Thursday, 24 March 2011


I am returning again to Nigella Lawson and make no apology for it. Yes, I am being lazy. Since my last blog post, I have started several about more interesting books and not finished them. This, I can bash out in a few minutes before I have to cook the thing. The prep is done, I just need to grill some meat.

How to Eat was a book which really excited me when it first came out. It's the kind of book I hope I end up writing eventually, it seamlessly unites food writing with recipe writing in a similar way to Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries. I love its informality, the chattiness and, of course, the food. I've already talked about Nigella's inauthenticity and will no doubt return to the subject again in a more general way. There was probably a time when I was too precious to cook her "Cambodian Beef Salad", preferring to find a proper Cambodian recipe, but that was silly of me. Most of our best food writers write about cuisines other than their own and the roll call is impressive - think Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson on France, David Thompson on Thai Food, Fuchsia Dunlop on Sechzuan Cookery, Colman Andrews on the Riviera and Spain. Do we dismiss these people out of hand? Of course not. We as a nation are magpies, hoarders of other people's recipes - my specialist cusine is the Caribbean and because I've been collecting recipes from all the islands, I feel as though my knowledge base is probably much wider than many Caribbean chefs, as I am not hampered by island and family custom, but can learn wherever I go.

I digress. What I meant to say is that I am sure that if Nigella Lawson decided to focus on one particular cuisine (I imagine it would be those states in the Deep South USA, judging by her books to date), she would do it just as well as those mentioned above. As it is, she prefers to generalise, and there's nothing wrong with that. I have made this particular salad countless times, because it is very quick, exceedingly tasty and also very adaptable. Here's my adapted version, which, simply due to the fact I always have scotch bonnets in the house, always ends up a bit of a Cambodian/Caribbean hybrid:

Cambodian Hot and Sour Beef Salad

lettuce leaves (I ususally use little gem)
225g tender steak (I usually use a big piece of sirloin or rump)
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp sugar
1 shallot, finely sliced (I subsitute spring onions)
1-2 red chillies, deseeded & chopped finely (I use between 1/2 - 1 scotch bonnet)
handful mint (I will also add coriander leaf and sometimes basil too)

Tear the lettuce onto a serving dish. Grill the steak - I make sure mine is bloody in the middle. Mix together the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, shallot and chillies. Cut the steak into long, slender slices and add these to your sauce, along with any juices. Add the herbs and turn out onto the lettuce.

I have been known to combine allspice and anise (a very Caribbean combination) and rub it over the steak before grilling it, but generally, I prefer without - the flavours are much, much cleaner that way.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011


There's been a bit of a jelly/blancmange thing going on in my house recently. We keep coming down with lurgies and it occurred to me that jelly was perfect food for a baby with a sore throat. It's also ridiculously easy. All I've been doing is soak 4 gelatine leaves in water until soft, wring out, then stir over a low heat into 500ml of whatever juice I have handy - grape, orange, cherry, then strain them through a sieve into a mould. Easy peasy. Sometimes I suspend fruit in the jelly too (blueberries work well, or I copy my granny and use tinned clementine segments). What I haven't yet done is try to make a lime jelly. My granny used to give me lime jelly, which we used to break up and cover with evaporated milk. Lovely. I wonder how it would taste to me now?

Seeing Adam experience jelly for the first time was hilarious - his face cracked into a wide grin at the wobble factor, only to be replaced by consternation when he tried to pick it up and get it to his mouth. He soon got to grips with it (literally) and learned a technique for slurping it into his mouth from loosely clenched fist.

Then Kerstin (MsMarmiteLover) decided to make blancmange for the Fire and Knives Mixed Grill lunch. I didn't manage to try any (too busy scoffing meringue swans and truffled cheeses from the deli station) and it reminded me of the one time I made blancmange as a child. It wasn't nice - it was from a packet and I think it was peach flavoured. We had old friends of my parents staying with us, who ate some and complimented, but my mother, quite honestly, told me that they were being polite.

Looking at the recipe in Bompass and Parr's jelly book, I now wonder why I used a packet as it is as easy to make as jelly (and now I think about it we always had packets of Rowntree's jelly in the larder too - I used to steal cubes of it to suck when there was nothing else sweet available - a favourite, illicit treat). I didn't do a very good job of it though. The Bompass and Parr recipe called for infusing the milk with cardamon. I knew that my step daughter won't eat anything with cardamon in but that she and Adam both like almonds, so I decided to flavour it with honey and almond extract. Big mistake - I used too much extract and not only was the almond flavour too strong, but I could still taste the milk and the honey was barely discernable.

See, that's the main problem with blancmange - it tastes of milk, which is fine for the children (they liked it), but not fine for me. I am going to try blancmange again - this time with cardamon, rose water and honey, but I don't hold out much hope. However, there are other seriously adult recipes in the Bompass and Parr book which have to be done. I am going to be making bacon vodka to make a fizzy bacon and cola jelly very soon. Watch this space.