It’s easy to get into a bit of a rut with breakfast, and some people need encouragement to eat this first meal of the day at all. If you find yourself in that situation, some tempting yet wholesome breakfast muffins might help. These muffins are really delicious, moist, and full of good things that can get you through the morning: carrot, apple, raisins, nuts, and seeds. They are sweet enough to make them a treat, but not cake-y sweet, and they can be made without egg if you want a vegan version. [Read More…]
As everyone keeps saying, Christmas will be different this year. For me, it will be cooking transportable, reheatable meals for delivery to people who aren’t cooking for themselves; baking some goodies as thank you gifts for those kind and competent souls who have made this time bearable and even lovely at times; and – something I haven’t done for many years on the day itself – cooking just for two, to please ourselves. I love so many traditions of the Christmas table, but I’m going to view the limitations of this year as welcome permission to break with tradition and take things easier.
I do want to do something special for the day, but it’s not going to be turkey, or rib roast, or anything that requires steaming vegetables and making gravy. I’m going to scale down on prep, cost, and quantity, and do something lighter that’s still festive and indulgent: something we really love eating and would only do for an occasion. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in saying I’d like Christmas this year to be a bit of a rest, as well as a celebration.
I devised this chicken in puff pastry construction a decade ago for a special birthday (the kind that ends in zero and leaves you wondering where time goes). It was the knock-out of the party buffet-table, as good at room temperature as it is hot out of the oven. People loved the salty, sweet, smoky combination of black olive tapenade, roasted red peppers, and sweet prunes with juicy chicken breast. The combination owes its inspiration in part to the green olive and prune dish sometimes called chicken Marbella, but the red pepper and prune combination owes more to Mexican pot dishes. Putting these ingredients together in puff pastry, Wellington-style, came to me as a way to translate these striking flavours to something with real showstopper appeal.
There is a lot of advice out there for ways to distract ourselves during this second British national lockdown, and while the results of the US election unfolds, if like me you’re seriously distracted by that. Baking a cake isn’t a bad choice (or if it is, lots of us are doing it anyway). When I woke up this morning, I knew it had to be this cake, because it’s very distracting: the sort of cake you crave when you feel the need to be shamelessly self-soothing and stick your fork into something sweet when no one’s looking.
This is my very simplified sheet-cake version of a caramel cake from the American South, which if you’re lucky enough to have tasted the three-layer original of Southern hospitality legend, you’ll know it has one of the most luscious flavour and texture combinations there is in the firmament of cakes: light-as-a-cloud vanilla cake, with a luscious caramel icing. [Read More…]
This Tex-Mex recipe is one I’ve cooked regularly for over thirty years because it’s so good — one of those dishes people ask me to make, and want the recipe for, so I guess it qualifies as something of a retro classic that’s stood the test of time. It’s essentially an unconventional variation of chili con carne that’s topped with a cornbread mixture and baked in the oven. It satisfies cravings for something spicy, meaty, a little bit sweet, and hearty with carbohydrate, all at the same time. It’s inexpensive — it takes just 450g (1 pound) of ground meat to serve six — and it’s easy to make, and very reliable. It’s easy to eat, too, being juicy and moist, and kids love it as well as grown-ups. The only reason I haven’t posted this family favourite earlier is that we always eat it before I can photograph it.
This is my favourite version of this southwestern American classic, which takes its name from the Mexican tamale, a street food with an ancient history, very popular on both sides of the border. A true tamale is labour-intensive, made by filling dried cornhusks with a masa or cornmeal mixture that encases a rich filling of spicy meat. Each cornhusk parcel is folded and tied before being steamed or cooked in broth. The hot bundles are then unwrapped to reveal a soft corn exterior hiding a delicious filling.
Tamale pie owes its inspiration to the popularity of the authentic Mexican delicacy, but it’s a Tex-Med reinvention that has its own cultural history going back decades, and certainly inspires nostalgia and a lot of variations around and beyond the Southwest.
I wish I could claim credit for this particular recipe, but my hand-written copy of it cites the January 1984 edition of Gourmet magazine (I’ve since lost the magazine itself, alas, on one of my moves). It’s one of the few recipes I’ve never been tempted to tinker with as I’ve always found the seasonings to be spot-on. It is richly spiced and has a little tingle, but (like my preferred chili con carne recipe) the heat is subtle and doesn’t blunt the other flavours, which are nicely complex. I love the undertones of cocoa, the sweetness of corn kernels, and the saltiness of pimento-stuffed green olives. The cornbread topping is tender in the middle, crunchy on top, and a little bit sweet to harmonise with the filling, so together, the two layers make a very satisfying mix of tastes and textures. [Read More…]
These months of lockdown and Covid restrictions have brought home just how much food can transport us to places we miss when we can’t actually be there. Right now, as England turns gloomy and cold with damp, I’m longing for old haunts in Sicily. The sun is still beating there with fruitful intensity onto groves of almond, citrus and olive. It’s baking the rocks and herbs of the wild scrubby landscape and the quiet beaches where we’ve swum into October. It’s turning the beautiful baroque towns golden with every sunset.
Cooking this favourite Sicilian dish brings it closer, right onto our table, right into now, so we feel again its sun and all the flavours and fragrances its intensity bestows. This hearty, comforting dish also reconciles me to appreciating home in these cooler months — even gives me a reason to welcome them — as this hearty ‘pasta bake’ is best eaten when you want to remember the feel of the sun, but aren’t melting under it.
Pasta ‘ncasciata (pronounced “in-kah-cháh-tah”) is a treasured classic of Sicilian cuisine, one of its most popular baked-pasta dishes. When this dish is on the menu, you know someone has taken time to make something special.
It’s made with annelli pasta, or ‘little rings’, dressed in a meaty tomato ragu made with sausage, pork or beef (or sometimes a mix). To this is added a generous quantity of sautéed aubergine and cubed cheese (in Sicily it’s caciocavallo, a cow or sheep milk cheese which stretches on cooking.) This assemblage of parts is put into a baking dish and blanketed with a silky béchamel and sprinkling of melting-cheese, to give the finished masterpiece an irresistible golden finish. [Read More…]