don’t have to go to Brisbane any longer to buy the tea I like – I’m so fussy about my tea – or to buy Bobbi Brown make-up or Jo Malone fragrance…not that I buy these things often (hello, budget) but I do like to know that if I wanted to I could. And now I can.

Plus our favourite purveyor of pho has opened a new store – and I love love love the murals.

Cooking…

As usual, quite a bit, but my fave for the week was Kra Pow Chicken. It’s healthy, it’s tasty, it’s ready in the time it takes to cook some rice and after a long day of whatever it is that I do in the day job it’s satisfying to pick herbs from the garden and do some chopping and stirring. You can find the recipe here.

Fairy circles at the bottom of the garden…

We’ve had a lot of rain over the past couple of weeks. A lot. On the downside, it’s made it difficult to get out for morning walks, but then on the weekend, this appeared – a semi-circle of mushrooms and toadstools at the bottom of the garden.

Okay, maybe there weren’t any fairies in there…but then again, who knows for sure?

 

Each month I’ll review a cookbook – new or old from my shelf.  The featured cookbook for April is Ella Risbridger’s Midnight Chicken (& Other Recipes Worth Living For)

I’m going to preface this review by saying that this is the best cookbook I’ve read in I can’t remember how long. And yes, you did read that right – I read this cookbook from cover to cover before I cooked a single thing from it. There were, in fact, times that I truly forgot that I was reading a cookbook – but then to simply call it a cookbook is also to do it a disservice as it’s way more than that. It’s about hope, it’s about healing and it’s about comfort. It’s also a love story between Ella, the author, and the man she fell in love with at 17 – the Tall Man.

There are times when it’s laugh-out-loud-until-you-cry funny, and times when you just cry. I made the mistake of reading the acknowledgements before I read the rest of the book – don’t look at me like that, it’s something I often do – and it tinged everything with a bitter-sweet extra taste of sadness. More on that later.

This is a cookbook like no other I’ve read. It’s also a cookbook that could be made into a film. Truly. And you should have seen the look on my husband’s face when I told him that.

The book starts from a point where, at the age of 21 with seemingly every reason to live, Risbridger wanted to end her life. “I tried to step into the path of a No 25 bus, destination Oxford Circus.”

The Tall Man took her home from the hospital and taught her to cook. As she learnt she wrote about it and cooked for him. It became a way of seeing and savouring the world freshly, together.

“There are lots of ways to start a story, but this one begins with a chicken…in a cloth bag hanging on the back of a kitchen chair. It was dark outside, and I was lying on the hall floor, looking at the chicken through the door, and looking at the rust in the door hinges, and wondering if I was ever going to get up…

But this is a hopeful story. It’s the story of how I got up off the floor.

It’s also the story of how to roast a chicken, and how to eat it. This is a story of eating things, which is, if you think about it, the story of being alive. More importantly, this is a story about wanting to be alive.”

The first recipe in this book is the Midnight Chicken in the title; and the last, chicken stock, is made with the leftovers of the first.

In the middle is a whole collection of recipes and recipes that are more of an idea or a feeling than a recipe – but all with the theme of the redemptive power of cooking and eating. Oh, and no photos – not a one. The book is, however, beautifully illustrated.

I’ve highlighted and turned the corners on so many of these pages that I have no idea how I can properly tell you about it without this post going for the length of a small novel, but I’ll give it a try…

Recipe names…

I love the titles of some of the recipes. Aside from the Imperfect Pikelets which I’ve already told you about – I don’t know what it is about the word pikelet that always has me mixing my letters up – we also have Jam for Out of Doors Jam Sandwiches, Glumday Porridge, Wicked Stepmother Black Bread, How to Grieve with Challah Bread, Danny the Champion of the Pie, Would I Lie to You Labneh, Imaginary Granny’s Latkes, Marital Harmony Sausage Pasta and Life-Affirming Mussels.

The stories…

Peppered through the book are snippets from Risbridger’s childhood which sounded idyllic and very Enid Blyton-y. She’s even said in interviews how it took her some time to realise that there probably hadn’t been childhoods like that since the 1950s. There are snippets of her domestic life, and even a few life lessons – such as the one about bacon versus sausage sandwiches: red sauce on bacon, never brown, and brown sauce on sausages, never red.

Every recipe is a story, or a lesson, or part of hers and the Tall Man’s love story. Take this one about the making of Danny the Champion of the Pie which is, in fact, a recipe for a proper pork pie.

“Here are the morals of this story.

First: that it is in nobody’s best interests to begin to make a complicated pie at a quarter to eleven at night.

Second: that hot pork jelly will (if it can) go everywhere.

Third: that hot pork jelly, a gas hob, two a.m. and an impossible dream of a marvellous pie are a terrible recipe for a happy relationship.

Fourth: that no pie will ever live up to the description of the perfect pie you read when you were seven, and it was the start of the summer holidays, and you were upside-down three-quarters of the way up the pear tree in the back field.

Fifth: that the truth of morals one through four doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying anyway.”

The fictional pie is one in a children’s book Danny the Champion of the World, and the making of the pie in question results in rows and mayhem.

“Pop your pie into the oven (marvelling a little). You now have 1 ½ hours to play with. You may not, however, sleep. I suggest having an enormous row with the person you love best about the practicalities of making pie at one in the morning or reading a good book. Again, your call.

Set a timer for 30 minutes; when it goes off, turn the oven down to 160C, and re-set the timer for 45 minutes. Continue with row/good book.”

The recipes

So far, I’ve cooked the Imperfect Pikelets, Marmite Spaghetti – which I’ll tell you about separately another time and which is now something in my new novel – and a couple of the super quick pasta dishes.

I’m going to give The Tall Man’s Cheese Scones a whirl over the weekend and also have plans for Stuck in a Bookshop Salmon & Sticky Rice. I also have plans for her Viennese (or coddled) Eggs that I have to make just because of the minute by minute instructions:

Second and third minutes: The eggs are cooking in the lid-on pan, with no heat under it at all.

Fourth minute: The eggs continue to cook in the lid-on pan, still with no heat under it.

Fifth and Sixth Minutes. Ditto.

…Ninth minute: The eggs are in the cup or glass. And breakfast is ready. Find sunbeam in which to sit.

In fact, I’ll be cooking something from this book each week during April.

And finally…

By the way, this next part isn’t a spoiler alert because if you google Ella Risbridger you’ll find it front and centre of every article… Anyways, I have to take a deep breath before writing this, but John Underwood aka The Tall Man died at the age of 28 – just as Ella finished writing the last draft of the book.

“This book was written in hospital corridors and chapels and in the long, lonely nights watching to see if he was still breathing,” she writes. “And I wrote it at least in part to keep our world alive if he couldn’t be.”

After he’d helped her get better he became terminally ill. See what I mean about the film thing? A fellow writer, he chronicled his battles through a blog and, in the process, raised a heap of money for a British Institute that deals with blood cancer.

This may have looked like a cookbook, but what it is really is an annotated list of moments worth living for…Moments, hours, mornings, afternoons, days. And days worth living for add up to months, and so on and so on, until you’ve unexpectedly built yourself a life worth having: a life worth living.

not my photo

There aren’t very many cakes in How To Eat. In fact, in her “basics” chapter Nigella lists just 3:

  • Victoria Sponge
  • Birthday Cake
  • Fancy Cake

There are others scattered through the book – like her Clementine Cake and an Orange Blossom and Almond Cake – but other than that if you’re looking for a cake recipe head to one of her other books. I read somewhere or heard somewhere, that this was because she didn’t fancy herself as a baker – and at the time of writing How To Eat she had a vague idea that one needed to identify as either a cook or a baker. Thank goodness she got over that misconception.

Anyways, first up in the cake stakes is the Victoria Sponge – and a confession: the last time I made a Victoria Sponge was when I was about 14 in Year 8 Home Science class. Back in those days – the beginning of the 80’s – girls still had to do home science class where they taught us things like how to cook and manage the household budget. Further, we had to do most of what we did by hand. The school I was at in country NSW certainly didn’t have the budget for expensive equipment like mixmasters. That meant we’d all be there beating our eggs and sugar with a wooden spoon until it was light and frothy. Mrs Locke, our teacher and a formidable figure of a woman – all stout and stern – would stalk around and tell us to up our game. To be honest, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if home science classes weren’t the reason why many women of that generation refused to cook – especially when the growth of convenience meals, microwaves and independent careers meant that we didn’t really have to if we didn’t want to.

Okay, to Nigella’s sponge cake. This one differs from a traditional sponge in that it’s done in a food processor with additional baking powder to mimic the lightness that you’d normally get from all that beating of the eggs and sugar.

At first, I was a little concerned about this so I did some research. Mary Berry’s Victoria Sponge is also a beat it all together cake. And, as we all know, Mary is rarely wrong. Her’s though, is a beat it all together with an electric mixer not in a food processor. So too is Felicity Cloake’s perfect version for her Guardian column. The recipe is here – along with the history of the cake and lots of things you’ll be tested on later about flours and raising agents.

The recipe we’d made all those years ago was a CWA (Country Women’s Association) recipe – and if anyone knows a thing or two about baking, it’s countrywomen. In that recipe, the (room temperature) eggs are whisked until they’re frothy and then the sugar added slowly – almost as you do when making a meringue. The flours are sifted and folded in and the butter is melted in warm milk and dribbled in. The result is, as you’d expect, a light-as-air cake. You can find that recipe here.

Sadly, the one I made following Nigella’s food processor recipe was not – as light as air, that is. It was still a lovely cake and it rose more than I expected it too – and the jam and whipped cream made it even lovelier – but it wasn’t what I remember a sponge cake as being. It certainly wouldn’t have stood up to the competition in an Australian country show.

Again, my photo is dark making the cake look darker than it was and the lighting is dreadful. Plus, my husband (despite being “advised” not to) pushed down too hard on the cake top so the cream spewed out the side in a gloopy mess before I could take the photo. #itshardtogetgoodhelp

 

And we come to the final stage of our NZ road-trip – Martinborough in the Wairarapa region in the south of the North Island – to the north and east of Wellington…does that even make sense? In any case, it’s a part of the north island that I really love – and at just an hour out of Wellington, it’s absolutely accessible from the city.  Plus there’s wine, olives, and plenty of places serving great food – it’s no wonder that I love it! Oh, and all the wineries are within about 5kms – and therefore, easily walkable or easily bikeable if you don’t want to taste and drive.

The hotel…

The Martinborough Hotel. This is a gorgeous old hotel that I’ve stayed in previously. While the main part of the hotel is beautifully appointed in a traditional style, being over the weekend I requested a villa out the back so that we’d be away from any late night noise from the bar downstairs. As a result, we heard nothing – except the really spooky Rural Fire Service call/siren that went off in the middle of the night. Hubby thought it was a tsunami warning – even though there’s a mountain range between where we were and Wellington. Don’t tell him that I told you that…

Anyways, here’s a little peek inside our villa

and in the main part of the hotel.

and the view from drinks on the balcony on Friday night.

The olives…

At Olivo. I could have spent ages in their garden, but the olive oil tasting was what we were there for – and it was, without a doubt, one of the best and most informative tasting experiences that we’ve had. We came away with some olive oil soap and a couple of the infused oils – porcini and lemon – that I’ve already made good use of. I have plans for the porcini oil over some fusilli with maybe some parmesan and walnut…just saying.

Before we left we had a good wander around the garden.

For more information, check out the website.

The wine…

Before we left the village to go on our tasting adventure we stocked up against potential famines ie we bought a few local cheeses, some venison salami and a baguette. At Te Kairanga we acquired wine and borrowed glasses and ate our picnic feast on the grass – using brown paper bags as plates and the swiss army knife that’s always in the suitcase as cutlery.

It was as fine a picnic as was ever had.

The seals…

There, that was a surprise, wasn’t it? Seals. that is.

About an hour out of Martinborough, on a road that winds and clings to the coast, is Cape Palliser.

I came here for the first time on my very first trip to New Zealand – maybe around 2004? It was a day trip from Wellington where we went to a number of different filming locations for the Lord of the Rings movies which I was never really into. I was, however into the scenery. I recall the day as being rainy and so cold that the batteries in my camera refused to work. That cold. And the seals stank.

Cape Palliser, you see, is home to a colony of fur seals. It’s also the southern-most point of the north island and is further south than some parts of the south island. Yes, that does make sense. This means that when the wind blows it pretty much last blew in Antarctica.

There’s also a lighthouse with 200 and something steps. I generously (and selflessly) agreed to stay down the bottom so that I could take photos of seals and of Grant as he climbed the steps. Without me offering to do that there would have been no photographic record of him climbing the steps. He’s one of the dots on the steps in the pic above – and he took the pics below.

The country out here is stark and hard. It’s a place where fishing boats are taken in and out by tractors. It’s the type of place that makes you wonder who would live out here – and why…yet at the same time, there’s something so completely elemental about it.

Also out here is a pub that does some of the best fish and chips and seafood chowder you’ll come across – Lake Ferry Hotel. Or maybe it just tasted so good because it was so unexpected…I’m not questioning that too far.

The cheese scones…

Okay, I love a scone, and if there’s anything better than a scone it’s a cheese scone – and these were award winning cheese scones. At Neighbourhood near the square.

Okay, it’s Thursday and that means it’s time for the Lovin’Life linky brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishWrite of the Middle, and me. Feel free to share your happy…

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You might have noticed a distinct bias towards lemon-flavoured puddings on this page. You wouldn’t be wrong – and here’s another. This one is sort of like a creamy lemon curd – without any of the stirring and worrying about lumpy bits. It’s luxurious, luscious, tangy and, importantly, requires very little fuss. It is, however, one of those recipes that you need to think about in advance. Don’t worry, only a very small amount of pre-thought is required and then you can go about your normal business actively not thinking about it again until it’s time to pop them in the oven.

This quantity will be enough for 8 x 150ml ramekins. I have these really cute coloured ones that I bought at a restaurant supply business in South Melbourne one time. Most people go to Melbourne and buy shoes – I came back with ramekins, a madeleine pan, and a paella pan. What can I say?

Puddings like these need a biscuit – and shortbread fits that brief. Thankfully, Nigella has provided a recipe for that too. It’s far from a traditional shortbread although I suspect that if you asked 5 Scotsmen (my husband included) how to make traditional shortbread you’d get 5 different answers – and they’d all be right. This version is buttery and short and therefore, in my humble opinion, fits the brief. Plus it’s easy to make – something which will definitely increase the likelihood of me baking it more often for my shortbread loving Scotsman.

A final word on this pudding: Nigella suggests that you could also do this with oranges as well, but I’m of a mind to try it with passionfruit – obviously minus the zest and the seeds.

Lemon Creams

What you need…
  • 3 juicy lemons – zested and juiced
  • 300ml double cream
  • 6 eggs
  • 275g caster sugar
What you do with it…

Okay, this is the part where some pre-thought is required – preferably at least 2 days pre-thought, but if not don’t lose any sleep over it. In a jug whisk together the lemon zest, juice, eggs and caster sugar. Stir in the cream, cover with cling wrap and pop in the fridge until you’re ready to cook.

When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 150C and dig around in the cupboard for your ramekins and a roasting tray. Boil the kettle.

Pop the ramekins into the roasting tray, pour the mixture into the ramekins and then, once you’ve made your tea, and the water is no longer at boiling point, pour the water into the tin so that it comes about halfway up the side of your ramekins and bake for 20-30 minutes. They should still have a bit of a wobble to them.

If you’re making them early in the day for dinner tonight, make sure you take them out of the fridge and let them come to room temperature before serving.

Shortbread

One of the things – and there are many – that I’m loving about the recipes in this book is the symmetry of them. Take this one, for example, 100g very soft butter, 100g plain flour, 50g icing sugar, 50g cornflour. How easy is that to remember?

Making the shortbread is so easy you could almost tweet it:

  • Cream the butter and sugar in a food processor, add the flours and a pinch of salt and mix some more.
  • Knead and form into a cylinder shape that you wrap in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  • While the dough is resting heat the oven to 160C.
  • Slice dough into thin discs, place them on a greased and lined baking tray and bake for 20-30 mins until they’re a pale golden colour.
  • Cool on a wire rack – they’ll crisp up when they’re cold.

 

Okay, March. It was a month of travel, birthdays and plenty of day-job work in between. Without further ado here’s the wrap-up.

Where I travelled for work…

Sydney.

Where I travelled for play…

The north island of New Zealand. We did a 10-day mini road-trip of sorts beginning in the Coromandel…

heading down to Rotorua…

and Taupo…

onto Martinborough to celebrate my friend’s 60th birthday and 30th wedding anniversary in the vineyards…

and finally into Wellington before heading home. If you want to see the posts (so far) check out this link.

While I was away… I also celebrated my 52nd birthday. This is me being 52 and sunburned without make-up. A glamour shot it sure isn’t, but it is real. It was also the most popular Instagram post on my main account for March.

When we got back it was time for another celebration…our daughter’s 21st birthday. This is her in the pic below…she doesn’t like having her photo taken…but I’m sure you can see the family resemblance.

What I watched…

I saw Bohemian Rhapsody on the plane – and loved it to pieces.

I’ve also been watching:

  • Delicious – with the always fabulous Dawn French on ABCTV
  • Victoria (Foxtel)
  • Great Kiwi Bake-off (Foxtel)
  • Michael Mosely’s Reset (SBS)

What I’m listening to…

  • Claire Hooper’s Pineapple Project Pt 2. The tagline is “make work great again” and the pineapple pledge this series is to take things that are prickly and make them sweeter.
  • Margie Nomura’s Desert Island Dishes. If you’re a foodie, this is a must listen to podcast.

This month’s most liked Instagram photo…

This one was taken at our fabulous Airbnb in Coroglen, in the Coromandel on our first night in NZ.

What I read…

Quite a lot. 12 books in total – well, I was on planes, buses and holidays.

Some stand-outs in here – The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. The Magnificent Mrs Mayhew was also, I think, Milly Johnson’s best yet, and I also loved Debbie Johnson’s A Wedding At Comfort Food Cafe.

What saddened me…

Last but absolutely not least, we lost the patriarch of our family last Friday – with the passing of my uncle, my father’s oldest brother, at the grand age of 91.

He lived every single one of those 91 years in my Dad’s hometown, Tumbarumba – as had both of my grandparents before him. The pics below are some old ones of Tumba I used in Dad’s 80th birthday album late last year.

I started trying to count just how many direct descendants my paternal grandparents were responsible for and stopped at around 76 – I’m sure there are some great-greats I’ve missed.

RIP Uncle Ivan. Sadly I can’t be in Tumba with others from the family to say goodbye on Wednesday, but Friday night’s whisky was for you – as will be Wednesday night’s.

What I’m looking forward to…

Another holiday! We’re off to Penang and Singapore at the end of the month to celebrate 30 years together and 25 years married…more on that as we get closer!

Okay, that was my month…how was yours?

 

 

 

Okay, it’s been a while since I posted a Nigella update. I seem to have been either in Sydney or on holidays in New Zealand so haven’t been spending the time that I would like to be spending in the kitchen. When I have been home, however, I haven’t been entirely idle and progress through How To Eat has been happening – albeit slowly. Since we started back in the middle of January I’ve cooked 23 of the just over 300 recipes – or recipe ideas. We have a long way to go.

Before I get into some of what I’ve cooked, although this challenge has only been underway for a few months, I’m learning loads – not just about cooking (or baking) but about why I need to cook or bake. And, spoiler alert, it’s not just because I like to eat – although obviously, I do. It’s more about the process, the transformation, and the outcome. Cooking centres me in a way other things don’t and provides a transformation and outcome that’s lacking in most of my work days.

Since starting this challenge I’ve changed the way that I cook. My husband says that I’m the world’s messiest and most disorganised cook – and to a certain extent he’s absolutely right. I used to rarely read a recipe before I began making it and then would be a whirl of chaos as I’d grab ingredients from the pantry, measure them out roughly, and leave them on the bench while I got the next out. At the end of the cook, the bench would be completely covered – in both a cloud of flour and with jars and boxes and tubs that needed to be put back where they belonged.

Grant would walk in, tutt tutt about the mess and make some comment about how messy I was, but always with a smile so that I’d think he was saying it with affection whereas I really knew that it gave him the irrits. (I nearly said something else then but remembered just in time that my parents read this and hate it when I say things like pissed off….ooops, I just did.)

I’m still not a tidy cook, but I am more organised. I read the recipe first – after all, who wants to get halfway down and find out that the dish you’re intending to serve for dinner needs to be marinated overnight – and I measure everything and put away as I go. The other week he came into the kitchen when I was making the Bakewell tart, sat down at the bench and automatically said ‘you’re such a messy cook darling.’

Seriously? There was literally nothing on the bench. Nothing. Except for a wooden cutting board. It had even been wiped down and the sink was clean. He’d said what he did out of habit – but following my reaction will probably look before he speaks in future. Just saying.

I’m also thinking more about the structure of dishes, their foundation – how certain ingredients and techniques can be used in other ideas. Like the horseradish cream from the Sunday roast. The other night I used it as the base of some canapes. I topped lavosh crackers with some smoked mackerel that I’d bought at the markets and added a little grated beetroot to finish. (I cook my beetroot whole and unpeeled in foil in the oven. They cook in their own juices and the skin slides off.)

Mostly though I’ve discovered that the process calms me – helps me find a balance that’s missing during my workday. In actually following a recipe (something I have tended not to do) the measuring, weighing and chopping slows my brain and forces me to focus on each task and then the next whereas in the day job I’m juggling numerous disparate functions simultaneously. It makes me more mindful and present at the moment.

Okay, to some of the recipes (or ideas of recipes) that I’ve cooked and haven’t yet told you about… oh, and given that most of what I’ve made has been prepared for dinner ie at night, the photos are crap – so I’m not using them. (Sorry, I said “crap” Mum, but they are…) Besides, there are no photos in How To Eat at all so if it’s good enough for Nigella, it’s good enough for me.

Salad Dressings

Not to be too boastful, but I make a Lyonnaise-style salad dressing that I’ve had a guest wanted to drink from the little jug it’s poured from. That dressing does, however, turn a healthy salad into one a tad more calorie-laden.

For midweek dinners I usually pop the bowl of leaves on the table along with a bottle of good olive oil and one of store-bought vinaigrette. Drizzled over the top we still tend to use more oil than is required. Now though, I use the barest minimum of olive oil in the base of the bowl – just a few teaspoons – and toss the leaves in it. They end up with the thinnest of films of oil – which is all you need. I then toss across some salt and squeeze a lemon and toss again. Simple commonsense really, but it does cut down on the amount of dressing we use without compromising the flavour.

In case you’re wondering, Nigella’s basic French dressing involves putting 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar, barely 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of salt, a decent grinding of pepper, 6-8 tablespoons of really good olive oil, and a drop or two of cold water into a jar and shaking it vigorously.

Bechamel Sauce and Parsley Sauce

I’m lumping these together (no pun intended) as the base of the parsley sauce is, in fact, bechamel – and I’ve made many over the years. For the Nigella challenge though, I’ve followed her recipe for each.

Bechamel is arguably the most useful sauce you’ll ever make. For starters, it’s the base for macaroni cheese and one day I fully intend to write an entire cookbook on macaroni cheese – or mac and cheese as I think it’s called in the States. It’s also integral to a lasagne, and at the heart of cheesy cauliflower, cheesy broccoli or tuna mornay (which I like to call tuna mac). You can also substitute some of the milk in the sauce for cooking water and use it to coat leeks or onions.

Essentially a bechamel is a roux – a mix of even quantities of flour and butter cooked for a few minutes to get rid of the floury taste – to which milk is gradually added and then stirred until it thickens. Basic, yeah?

Parsley sauce takes it one step further. The parsley stalks are heated in the milk to flavour the milk. The chopped leaves are stirred with the heated milk into the roux, and some fresh ones added before serving. We had it over pan-fried white fish fillets, but Nigella also suggests using it to make parsley and ham patties. I’m thinking it would also add an extra layer if combined with mashed potato and flaked salmon to make salmon patties.

Custard

I’ve got myself into some serious trouble with this custard. It’s that good. It also makes sense. Rather than a complicated set of ingredients, Nigella advises 1 egg yolk and 1 heaped teaspoon of sugar for every 100ml of milk (or cream) and some vanilla. Too easy – and no custard powder in sight.

Bakewell Tart

Bakewell Tarts can be controversial. Even the name is controversial. In Bakewell itself, it’s known as a pudding – even though it looks like a tart. Whatever you call it, this almond and raspberry filled pie bears no resemblance at all to the supermarket dirty-grey iced versions Grant treats himself with occasionally. Hence when I announced that this was next on the Nigella list, Sarah screwed her nose up. ‘I don’t like them,’ she announced. When the finished product came out of the oven, Grant screwed his nose up. ‘Aren’t you going to ice it?’

Traditionally it was made with puff pastry, but this version – as with most recipes I found – is made with shortcrust which holds the frangipane, jam and berry filling much more effectively. Nigella’s version has almond in the pastry too – making the pastry a tad more difficult to work with, but much lighter in texture.

Her version also uses both fresh raspberries (optional) and raspberry jam. You can, of course, omit the fresh berries if you want, but they cut through the sweetness of the frangipane beautifully.

And the result? Both doubters were converted and the recipe was declared a winner. The only thing I’d change is the flaked almonds on top. Nigella tells us to scatter them across the top before baking for 35 minutes in a 200C oven. At about the 20-minute mark there was the distinct smell of singed almonds coming from the oven so I had to place some foil over the top to stop the almonds from burning. Next time I bake this I’ll add the almonds for the last 10 minutes only. And I’ll bake it during the day so I can take a photo as it really was quite lovely to look at.

I’ve taken on the challenge to cook my way through Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat. You can find other episodes here.

 

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