Friday, 29 October 2010

Pizza Part II

Although the Cheat's Pizza I wrote about a few weeks ago was a revelation, I kind of wondered what part it could play in my life. What problem does it solve? Great for one or two people, but impossible in larger quantities - and isn't the whole point of making a pizza, at home, from scratch, to give other people a home-made pizza experience?

And I was also curious about Jamie Oliver's pizza dough, which a lot of people say is nice, but I wanted to see it for myself. And it is fantastic - obviously. You sacrifice nothing: not taste, nor texture.

So I made up a quantity of this dough and rather than dithering about frying it in a pan and then putting it under a grill, I found a flat baking sheet that could fit both in my oven and under the grill and decided to go with that. The trick is to briefly bake the pizza base in the oven before you put the ingredients on top and then finish it off under the grill - it stops the whole thing going soggy.

I used a 12in x 17in baking tray, which gives enough pizza easily for 4 people, or enough for about 6 hungry children. Wow that makes me sound like a really nice person, like I might be making this for a bunch of 7 year-olds. Fat chance.

This recipe makes enough dough for TWO 12in x 17in pizzas. I recommend freezing the extra for another pizza moment as making the dough is the only faffy bit.

500g very type 00 italian flour
400g very strong plain bread flour + 100g semolina
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon sugar
7g dried yeast
325ml warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil

1 Sift together the flour and salt and make a well in the middle.

2 Mix together the water, oil, sugar and yeast. Stir and leave for 3 minutes. Then pour into the flour and mix round with a fork. When it comes together, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for 4-5 minutes until it's springy and cohesive

3 Put it on some kind of floured surface, your choice what - dust with more flour, cover with a tea towel and leave somewhere warm for an hour.

4 After that time, pummel the dough out a bit on a well-floured surface and knead it round for 4-ish minutes. Then divide this ball into half and roll it out very, very thin to about the shape of your baking sheet - it doesn't have to be a precise rectangle. Make sure the pizza base is well-dusted top and bottom with flour so it doesn't stick to anything.

5 Put this to one side for 20 minutes. Now turn your oven and your grill on to the highest they will go and make some tomato sauce (1/2 can chopped tomatoes, 1 clove garlic, 1 spring basil, 1 glug olive oil, large pinch salt and whizzzzzz in a whizzy machine) and chop up all your toppings now because you'll want to scatter them quick quick over your pre-baked pizza base.

6 Your kitchen by now ought to be worryingly hot from the heat blasting out of your grill and oven. Slide your baking sheet into the oven, as close to the top of the oven as you can get it, for about 3 minutes.

7 Remove from the oven and scatter ideally with semolina or you can use flour. Now carefully lay your well-floured pizza base into the now-boiling-hot baking sheet. This isn't that easy. I recommend picking the dough up with a rolling pin and then laying it down on the sheet and sort of rolling it on - if that makes any sense. Anyway, just do it the best way you can see how and if you find a foolproof way, do share.

8 Stick this back in the oven for about 3-4 minutes, just until the edges of the dough are begining to very lightly colour and the dough feels light and not sticky to the touch.

9 Remove and pour over the tomato sauce, spread it around and add the mozzarella and whatever else you want to it. Then shove back in the oven for about 6-8 minutes until the dough is crisping up and going dark brown around the edges. Finish off under the grill. Produce for lunch to screams of awe.

I can't quite believe that I've got this far without launching into a huge insane rant about what a terrible mood I'm in. Like I'm angry like I used to get at my old job. I just filed a piece and got an email back along the lines of "Thanks. Could we make a few changes..." and there followed, I promise you, about 18 things they wanted to change. And they're shite changes. But BIG changes. And I've written it now and going back over it seems like being made to eat the dinner you didn't want last night for breakfast. And I want to tell them to go and fuck themselves, right in the bum, but I can't, because it's that kind of shitty attitude that got me into this mess in the first place.

But, you know, it's only pride. And they probably know what's best for them. And at least they asked rather than just changing everything themselves to make me sound like someone else was using the family braincell when I wrote it.

I would say that being able to write whatever I want here and not being asked to change things has spoiled me - but being asked to change things has always pissed me off no end. Unless it's the Mail, of course, in which case you just smile and think of the money.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Sausage casserole

One of the more exciting things about being pregnant - (aside from the stress incontinence, which adds a not unthrilling frisson to sneezing) - is the idea that the child might inherit some useful qualities from its father's family.

For example, my husband and his sister are both amazing mathematicians. And by that I mean they've got great mental arithmetic, which is really the only cool thing to be able to do with maths.

My sister-in-law has applied her maths wizardry to playing cards, with great effect. I hear that beyond a certain element of cunning and luck, being good and consistently taking money off other people at such card games as this "poker" I hear so much about, requires a facility with maths. I don't know why, and I know it's nothing to do with 'counting cards', which I'm pretty sure isn't allowed, but I know it's the case that maths is the thing.

And she's good at spelling, too. So in all, there's very little that I can do that my sister-in-law can't.

My one tangible, definable skill is my outstanding timekeeping. I am never late for anything, ever. And I know how long five minutes is, almost to the second, without using a watch. And pretty much any time of the day, you can ask me what the time is and I'll know. But what fucking use is that? I don't want to work in a train station. And my sister-in-law has her very own watch. It is pink.

But occasionally she will ring the house looking for her brother, who will be out strangling dogs somewhere, and get me. And she'll occasionally humour me with a question about cooking.

Like the other day.

"I know what I could ask you. Do you think," she said, "if a recipe says cook a casserole on the hob for 50 minutes and you would actually rather do it in the oven, you can?"

"Yes," I replied, sounding grand and patronising. "Yes that's fine. Stick it in at 180 for 50 mins. Would this perchance be a Nigel Slater recipe from this weekend? The sausage casserole one where he - snort - FORGETS to instruct you to put the sausages back in the pan [shaking head] - I don't know..."

And she said "Oh I'm not sure. It's Nigel Slater but it might not be that one."

And I said "Well, let me know how it goes anyway."

And this is how is went:

Victoria's sausage casserole

"This one's still pretty simple. Basically, you colour up some onions in (well, this is how I did it because of not having a big enough casserole dish that cooked on the stove) - I coloured up some onions in a frying pan, chopped up some Cumberland sausages and browned them, all of that in a pan with fennel seeds, chopped garlic and a couple of bay leaves.

Then I put it all in an oven casserole dish with some chopped up apples and a spoonful of mustard, a litre of stock and some Madeira, and a tablespoon of flour stirred in. And salt and pepper of course, good old salt and pepper. Cooked that (braised? baked?) in the oven for half an hour, then added a tin of haricot beans (obviously you're meant to have dried haricot beans that you've soaked in water overnight but, I mean, LIFE'S TOO SHORT), then cooked it for another half an hour, then stirred in another spoon of grainy mustard - done. Nigel Slater might have had some other stuff in his recipe, I can't remember now, but that's what I had mine.

In the Nigel Slater version, all done on the stove, after 50 minutes the liquid should be "mostly dissipated" or "mostly disappeared" or something, so I imagined a thick stew for plates and forks.

It didn't come out like that, either because I fiddled with the measurements cos I was cooking for more people, or because he hadn't tested it properly - or just because I cooked it in the oven with the lid on, so obviously the liquid can't disappear off into the air quite so easily.

Anyway, it was very liquidy (though a nice thick liquid because of the flour) so I served it in bowls with a spoon, and granary bread to dip in - the bread dipped in the liquid was delicious, mmm."
I didn't ask her to send a photo too, because she doesn't even know I'm posting the contents of her email here, so I thought a photo as well might have been a bridge too far.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Chicken curry

So I made this curry last night, but decided I wasn't that crazy about it, so didn't take a photo. But then I had a bit more and thought "Actually this is great" and my husband said "Yeah it's really great."

And so I resolved to take a photo this morning. But then I forgot and turned the leftovers into a salad, so now I've got nothing to take a photo of. So here's another photo of me on holiday:

Yes I don't look too fat here until you have a look at where my back ends (bottom right)

Anyway, it was an approximation of a thing I got off River Cottage Bites and it's a nice curry although it'll make your house stink like the local Taj Star.

The really interesting thing about it is that I implemented some advice given to me, indirectly, by the film director Gurinda Chadha, who said on some cooking programme that her family always cooked chicken with the skin off. She said "I don't know why," but I do.

It's because chicken skin is unbelievably greasy and curry doesn't need to be any more greasy than it already is. So last night I skinned the chicken drumsticks before browning them as normal and the result was superb.

So here we go, the River Cottage Bites chicken curry, for about 4 people

8 chicken drumsticks (or thighs)
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 can coconut milk (I use those small turqouise ones from Waitrose)
1tsp coriander seeds
1tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp ground cumin
1 fresh chilli, seeds in or there's no point
1 2cm square of fresh ginger
1 small onion

1 Grind together the seeds, the turmeric and the cumin and toast gently in a dry pan until the kitchen smells like the set of Slumdog Millionaire. It seems like a shiteload, but just tip it all in.

2 In a food processor, whizz up the ginger, onion and chilli to make a paste. Add some oil to the pan that the spices are cooking in and then tip in this paste. While that's cooking gently for about 10 mins, bloop into the processor the chopped tomatoes and coconut milk and whizz. Leave it there for a bit.

3 Skin the chicken and brown in a pan for about 4 minutes each side. Arrange in a baking dish

4 When the paste/spice mix has had about 10 mins, add in the tomato/coconut mixture and wibble this around until it's all bubbling. Then taste - it will be bland as hell, but spicy, so add salt bit by bit until it starts to taste like something nice. In the end I added - no joke - about four big pinches of salt, but it's best to start small.

5 Pour this mixture over the chicken and bake in a 180C oven, uncovered, for 1 hour.

Very nice re-heated, or cold. The leftover sauce makes a really delicious light curry dressing when mixed with yoghurt, cucumber and mint.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Buckwheat pancakes

Urgh I've got SO MUCH cooking to do. So MUCH. And I don't know why, but I don't want to do any of it. Even starting it feels like the biggest load of homework ever, or a tax return.

It's all my fault, too. I offered to do it all and now I don't want to do any of it. The most pressing and urgent thing is a beetroot soup I said I'd test for my friend James who is writing a cookery book and I've just completely failed to do it. Every time I go to the shops I forget to buy some key ingredients and then get home and think Oh God Oh God I haven't got the stuff. But I AM going to do it as I'm now ashamed of myself.

An equally pressing thing is a pork pie I've got to make as a thank you. Now's probably a good a time as any to tell you that those four days when I went missing just now I was in Miami. On holiday.

Coral was very  much the toenail varnish colour du jour out there

 I didn't say anything because I never want to know about anyone else's holiday, particularly not in winter.

I try to be nice when they want to tell me about their six weeks in Thailand. I say "Oh how lovely, how lovely - your own pool, really? Free, you say? Best food ever? And Bradley Cooper chatted you up at the bar, wow. That is one. Cool. Holiday!"


But now there's a picture of me in Grazia at a party in Miami for this hotel so it seems weird to not mention it. It's like I've been presented with a picture of me being unfaithful and I'm just trying to ignore it. I look fat and sweaty anyway, and had to go to bed about half an hour after it was taken because I'm the biggest most pathetic person ever when it comes to jet lag.

We were there because my husband knows Nick Jones, who owns Soho House and Babington House and all those other houses and now Soho Beach House and we went to have a poke around and complain about the plumbing. But then you get home and you're, like: "What the hell do we get him to say thanks? His own personalised unicorn? A lapdance from Beyonce? This man owns EVERYTHING: he doesn't want dinner, he doesn't want champagne, he doesn't want a lapdance from someone else's wife. I mean... probably not."

So I thought I'd make him a pork pie. But I can't seem to get started. And now I've just found out that I put the lard I bought specially for it in the freezer (WHY?!?!?). So that's delayed that for another few hours. And God only knows where Nick is anyway, he could be half-way to China by now.

I've also got to make a giant chilli - but that's another story.

But I did get off my fat pregnant wheezy arse and make some buckwheat pancakes this morning, out of the really excellent new Leon Cookbook 2 (more of which, inevitably, later). They are wheat-free, for anyone doing a wheat-free thing and although they are not as bouncy and sinful as proper American diner pancakes they are pretty nice with butter, banana and a splosh of maple syrup of a morning. They are dense and nutty and a good alternative if you don't want to have a finely-milled white flour event in your kitchen.

So here we go - buckwheat pancakes.
for 4

125g buckwheat flour
pinch baking powder
pinch salt
3 eggs
1 large teaspoon runny honey

1 Sieve the flour into a bowl and add the baking powder, salt and honey. Separate the eggs and put the yolks in with the flour. Make sure the egg whites go into a large bowl because you're going to beat them - (or straight into a processor).

2 Mix the yolks into the flour and then add milk until you get a smooth batter - not too thick. Then beat the egg whites until they're stiff and fold them in. You can always add a bit of milk after the egg whites if that thickens the whole thing up too much.

3 Cook as normal. You can make the mixture the night before if you like.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Under pressure

I want to point out that I'm doing this under some serious duress. I don't see why anyone would want to know any more about me than I already splurge on about, but one of my readers, who shall remain nameless because I'm about to be really mean about her, wants me to do it - in her perky, cheerful, happy-go-lucky, probably American manner. Why these people have to be so cheerful I don't understand.

Anyway she wants me to answer these questions. So I said I would.

1) What do you most enjoy about blogging ?
The shitty, snide comments I get 18 times a day that I have to delete and then wander round answering them furiously in my head, which always results in some kind of daydreamt mid-street show-down with a flamethrower.

2) What is your personal acheivement or moment that sticks in your mind and why?
I got my boyfriend to buy me a really enormous engagement ring. That was pretty cool because people don't usually want to buy me things. Can't think why.

3) What is your favourite party drink?
The Coca-Cola I drink with a kebab on the way home/a charcoal bolus.

4) If you could go on holiday tomorrow, where would you go?
Back to bed. Or anywhere where I'm not expected to pretend to work

5) What is the most unusual ingredient in your store cupboard right now?
Some really weird-looking szechuan peppers, I think. Maybe they're not szechuan peppers.

6) What do you do in your 'free' time?
I watch Judge Judy and eat Nutella on toast. Although to be honest, all my time is free, but I only allow myself to watch Judge Judy in my "free" time, which are moments I nominate to stop pretending to work.

7) What is the name of the last restaurant you went to?
It was called Lumiere in Cheltenham. It was okay.

8) What is your favourite style of cooking to eat out (rather than cook yourself)?
Japanese grilled food, or dim sum.

I'm supposed to tag eight other food bloggers, but I don't know eight other food bloggers. I don't even know eight other bloggers full stop because I'm so antisocial. Of the two other bloggers I know, there's only one who I think won't be monstrously offended by my questions, below, and that's James at

And here are my questions to him

1) What's the point of it all?
2) What do you like least about me?
3) What do you like least about yourself?
4) What's the worst restaurant in London?
5) Who is the worst cook you know?
6) Who is the last person who really annoyed you?
7) What do you hate most about cooking?
8) What do you hate most about other bloggers?

But he's finishing off his cookbook at the moment, so won't answer them for about three months, by which time I hope everyone will have forgotten all about this embarrassing interlude.


In a staggering but typical moment of ineptitude, I failed to explain to James how the game works, so instead of posting the answers to my questions on his blog, he emailed them back to me. But as it's so funny how I've managed to totally collapse the whole system, I'm just going to post the answers here.

1) What's the point of it all? Of blogging or life? I think beetroot is fairly essential to both.

2) What do you like least about me? Well, you're a little unreliable I suppose. You juice us up with 4 blog posts in a row then don't write a thing for a couple of weeks. And I sent you a beetroot soup recipe to test ages ago and you still haven't done it. But you're pregnant so you have an excuse.

3) What do you like least about yourself? I have imaginary arguments with people and end up cross with them for no reason. Not such a fan of my hair, either.

4) What's the worst restaurant in London? Difficult. I think we're pretty spoiled here. There's a chain called Miso which is dire. Cosmo in Croydon will probably be worse if it's anything like its Bristol sister.

5) Who is the worst cook you know? I can't think of anyone who cooks truly inedible food to be honest. My grandmother is, erm, inventive. She once did a red pepper stew and the labels were still on the peppers. Must be a wartime thing.

6) Who is the last person who really annoyed you? My bandmate Dave annoys me most weeks, but it's mostly intentional, mostly.

7) What do you hate most about cooking? I don't hate anything about cooking. I don't love doing puddings. I put up with them. Give me cheese over pudding any day.

8) What do you hate most about other bloggers? Crikey. Hate is such a strong word. I am incredibly fond of most bloggers - they're a lovely bunch of people. But, to generalise somewhat, bloggish posturing, one-upmanship, sense of entitlement...we're food bloggers for fuckssake, not Nobel scientists. I do admire the level of commitment and academia to food that some take, but for me food will always be just food.

Thursday, 7 October 2010


Considering that this pizza takes 25 minutes to make, from scratch, it's absolutely outstanding. The taste of it is up there with the best pizzas I've ever had. And, I tell you, I've eaten some pizza in my life. I'm like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle in a wig.

The texture of the dough is the thing that you sacrifice for speed and ease here - although it's by no means the worst-textured pizza base I've ever had. It's probably up there with all the commendable-but-still-second-rate pizzas.

This is, again, from Jamie's gramatically-incorrect 30 Minute Meals book because I got it last week and I'm mostly cooking from it.

This is the pizza as I made it, not quite to his recipe. If you wanted to do it to his exact recipe, I'm sure you could track it down somewhere, although it's not on his website yet.

Chorizo "Cheat's" pizza for 1 greedy person, or 2 not-greedy people

110g self-raising flour
some water, about 100ml
olive oil
chorizo - about a handful of small cubes
basil leaves
1 clove garlic
1 ball mozarella
1 tin chopped tomatoes
splash of vinegar
1 red chilli

1 Start by chopping up all your topping ingredients and whizzing up your tomato sauce.

2 To make the tomato sauce, put 1/3 a can of tomatoes, 5 basil leaves, I small clove garlic, 1 glug olive oil, I good pinch of salt and a splash of red wine or cider vinegar into a food processor and whizz for 10 seconds. Set to one side.

3 To make the pizza dough, put the self-raising flour, 2 good pinches of salt and 1 glug olive oil into a bowl. Then add water by splashes and mix until you get a dough. Turn it out onto a floured surface and pummel into a consistent ball, then roll out into a more-or-less round shape - as thin as you can get it, is my advice. Don't be afraid to use a lot of flour here. The aim is for the dough to not stick to itself or anything else.

4 Okay, now let's talk frying pans. What you are going to do with this is first fry it to cook the bottom and then grill it to cook the top (unless you have a wood-fired pizza oven in which case I HATE YOU).

So the frying pan you use is a bit of an issue.

The first time I made this, I used an All-Clad skillet and the pizza stuck to the bottom and had to be chipped off by my husband, hence:

So this time, I decided to use a non-stick pan. I know, I know, but I couldn't see another way. The only problem was that I was worried the plastic handle would melt under the grill, so I wrapped a wet tea towel round the handle to protect it.

You can use whichever frying pan you like for this, but I wanted you to be armed with the potential pitfalls of all types.

So once you've chosen your frying pan, set it on the hob, pour in a glug of groundnut or vegetable oil and then heat it until it's red hot. And I mean hotter than the fires of hell and tarnation. Swill the oil around so there are no dry bits. At the same time, put your grill on to full whack.

5 Lower your pizza dough into the frying pan. This is fiddly and I spazzed it completely first time round. The second time, I made sure the dough was well-floured and so less liable to tear and then picked it up by laying a rolling pin across it, wrapping one side of the dough over it and then carrying to the pan and laying it down.

6 Cook this for about 2 min 15, which is approximately when the bottom will start to burn. If you're using a non-stick pan it ought to be fairly straightfoward to lift up the edges of the pizza to have a look at what's going on underneath. The top will go bubbly.

7 Pour over your tomato sauce and spread around a bit, then scatter on your other topping ingredients.

8 Shove the pan under the grill - wrapping a plastic handle in a wet tea towel if you're feeling neurotic, or just taking your chances - for about 4 minutes or until the edges of the dough blacken a bit and the topping is bubbling away and brown. Until it looks like a pizza, basically.

This is a thing to do for only one or two people because it's just impractical and mad to attempt to do it for more - one person or couple will have pretty much finished their pizza by the time the next one is made. I did think that this might be a really fun thing to do with a couple of 8 year-olds, (although probably with a different topping), but I may possibly be mis-understanding what 8 year-olds like to do with their spare time.

The first time you do this, it'll probably be a disaster, as mine was. But if you fancy making a pizza, do persevere, because it works and it is, I promise, delicious.

For a better dough, (although I haven't tested it out yet), Jamie Oliver's At Home book has an authentic-sounding recipe on p.182.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Haddock chowder

I've said before how much I hate soup and how pointless I think it is.

But I don't think chowder counts as a soup. Nor is it especially anything else. It's... chowder.

Anyway, this is very nice and very easy. A great thing do to for a lot of people for lunch because it won't take up really any of your attention and you can plunk it down in the middle of the table and pretend you live on Nantucket or something.

It's also quite wholesome, which means that you've got good reason to make a giant comforting crumble or a lot of chocolate cake for afters, which I feel I can never quite justify, and people often can't quite manage, if I've dished up a humdinger of a roast.

Smoked haddock corn chowder, for 4 
(bastardised from Jamie Oliver's new book, 30 Minute Meals, or 30-Minute Meals to be more accurate)

300g smoked haddock (buy it skin off if you can because taking the skin off yourself is a real pain in the A)
4 rashers bacon
2 dried red chillies (if you want - I thought it was lovely a bit spicy, but don't if you're not keen)
4 spring onions
200g waxy potatoes, chopped into cubes about 2cm big
1 large can sweetcorn or 4 corn on the cob
3 bay leaves
1 sprig thyme
1.5 pints chicken stock
150ml single cream (but I used double and it was nice)

1 Chop up the bacon, potatoes and spring onions and cook them in a large pan gently for 10 minutes with the dried chilli if you're using and not if not.

2 When the bacon is looking done, add the sweetcorn. If you're using fresh sweetcorn, you'll have to shave the corns off the cob in the best way you can see how. Tin users can just tip the little suckers straight in.

3 Give this all a stir. Add the haddock, (I cut mine up roughly into about 4 big bits before chucking in. Jamie puts it in whole), the bay leaves and the thyme and then cover with the stock.

4 Cook for 12 minutes over a medium flame. Then add the cream, stir in and cook gently for another 5-10 minutes. You can leave everything whole or you can bash it all up with a potato masher, or just bash up one side and mix it all together.

Eat with Matzoh crackers if you want, but it's pretty filling on its own.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010


I realise now that you can't see the pork very well in this photo, but it was shredded and sticky and very nice

Apart from bacon and sausages, I don't cook pork that much. I've never eaten it in a form that wasn't quite tough and a bit tasting-of-nothing and I was traumatised at about 13 while reading Alive that when cooked, people taste like pork. It put me right off.

But this slow-cook goulash recipe that I found in Jamie at Home, surrenders a shoulder or leg of pork to something totally edible, that doesn't have the mouthfeel of a Uruguayan rugby player.

Goulash, if you've never had it, is usually made with beef, I think, and is a rich, smoky thing made with a lot of peppers and tomatoes. Very autumnal and, I believe the word I'd use if I was a proper cookery writer and not just a half-educated, semi-psychotic, spiritual alcoholic is "fragrant".

I missed out so many ingredients in this that it hardly counts as Jamie's recipe any more. Below is the ghoulash as I made it, which worked excellently well and I was really pleased with it - if you want to get hold of the original recipe, it is very conveniently located on Jamie Oliver's excellent website, or on p.257 of Jamie At Home.

This takes three hours to cook, but it works.

For 2 very hungry people, or for 4 less hungry, with rice.

650g pork shoulder or leg, skin off, fat left on
2 sweet peppers, sliced
2 chillies, chopped (you can probably leave the seeds of one in - or both if you like. The 3-hour cooking time seems to knock the shite out of the seeds' heat)
2 red onions, finely sliced
1 heaped tablespoon smoked paprika
1 can plum tomatoes
1/2 a jar of grilled peppers in oil

for on top:
soured cream
chopped lemon zest
chopped flat parsley

1 Set the oven to 180C. Heat some oil in a deep casserole pan and score the fat on your pork in a criss-cross diamond shape. Season with salt and pepper. On a low-medium flame, cook the pork fat-side down for 15 minutes.

2 Remove from the pan and add the onions, chilli, paprika, a good pinch of salt and pepper. Turn the heat right down and cook for ten minutes until the onions are soft.  Add the sliced peppers, grilled peppers and tomatoes. Put the pork back into the pot - sort of wriggle it down in between the peppers and tomatoes - and pour in enough water to just cover the meat.

3 At this point I was going to add a tablespoon of cider vinegar but clean forgot. I wish I had, so you  might if you do this. Bring to the boil on the hob and then put in the oven for 3 hours with a lid on.

4 Wander off and do something else. Then come back about half an hour before it's ready and cook some rice, open a pot of soured cream and chop up some parsley and lemon zest.

5 When the pot comes out of the oven, attack the pork in the pot with two forks to shred the meat before serving.

Like all stews, this re-heats and freezes very well.

Eat and try not to think about planes crashing.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Carrot cake with orange and mascarpone frosting

One of the more unwelcome realisations in my life was that finding the right man and getting married doesn't solve your problems.

It solves some of your problems - i.e. the problems that go "Am I going to end up with someone I hate?/My family hates? Will I die alone never having known domestic bliss?" But it turns out that when you lift that particular weighty rock from your life, a thousand other shitty things scurry out.

It's like when you find out you're not HIV positive. My friend Julia was sympathising with me the other day about my genuine fear that I was HIV positive. I was convinced I had this, or Hepatitis C, because I've had two tattoos. And they were not performed in clean places. They were down backstreets, one in Guatemala (I think... or was it Mexico...) and the other one in Australia. The guy in Australia, I remember, had kind of a runny nose. Anyway, so about six months later I became convinced that I was going to die. And that was 11 years ago. A long time to worry that you're going to die without doing anything about it.

"Just Get. A. Test" said Julia. "You haven't got it. Although, I used to worry about being HIV positive, so badly that it would keep me awake at night, and then I got a test and it was negative and on my way home from the test I was suddenly gripped with panic about my dissertation, like so badly I couldn't breathe. So, you know, watch out - you may replace one fear for another."

Well, then I got pregnant and I had to have a blood test, there was no escaping it. They took pints out of me without even saying please; they measured it and weighed it and dipped things in it and I got sent in the post a list of all the diseases that I don't have. Negative for everything. I've even got negative blood - B Negative - which is one of those rare ones they're always advertising for on the radio. (Which I think means that if I get hit by a car and I need a massive blood transfusion I'm toast.)

Anyway, finding out that I'm not HIV positive and I don't have Hepatitis C was like getting married. It solved one problem, but released others that have been suppressed.

Although anxiety and depression is, I find, all relative. It's not as bad right now as when I came back from a bad final year at university and promptly went insane. For about three months, every time I was about to cross the road, I would see, out of the corner of my eye, a car accelerating fast towards me, like it was going to hit me. And I'd turn my head and stagger back from the corner and clutch myself - but there'd be nothing there.

When Natasha Kaplinsky started talking to me out of my TV, that was when I went to the doctor. It was back when she was doing breakfast telly and I was getting ready to go somewhere, or just staring out of the window, and I distinctly heard her say: "Esssstheerrrrrrr!" And I spun round, heart pounding, to find her chatting amiably about alopecia. Then it happened again, the next day, just the same.

Well, I'm no idiot. I was clearly mad.

"You suffer from depression and anxiety," said my GP, Chris, looking bored. "You can either have cognitive behavioural therapy, or I can give you Prozac, or you can do nothing. But," he continued, "if Natasha starts asking you to do things, you must ring me immediately."

I made a "duuhrr" face at him. "I have seen Joan of Arc, you know," I said, as nastily as I could, and left. But it's okay, Chris has known me for a really long time and didn't take it personally. I didn't go on the pills, although I'm one of those people who believes that Prozac saves lives. Instead, I chose to get a book on CBT out of the library, read it cover to cover and Natasha never spoke to me again.

If only I'd discovered cooking back then. Although I dislike the bleat that cooking is "therapy", (no, lying on a sofa talking to a trained professional for an hour, four times a week, for three years, is therapy), mindless activity, routine and small accomplishments are the best friend of the depressive.

I happened the other day on a recipe for carrot cake with a orange frosting in Nigel Slater's Tender I. I've never made a carrot cake although I absolutely love it, because there's a slight issue with the fact that there isn't really a neccessity in my house for cake. My mother begged me long ago to stop bringing sweet things round to hers because she thinks my father is going to get diabetes and my husband doesn't like desserts or puddings of any description. And, I have always thought to myself "I want to make a carrot cake but I can't because I'll eat it all and get fat." But now I'm pregnant and depressed for no reason so I don't give a shit.

This cake is truly wonderful. But it is also complicated, so I'd advise you do a thing that I never do, but did today, which is get everything out of the cupboard and measure it all first before you start putting it together. Also read through the recipe all the way first so that the egg whites thing half-way through doesn't come out of nowhere and scare the pants off you.

A carrot cake with a frosting of mascarpone and orange by Nigel Slater

For the cake

3 eggs
250g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch salt
200 ml sunflower oil
25og light muscovado sugar
150g carrots
juice of half a lemon
150g walnuts, roughly chopped

For the frosting

250g mascarpone cheese
200g Philadelphia
150g icing sugar
grated zest of half an orange
some whole walnut halves

1 Set the oven to 180C. Butter 2 x 22cm cake tins and line each bottom with a disc of baking parchment

2 Separate the eggs. Sift together the flour, bicarb of soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

3 Beat the oil and sugar in a food mixer until well-creamed then introduce the egg yolks one by one. Grate the carrots into the mixture, add the lemon juice and walnuts and stir. At this point, the sunflower oil will float to the top of the mixture and look gross. Don't worry, this is normal.

4 Fold the flour into this mixture. I did this by hand, but Nige says do it in the mixer.

5 Beat the egg whites!!!! I didn't see that one coming... until stiff and then fold into the mixture with a metal spoon.

6 Divide the mixture between your tins and bake for 45 mins, or until a skewer comes out clean-ish ... because this is supposed to be quite a sticky cake.

7 To make the frosting, beat the mascarpone, Philly and icing sugar together in a mixer until smooth and creamy. You stand a better chance of this happening if the cheeses are at room temperature when you start. Stir in the orange zest. Splash some in between your cakes to sandwich together and the rest on the top and on the sides. Decorate with walnut halves.

Eat while reading Sylvia Plath.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Nigella's chicken

A question people ask me about being pregnant that I don't like is "Are you happy?" or "Are you excited?"

I know I'm wrong to dislike this question, but I do anyway, in the same way that I am completely wrong to be so irritated by people on the tube who tell me that my bag is open. They're only being helpful: I am in the wrong, they are in the right to point out that my bright purple wallet is up for grabs. So why do I feel such a powerful urge to tell them to fuck off?

Anyway, I suppose the are-you-happy question gives me the creeps because the truth is that no, I'm not happy and no, I'm not excited. That is, I'm not any more happy or more excited than I usually am, just generally, in life, just because I'm going to have a baby. If, on February 6th I was going to be given a new car, or a kitten - yeah that would be exciting.

But a baby? 

No. I feel the same way about the baby as I do about my A Levels, in that I am completely and massively unneccessarily over-prepared and the positive feeling I am feeling, is the feeling of looking forward to the challenge of putting my book-learning to good use.

There is nothing, literally nothing, I don't know about babies. And I know quite a lot about toddlers, too. I can look at a quiet and slightly grey 3 year-old and say "She's going to puke" - and she does. I can hear a baby screaming and say, accurately: "wind".

I have read everything - everything - obsessively about the subject, watched programmes, videos, talked to people endlessly. And please don't give me any of that nothing-prepares-you-for-an-actual-baby CRAP because I have also spent days and days and days looking after my sisters' issue, mopping up sick and keeping them awake until naptime, pushing them on swings, dressing and undressing, playing peek-a-boo and getting them to eat all of their pureed stuff and then eating all their Petit Filous.

I also forced my husband, who hates builders and all building work, to finance the building of a new floor on the top of our house because none of the other rooms would do as a nursery. I've made a will, appointed legal guardians should both my husband and I drop dead after the little sucker is born. It's got its own bank account. I've got a night nanny. I'm interviewing day nannies. I am going on an infant First Aid course because I know a baby that stopped breathing at 2 months in the middle of the night and the night nurse saved its life. (But what if it does it during the day when the night nurse has gone?)

Prepared? Yes. Like I'm about to invade Russia. Happy? Excited? No. But I refuse to believe that that's a bad thing.

Nigella's Kitchen started the other night and I enjoyed it very much. Her mother's "Praised" Chicken caught my eye because it's just the kind of thing I'm crazy about - whole vegetables, meat, broth and rice - quite plain but wholesome and delicious.

This is not Nigella's exact recipe because, but if you want to seek it out, just Google it.

Nigella's chicken

1 chicken
1 medium carrot per person
1 celery stick per person - plus some leaves if your celery comes with leaves on
1 large bunch flat parsley
2 bay leaves
sprig thyme - this is optional
4 cloves garlic
vegetable oil

1 Brown the chicken whole in a large casserole dish in a good slug of vegetable oil for about 3-4 minutes each side. I think you all get the drift by now that I don't think you should use olive oil for this kind of activity. Nigella says to crack the breastbone of the chicken to flatten it but I'm sorry, I just can't. Neither would I be able to kill a lobster by doing that thing with a knife in the back of its head.

2 Turn it breast-side up and then pour in a large glassful of white wine or vermouth. Let it sizzle down for a bit, about 2-3 mins and throw in your whole, peeled, garlic cloves

3 Add the carrots and celery, cut roughly into halves or thirds but no smaller

4 Chop the stalks off the bottom of your bunch of parsley, tie with string and add to the pot. Same with some celery leaves, if you're using these. Throw in the bay and the thyme, but it's no big deal if you don't have either of these. I daresay a small quartered mild onion might work well, too.

5 Scrunch over a good 10 twists of pepper and two or three pinches of salt. Then add water, just from the tap, until it comes up to about mid-thigh on the chicken. If you want a lot of broth, add more but don't cover the chicken.

6 Put in a 180C oven for 1 hour with the lid on and then 30 mins with the lid off to brown the top. Serve with red carmargue rice, yum yum, which takes 30 minutes to cook properly, so stick it on when the lid comes off. Scatter with chopped flat parsley.

My husband really liked this, even though he's not that crazy about plain food. So there you go.