Mushroom, pesto and cream lasagne

This great big plate of vegetarian delight comes from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries.

It’s something of a cooking marathon his – I think that beginning to end took about 2 hours. That’s because you have to cook the mushrooms and onions, plus you have to make the pesto, and in our case we also had to make béchamel sauce. None of these tasks are particularly strenuous, but together they add to the time and coordination required.

Once you’ve got everything ready, alternating layers of pasta and mushroom filling are put into a dish, and then topped out with the pesto and finally the béchamel. It takes about 40 minutes in oven at the end, so this clearly isn’t a quick thing to throw together but the end result is a really nice take on lasagne and despite being vegetarian it completely satisfied us two omnivores.

A friend of ours managed to cut down the prep time by using ready made pesto and béchamel sauce which still produced something tasty – you can check out the evidence on his Instagram here.

Blakean Fish Pie

Tucked away in the Dinner chapter of Nigella’s How to Eat you’ll find this recipe.

Most of the recipes in this part of the book are for large groups of people and consist of suggestions for several courses, but right at the end of the chapter there are some ideas for quick suppers, of which this is one. Apparently the term “Blakean” is referring to the colour of the dish which is rather yellow. Nigella gets this using powdered saffron but we just used some saffron from the cupboard and mixed it in – we got a yellow colour but perhaps not as vibrant as the powdered version would have offered.

This isn’t a complicated recipe – it’s a pretty standard fish pie with the added excitement of the colouring. Ours could have done with a little longer in the oven (the potato topping could have been crispier), and I had a bit of trouble with quantities which made the whole thing a bit more liquid than desirable, but it was a tasty and comforting dinner which really hit the spot.

Bangers with Mustard Mash

Some comfort food here from Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries.

It’s going a bit far to call this a recipe really – you basically just cook the sausages as expected and make some mashed potato. The trick is adding the cream and mustard to the mash which gives it a richer and more interesting flavour – plus the wholegrain mustard adds a little bit of extra texture as well.

There’s not much can go wrong here. We served it up with some peas for a hearty and warming supper.

Pasta with chicken, pancetta and peas

We had roast chicken recently (no photos, sorry!) which once again left us with some cooked chicken leftovers. As ever, we turned to the fabulous book A Bird in the Hand by Diana Henry. We’ve cooked quite a few of her leftover recipes and they’ve always served us well (I’ll never forget that bird pie – awesome!).

This recipe really couldn’t be much easier. We’re cooking pancetta, onion and peas, then adding some chicken, lemon zest and double cream. Some chopped mint goes in near the end to flavour the cream, and then it gets served up with some pasta (we used fusilli – nothing fancy).

You can’t really go wrong here. It’s a winning mix of ingredients, and cooked chicken always tastes better the next day. We scoffed the lot and sat feeling very contented with ourselves afterwards.

Salmon in a Creamy Herb Sauce with Spinach

I think I overstretched myself with this one – an attempt to mix up two recipes. The main is salmon in a cream and herb sauce from Nigel Slater’s The 30-Minute Cook. To accompany it, I thought that a spinach dish from Nigella;a Feast would fit the bill. We don’t actually have a copy of Feast, but this recipe is available on her website.

It didn’t go to plan though. In short, my salmon was thick and took longer to cook than expected which meant I had some rapidly cooling potatoes and spinach whilst my salmon was getting more and more burnt on the outside. As a result, the creamy sauce ended up being a bit of a non-starter.

That said, despite the disappointment we both managed to polish off what was on our plates, so it can’t have been too bad. I think that in hindsight I was asking for trouble, taking two recipes which are quite quick to prepare individually, but which in combination meant there was little margin of error.

Trillionaire Shortbread

So we’d watched Jim Chapman making millionaire shortbread on YouTube. We were inspired to make some and went rummaging through our cookery books to find a recipe… we didn’t just find a millionaire though, we found John Whaite’s recipe for trillionaire shortbread in his first book John Whaite Bakes.

Ingredients-wise it’s pretty simple, and the method is too. The tricky part is the timing: make the shortbread, let it cool; make the caramel and pour it over the shortbread, let it cool and set; then finally make the chocolate ganache and pour it over. The caramel took an age to firm up, so most of today was spent hanging around the house and occasionally giving it a prod.

I also made a major blunder… I used golden caster sugar instead of regular, which meant that the key step in making caramel (“wait until it turns amber”) was lost on me because it started out that colour! But it all worked out in the end.

End result? Utterly, utterly decadent and delicious. I was feeling really guilty after eating a slice until I discovered Daniel Frazer has an even more calorific version.

Smoked Mackerel and Potatoes

It’s been quiet on the blog for the last few days because Sparky and I have been on holiday, spending a few days in Vienna and then a few more in Berlin. Lovely as it was, it’s nice to be back home and this is the first thing I’ve cooked since our return.

Inspiration for this meal comes from Nigel Slater’s Appetite. It’s a recipe for a potato dish to serve as a side for six people; we scaled it down slightly and added smoked mackerel (as Nigel suggests) but left in the garlic and potato skins (which he doesn’t).

The end result was not healthy. Highly calorific but utterly delicious – it’s hard to believe that so much flavour comes from so few ingredients. Hugely satisfying… but as the next post on this blog will show, it didn’t stop us from having some dessert.

Smoked Salmon Carbonara

Yet another one from BBC Good Food, we just wanted something that was quick to cook with little fuss.

What we ended up with was a very rich meal of double cream, pungent with garlic and smoked salmon. While good as a speedy weeknight meal, we felt that this could have tasted fresher: a return to this meal might see us substitute the smoked salmon with fresh, and maybe add lemon juice and zest. The chives were somewhat lost in all the fishy, garlicky taste, but parsley may work.

In the comments section of the website some user have mentioned adding broccoli or frozen peas to the boiling pasta. While we used wholemeal pasta, we couldn’t completely erase the guilt of this vegetable-less meal, and green leaf salad could be a good addition.

Asparagus Cream Pasta

Everything’s better with bacon.

Well, pancetta in this case. The base recipe come from the ever reliable BBC Good Food, and provided a method for creating a sauce that seems endlessly adaptable.

Cream is brought to the boil with a garlic clove, which is then taken off the heat and the clove removed. The cream is then flavoured – in this case by adding parmesan and boiled asparagus stalks before using a stick blender to create a thick sauce, but surely the method could be applied to tomatoes, peas, beans, spinach, herbs, …

The recipe asked for the asparagus tips to be boiled with pasta, but a browse through the comments sections showed the addition of pancetta to be commonly recommended. We fried the asparagus tips in pancetta fat, then combined the cooked tagliatelle and asparagus sauce in the frying pan.

The dish was quick, easy, delicious and adaptable – well done BBC Good Food!

Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes

The whole of the UK may have spent today gripped with General Election fever, but I’ve had to take a day off work to wait for British Gas to come and service my boiler. Exciting stuff. So as I watched the rain pour down, what could I do to pass the time? Bake of course!

A quick search through Nigella’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess and I decided to go with her recipe for chocolate cherry cupcakes because it looked easy and she said it was easy. Plus, chocolate and cherries – what’s not to like?

And easy it really is – melt the butter and chocolate together, then mix with the jam, egg and sugar before finally adding the flour. Once they’re baked, mix some chocolate and cream to make a topping and dot a glacé cherry on top of each one. Of all the things I’ve cooked, I think this is the closest I’ve ever come to the picture in the recipe book!