I am not a chef. I am not even a trained
or professional cook. My qualification is as an eater. I cook what I
want to eat – within limits. I have a job – another job, that is, as an
ordinary working journalist – and two children. — Nigella Lawson
Me and Nigella. Like this. Thick as thieves. BBFs. So much in common, especially if you don’t count the beauty, the fame, the fortune, and the fact that her little kitchen experiments tend to turn out. Obviously I would buy one of her books and give it a whirl. Friends support friends, right?
Right. Here’s another thing I love about Nigella: she’s all about the basics! I noticed that the first few pages of How to Eat give a rundown on the basics of cookery, the sort of dishes everyone should be able to prepare on a moment’s notice. Really, it’s an actual list in the table of contents, under “Basics.”
Like Basic Roast Chicken. Yes! That’s basic! And I’m still working on my technique. Nigella will be able to help, I just know it.
We move onto stock, which I made once or twice…mayonnaise…well, why would I need to make that myself? (just because I can, I suppose the answer would be. But we all know I can’t, so why go there?) Hollandaise…bearnaise…bechamel….oh dear. Here we enter dangerous waters.
Scented Panna Cotta with Gooseberry. Clearly a basic. Just not at my house. Maybe Trader Joe’s has this in a box.
A Christmas Goose.
It appears that a decade married to an Englishman has not properly prepared me for cooking basics with Nigella. I can’t even define several of these basics. Luke told me about the Glorious 12th, but what the hell are damsons? I’m trying hard to understand. But Nigella, girlfriend, I’m just not there yet.
Ah, but then I get there. Shepard’s Pie. A basic, indeed, but one worthy of trying to nail. The mother of all comfort foods. Nigella would approve of my trying this one out, and impressed that for once, I have all the ingredients already. Except for the apple juice. I’m thinking 1/4 cup of apple grape juice from a sippy box can’t ruin an entire dish…can it?
Here’s the recipe:
1 pound of potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
3 Tbsp milk, plus more if needed
4 Tbsp butter (1/2 stick)1 med onion, diced
1 med carrot, diced
1 garlic clove, diced
1/2 celery stalk, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 pound button mushrooms, sliced
8 ounces ground beef of lamb
1 Tbsp flour
1/4 cup apple juice
1 cup canned tomatoes, drained
1 tsp soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce
salt and freshly milled pepper
1/4 cup grated cheddar
Fill a large saucepan with cold, salted water. Bring it to a boil and cook the potatoes until soft enough to mash, 25-45 minutes. Drain, return to the pan and heat for one minute to dry off the spuds. Add the butter and the milk. Nigella says to then push them through a ricer, which of course I don’t have. So mash them by hand, pouring the milk in a little at a time. Probably helps to warm the milk a little, too.
Set aside your delicious mashed potatoes and carry on.
Saute your diced veggies in the olive oil for ten minutes, then add the mushrooms. Add also a few “knobs” of butter, saute for 2 minutes more. Add the meat, pushing and breaking it up as it browns with a wooden spoon, until it’s lost its pinkness. Sprinkle the Tbsp of flour over this and stir well, then add in the juice, then the tomatoes and your Worcestershire or soy sauce. Stir well, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Uncover and season. A few minutes more and you’re ready to dish this out into a ceramic baking dish or casserole. Cover this mixture with the mashed potatoes, dot with butter again, sprinkle on the cheddar cheese, and set it under the broiler for five minutes.
Eh voila! Deliciousness! Not even the apple-grape juice substitute had a negative effect.
This worked out fabulously the first time. The second time something was lacking, can’t say what. The third time will be a charm, I”m certain.
Because here’s what Nigella has to say about practice:
Cooking is not about just joining the
dots, following one recipe slavishly and then moving on to the next.
It’s about developing an understanding of food, a sense of assurance in
the kitchen, about the simple desire to make yourself something to eat.
And in cooking, as in writing, you must please yourself to please
See? My BFF Nigella knows me all too well.