"The minute details of cooking continue to fascinate me, the quality of the time we spend in the kitchen, the little kitchen tasks that bring us joy. To this day I am never happier than when making something for someone to eat. It is what I do and hope I continue to do, every day of my life." Nigel Slater
Every week I try to cook something new - alternating between a choice from my old gurus and from all the other cookbooks on my shelf. The guru choice is easier because I am working my way through their books in a reasonably logical manner. However, when it comes to just 'new' the choice is so much broader that it sometimes is near impossible. Sometimes it's made easier because I am cooking for others, not just David. Sometimes I'm in the mood for a particular style of cooking, a particular ingredient or a particular chef. Sometimes I have things that need to be used and so this is a good starting point too. This weekend I not only have my 'new' option to give a tick to, but next weekend is a grandson birthday party and so at the back of my mind I am beginning to think about that too. But other than that I had no idea where to go.
Then I thought of Nigel Slater and that I had not cooked anything from his books for a little while. Not a long time I know, but long enough to make me feel I had been ignoring him. Nigella and Jamie as well perhaps, but I will save them for another day. I also remembered an article in The Guardian newsletter which celebrated the 30 years he has been writing for them, by featuring 10 of his most popular recipes. The full list is worth looking at but here are my top choices from the list - the recipes are in the article: Roast pumpkin with couscous and date syrup - I may well choose this as my granddaughter's vegetarian dish and/or a vegetable side dish for the rest of us; or alternatively another pumpkin dish - Baked squash with sauerkraut and gruyère; Smoked mackerel pie - I have made this and it is wonderful - actually even more wonderful with smoked trout; Grilled chicken with miso and honey - a potential 'new' dish for David and I this weekend or indeed a potential dish for next weekend, particularly if it's a barbecue; the Mussels, coconut and noodles look divine but it won't happen in this house because of David's aversion to shellfish; and for something sweet Lemon buttermilk ice cream.
I do hope The Guardian doesn't mind me using so much of this particular article, but hopefully it will also encourage a few of you to subscribe to their newsletter too. It comes out weekly and is free. You can subscribe here. I really should acknowledge the role that The Guardian has played in the history of this website - it's always a fund of new and different recipes as well as new looks at old classics, controversies - well anything foodie - and often a source of inspiration. I really should donate to them more often than I do. Independent journalism at its best.
But back to Nigel - and before I return to my 'what to cook' search - he also had some words that spoke to my yesterday rumination on recipes, which wrote having flicked through his files of some 4,500 recipes he has given the world over the 30 years.:
"I am intrigued that the recipes were much shorter than they are now. ... Recipes do contain more ingredients than they did 30 years ago, partly because of their increased accessibility ... the rise in cooking as a hobby and not simply “something that has to be done” ... this is the second generation of people who are not necessarily taught to cook at school, leaving without the ability to make themselves something to eat. This is why published recipes need to be more detailed than ever."
Simpler and yet, paradoxically, more detailed seems to be the idea here. Which is true, although he forgot to mention the fact that these days we also often get more of an introduction to the recipe, be it a somewhat bloodless summary of why it is good, a personal memoir, a riff on the ingredients, or the source - and so on. And Nigel Slater, is perhaps the best at this in the present day. After all he does call himself 'a writer who cooks' rather than the other way round. Maybe his friend Nigella Lawson can compete on the writing side, but I'm not sure about any others. I shall reflect on that.
But back to choosing something' new' for the weekend and something for next weekend's birthday party. I actually only have four of Nigel's books - his first Real Fast Food - a must give present to your teenagers leaving home, or anyone who thinks they can't cook; Real Food; Kitchen Diaries III -a Year of Good Eating and his most recent and most wonderful A Cook's Book. So good you could present it as a book group book, if it wasn't so expensive. I don't get to op shops very often but when I do I am always on the lookout for those that I have missed.
I have strayed again.
So first option - for the 'new' category Lamb chops and apricots on focaccia. Alas the recipe does not seem to be online. This is a frontrunner I think for two reasons - no maybe three - David loves lamb, I have some dried apricots that need using, and yesterday I made focaccia - half of which remains ready to be used or just eaten. It's too much of a serendipitous coincidence to ignore I think. It also involves juniper, one of my favourite and only occasionally used spices. I don't have any lamb chops, and they are expensive - but who cares about that? - and aren't I lucky to be able to say that?
The second option for either meal is the chicken with miso and honey mentioned above. I am gradually getting to know miso and am using it more. So far with complete pleasure.
Then we get to Pasta with spicy sausage, basil and mustard - a recipe that Food and Wine, in 2018 named one their 40 best recipes of the year and describes as: "a synchronized medley of tastes and textures that you'll be craving again and again." One of their contributors who has made it over and over, is even more effusive:
"When I say this pasta was completely, ridiculously irresistible, I'm not exaggerating. We took one bite, and the love was instantaneous — wide eyes, enthusiastic nods, near silence as we grabbed another bite, and another. There was something so unique about the flavor, a mix of savory from the sausage, sharpness (and texture!) from the mustard, slight sweetness and acidity from the wine, heat from the crushed pepper, and freshness from the basil." Bridget Hallinan
All of which is very tempting. Now would this be an appropriate birthday dish? Possibly not quite classy enough - maybe for just a get-together, but I shall bear it in mind. Not for this weekend either, but I am certainly going to give it a go sometime soon.
Last but certainly not least is that least attractive book - no pictures - Real Fast Food but which provides me with three options. Which just goes to show that you shouldn't be sucked in by glossy presentation.
First is Chicken with orange and black olives. The recipe link is genuine - the picture is not because Nigel doesn't provide a picture. As I said, this is from his first book, an unillustrated one, and not enough people have tried this recipe to provide me with a picture. This is the closest I could find. The recipe for this is not quite the same, but similar. I'm tempted by this one because it reminds me of an old Cordon Bleu recipe that I used to make fairly regularly way back and which we all loved - our friends and David and I. I vaguely remember that they said it was a dish from Majorca.
Next is Spiced chicken with brown butter, the recipe for which can be found on The Big Oven website but again, no picture. It's a very simple grilled chicken with brown butter spooned over. Paprika, chilli, cumin, coriander and garlic - what's not to love? A weekend possibility I suppose.
And finally - chicken again - Devilled chicken. And again no picture. This is another version of grilled chicken but this time with a sauce/coating derived from chutney, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and garlic. A barbecue possibility perhaps because those flavours should be strong enough to survive a barbecue.
So what to do? Well I think the birthday options require a bit more investigation, although that pumpkin is definitely a possibility - but not for the main component of the feast. I think for now I shall ignore the chicken options. We are having Jill Dupleix's Chicken caesar salad to celebrate the very warm weather today, although I see the beautiful blue sky is disappearing as I write. It's a family favourite for the summer and will perfectly match the Kings of Kangaroo Ground Rosé that we purchased last weekend. The Rosé might also be good with those lamb chops. Because, yes I think that's what I am going to cook tomorrow. The ingredient list seems to so perfectly match what I want to get rid of from my pantry and my fridge. I have also taken to not worrying so much about the cost of things like lamb. There are only two of us after all.
So thank you Nigel, (and The Guardian) for reminding me how wonderful an inspiration you are, and how great your food is. I cannot think of a single failure so far - oh yes - some cookies. But then I'm not very good with cookies.
It's not just the food though. He also has so many words of wisdom and reassurance. Perhaps it's because he is more or less of the same generation as I - well a decade or so behind. Which means that he has lived through the same kind of foodie evolution as I:
"My filing system (full disclosure, there is none) would probably follow the slow path of change in the nation’s eating. Despite what happens in restaurants and colour supplements, books and television cookery shows, the actual change in home eating has moved slower than black treacle. The constant hunt for a better way to do something; the embrace of fresh ideas; the inspiration of travel and also the acceptance of the new all take a while to filter through to the home kitchen, yet there is a marked difference in what many of us are eating compared to 30 years ago." Nigel Slater
So true - and you only need to read his memoir Toast to be reminded of what we were eating back then. As he also says - no mention of miso or gochujang, tahini or za'atar in those early recipes not even yoghurt. These days they are staples in the pantries and fridges of anyone with even a minor interest in cooking.
I'll try and remember to photograph the lamb.