Skye has moved to a new site. Where she no longer writes about herself in the third person. Like this one, but so-oh-so-very-much better. Please click on FROM MY DINING TABLE to find out more. Lots of new recipes, exciting menu ideas and much, much more awaits you. It really does.
Imagination is a very powerful thing. It can distort reality without you even noticing. These potatoes, for example: I have made them so many times that I have begun to believe that they are my own recipe. When people come for dinner and compliment me on how tasty they are – because they are very tasty – I unashamedly take credit. ‘Thank you’ I say with a smug little smile. And leave it a that. Because in my mind, they are mine. But of course, they’re not: the recipe is from Nigella Lawson’s ‘Forever Summer’. Unadulterated, unadapted, unchanged. Very much as is, and – although I hate to admit it – very much hers.
Still – they are delicious, they are absurdly easy to make and I love that they bear a distinct physical resemblance to little hedgehogs. Which is why I more often than not call them hedgehog potatoes, rather than by their actual name which is, of course, the far less adorable ‘hasselback’ potatoes.
To make them you need a trusty wooden spoon and a sharp knife. Point. Well, you need a frying pan and a roasting dish as well. But that’s it. You put the little potato on the spoon and slice away – you can’t go wrong and it makes these elegant roast potatoes completely and utterly do-able for even the most unskilled choppers, like myself. Sprinkle liberally with salt – Maldon is best as it adds a glamorously rustic touch, but regular will do otherwise. Voila`: crispy potatoes are yours – with an emphasis on yours, as in not Nigella’s – to enjoy.
- 750g baby new potatoes
- 45g butter
- generous splash of olive oil
- Maldon salt
Preheat the oven to 210 degrees. Put each potato in the bowl of a wooden spoon – as if you were going to eat it from a spoon – and cut across at about 3mm intervals, or as finely as you can. When you’ve cute them all, put the butter and oil in a pan over a medium heat until melted, then add the potatoes face down. Fry them for for 10 minutes or until they are golden brown on top. Take the potatoes out from the frying pan and put them into the roasting tin, chopped side facing up. Pour the cooking oils from the frying pan over them and sprinkle liberally with salt. Put them in the oven for 40 minutes to an hour or until deliciously crispy.
Early Grey Tea
This is a no-nonsense kind of a tea. No elegant finger sandwiches. No delicate petit fours, or tiny tarts topped with just the one lone strawberry. No champagne. No macaroons, though we love them dearly. This is a good old slab of cake and a couple of hot scones, ideally slathered in salty butter. Wash it down with a mug of hot tea – yes, you could even drink from a mug, no need for an ornate teacup here. It’s a plonk it down on the kitchen table, relax and have a proper chat kind of a tea. The kind that everyone loves because it makes them feel at home.
It balances the savoury and the sweet like a grand tea master: there is cake, because you always need cake. But it’s not a rich chocolate or a sugary sponge cake, it’s a nice solid carrot cake. You could even bake it as a loaf and leave out the icing, if you preferred. And then there are scones – wonderful scones – crumbling with melted cheddar. Then there is nothing more, because you need nothing more. Other, of course, than some belly giggles and a good time. But you’re friends will bring that.
The cake can be made days – a good few days – ahead: it just grows in flavour with time. The scones really are best eaten hot. To make them fresh: it will take you no more than a quarter of an hour to get the dough ready and in the oven with minimal mess. But if that sounds too much like stress and not enough like fun, then make them a few hours ahead – or that morning even – and then warm them gently on a moderate oven for a few minutes before serving.
These scones are pure nostalgia. With each light, fluffy bite they evoke a bygone age – a time before twitter or blogs or telephones that you could carry with you. A time when afternoon tea was a regular affair with hot buttered toast and tinned sardines, fruit loaf and ginger snap biscuits, and warming cups of Earl Grey with milk and two sugars. A time that I know only from the loved and worn pages of Enid Blyton’s books and stories told by my mother.
There is something about the ritual of baking these scones – the satisfying simplicity of the recipe and its ingredients, the inimitable scent wafting through the house as they cook in the oven, and how the crumble when you break one open still piping hot – that imbues me with a sense of comfort and nostalgia.
Of course you don’t have to eat them at tea time. And you don’t have to imagine yourself a damsel of the 1960s – that’s just me. Wonderfully soft, dense with melted cheddar and spiced with a drizzle of Worcestershire Sauce – when eaten hot and with lashings of rich butter, these scones are truly irresistible. Equally good with a bowl of warming soup, or with some kind of stew to seep up the juices; for a light lunch with a few thick slices of cold ham and a dollop of pickle. Just increase their individual size (and cooking time) so that they are more like a cheese roll than a bite size scone.
But do make them yourself. And tell me that you don’t fell that you have travelled through time.
Old Fashioned Cheese Scones
This recipe is adapted from ‘Baking: A Common Sense Guide’ which has sat on my kitchen shelf for years – my go to for classic recipes, the pages stuck together with the sticky crumbs of ingredients past. I have increased the ratio of cheese to scone, as well as adding the Worcestershire Sauce for a play on my favourite Welsh Rarebit. The trick to fluffy scones is handling the dough as little, and as gently, as possible. I use cellophane to roll it out: it’s less messy than flour and it means that you don’t affect the proportions of the dough by accidentally adding too much flour.
Prep Time: 15 minutes; Baking Time: 12 minutes
Makes: 15-20 small scones
- 250g self-raising flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 30g chilled butter
- 120g grated cheddar cheese and a little to top the scones
- 2 tbsps Worcestershire Sauce and a little extra to top the scones
- 220ml milk
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees and lightly grease a baking tray or line it with greaseproof paper. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Chop the butter into small cubes and using your fingertips, gently rub it in with the flour, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Pour in the grated cheese and stir it through, until well mixed. Make a well in the centre and add the milk and the Worcestershire Sauce, then with a flat-bladed knife use a cutting to bring the dough comes together in clumps. Roll out two sheets of cellophane, one on top of the other, on your worktop surface and place the ball of dough on top of that. Fold the cellophane over the dough and gently press down until you have a slab of dough about 2cm or so high. Lift back the top layer of cellophane and using a floured biscuit cutter, cut small rounds out of the dough. Then gather the trimmings and, without over-handling press out again before cutting more rounds. Lay the round out on the baking tray and top each one with an sprinkle of grated cheddar and a few drops of Worcestershire Sauce. Put the tray in the centre of the oven and leave for 12 minutes. Not a minute more, not a minute less. Set a timer. Try to resist the temptation to open the oven door before they are cooked, as it will bring down the temperature of the oven and the scones will not rise as well. When risen and golden brown, the scones are done. Eat straight out of the oven, or lay them out on a rack to cool slightly.
So, DIY is not really my thing. I would really like it to be my thing. I spend hours scouring through Design Sponge imagining myself as the kind of person who can make an art deco style bed out of a cardboard box and some sticky-back plastic. But I am too haunted by memories of DIY projects gone wrong to actually attempt making anything. There was the time that I nailed the back to the front when assembling a chest of drawers from Ikea – yes, it seems that I struggle to follow simple instructions. Or the time that I bought a sewing machine and just under thrity metres of fabric because I was going to make a whole array of cushions for our living room. Sewing machine and fabric still languish in our storage unit. Living room still distinctly lacking in homemade cushions.
Step one: open a tin can – can just about manage that one, although I have been outsmarted by a tin opener before.
Step two: wash out tin can, being careful not to damage the label.
Step three: put pretty flowers in it. And fresh water too, of course.
That – I can do. And doesn’t it look adorable? Campbells have launched a limited edition range of tomato soups in cans inspired by Warhol’s iconic pictures from the sixties. For sale in most major supermarkets. Less than a pound. They’re too pretty to throw away. I added brightly coloured roses to really make the colours pop. Small pun intended.
Everyone loves a sausage roll. Surely? They’re one of the few things that I miss about being five years old. Yes, it was frustrating being told to go to bed at 7 o’clock. Yes, it was annoying always having to play nicely with other children. But the ubiquity of sausage rolls on the menu – think all those birthday parties and afternoon teas: that was something that I really enjoyed. Then I grew up and they just seem to have faded away. I don’t often go to a restaurant and find a sausage roll on the menu. Likewise when we go to dinner parties. More is the pity.
So, when I say Pork Wellington what I really mean is a grown up sausage roll. Perhaps a touch more sophisticated. You might serve it with a fennel salad, say – I sadly have no recollection of fennel salad at my childhood teas – or at an elegant dinner party. But the character, the essence, the supreme yumminess is that of a sausage roll. That same crispy, buttery pastry. Those same meaty juices. Remember those? Irresistible.
A few tweaks: I have replaced the processed sausage meat with a juicy pork tenderloin – I like to think of this as a substantial improvement; then wrapped it in thin slices of parma ham and stuffed it with crisp apple, lightly caramelised in butter and demarara sugar. With just a hint of aromatic sage for good measure. Best of all, I topped it with a flaky pastry lattice for decoration. As I said, it is an elegant, sophisticated affair.
Pork Wellington with Caramelised Apple and Sage Stuffing
This keeps nicely in the fridge: if you would like to prepare it in advance, make up the Wellington, then wrap it in cellophane and store it in the fridge for up to a day. Two hours or so before you want to eat it, remember to take it out of the fridge to allow it to get to room temperature before cooking. This recipe calls for both puff and filo pastry. The puff is for the crust and the two sheets of filo stop the juices from the meat seeping into the pastry and making it soggy. For an excellent overview of how to prevent soggy pastry in any sort of Wellington, see here. I have cheated and used ready-made pastry. For those of you who enjoy the challenge of making your own pastry, I take my hat off to you and present you with challenges number one (the puff) and two (the filo).
Serves: 4; Prep Time: 25 mins; Cooking Time: 45 mins
- 2 small apples
- small bunch of sage
- 30g butter
- 2 tbsps demarara sugar
- pork tenderloin
- 12-15 slices of parma ham
- 2 sheets of ready made filo pastry
- 2 sheets of ready rolled puff pastry
- 1 egg
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees. Peel and thinly slice the apples, and roughly chop the sage leaves. Put the butter in a small pan over a medium heat and melt gently, then add the apples, herbs and sprinkle with sugar. Leave to cook in the pan for 10-15 minutes or until the fruit has softened, turning the apples every so often so that they don’t burn. Take the pork tenderloin and cut it open, like you would cut open a baguette to make a sandwich, flatten it out and put it in a saucepan over a medium heat to sear the meat. Cook for 2-3 minutes on one side and then turn over and do the same on the second side. You want the meat to be lightly coloured on both sides. Then turn to your pastry. Place a sheet of the filo pastry on top of two sheets of cellophane (the cellophane will stop the pastry from sticking from the kitchen surface, and help you roll the meat in pastry) and lay the ham over it, covering it completely. When the apples are cooked spread them out over the meat and fold the tenderloin over, again as if making a sandwich. Then place the stuffed pork at the edge of the filo pastry and roll it up, as tightly as you can, using the cellophane sheets to help your. This is much easier than it sounds. A doddle, really. Then wrap your parcel in a second sheet of filo pastry, folding the ends tightly underneath. Now for the puff pastry, roll out your first sheet and place the pork meat parcel in the middle and wrap it as you would a present: close the top by gently pressing the pastry together and the ends by folding the excess pastry into a triangle and cutting off the corners. Check that the Wellington is sealed everywhere before moving on to the decoration. Roll out the second sheet of puff pastry and cut it in a lattice shape using a device like this, or by hand for a more rustic look. Gently lift the lattice sheet up, stretch the holes out so that they are as even as possible – embrace any imperfections that cannot be avoided – and lay it over the Wellington. Crack an egg in a small bowl, beat with a fork, and paint egg wash lightly over the pastry. Put the Wellington on a baking tray and pop it in the middle of the oven. Cook for 45 minutes. When you take it out the pastry should be a light golden brown and the meat cooked to succulent perfection. Trust me.
Fresh Tomato, Red Onion and Basil Salad
So, we all have bad days: bad as in exhausting, bad as in frustrating, bad as in when it’s just so very damned cold – and I don’t mean cold in a cheery, ‘tiddly-pom’ kind of a way. Days when the only thing that will get you through with a hint of a smile is the heart-warming prospect of a big old plate of something that in some way or another resembles nursery food. And a good old grumble to very patient friends. On days like that, frankly, the proverbial cup of tea is not even nearly good enough.
This frittata hails from the troubled lands of the Middle East, but feels as familiar as macaroni and cheese. It’s generous for four people, but always best to allow for seconds (and thirds), when comfort-eating. I like it with a fresh tomato salad: it’s a doddle to make, adds a little colour to the plate and takes us all one step closer to our five fruit and veg a day. But a green salad, potato salad, lentil salad or no salad at all – just the cheesy frittata on its own – work just as well. If you’ve had a bad day, you don’t need anyone nagging you to eat salad.
All of the above can be eaten with a spoon, if you like – I find eating with a spoon indulgently comforting – and offers genuine solace from the hectic world that is our daily existence. Think the kind of menu for a jeans-and-Ugg-boot night. With beloved friends – the kind of friends who won’t judge you for wearing Ugg boots. And a good bottle of wine.
Heave a sigh of relief: the bad part of your day ends here.
Growing up, I couldn’t bear chestnuts. One of those irrational dislikes that children have: I had never actually tasted one, of course. More of a dislike of chestnuts on principle; which, when you are eight years old, seems like an utterly reasonable position to take. Then one autumn, our school held a ‘Castagnata’ – a traditional Italian festival that, literally, celebrates the chestnut. Games. Songs. Autumnal decorations. Open fires for roasting. The whole chestnut shebang. Peer pressure got the better of me: I tried one. And then another. And then another still. Sweet. Yet not too sweet. Nutty in flavor but not in texture – at that stage, I had an embargo on nuts too. In texture, they are crumbly, waxy, rich – like biting into a slab of homemade fudge. The good old-fashioned kind, rather than the processed Cadburys kind. Game over. My prejudices vanished; never to be seen or heard from again.
With the wisdom of age on my side, chestnuts have become one of my all-time favorite ingredients. Their versatility means that they work equally well in savoury and sweet dishes, adding a little oomph and sophistication to even the most mundane of brussel sprouts, say. Chocolate and chestnut cake; Mont Blanc; chestnut and bacon stuffing; chestnut soup; marrons glacées; plain old chestnuts roasted in the oven. All sublime. All homely. All tasty. All deeply nostalgic of the days when school chestnut festivals were the highlight of my social calendar. And all very much in season now:
1. Winter wouldn’t be winter without a castagnaccio. I love this one with pine nuts and raisins.
2. Sausage, Sage and Chestnut Stuffing: need I say more?
3. This chocolate chestnut meringue pie is literally to die for.
4. It’s always useful to know how to roast the perfect chestnut.
6. When I saw this chocolate chestnut and amaretti cake I thought that I had died. And gone to Heaven.
7. I don’t like brussel sprouts, but cooked with chestnuts and Fontina cheese, I am happy to concede that they look irresistible.
8. If that’s a little decadent for your tastes, why not try a bean, tahini and chestnut salad? Not something that you’re ever going to regret.
9. Or a creamy chestnut dressing for your salad?
10. And let us all take a moment to acknowledge the marron glacée king of the chestnut world.
Broadly I try to start the day on a good foot and on a full stomach. I try. This translates to a healthy breakfast. Variations on the themes of oats, fresh fruit, chia pudding, perhaps even some spelt toast with avocado. Where I can, I resist the urge to eat chocolate cake. At least until elevenses.
This banana bread helps me abide by that life philosophy. Its rough chunks of ever-so-slightly melted chocolate, and the indulgent flavour of ripe banana, humour the relentless demands of my sweet tooth. While the knowledge that it’s made with a gluten free flour and contains not a jot of processed sugar allows me to go about my day, free from pangs of guilt. Win, win.
It takes no time at all to mix the ingredients together; before you can say ‘chocolate cake’, your home filled with the aroma of sweet banana. When done, the result is a dark and soft loaf peppered with decadent chunks of chocolate – please note chunks and not chips – and bright green pistachios, like tiny gems scattered in the rich earth of some far-flung exotic land.
I like to bake it on a Sunday morning – enjoy a few slices still piping hot from the oven; and then, slowly ration it out over the course of the week. Each morning, I slice off a hefty piece, toast it lightly, add a dollop of light crème fraiche or Greek yogurt, and a sprinkling of fresh pistachios.
My conscience is clean and my cravings are well taken care of. Makes for a great start to the day.
Dark Chocolate, Pistachio and Banana Bread
This recipe is adapted from Erin Mckenna‘s beautiful book ‘Babycakes’ which has a gluten-free and vegan recipe for every cake that you could possibly imagine. I added the pistachios and chunks of dark chocolate, as well as playing with the proportions a little. I used Bob’s Red Mill gluten free all-purpose flour which is now available in most supermarkets, but any brand of gluten free flour should work well. The first time I made this recipe, I was baffled by the xanthum gum: this is a raising agent that helps give the gluten free flour the same light texture as normal flour. A few years ago it was only available from specialist shops, but now you can find it in the heath food section of most major supermarkets.
Serves: 12-14 generous slices
Prep Time: 15-20 mins; Baking Time: 40-45 mins
- 300g gluten free flour
- 2 tsps baking powder
- 2 tsps bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tsp xanthum gum
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 75g coconut oil
- 220ml agave nectar
- 150ml rice milk
- 3 ripe bananas
- 50g pistachios
- 75g extra dark chocolate
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees and line a loaf tin. Put the coconut oil in a saucepan and warm gently on the hob so that it melts. In a bowl mix together the dry ingredients and slowly stir in the melted coconut oil and the rice milk until the batter is smooth. Mash the bananas with a fork and fold them in to the cake batter. Roughly chop the pistachios and the chocolate and add them too. Fold until the ingredients are all evenly distributed. Pour the cake batter into the loaf tin and put in the middle of the oven. After 20 minutes rotate the cake by 180 degrees so that it cooks evenly all over. To check if the banana bread is ready, press gently on the top: if it bounces back, the loaf is cooked.
When it comes to this pie, I am like the cat that got the cream. All my favourite ingredients; all in one very decadent pie. A deep, velvety chocolate biscuit base – made with crushed bourbons and an extra dash of dark chocolate, for good measure; a creamy sweet chestnut purée filling with a hint of brandy; and a light, fluffy meringue topping – just ever so slightly caramelised.
The pie is effectively a twist on a Mont Blanc, that classic French dessert made from whipped cream, chestnut purée and chocolate. But bigger. And I want to say better, but I let you be the judge of that.
The meringue is barely cooked so it stays wonderfully soft, with a mere hint at a chewy crust where it has been browned, like marshmallow that has been roasted over an open fire.
The chestnut cream is the perfect complement to this frivolous topping: as earthy and grainy as the meringue is sweet and smooth. The hint of brandy syrup and the caramel flavour of the muscovado sugar linger tantalisingly in your mouth. Just willing you to take one more bite. Just one more.
Chestnuts are in season right now, so there lies the perfect excuse to make this pie. Or so I told myself, anyway. The recipe doesn’t actually call for fresh chestnuts, but no matter. When a pie is this good, if one need clutch at straws to justify indulging, so be it. I am still able to sleep at night.
And the dreams of sweet chestnuts and dark chocolate biscuits? I am happy to write them off as an occupational hazard.
Chocolate Chestnut Meringue Pie
I have used Nigella Lawson’s recipe for a chocolate biscuit pie base from her grasshopper pie in ‘Kitchen’. I then added a creamy chestnut filling and a soft meringue topping. Sublime. I used a blowtorch to caramelise the topping, which proved a deeply satisfying experiment. Beware: as with fake tan, a little bit of blowtorch-ing goes a very long way. Stop before you think that you need to stop, or you will burn your pie to a cinder before you know it. If you don’t have a blowtorch – and don’t want to invest in one – you could easily put the pie under a very hot grill for five minutes or so, and achieve the same effect. It wouldn’t be half as fun, but I’m sure that it would taste just as good.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
- 75g dark chocolate
- 400g bourbon biscuits
- 75g soft butter
- 350g unsweetened chestnut puree
- 75g dark muscovado sugar
- 30ml double cream
- 1 tsp brandy
- 4 egg whites
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- 100g caster sugar
Chop the chocolate roughly and put it in the food processor with the bourbon biscuits. Blitz until they form a crumb mixture, the add the butter and blitz until the mix starts to clump together. Press evenly into a fluted pie dish with a removable bottom, and put in the fridge to harden. Then turn to your filling: spoon the chestnut puree into a mixing bowl, add the sugar and beat until the sugar has dissolved. Keep on beating and slowly pour in the cream and the brandy. Pause and taste. Yum. Pour the filling into the chilled biscuit case. And put the pie back in the fridge. Now for the meringue, place the egg whites in a clean, grease-free bowl and whip on a low speed (if you have an electric whisk) until they become frothy; add the cream of tartar and turn the speed up to medium-high. Beat until soft peaks begin to form, the gradually add the sugar and keep beating until firm peaks are formed. Dollop the meringue on to the pie, and spread it out so with the back of a spoon so that all of the pie filling is completely covered. Use the spoon to make small peaks in the meringue and caramelise lightly with a blowtorch, or put under a hot grill for five minutes until lightly browned. Chill until you are ready to serve.