Chicken with mustard and creme fraiche

This is one of my favourites - so easy and so tasty. I often replace the chicken with turkey steaks, and it's just as good. Serve with baby spinach or salad. The recipe comes from Nigel Slater, writing in the Observer back in May last year. I've made it four or five times since then!

  • 4 chicken thighs or turkey steaks
  • 250ml of creme fraiche
  • 2 or 3 heaped tablespoons of grainy mustard
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 150g of pancetta or lardons
  • 3 or 4 small sprigs of thyme

  1. Set the oven to 200°C or gas mark 6.
  2. Put the chicken or turkey in an oven-proof dish.
  3. Put the creme fraiche into a bowl, and stir in the mustard.
  4. Crush the garlic and add to the creme fraiche mixture.
  5. Pull the thyme leaves off the stalks and add them to the creme fraiche mixture.
  6. Cut the pancetta into short little strips (if you're using lardons, they'll probably be chopped already).
  7. Fry the pancetta or lardons in a non-stick pan until the fat is golden.
  8. Mix the pancetta or lardons with the creme fraiche sauce, then pour it over the chicken or turkey.
  9. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes until the sauce is bubbling.
  10. Throughout this process help yourself to a glass or two of chilled New Zealand white.

Chestnut and chorizo soup

So I’m making this recipe as I type… which shows that it’s easy. I’ve made it before and it makes a great Christmas starter. The recipe is by Sam and Sam Clark (no idea) and I got it from the Observer Food Monthly in November 2009… it’s been a scrappy bit of paper in my recipe file ever since. It serves four people.

  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 large Spanish onion
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1 celery stick (I hate recipes with one celery stick - what are you supposed to do with the rest if you don’t like eating it raw? But anyway.)
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper
  • 120g cooking chorizo
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of ground cumin
  • The leaves of some sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 small dried chillies
  • 1 can of chopped tomatoes
  • 500g cooked, peeled chestnuts (fresh or vacuum-packed)
  • 20 saffron threads, infused in 3 to 4 tablespoons of boiling water - or - a teaspoon of ground tumeric
  • 1 litre of water

  1. Chop the carrot, onion and celery into small cubes.
  2. Chop the chorizo into thick cubes.
  3. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat.
  4. Add the carrot, onion, celery, chorizo and a pinch of salt.
  5. Fry for 20 minutes until everything caramelises and turns quite brown.
  6. Slice the garlic cloves into thin slices (well, to be honest I used minced garlic from a jar, but then, I’m a lazy toad).
  7. Roughly chop the chestnuts, and crush the chillies.
  8. Add the garlic, cumin, thyme and chillies to the pan and cook for one minute.
  9. Add the tomatoes and cook for two minutes.
  10. Add the chestnuts and saffron or tumeric, and stir well.
  11. Add the water and simmer for 10 minutes.
  12. Remove from the heat and mash by hand with a potato masher until it’s almost smooth.
  13. Season with the pepper and serve.

Sausage, blue cheese and rocket risotto

I got this recipe from a free handout at the Taste London festival a couple of years ago. It's by someone called Gizzi Erskine, and was intended to promote Stilton cheese. It's a really tasty recipe, which I've made several times, but I had to write it up here because Gizzi's recipe is dreadfully written. She doesn't tell you how much rice to use, when to add the meat to the risotto - I'm always left guessing. So here's my version for two piglets or four moderately appetited people, as I made it the other day. Gizzi suggests Italian pork and fennel sausages, but as long as they're really meaty, flavoursome ones, it'll work fine. As to the sage leaves - they really make it tasty, so include them if you can. Sage is so easy to grow, it's really a must for any garden or windowsill (note to self, write a gardening blog), but fresh leaves also freeze rather well too - they defrost in a couple of minutes, and don't lose much flavour.

  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 4 meaty sausages (I used Cumberland ones)
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 180g rice (I suppose it should be risotto rice, but I used brown long-grain rice and it worked fine)
  • 1 glass of white wine
  • 750ml of hot vegetable stock
  • 100g blue cheese (I used Cornish Blue, which was nice, but good Stilton has the best flavour)
  • 1 generous handful of rocket leaves
  • 4 or 5 sage leaves

  1. Cut the sausages into chunks. Remove the skins if you can be bothered.
  2. Heat the oil and butter in a wide, non-stick pan, and fry the sausages until browned.
  3. Remove the meat and set aside for now. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of oil from the pan.
  4. Chop the onions finely, and add to the pan. Cook over a low heat until softened and transparent, which takes about 10 minutes.
  5. Crush the garlic and add to the pan. Cook for 1 minute, stirring it in.
  6. Add the rice and stir for a minute or two to coat the grains with oil.
  7. Pour in the wine and keep stirring until it's absorbed into the rice.
  8. Put the meat back into the pan.
  9. Add a splosh of stock and stir until it's absorbed.
  10. Continue to add stock in sploshes and stir to let the rice soak it up.
  11. Complain to anyone who will listen about how your arm aches from stirring.
  12. Once all the stock is absorbed, test a grain of rice to ensure it's cooked (don't forget that brown rice will have more bite than white rice). Turn the heat down very low.
  13. Crumble up the cheese and stir it into the pan.
  14. Stir in the rocket and sage leaves. Then season with pepper (if you like) and serve.

Baked cornflake chicken

I love deep fried food as much as anyone, but I can't bring myself to deep-fry anything at home - the sight of all that oil just puts me off. So I was very interested when a friend mentioned that she had heard you can create the same effect by baking chicken in crushed cornflakes. Well, I gave it a go, and I must say I'm very pleased with the results. Popcorn chicken without the saturated fat! I experimented with the spices in the crunchy coating, but the flavours didn't really come through strongly enough. Next time I think I'll try dried chilli flakes, maybe sesame seeds, certainly more salt and pepper. I served this with tzatziki for dipping, and Nigella Lawson's lemon and rocket cous cous. This recipe served two people heartily.

  • 2 large chicken breasts (free range unless you like the taste of guilt)
  • 1 egg
  • 4 or 5 large handfuls of cornflakes
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of ground paprika
  • ½ teaspoon of ground coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon of ground allspice
  • 5 or six good grinds of black pepper
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C / gas mark 4.
  2. Take a roasting tin and line the bottom of it with tin foil. Then smear one tablespoonful of olive oil over the foil.
  3. Cut the chicken into generous bite-size chunks.
  4. Take a small polythene bag, and put the cornflakes and spices into it. Then crush the bag in your hands until the cornflakes are reduced to little chips, the smaller the better. Then tip into a bowl.
  5. In another small bowl, beat the egg with a fork.
  6. Dip the chicken pieces in the egg, and then roll in the crushed cornflake mix.
  7. Put the coated chicken pieces into the roasting tin, and drizzle the remaining olive oil over them.
  8. Bake for 1 hour.

Almond cake

Oh how I suffered for this cake! I have a couple of friends who can't eat gluten, so I pounce on any tasty gluten-free cakes whenever I find them. This one from Majorca via Hugh Stanley-Fearnley-Whittingstall seemed ideal, but boy how I struggled. It didn't help that Thames Water had cut off my water supply the night I made it. I found I have no talent for separating eggs, or whisking whites, and eventually I had to just give up and hope for the best. The result wasn't too bad - the cake rose, against all the odds - and my guests enjoyed it. I'm not keen on the flavour, and would probably leave out the cinnamon next time. This is my warped version of Hugh's recipe.

  • 8 eggs
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • The zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 300g of ground almonds
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tablespoons of icing sugar
  • Butter for greasing
  • Creme fraiche, to serve
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Use the butter to grease and line a round cake tin that's 20-ish cm across (or 8 inches), with a loose bottom.
  3. Separate the eggs. Take all night. Mess it up. Fail hopelessly. Start again.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until they're light and creamy. Use an electric whisk, for the love of God.
  5. Slit open the vanilla pod and scrape in the innards.
  6. Beat in the lemon zest and cinnamon.
  7. Fold in the ground almonds a little at a time. I ended up with a dense, sticky yellow lump. On purpose, naturally.
  8. In another bowl, add the salt to the egg whites, and beat until they form soft peaks (if you're Hugh). If you're me, spend three quarters of an hour trying to conjure peaks out of your whites. Drink heavily. Wonder what a peak actually looks like. Imagine there's some kind of mistake in the recipe. Interpret a light, transient froth on your egg white slop as 'soft peaks'.
  9. Add the bicarbonate of soda to the egg white slop, beat again and offer up a prayer to your deity of choice that the cake will rise.
  10. Fold the egg white slop into the rest of the mixture. You'll find 'folding' impossible, so just try to integrate it as thoroughly as possible into a loose vanilla slop.
  11. Put the batter into the cake tin and bake for 35 to 40 minutes.
  12. Open the oven after this time to discover that the cake has, against all the laws of baking and nature, actually risen. A skewer comes out miraculously clean.
  13. Let this miracle cake cool, dredge with the icing sugar, and then serve with the creme fraiche.

Thai pork salad

This salad is called 'larp'. No idea how to pronounce it, but who cares, this is light, fresh and tasty. I got the recipe from a booklet of summer salads by Jane Baxter, which came free in The Guardian. I doctored it slightly to account for some fussy eaters (including myself).


  • 1 tablespoon of brown rice
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 400g of pork mince
  • Half a red onion
  • 2 fresh red chillies
  • 1 small bunch of mint leaves
  • 1 tablespoonful of fresh coriander
  • 1 tablespoon of lemongrass paste
  • The juice of 1 lime
  • 1 pinch of paprika
  • 2 romaine lettices

  1. Toast the rice in a dry pan. The grains start to pop, a bit like popcorn. At this point, put the rice into a pestle to cool down, then get a volunteer guest to grind it to powder.
  2. Heat the oil in the pan, and fry the pork for five minutes.
  3. Drain the cooked pork on kitchen paper and set aside to cool.
  4. Chop the onion, chillies, mint and coriander finely.
  5. Roughly chop the lettice.
  6. When the pork is cool, mix it with the lemongrass paste, paprika, onion, chillies, mint, coriander and lime juice.
  7. Sprinkle the ground rice on top, and serve with the lettice.

Chorizo and chickpea stew

This is based on a recipe by Henning Marstrand in The London Cookbook by Jenny Linford. Henning’s exclusive ingredients are only available from Brindisa in London’s Borough Market. I work near there so I planned to source all the authentic produce, but in the end I bailed and got everything at the supermarket. I fiddled the recipe a little to compensate, but when I dished this up the other day everyone cleaned their plates and asked for more, so who knows how good it would have been if I hadn’t cheated.

  • 1 cooking chorizo sausage (250-ish grams)
  • 200g chopped pancetta
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 can of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 generous glass of red wine
  • 4 large cloves of garlic
  • 4 teaspoons of dried oregano
  • Pepper (I just happened to grab green pepper, but of course black will do)
  • 3 cans of chickpeas in brine

  1. Chop the onion and red pepper finely.
  2. Fry the chorizo, pancetta, onion and red pepper in a dry pan until the meat starts to brown. The oil will come out of the meat.
  3. Crush the garlic.
  4. Add the tomatoes, fill the can with water and add that too, with the wine, garlic, oregano and pepper.
  5. Bring to the boil, and then simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. Add the chickpeas with their brine (this gives the dish enough salt).
  7. Bring back to the boil, and then simmer for ten minutes.

Poached chicken quiche

I cobbled this recipe out of several others, which is why it amounts to a lot of effort for a quiche. However, the poached chicken bit is very versatile – shredded for salads or soups, or mixed with the crème fraiche and herbs in sandwiches.

  • 3 free-range chicken breasts
  • 2 sticks of celery (though as always with celery, you can leave this out)
  • 2 spring onions
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 handful fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon grainy mustard
  • 250g low fat crème fraiche
  • 2 free-range eggs
  • 175g plain flour
  • 90g butter
  • Salt and pepper to season

  1. Chop the celery and spring onions into rough chunks.
  2. Fill a large pan with water, add the celery, spring onions, peppercorns and sea salt, and bring to the boil.
  3. Add the chicken to the boiling water and return to the boil. Then as soon as it’s boiling, clamp on a lid and turn off the heat. Leave for one hour for the chicken to poach, then remove from the water.
  4. Now make the pastry (yes, make! Or use frozen. But making it is dead easy). Start by preheating the oven to 220°C (gas mark 7) and putting the flour into a bowl.
  5. Cut up the butter into little bits, and add it to the flour. Rub the butter between your fingers until you have something like fine breadcrumbs.
  6. Add one or two tablespoons of cold water, and mix with a round bladed knife until it forms a dough – your dough shouldn’t be too sticky.
  7. Form the dough into a ball, wrap it in clingfilm and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  8. Take out the chilled dough, roll it out and line a pie dish that’s about 23cm wide.
  9. Prick the base all over with a fork, then cover the pastry with tin foil and fill the dish with baking beans. Bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, taking out the foil and beans for the last ten minutes.
  10. Back to the filling. Shred the chicken with a fork. The meat will be really soft and flaky.
  11. Put the flaked chicken into a bowl with three or four tablespoons of the crème fraiche.
  12. Chop the basil finely and add it to the chicken.
  13. Season with salt and pepper, add the mustard and mix together thoroughly.
  14. In another bowl lightly beat the eggs with a fork, and mix with the remaining crème fraiche. Season this too.
  15. Spread the chicken mixture over the base of the pastry case, and then pour the egg mixture over the top.
  16. Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C and bake the quiche for 35 to 40 minutes until the top has set. Serve either hot or (preferably) cold, with salad – I had it with some tasty watercress.

Spinach frittata

I’m reluctant to throw food away, so I often find myself cobbling together whacky dishes just to use things up. Some are more successful than others. This one turned out better than I hoped. It’s a very light and tasty dish, enough for two people as a small snack, or part of a bigger meal.

  • 1 large free-range egg
  • 3 tablespoons of gram flour (chickpea flour, bought for one recipe and never used again)
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon of butter (I used unsalted, but it doesn’t really matter)
  • 1 large spring onion
  • 150g (ish) baby spinach leaves
  • Ground nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  1. Sift the gram flour into a mixing bowl.
  2. Add a pinch of salt and a pinch of nutmeg.
  3. Add the egg, and beat it all together with a fork.
  4. Chop the spring onion and spinach finely, then stir into the bowl. Try and cover all the spinach so that the whole thing is sticky.
  5. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan, over a medium heat.
  6. Pour in the mixture, spreading it to an even depth.
  7. Fry for about five minutes, until it’s set underneath. Then you should be able to flip it over and fry on the other side for a further five minutes.

Cheese scones

I just love cheese scones, but had this idea that they were dreadfully difficult to get right. I finally decided to give them a go because I happened to have all the ingredients loitering in the kitchen, and a Sunday in springtime just cries out for scones. It turns out they’re easy. (Incidentally, I found myself in the heat of the old argument about how to pronounce ‘scone’ last Friday. The subject seems to rouse people into an indignant wrath usually associated with politics and religion. I pronounce it to rhyme with ‘stone’, and so do all my family, so maybe that’s the Westcountry way? I also say ‘bath’ to rhyme with… well but I digress.) This recipe makes nine scones, though of course you can make more smaller ones.

  • 225g plain flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • A few good grinds of pepper (I used green pepper to try it out)
  • 55g unsalted butter (it doesn’t matter that it’s unsalted)
  • 80g hard cheese (I used a mixture of manchego and smoked applewood, to use them up. The manchego gave a sweetness that was lovely.)
  • 150ml milk (I used skimmed milk)
  • Pinch of paprika
  1. Preheat the oven to 230°C / gas mark 4.
  2. Mix together the flour, baking powder, pepper and salt, then sift them into a mixing bowl.
  3. Cut the butter into little bits, add them to the bowl and rub them into the flour until there are no buttery lumps.
  4. Grate the cheese and mix it in, reserving some to sprinkle on top of the scones.
  5. Add the milk, and using a knife fold the mixture into a soft dough.
  6. Put the ball of dough onto a floured surface and pat it flat, until it’s about 1cm thick all over. Don’t squash it too hard. Cut it into nine pieces.
  7. Grease a baking tray and put the scones on it. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top, and dust each scone with a pinch of paprika.
  8. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until risen and browned. Eat them warm with butter.

Rhubarb bakewell tart

March is the month for rhubarb, I’m told, and any excuse for rhubarb is good enough for me. This recipe unites two of my fondest loves, bakewell tart and rhubarb. The one thing I don’t really like about bakewells is the cheap jam – I’m not a big jam fan. So I was inspired by the God of Rhubarb himself to use a compote instead of jam. Green Lanes in London is a wonderful place to get practically any ingredient, and I was optimistic that I’d find fresh rhubarb, but no. Mangoes, pineapples, star fruit, yes, humble rhubarb, no. So I had to buy a tin; next time, though, I mean to use fresh. I was really pleased with the results – the tart is moist and has just enough rhubarb tanginess (even from the tinned stuff). However, you should eat it on the day you make it, as the compote soon makes the pastry soggy.

For the compote:
  • 450g rhubarb
  • 25g caster sugar (or more to taste)
For the tart:
  • Shortcrust pastry (ready to roll, don’t judge me)
  • 125g unsalted butter (plus extra for greasing)
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 125g ground almonds
  • 3 free-range eggs
  • ½ teaspoon almond essence
  • Plain flour for dusting and rolling

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C / gas mark 6.
  2. Wash the rhubarb and chop it into little chunks.
  3. Put the rhubarb in a pan with the 25g of sugar and two tablespoons of water.
  4. Simmer over a medium heat, stirring often, until the rhubarb is soft. Use more sugar if you like it sweeter. If the rhubarb hasn’t broken down into a delicious gloop, then mash it up a bit. Set aside to cool down.
  5. Grease a metal pie dish that’s 25cm across, and fairly deep. Then dust the interior all over with plain flour. This will help you get the pie out of the dish later.
  6. Roll out the pastry and line the pie dish with it. Prick the base all over with a fork. Keep the pastry trimmings.
  7. Melt the butter, then leave it to cool slightly.
  8. Beat the eggs, add the almond essence, then add 125g of sugar and beat it all together.
  9. Mix in the melted butter, followed by the ground almonds.
  10. Spread the rhubarb compote over the base of the pie.
  11. Spread the almond mixture over the top, making sure that all of the rhubarb is covered.
  12. Roll out the pastry trimmings and cut out some shapes (I used a star-shaped cutter). Gingerly float these shapes on the top of the tart.
  13. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes. It’s done when the filling has risen slightly, everything is golden brown and just plain heavenly-looking.
  14. Leave the tart to cool on a wire rack (I use the one from the grill tray), then, put a plate upside-down on top of the tart. Turn the pie dish and plate upside-down, and if the God of Rhubarb is feeling benevolent, your tart will plop wholeheartedly out of the pie dish. Then put another plate upside-down on the base of the pie, flip again and admire your own genius (that’s what I did).
  15. Serve with crème fraiche and modest remarks about how you just ‘rustled something up’.

Viennese goulash

I’m in love with all things Austrian at the moment, and found this recipe on the Vienna now or never website. Lots of countries seem to have their own take on goulash – Czech is my personal favourite – but none are like the true Budapest goulash soup, thin and zingy. This Viennese one is really called ‘fiaker goulash’, and ‘fiaker’ seems to mean a type of horse-drawn cab. Perhaps this was a quick dish for those on the go back in the days of the Austro-Hungarian empire? Although it took me all day to cook, once made it was ideal for heating up during the week for a quick meal. It’s a really dense meat stew, tasty and rich, but I have to say that it looks like dog food. The sausages go with it surprisingly well, but I omitted the eggs and gherkins from my version, as it just seemed to be getting too odd. You’ll probably want to serve it with some fresh greens to counteract the intense meat hit. The recipe says it serves four, but you could eke it out to six or even eight if you gave a small intense portion of goulash along with salad or vegetables and bread. Here’s the version of it that I made.

  • 1kg stewing beef (you’re going to be cooking it for so long that the toughest old ox will be tender by the end of it)
  • 6 Frankfurter sausages
  • 750g onions (that worked out to five onions for me)
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of paprika powder (I think mine is the sweet variety)
  • 1 teaspoon of hot chilli powder
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon tomato purée
  • 1 tablespoon dried marjoram
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • Salt
  • Ground pepper
  1. Cut the onions into strips, the meat into cubes, and crush the garlic.
  2. Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan over a medium heat, and fry the onions until golden brown.
  3. Add the paprika, chilli and tomato paste, stir, and quickly pour in the vinegar and a little water.
  4. Mix the cubed meat with salt and pepper, and add to the pan.
  5. Stir in the garlic, marjoram, bay leaves and caraway seeds.
  6. Pour in enough cold water to cover the meat, and stir.
  7. Simmer on a low to medium heat,  half covered, for about 2 ½ hours. Stir from time to time, and add water if it gets too dry. I found myself adding quite a bit of water. 
  8. Now then, at this point, when the meat’s cooked, you have a very tasty-looking stew, but the recipe tells you to put it in a moderately warm oven for about 1 hour. I did that, and ended up with a rather dry, dog-food looking dish. Next time I make it, I mean to omit the extra hour in the oven for sure.
  9. When you’re ready to serve, zap the Frankfurters in the microwave according to the packet instructions. Alternatively, simmer them lovingly in a pan for 10 minutes. Cook them, at any rate.
  10. Slice the sausages and serve them with the goulash. Eat heartily, then re-mount the box of your fiaker and earn some fares.