My favourite place in Aberdeen is an Italian café very near us. It´s a tiny place, on a corner in Rosemount Avenue, our main street, and is always warm and bustling. Go in on a cold and windy standard issue Aberdeen day, and you´ll be instantly transported somewhere far far away.
Virginia´s is like something out of a sitcom, and everybody inside straight out of central casting. It´s run by an Italian family who look just like you would expect, glossy and dark and beautiful and fast-talking and funny. Customers run in and out, take away tempting looking sandwiches, all wrapped up, or sit and chat, almost always in bubbly Italian.
It´s like a Madrid bar, except that there´s no cigarette smoke and the tv isn´t blaring (you really can´t have everything ).
The menu begins with a nod to the Scottish breakfast, but soon goes for the serious stuff; paninis, antipasti, pasta.
My favourite, so far, is the "delizioso", a small ciabatta, warm from the press, filled with dolcelatte blue cheese, walnuts, ruccola and speck.
Ideally this should be followed by a cup of coffee and a portion of tiramisù, home made and very very good. Sadly I can never have more than a spoonful, because by the time I´ve swallowed the first, Pía has hoovered up the rest.
Virginia´s 231 Rosemount Place 01224 644432
I know what you´re thinking: "call child protection services before this crazy woman poisons her family".
But consider. This was very good organic goat´s milk, at 35 pence the litre, on the day before the sell by date, and if I didn´t take it home it would be trown away, which is wrong for so many reasons.
I would to use it to make requesón, which is a way of preserving milk, see? It makes perfect sense, really, because it´s the most delicate, creamy requesón you´ll ever have, and you just can´t buy it, not where I live, anyway.
I won´t write down the recipe because it´s dead simple. Follow the rules as laid down by the great Russ Parsons.
If youl use goat´s milk instead of cow´s, the curds will be finer, and look like they haven´t sepparated. Just strain them very carefully and prepare to be amazed.
If you´re thinking of using semi skimmed milk, don´t. I found a bottle of Yeo Valley Organic semi skimmed yesterday, also discounted, and it was ok but nowhere nearly as good as a full milk version would have been.
From now on, I´ll be on the prowl for cheap milk, because it takes five seconds to make and is a very versatile ingredient, altough I mostly smear it on toast and top with honey, it´s so good simply like that.
You know all those tempting dishes they suggest you make with leftover chicken, but you can never make because you only have enough for a stingy sandwich? Well, the answer to that is cook a whole bird to treat as leftovers. A 1.5 kg standard bird stretches very far indeed when portioned out like this, and is a great return on investment.
So, take your pressure cooker and your bird. Salt it well, put it in the pot, cover it with water, and add whatever aromatics you´re in the mood for. I usually use onion, celery carrot and ginger, although bay leaves are more the thing. Whatever. Now lock it , bring it up to pressure and give it 15 minutes.
Note: this is how I used to make it, but now I´m in a so-tender-it-falls-apart kind of chicken place, so I give it 30 minutes for a whole bird and 20 for chicken parts. In any case, if after 15 minutes it´s raw or pink, return it to the pot; raw or undercooked chicken is dangerous and does´t taste good.
Open it, take the chicken out and put it to rest in a bowl (it´s a brothy mess).
Now you have to pick the meat, and it´s hot, so either wait or brave it out.
Once the meat is all in a nice bowl, put the bones back in the pot and give them 15 minutes more. This is of course not strictly necessary but will give you much better stock.
And there you are. A whole lot of chicken meat, a lot of broth, and the possibility to look at all those recipes for pies and sandwiches and pasties and noodles and salads and soups.
And by that I mean my local supermarket, not the green fields of the apple-cheeked farmer.
Every two or three weeks I go to a big Sainsbury´s and fill a cart to teetering point with everything from nappies to canned tomatoes to barley cous cous and white miso and tubs of ice cream.
But I have a fridge the size of a Kelly bag, and can´t stock up on a lot of fresh produce, so every other day sees me trudging up to the Co-op for milk, or eggs, or salad or bread.
The Co-op is small and more expensive, but it´s right here.
And that´s how I´ve devised the new market-driven cuisine for the suburban north pole housewife. You can´t do that thing of "choose what looks good", because everything looks the same. The bright lights and the plastic in a supermarket make it almost impossible to tell. Instead, I buy almost everything that has a "reduced to clear" sticker.
This may seem extreme, but isn´t, really.
I find that fruit becomes edible about three or four days after its sell by date. Salad may be a little wonky and so I might avoid it, but root vegetables, cabbage, broccoli and tomatoes,? Perfectly fine, thank you.
My haul yesterday: a bag of watercress, two boxes of huge mushrooms, a bag of "british stew vegetables", two basil plants, a packet of courgettes and a bag of apples.
The basil was quickly whizzed into a pesto and frozen in little cubes. Half the watercress was put into some dumplings that disintegrated into a pot of chicken soup but were still delicious. The apples became applesauce for Pepe. The stew vegetables I guess will go into a stew at some point, but they´ll keep for a few days. The mushrooms I will bake with garlic butter, and the courgettes will probably end up in a pisto of some sort.
That´s not a bad lot. Complemented with the freezer and the store cupboard, I could feed us all through the week without leaving the house.
Except that I´m running out of milk already.
Most recipes will tell you to brown then braise for a long time, and of course you should do that in the best of all possible worlds. But life is too short to brown beef, and a pressure cooker will ensure you can have the meat on the table in not very long. Leave the other stuff to the overachievers and the proffesionals.
I suggest you follow the method for your favourite beef stew, or this recipe, only do it in the pressure cooker and give it 35 minutes under pressure, then let it come down naturally before you unlock the lid.
Two pieces of about half a kilo each should serve four, provided you serve this on top of some starchy stuff that mops up the wonderful sauce. Just remember to cut the sides so the meat doesn´t curl up.
If you have any left over, here are some ideas.
In a world where food is more than just food, and people watch cooking shows before ordering takeout, the kitchen is the scene for the new moral battle, and food writers more often than not come across as a little preachy. There´s the fire and brimstone brigade, who see hell in a grain of wheat, eternity in a goji berry. Or the new Puritans, who will have you Grow Your Own, lest the carbon footprint turn the food to ashes in your mouth.
Wether the concern is ecological or medical, there´s a whole lot of tut tutting going on, and in all this Nigella preetends to be the seductive temptress, but don't be fooled; she's not the Venus in Tannhäuser, but the whole singing and dancing chorus of nuns from "The sound of music". With her, it's all about Love. The hills are alive, the supermarkets chock full of delectable ingredients, all year round, and if your eggs are organic so much the better, but don't knock the marshmallows or the green food colouring. Just cook the food, enjoy it, move on.Bless her.
I´ve tried two recipes from the new book already. At first I wasn´t very convinced. It seemed to me that she´d done a sort of How to Eat for dummies, but now I´m won over. Yes, a lot of the recipes are versions of older ones in other of her books, but that makes a lot of sense. People change, lifestyles change, you don´t do things the same way all the time. And if you may find it hard to beleive that the 1999 Nigella, working at a newspaper and with two small children, found time to make stock from scratch, while the 2010 celebrity, surrounded by assistants, insists on ready made, well, who cares? The important thing is that the recipes are pared down and easier, but still real food, and still delicious.
Here are the duck legs I made yesterday. They were crisp and tender and flavourful, but the star were the potatoes. Brimming with duck fat and shatteringly crunchy, they are by far the best roast potatoes anybody´s ever had. If you´ve had better, I envy you. Or rather, I don´t, because you can´t have long to live. But hey, the obesity epidemic owes little to duck legs, so go ahead and try them.
Roast duck legs and potatoes
Preheat the oven to 200ºC
Salt and put the duck legs, skin side down, on a roasting tin or a skillet that can go in the oven, and that will fit them and a couple of cut up potatoes.
Let them brown slowly. This is so the duck begins to release fat, which is important for the potatoes. Don´t skip this step.
While this happens, cut up two biggish potatoes into chunks, but don´t peel.
Now take the duck legs out of the pan/tray and chuck the potatoes in. Turn them so they´re slicked in the fat, but don´t worry too much as there´s plenty more where that came from. Salt.
Nigella adds thyme but I didn´t have any.
Now put the duck on top, put the tray in the oven and leave it there for two hours.
If you remember, shake it a bit from time to time.
Its´done when the duck is crunchy and brown and the potatoes are crisp and deep burnished bronze.
I served it with salad, but of course peas, and apple sauce would be very very good here.