Until my daughter was about 15, I didn’t try to teach her to cook, as her life was so busy. But, slowly realising that she would not always be living with us, I began to think I should have done. So I offered. She replied very briskly that she thought I had spent far too much of my precious time in the kitchen and that she was certainly not going to do the same. With mixed but respectful feelings, I had to agree. I did, however, encourage her much younger brother to learn to cook with me at home.
When my daughter left home she did need to cook, and then I began to send her recipes I’d written for her about things we had often eaten at home. This became an enjoyable habit, though she quickly became an excellent cook without much help from me. Writing about food is fun – I once had a food column in the Spectator – so I still write these recipes, for her and for friends who ask for them. They are not really recipes, but more about producing proper food with a minimum of effort. Here are some of them.
There aren’t many things the domestic cook can imagine she has invented herself. But I do think I have made a discovery about roasting chicken: at least I’d never read about it or seen anyone do it. The problem usually is that breast and thighs cook at a different rate, so that if one is cooked perfectly,the other won’t be. It’s a choice between undercooked thighs or overcooked breast. The traditional answers – lots of basting, messing about with foil, putting liquid in the roasting pan and so on – don’t work and waste a lot of time.
The answer is simple. Cut the legs off .Roast them in the same pan with the mutilated body of the chicken. All you need is a little olive oil and salt on the skin. About 50 minute roasting in a fan oven at 175C, depending on size, will produce a chicken that is perfectly cooked all over. Basting is not necessary It will need at least 10 minutes’ resting. You can do this with any kind of bird, from a large turkey to small partridge. It also makes carving easier and quicker. And there’s nothing to stop you putting herbs or lemons in the cavity, or doing any of the other countless things that people do to add flavour.
This is another dish which I’ve never eaten or read about in precisely this form, so I feel as though I’ve invented it. Crab mayonnaise is a classic, but not with celery and herbs like this. It’s very easy.
White crab meat
Best mayonnaise, made partly with lemon, only home made
Chopped inmost stalks of celery and leaves , preferably organic for the stronger taste
Chopped chives, dill, chervil, whatever you have – dill is very good
Pepper, tabasco or some form of chilli, lemon , to taste ( be careful if adding salt as picked crab is often quite salty already)
Pickled cucumber *
Mix crab with all the ingredients except the mayonnaise. Don’t break it up too much. Gently stir in a little mayonnaise, perhaps a bit more, avoiding too much richness. Serve on salad leaves, lambs lettuce, or endive. Serve with lemon slices, pickled cucumber and some more mayonnaise separately.
*( To pickle cucumber, slice some very finely, put in a small bowl with salt and best white wine vinegar or similar, stir and leave for at least half an hour, stirring again once or twice. You could add dill. Drain thoroughly and taste. It should help cut the richness of the crab).
Many years before North African food became fashionable, I came across a recipe in the Telegraph for something I’d never heard of -dukkah For those who don’t know, it’s a mix, originally Egyptian, of ground, roasted nuts and spices. And it is so good that it’s tempting to use it far too much – dukkah with everything. It’s good sprinkled on vegetables, on mixed salads and particularly in grated carrot salad. It’s good to add some flavour to dishes made with pulses, over haloumi or feta cheese, and I even use it, just a little, for tagliatelle with crab and spring onions. It makes a very sober diet of plain fish and plain vegetable , like mine at the moment, – a lot more appealing, and it’s good for improving slightly dull vegetarian dishes for vegetarian guests. You can make it with any combination of nuts and spices, and it keeps very well in a jar. You need
3 cups nuts ( any combination of almonds, pistachios, pine nuts, hazel nuts or similar)
3 TBSP cumin seeds
3 TBSP fennel seeds
3 TBSP coriander seeds
3/4 cup sesame seeds
3 TBSP red pepper flakes, or less to taste
3/4 tsp smoked paprika, or more to taste
crushed sea or rock salt and peppercorns to taste
Pan roast the spices in a heavy preferably non stick pan for a couple of minutes until very lightly coloured. Cool Toast all the nuts in the same way. Cool Whiz the nuts carefully in a food processor, until roughly ground but not finely – avoid overdoing this. Finely grind all the spices in a clean coffer grinder ( or in a pestle and mortar) Remove, and then less finely grind the pepper flakes. Mix all together, and taste.