Chocolate Please!

 I first thought of writing about Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat when I joined the Soup’s On! Challenge as it’s one of her books that I have used a lot. It’s a long book – over 500 pages, nearly all covered in words, with just a few pages of photos. I love just dipping into it and reading for pleasure even if I don’t cook from it that day. 

But today I want to write about another one of her books – Nigella Bites. Sharon has already written about it – see here – but she has not written about the recipe that I made at the weekend.

On our recent visit to Suffolk we stayed near Peasenhall, which is where you can find the most wonderful shop – Emmett’s, which has been trading since 1840. You can order on-line too. They specialise in Suffolk ham and bacon but there are also other delicious goodies for sale – Spanish Charcuterie, a fantastic selection of British cheeses, honey, dried fruit and Greek olives, the best olives I’ve ever tasted in England. The aroma is simply stunning as you enter the shop and most enticing of all for me was the display of chocolate – plain, milk and white chocolate, chocolate with almonds or hazelnuts dried apricots coated in chocolate, crystalised ginger in chocolate, orange and lemon peel strips in chocolate – simply divine handmade Spanish chocolate. I bought some, ate some and brought some home.

Nigella Bites has some unusual recipes, such as Ham in Coca-Cola, Elvis Presley’s Fried Peanut-Butter and Banana Sandwich and Deep-Fried Bounties with Pineapple, none of which I’ve tried. There are more traditional recipes, including mashed potato and rice pudding, Sunday lunch and Sticky Toffee Pudding.

But the recipe for me is her Chocolate Pots, which is so easy to make and tastes out of this world (sorry about all the cliches). You use 175g of the best quality chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa solids (Emmett’s sells this and the 80% as well!), double cream (150ml), milk (100ml), 1 egg, real vanilla extract (half a teaspoon) and allspice (half a teaspoon).

Nigella writes – “Crush the chocolate to smithereens in a food processor ” – this is a satisfying if noisy process. Then you heat the milk and cream add the vanilla and allspice to the chocolate and wait 30 seconds then whizz up for 30 seconds, add the egg and process again for 45 seconds. Pour into little pots (Nigella says it makes 8 little pots of approximately 60ml, but I used 4!) and refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight. Take them out about 20 minutes before eating.

Food, Glorious Food

Nigel Slater’s Toast is the story of his childhood and adolescence told through food; food he liked and food he hated. Reading it was a nostalgic remembrance of my childhood, even though mine was so very different from his, apart from the food. My mother, unlike his, was a good cook, but she did stick to recipes she knew and we had the same meals each week. She cooked English food, so meals such as spaghetti bolognese were not on the menu in our house. The only spaghetti we ate was out of a tin. Nigel’s description of the first and only time his family cooked and tried to eat spaghetti is hilarious – “the slithery lengths of spaghetti” escaped through the holes in the colander and curled “up in the sink like nests of worms”. His Aunt Fanny thought she was being poisoned and the smell of the Parmesan cheese turned their stomachs.

Toast is not at all like his Kitchen Diaries; there are no recipes, although you could make trifle from his description of his father’s sherry trifle, made with bought Swiss Roll, tinned peaches, jelly, custard and cream, the success of which depended upon the noise it made when the first spoonful was lifted out:

The resulting noise, a sort of squelch-fart, was like a message from God. A silent trifle was a bad omen. The louder the trifle parped, the better Christmas would be.

Contrast this trifle with “Nigel’s Delightful Trifle” in his Kitchen Diaries made with sponge cake, eggs, sugar, mascarpone cheese, vanilla extract, cream and blackcurrants. The cream and marscapone are whipped together and spooned on top of the trifle in “deep, billowing folds”, chilled and then topped with more fresh blackcurrants and crystallised violets.

Kitchen Diaries is an account of more or less everything Nigel cooked in the course of a year, presented as an illustrated diary. The photographs are sublime, and they are done in ‘real time’; they are photos of the food he cooked and ate on that day.The book follows the seasons so you can find suggestions about what is worth eating and when – a book to dip into throughout the year and for years to come. There are recipes for Onion Soup Without Tears, Thyme and Feta Lamb, Roast Tomatoes with Anchovy and Basil, Mushroom Pappardella, Stilton, Onion and Potato Pie and many many more.

In Toast Nigel charts his way through childhood with descriptions of toast, cakes, puddings, jam tarts, pancakes, sweets and toffee, tinned ham, lamb chops – you name it and it’s in this book. It’s not just food he liked but also food he detested, in particular milk and eggs. I felt so sorry for him after reading of the way his teacher made him drink his school milk. How it brought back memories of that warm milk we had each day at school – warm because the bottles had been kept standing in the crate in the sun and the cream sat in a thick layer at the top of the bottle! I hated it too.

It’s a very frank book about a young boy’s feelings and a teenager’s sexual experiences, and his relationship with his mother whom he loved, and his father who sometimes scared him. It’s both funny and sad, unsettling and moving; the pathos when his mother no longer makes the mashed potao he loves, but gives him Cadbury’s Smash,

grainy and salty, wet but possessed of a dry, almost powdery feel in the mouth. ‘The mash tastes funny, Mummy.’ Quietly but firmly, in a tone heavy with total and utter exasperation, and with a distant rasp after the first word, she said, ‘Nigel … Just eat it.’ 

I read it quickly, almost devouring it, enjoying the remembrance of food of times past. There is so much in the book that I’m tempted to make a food index to go with it – here’s just a few I could name –

Arctic Roll, Banana Custard, Crumpets, Damson Jam, Eggs (Scrambled), Flapjack, Grilled Grapefruit, Haddock (smoked), Ice Cream, Jelly, Kraft Cheese Slices, Lemon Drops, Marshmallows, Nestle’s (pronounced Nessles) Condensed Milk, Oxtail Soup (tinned), Prawn Cocktail, Quick-Gel, Rabbit, Spinach, Tapioca, Victoria Sandwich, and Walnut Whips (my favourites).

Toast is the winner of six literary awards, including the National Book Awards British Biography of the Year. I love Nigel Slater’s TV series A Taste of My Life and I’ve just discovered he’s written another book – Eating For England: the delignts and eccentricities of the British at Table – I must read that!

An entry in the Soup’s On Challenge.

After Work Cookbook

After Work, by W H Smith, published by Octopus Publishing Group Ltd 1999.

I’™ve had this book a few years and have made several of the recipes. As the title suggests all the recipes are for making quick meals from fresh ingredients plus some storecupboard items. Each recipe is illustrated with a photograph. Some dishes need more preparation than others, but none of them are difficult to make ‘“ just what you need at the end of a busy day.

There’™s a good mix of recipes divided into sections:

· ‘˜light bites’™ ‘“ sandwiches, salads and soups
· ‘˜international flavours’™ ‘“ a selection from around the world ‘“ pasta, stir-fry, curry, chow mein etc
· ‘˜quick fish dishes’™ ‘“ fish cakes, fish casserole etc
· ‘˜’™meat and poultry for dinner’™ ‘“ family meals and special occasions
· ‘˜sweet endings’™ ‘“ using fruit and chocolate eg double chocolate brownies

Today I made Two-Tomato Mozzarella Salad, one of my favourite recipes from this book. Really all you do is put it all together and eat it. It only takes a few minutes to prepare.

two tomato mozzarella
For 4 people you need:

· 500g fresh plum tomatoes sliced ‘“ or as many as you like
· chopped oregano
· 375g mozzarella cheese sliced ‘“ or use as much or you like – buffalo mozzarella is the nicest
· 12 sun-dried tomatoes preserved in oil and cut into strips. I don’™t cut them up unless they are very large ‘“ again you can use as many as you want
· fresh basil leaves
· salt and pepper ‘“ I use rock or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing, whisk the following ingredients together in a small bowl or put in a screw top jar and shake well to combine:

· 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
· 3 tablespoons oil from the sun-dried tomatoes
· 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
· ¼ garlic clove crushed – I usually use a whole clove
· pinch of sugar

1. Arrange the plum tomato slices in a single layer on a large plate and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste together with the oregano.
2. Arrange the slices of mozzarella on top of the sliced tomatoes and tuck in the sun-dried tomatoes between them.
3. Scatter the basil leaves over the top and drizzle on the dressing.

Sometimes we just have this with maybe some crusty bread. Today we added some Parma ham, pasta shells with green pesto and asparagus tips ‘“ simply delicious.

Also posted on Soup’s On! blog.