Lemon and Asparagus Risotto

If you like asparagus, this is the recipe for you – it involves lots of the green stuff. This recipe is quite seasonal, coming from the May chapter of Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries. I was a bit wary – lemon and asparagus isn’t a combination I’ve ever tried before – but Nigel Slater has a proven track record in our house for choosing flavour combinations which work well together.

It’s pretty standard risotto making here – fry the onion in butter, add the rice followed by a glass of white wine or dry vermouth (we used the latter). Then slowly add the chicken stock a ladle at a time, adding the asparagus part way through. Now, I was lazy here and just poured it all in – didn’t seem to affect things negatively! You also need the zest and juice of two lemons at this stage.

Before serving, stir through some freshly ground black pepper and some parmesan and you’re done. The asparagus and lemon work really well together, producing a light and bright meal which is also comforting and satisfying. Thumbs up for Mr Slater!

Sausage with Apples and Sauerkraut

I was late home from work, so whilst this recipe took 40 minutes in the oven it was still very welcome because of the virtually effortless preparation. You can find the recipe for this in John Whaite’s Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients.

Preparation is so simple it’s almost unbelievable. Put the sausages in a casserole dish with a little olive oil. Throw in some quartered apples (not peeled or cored) and onion, then bung a few sprigs of thyme on top. The whole thing then goes in the oven for about 30 – 40 minutes.

Once it’s done, top with a bit of sauerkraut and that’s it.

The taste combination is really great – apple and sausage always works well in my book. The sauerkraut gives a really nice contrast to the sweetness of the apple and onion too. Thumbs up from this hungry boy!

Chicken Forestiere

Back to Diana Henry’s A Bird in the Hand tonight, but it was a meal which nearly didn’t happen. This recipe calls for chicken thighs, skin on and bone in. I had a pack in the fridge and they were well within their use-by-date… but I had noticed that the fridge had an odd aroma to it. When I came to pull the chicken out, I noticed it looked a slightly odd, slightly yellowish colour and that was when I realised… the pack wasn’t airtight. With the seal broken, the chicken had spoiled.

So I flung on a pair of shoes and dashed to corner shop – no chicken thighs for sale, so I grabbed a couple of chicken breasts instead. And a bottle of wine. And some iced buns. Damn you, lack of self control!

The recipe takes a little while to put together, but it’s certainly not hard. Start by soaking some dried mushrooms in boiled water. The chicken is browned first and then set to one side. You then deglaze the pan with sherry, fry the chopped onions and add the onions and their liquid, some chicken stock and some chopped carrots. Let the whole thing simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

Now add the chicken back to the pot and simmer for another 20 minutes. As it gets close to the end, fry up some button mushrooms and then add them to the pot along with some double cream and leave to simmer for another 10 minutes but this time with the cover off.

The end result is really, really unctuous and tasty. Plus it’s full of vegetables so you can claim it’s healthy!

Indian Spiced Cod

It’s been a while since we cooked anything from Simply Nigella, so we dusted the book off the shelf and decided to give this recipe a go. It’s a pretty quick and easy to put together – just right for a warm evening after work.

The recipe is very easy. The spices all get mixed together with some yohurt, lime juice and lime zest. Nigella uses coconut yoghurt (that’s the dairy substitute, not coconut flavoured regular yoghurt!) but says you can use Greek instead. I used Greek because we had some in the fridge. Nigella also suggests cutting back on the lime if you use Greek yoghurt… I missed that particular instruction and used the full amount, and it ended up with a very strong lime flavour which was a bit much for me but marked loved it.

You then thickly coat your cod with the sauce and bake in the oven at 200 Celsius for 15 minutes… and that’s it! Done! I did a side of mashed potato and peas to go with this. Maybe not in keeping with the Indian flavours, but it went well enough for my liking.

Smoked Haddock with Braised Chorizo and Leeks

Tonight we’re trying another one of John Whaite’s Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients. Those five ingredients for tonight’s dinner are chorizo, leek, chicken stock, smoked haddock and capers.

It’s a one pot meal and is very easy to make. Fry the chorizo for a few minutes, then add the chopped leeks and fry a little bit more. Pour in the stock, then put the whole thing in the oven (covered with a lid) for about 40 minutes. Remove the lid, sit the cod on top and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes. Once it’s done, flake the fish into the pan and serve up with a few capers scattered over.

We added some of Mark’s homemade sourdough on the side (for “mopping up” duty) and also finished off some of the bulgur wheat salad he’d made for yesterday’s dinner. This meal of Mr Whaite’s didn’t need any accompaniment though – it was incredibly tasty and the taste far surpassed the amount of effort which went into making it. Good call, Mr Whaite.

Chicken with Marsala, Olives and Oranges

Another recipe from Diana Henry’s great book A Bird in the Hand. It’s another one pot style dish which we cooked in our big and shallow cast iron casserole dish.

Delightfully, it’s another easy one too. Brown the chicken in the pan then set to one side. Fry the chopped onion and garlic, then add the marsala to de-glaze the pan. Add the juice of an orange and return the chicken to the pan. Bring it to the boil and then put into a hot oven. After 20 minutes bring it out, sprinkle with green olives and top with slices of orange (skin and pith removed), sprinkle the orange with a little caster sugar and then return to the oven for another 20 minutes.

The end result looks and tastes amazing. The contrast between the olives and the sauce is great – Diana recommends using blood oranges but we just used the regular variety because it was all we had access to. The tops of the orange slices start to caramelise too and look amazing. We served it up with a little plain couscous which may seem boring but worked really well because there was nothing to detract from the flavours in the main dish.

Four Hour Pasta Sauce

A recipe for tomato sauce doesn’t sound too exciting, but this one comes from John Whaite’s Perfect Plates in Five Ingredients. Because the pasta is one of those five ingredients, this seems like an incredibly simple recipe! The only caveat is that it takes a long time – four hours!

Skin the plum tomatoes, roughly chop them and sprinkle with a little salt. Fry some chopped red onion and garlic. Add the peeled tomatoes which have been roughly chopped, along with some seasoning, a healthy glug of red wine (John suggests Malbec and we didn’t see any reason to disagree!). Stick the whole thing in the oven with a lid on it and leave to cook for 4 hours.

When it comes out, it doesn’t look too much like pasta sauce but stirring it quickly changes things – the tomatoes fall apart and you suddenly have a rich pasta sauce. We served it with tagliatelle and a little pan friend pancetta, and there was enough sauce to freeze half for a future date. We also found a slug of balsamic vinegar pepped things up.

Chicken with Prunes and a Herb Crust

This is our first recipe from the latest addition to our bookshelf, A Bird in the Hand by Diana Henry. As the name hints, it’s a book all about recipes involving chicken.

This first recipe is a pretty easy one to put together, and is a bit unusual because of the sweetness which comes from the prunes. The herb crust is a nice touch – there’s not a huge amount of it but it gives a contrasting flavour and texture to the rest of the dish.

I loved his meal – it was right up my street, but Mark wasn’t sure. The sweetness of the dish, combined with the amount of sauce/juices didn’t seem right to him but I loved it!

Eastern Spiced Meatballs with Fiery Tomato Soupy Sauce

Quite a long title for this recipe! This is the first recipe we’re trying from John Whaite’s new book, Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients. The premise is simple – every recipe has just five ingredients. The only extras on top of that are salt, pepper, oil and butter.

I must confess, I wasn’t sure how this would work out. Five ingredients doesn’t seem like much, but then again we know Nigel Slater can produce amazing flavours from very little. So this recipe was our first test and I must say it was very well received. The other real joy about this recipe is just how easy it was.

To begin, vine tomatoes are quartered and sprinkled with a little salt. They are then roasted in a hot oven for about 15 minutes with a few red chillies. Meanwhile you make the meatballs from minced beef (which must have a reasonably high fat content), olive oil, cinnamon and allspice. These then roast in the oven as well for another 10 – 15 minutes.

Once that’s all cooked, you remove the stalks from the chillies and blitz them with the tomatoes and a little butter. Sauce done. That’s really all there is to it, and believe me this sauce is HOT! You don’t get a huge amount of sauce, but it really packs a punch and is very tasty.

Serve up the sauce with the meatballs – and we added a bit of pasta just for some extra carbohydrates. Our picture of the meal doesn’t really do it justice – it may not look pretty, but this is a super tasty meal and it looks like things bode well for this book…

Lemon Meringue Pie

This recipe is a coming together of many different things. There’s the recipe for sweet shortcrust pastry which I picked up from John Whaite’s Kitchen. There was the tupperware box of egg whites in the freezer. And there was Mark’s desire for lemon meringue pie.

The only thing missing was a recipe for the filling and the meringue itself, and The Guardian has one of their wonderful “How to Make the Perfect…” articles for this.

As a whole the recipe is fairly simple and light on cooking, but there are three very distinct phases. First up, you have to make your pastry. John Whaite taught me a technique which involves creaming the butter and sugar together first which works really well. The pastry gets blind baked with some baking beads for about 20 minutes, and then a further 10 uncovered.

The lemon curd filling is made to the instructions on the Guardian website. Very quick, very easy and very lemony! Once done, pour it into your pastry case which should be out of the oven by this point and leave it to cool. Once it’s set, it’s really quite firm.

Finally, make the meringue topping – again, we followed the Guardian instructions for this. Apart from the physical effort of whisking, this bit is really simple too. Then it’s into the oven for about 15 minutes and you’re done.

The end result was, if I do say so myself, brilliant. Crisp pastry, super lemony filling and a fluffy topping… delicious. There was one mistake I made though which was to not let the lemon curd cool completely before adding the meringue topping. As a result, moisture formed between the two layers and the finished tart “wept” a little bit, but not enough to spoil it.