A simple pasta supper (or why I wish I was more like Nigel Slater)

April 4, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Posted in savoury | 2 Comments
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I love Nigella, rely on Delia, occasionally seek out Jamie but I admire (and perhaps aspire to be more like) Nigel Slater. I love reading his books, watching his programmes but they present a world of food that is different to mine. His world always seems to have time to linger over food, to search out the obscure, grow ones own ingredients and experiment. My reality is more mundane – a quick trip to a supermarket and making the same thing time after time because it’s quick and reliable.  I don’t have time to think midweek  so I am more likely to incrementally tweak an existing recipe than try a bold experiment in the middle of a week.

So Nigel Slater’s recipes provide a rich vein of inspiration for the midweek supper. He has a great column in the Guardian to give options for something more interesting midweek.  His suggestion for pasta with baked aubergine and tomatoes caught my eye – it’s totally simple and reliant on ordinary ingredients. So I thought I would try it for supper with Sarah: she regularly comes for supper and has been the recipient many times of all ‘the usual options’.

Making it: As simple as it appears. Chop and roast. I was slightly disconcerted by the large quantity of olive oil I had to tip over it before the veg went in the oven. Plenty of time to start on a glass of wine and catching up on the news while the oven did the work!pasta for two

Eating it: Simple, subtle. Perhaps a bit too much olive oil and perhaps not quite robust enough for a not very warm April evening.

Next time: I think it would be better on a warm summer evening, perhaps with some olives in there as well to add more robustness and texture.

Why? The answer is gingerbread.

March 25, 2014 at 6:11 pm | Posted in baking, musings | Leave a comment
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So… It’s been a while since I’ve been here and now I’ve decided to try again: I thought a good place to start would be why do I cook, and especially bake.

The first big reason is that it makes me happy. I derive enormous satisfaction from taking ingredients and turning them into “something”. It is a great way to fulfil the fundamental impulse to create, but in a way that doesn’t require much spark of originality as all I have to do is carefully follow instructions. Much of my life is hectic, and I am often trying to juggle lots of different things, but when I am cooking, it is a time to focus and be calm.

The second big reason is that it makes others happy. I delight in showing care for others through giving them some good to eat. Whether it is dinner, or a cake – cooking for someone else is demonstrative of love and affection in a practical way. If I am spending the day with a friend – I might take a cake instead of flowers as a way of saying thank you. A home-made cake is a treat – at work we often tuck into a M&S tub of ‘mini-bites’ and while I am very fond of their little flapjacks – it is much more personal to provide something home-made. I work in a busy office, where it is easy for conversations to merely be transactional and to effective treat each other as ‘work machines’. By bringing in something home-made – it can break that cycle, help people to stop and remember that we are all human after all, which makes a tough day a little more bearable.

But why then should I blog?

Mainly I blog because it is a way to continue the creative act… to think more about my food and what I am cooking which encourages me to try new things. But I also do it to share my little discoveries in the world of cooking for my own benefit, so that in the future I can remember what I thought of a recipe, how I thought it could be improved, and to document tweaks to recipes before I forget. It astounds me that some people find this blog through searching for recipes and come check out what I have to say. I hope that for some of those people who stumble on my blog feel encouraged to try new things (and maybe learn from my mistakes along the way).

This recipe for gingerbread men is a demonstration of what I have been trying to say in the rest of this post.

  • I bake them because they are satisfying to make. There is pleasure in the all the stages and fun to be had in decoration.
  • They make other people happy as they are delicious. The icing can increase the fun for everyone – happy and sad faces make people laugh (especially in a stressed out office of people working on important things).
  • And I think the recipe is worth recording and sharing. It’s based on the gingerbread men from Oliver Peyton’s book British Baking (which is fabulous – beautifully presented and great recipes) but I have adapted slightly. The dough is incredibly well-behaved, and using chilled butter means they don’t spread much in the oven (other recipes have given me “Mr Blobby” gingerbread men)

Gingerbread men

The original recipe uses just ground ginger for the ‘kick’ and light soft brown sugar and golden syrup. But I think that is a little bland in terms of a gingerbread man, so I now include  ground cloves for more heat, and a mix of dark and light soft brown sugar and treacle alongside the golden syrup for increased depth. So with huge thanks to Oliver Peyton, here is my recipe for gingerbread men:

Ingredients

  • 350g plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 100g cold unsalted butter
  • 75g light soft brown sugar
  • 75g dark soft brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 2 tablespoons treacle

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180C

  1. Using a stand mixer – whizz together the flour, spice and bicarb with the butter until it is a bit like sand. Then add the sugar and mix a bit more. Then add the beaten egg and finally the golden syrup and treacle. Mix until it forms a big dough ball.
  2. Roll the dough out (I have a big pastry rolling mat bought from Lakeland many years ago – but looks like they still make them). It’s good to get them relatively thin – perhaps around 5mm. Then using my gingerbread man cutter who is about 8cm tall – I can make loads (I think it is probably somewhere between 30 and 40 but I always forget to count)
  3. They bake in the oven in about 10 minutes. Leave them for a couple of minutes before carefully transferring to wire trays to cool.
  4. The icing is simple water icing – about 100g icing sugar and enough water to make a firm paste… and then piped as well as you can manage to make faces (their facial features are only limited by your mood and skills with a piping bag)
  5. Then pack-up carefully and take somewhere to share some baking happiness.
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