The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater, Fourth Estate, 2005.
Nigel Slater likes to cook the way I do. Mostly planning around what I already have in the cupboard or garden and sometimes being inspired by what I see in the market, to spontaneously change the plan. I like to cook simple weeknight suppers, mostly vegetables and then at the weekends or when we have friends over, I will do something a bit more expansive, often with meat or fish.
I like the way this book is arranged month by month, so that I can look for a meal idea based around the season that we’re currently in except that we are in the other hemisphere which can get confusing. If you are partial to a lamb chop, then this is the book for you. Nigel seems to eat a lamb chop a couple of times a week. I suspect that like us, he has a good butcher.
I started cooking from the Kitchen Diaries in our October so Nigel’s April, with thyme and feta lamb, p123. I served mine with roasted thyme potatoes and lemony courgettes. Simple, delicious and the first of many lamb chops. I probably cook lamb chops about once a year but this book has returned the chop to my table. I grew up in a household where we knew what day it was by what was served for dinner. Actually a sound practice which I follow through with on Soup Monday. In my childhood household we always had lamb chops on Tuesday.
Next up was pork and lemon polpettine, p126. I hardly ever make meatballs and when I do, I tend to do lamb with Greek flavourings and accompaniments. I served these with pappardelle and asparagus on the side. I didn’t have much of the stocky juices left to pour over and I think that would have been lovely. The anchovies and Parmesan really add depth to the meatballs.
Chops again. This time with grainy mustard and lemon. Barely a recipe. Mix crushed garlic with a tablespoon of grainy mustard, the juice of a lemon and black pepper. Roll the chops in the mixture and set aside for an hour or more. Cook the chops under the grill. This is described as the overhead grill because English cookers have a different set up to ours. The grill is outside the oven above the cook top. I served the chops with roast potatoes with lemon and thyme, and asparagus because it is the season.
I don’t make a lot of cream sauces these days but for chicken with vermouth, tarragon and cream, p143, the richness of the cream is tempered by the tarragon and vermouth. I also wanted to make this as my tarragon was having its spring growth spurt and I didn’t want to it grow too straggly before it had bushed out. The recipe requires you to brown the chicken – I used bone in thighs – set them aside while you make the sauce, then return the chicken to the gently simmering sauce for fifteen to twenty minutes until the chicken is cooked through. To make the sauce, deglaze the pan where the chicken was browned with a glass of dry vermouth and 2 tbsp vinegar. Nigel used tarragon vinegar, but I didn’t have any so used my old friend verjuice. When the vermouth has reduced by a third, add a handful of tarragon leaves and 200-300ml cream depending on how much chicken you have. I use 1 thigh per person, but I notice most recipes suggest two. Must have small chickens. At the end you want the consistency of a light cream sauce. Cover or partially cover the pan while finishing the chicken in the sauce and add a little more vermouth at the end if it is too thick. Nigel suggested serving with rice and green beans, but the beans weren’t quite in when I made it, so I did leeks cooked down until they were soft and buttery.
I made the chicken with mustard seed and coconut cream, p110. Nigel uses a whole chicken, jointed for three people. I used two boned thighs for two. This seemed a little more work than the other dishes but only because there were more ingredients with the spices. It has the same principle as the previous recipe. Brown the chicken then rest it while you make the sauce in the same pan. If I make this again, I think I will use boneless thighs. Both will work. To make the sauce, lightly grind 1-2 tsp each of cumin seeds, mustard seeds and coriander seeds and add to the pan along with a chopped red chilli, a knob of grated ginger, a roughly chopped onion, and cook on a low heat until the onions have softened. Add finely chopped garlic, a 1sp turmeric, a tin of chopped tomatoes, a few curry leaves and simmer a few minutes. Add 200ml coconut cream and return the chicken to the pan. Partially cover and simmer 20-30 minutes until the chicken is cooked. I served this on rice with a minty, tomato salad.
I moved on to late spring, his May, our November, with orange ricotta pancakes, p156. This is not the sort of thing that I would usually make but I had some ricotta needing to be used and a tamarillo languishing in the fruit bowl. No, Nigel did not cook tamarillos, but his ricotta pancakes paired perfectly with poached tamarillo and ricotta cream. To make eight pancakes combine 250g ricotta, 4 tbsp sugar, and 3 egg yolks. Gently mix in the zest of an orange and 50 g plain flour. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold into the ricotta mixture. Melt 2 tbsp butter in a non-stick pan over a moderate heat, spoon heaped tablespoons of the mixture into the pan. Cook for a minute of two until bubble form on the surface and flip to cook the other side. Served with a ricotta cream and the poached tamarillos, this was quite a fancy breakfast and one I may well make again.
In May, Nigel enjoys lamb chops with lemon mint and potatoes, p155. The chops are pan fried in olive oil seasoned with lemon zest, chopped mint leaves, salt and pepper. Nigel boils his potatoes, but I roasted mine with a slice of lemon and popped some asparagus spears in for the final 12 minutes. While the chops are resting add the juice of the lemon to the pan sediments to make a sticky lemony reduction. Pour this over the chops and potatoes once they are plated.
The salmon and dill fish cakes on p 161 are definitely a keeper. So simple. Just mix 500g salmon with an egg white, chopped dill, a tbsp flour, a tsp mustard, and the juice of half a lemon. Season and make the mix into roughly ten small balls, then flatten and set aside a few minutes. Cook in a little oil in a shallow pan, both sides until golden. Serve with lemon wedges, dollops of yoghurt mixed with dill and grainy mustard. I added some asparagus because it was the season.
Along with chops, lemon is a recurring theme. I made lemon and basil linguine, p 153. Again, hardly a recipe but a great weeknight supper idea.
There was a lemon trifle in April, p140, which was delicious. Sponge fingers spread with lemon curd and soaked in limoncello, then drenched with warm cream and lemon juice and left to cool. This all set in the fridge like custard and was then finished with soft whipped cream and sprinkled with grated orange zest. Heavenly and so easy. Lemon amaretti cream pots, p 162, is a pudding I will make again and again. Yoghurt, cream and lemon curd are the perfect combination and the crushed amaretti add texture so you’re not just eating a dish of cream.
I had only planned to spend two months with the Kitchen Diaries but I found myself in June, our December, making orecchiette with ricotta, peas and mint, p194. Nigel’s recipe was for broad beans however I used peas. Either or both will work here. This is a great favourite with wee L who eats with us at least once a week. He also enjoys pesto stirred through.
I found my favourite salad, radish, mint and feta on p195. As you know I am not that fond of cucumber. I discovered that if you remove the seeds cucumber is delicious. Fresh and crunchy. I make this salad at every opportunity and have recently realised that it is a variation of the Iranian salad from the city of Shiraz. The Shirazi salad includes tomatoes, uses lime juice rather than vinegar and dried mint rather than fresh, but the focus is on fresh and crunchy which is what I love about this salad. Either makes a delicious addition to a meal.
My verdict on the Kitchen Diaries, is that you could put a delicious meal on the table all year round with inspiration from this book. I have found quite a few favourite ideas that have gone into my regular rotation. As well as offering many ways to prepare lamb chops, this is a great book for everyday meal ideas. I suspect the reason I haven’t used it more is that I have too many cookbooks. Who knew? Progress is being made. This one is going to a friend for a while and I will return to it during the winter.