Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson

Cookbook Challenge Part 12

I am not very good at winter. I don’t like cold, or damp, or dark evenings and I miss green leaves and colourful flowers and bare feet. At the point when I finally had to admit that summer was really over, this felt like a good book to revisit. As soon as I opened it I wondered why I hadn’t thought of going back to it before – every picture is glowing with light and colour and promises of summer flavours. The blurb says, ‘Forever Summer is all about how to prolong that lazy, warm summer feeling through the darker days of winter’. That’s enough to convince me.

This time I chose a three-course dinner, partly because we had a guest but also because this starter sounded so good that I just really needed to try it. It’s baked ricotta with grilled radicchio.

I used red chicory, which according to Wikipedia that is the same thing as radicchio. On Ocado however, radicchio was about three times as expensive, making that decision very easy.

You beat the ricotta with egg whites before baking it with thyme and lemon zest, so it makes a sort of savoury cheesecake. In fact, the appearance reminded me of the cheesecake I made some time ago for cookbook number 3

It didn’t taste similar of course – both recipes included thyme, but the effect was completely different. The baked cheese tasted fantastic! It was intensely savoury but slightly tangy and not too heavy.

The grilled chicory we will put down as ‘interesting’. It was a good contrast to the cheese, and the oil, herbs and lemon took away some of the bitterness. My husband, older son and our dinner guest thought it was OK, but it was too strong for me and my equally bitter- sensitive younger son. If I did this again I would just go with a green salad.

The main course was sea bass with saffron, sherry and pine nuts. I liked the idea of using sultanas with fish, which I don’t think I’ve done before. I bought the fish ready filleted, but I did have to skin it, hence the sharp knife. Apart from the fish- skinning this was really easy, although the fish did fall apart a bit when I lifted it out of the frying pan.

Here’s the sherry I used. It has a lovely slightly nutty flavour and I found it was perfect for sipping whilst cooking.

I served this with basmati rice as suggested, but not the lentils which would have been too much as part of a three course meal I think. We just had some broccoli on the side.

It was quite a nice golden colour, but you can’t really see it well here. I should have put it against a blue background as they did for the book. New blue plates needed!

Everyone liked this one. It had a delicate, slightly exotic flavour and the sultanas balanced the earthy saffron taste. It definitely needed the crunchy pine nuts for contrast.

And now dessert, which I had to make earlier in the day as you can’t rush a meringue. This is a chocolate raspberry pavlova and those three words were all the encouragement I needed to make this.

The meringue contains cocoa powder and dark chocolate which needed to be finely chopped. I used the mezzaluna which I usually chop herbs with and that worked quite well, apart from the odd chocolate splinter flying across the kitchen. It’s from Nigella’s kitchenware range as well, so it seemed appropriate to use it here.

The recipe requires six egg whites and I also needed another two for the ricotta, so I bought a carton which was much more convenient than having eight leftover yolks.

The cooled meringue was so light and fragile that it cracked very easily when I transferred it to a plate (with the Bake Off move in which you turn the plate upside down and look scared). The one in the book looks cracked too, so I’m sure it’s fine. I also overwhipped the cream because I still forget how powerful my Kenwood Chef is and I forgot to sprinkle grated chocolate over the top.

None of that mattered though, because this tasted incredible. The meringue was so light and crisp and dotted with little pieces of chocolate that melted in the mouth. The raspberries were just tangy enough to stop the whole thing being too sweet and sickly. Possibly the best dessert yet.

In all a very successful meal. Did it make me feel summery? I’m not sure, but it certainly made me happy.

Slimming World Veggie Deluxe

Cookbook challenge part 11

Cookbook number 11 is a Slimming World vegetarian book. I lost 28lb with Slimming World and it wasn’t too painful. The plan is designed around cooking and eating normal meals, so it’s ideal for people who love food. Since loving food is what led to me carrying the extra weight (well, that and having two babies), it definitely worked for me.

If you eat meat there are lots of Slimming World options – you can have steak, roast chicken or even a bacon sandwich. I don’t eat any of those things so it’s useful to have a book full of veggie ideas. This book doesn’t include any desserts, although there are many Slimming World friendly dessert options you could make if you wanted. I decided to have a starter instead this time.

A very straightford creamy dip with roasted root vegetables to start. This was supposed to also have parsnips and sweet potatoes, but I just did carrots because of my sons’ weird aversion to sweet vegetables. The vegetables were roasted with spices, lime juice and fat free vinaigrette. I would never have thought of using vinaigrette in this way but it worked really well.

The dip was made from fat free fromage frais and lots of garlic. It tasted quite creamy – I don’t think you would have guessed it was fat free. This made a large amount of dip, but fortunately everyone liked it and asked to have it again.

The main course was this cheesy mexican bake. I did realise that this wasn’t going to work for everyone in our house as it includes not only artichoke hearts but also red and yellow pepper, celery and courgette. It does have cheese though, which usually makes everything better. It also uses tinned potatoes, which I always think taste a bit strange, but I think raw ones wouldn’t have cooked before the rest was overdone so I followed the recipe.

As predicted, this was not very popular with my sons. We quite liked it though, so a fifty percent success rate is acceptable. I thought maybe it would be a bit like having nachos, but it wasn’t of course, the sauce was quite runny. It was still tasty and had a bit of spice, although I felt it was improved by adding hot sauce. Many things are improved by hot sauce in my opinion!

If you were cooking for people who are less fussy about particular vegetables then this would make a good meal. It was filling, especially with all the dip as well and the flavours worked well.

I think the next cookbook needs to please everyone, so let’s see what I can do!

Apricots in Manchester

I changed the blog name. The original title was from a while ago before I had really decided what I wanted to do. I like this one better – a little bit of food, a little bit of gardening and it highlights my adopted hometown. It also links to my Instagram username apricots_in_manchester where I post extracts from the blog as well as a lot more dining out in Manchester and on my travels.

This summer I grew four apricots in my Manchester garden – my best gardening achievement. Some people said I would never get them to ripen this far north, so we’ll put that down to beginner’s luck (or maybe global warming). I mulched and fed the tree, hand pollinated it with a paintbrush and protected the blossom with fleece in the late frosts. Four fruits is not much of a reward for all that effort I know, but I was very proud. They were also delicious!

Greenfeast spring, summer by Nigel Slater

Cookbook Challenge Part 10

I’ve taken a break from blogging over the school summer holidays, although I’ve still been posting on Instagram. I have done a bit of cooking though, in between a few trips away so I have some cookbook challenges to write about. I can’t believe I’m on part ten – that’s ten cookbooks pulled off the shelf and used instead of sticking to the same meals.

It occurred to me that as this is supposed to be a Spring and Summer book I should hurry up and post this while we’re still (just) in August. Here’s the book – it’s a very pretty colour although quite difficult to take a photo that includes the title.

You can just about read the title down the side. There is a section in the back of the book which explains the brushstrokes used on the cover and throughout the book and also a couple of paragraphs about the type. It’s interesting to think about all the work that goes into designing a book like this. There are plenty of tempting pictures of all the recipes and it took me a while to decide what to make.

As I was cooking for all four of us I wanted something quite substantial, so I chose a warm dish plus a salad for the main course.

Freekeh, Peaches, Feta with Tomato, Beans, Bread. You really need to read the recipe and look at the pictures to understand what the dishes will actually be like, but the Freekeh is served warm with baked cheese and peaches and the other dish is a tomato and bread salad with olives and crunchy beans.

Freekeh is a young green wheat which has been roasted and polished. You cook it in a similar way to rice. We had never tried it before, but all of us liked it and preferred it to bulgur wheat or cous cous. It was delicious with the salty cheese and sweet peaches. I used herbs from the garden so I’m not sure if I had quite as much as the recipe says, but it seemed like a lot. I would definitely have this again. It doesn’t really look as good as it tasted. I think the feta fell apart more than it was supposed to, but that meant it mixed in with the grains easily.

The tomato salad used more oil than I would usually add to a salad as you had to drizzle the bread with oil before toasting, as well as making a dressing that the pices of bread were dipped in. It was worth it though, the oil balanced out the tangy tomatoes and vinegar and even though this made a large quantity it disappeared very quickly.

I wanted a light dessert after all the strong flavours, so I chose a really simple dish with only three ingredients

It’s a watermelon and Prosecco granita, sweetened with elderflower cordial. For once I remembered to start this early in the day so it had time to freeze, although it probably would have been even better if I’d left it overnight as it was still quite slushy in the middle of the tub.

The watermelon was a pretty colour in the processor

This was very refreshing on a warm evening. It’s contains alcohol of course, so my sons just had a little bit and ate the rest of the watermelon. The recipe suggests using pink grapefruit juice if you don’t want to use Prosecco.

I’m really enjoying seeing all the vegetarian cookbooks that have come out recently and I think we’re going to be using this one regularly. Although it’s a spring and summer book there are quite a few mushroom recipes that would work well into autumn, as well as some curries that would be good at any time of year. I’m looking forward to the autumn, winter edition that comes out in October – I’m sure I’ll want to add that to my collection.